Defining socialism can be challenging, given the various forms this ideology has taken in regions around the world—from the former U.S.S.R (now the Russian Federation)—to the Republic of Cuba. Socialism has undergone multiple transformations from its earliest inception before 1850. Bryson chronicles the ideological evolution of socialism via a table on page 21 in the book, that defines the time, socialist objective, and type of socialism that existed.
For example, from 1950-1965, the socialist objective was to implement economic planning, and the type of socialism was Western European democratic socialism; from the 1930s to 1990, the socialist objective was “command” central economic planning, and the type of socialism was Soviet (Marxist-Leninist). Bryson notes that from Karl Marx to Joseph Stalin, there was one form of socialism around the world, and that was Marxist socialism.
The central thrust of this type of socialism espoused public ownership of the means of production—private capitalists were prohibited. On behalf of the working class, corporations would be managed and publicly owned. Bryson points out that socialism perished in Europe by the 1990s, largely because it had become a system without initiatives.
This book lauds the achievement of Adam Smith, the father of classical economics. The author credits Smith for establishing a conceptual structure of competitive markets, that has provided economic growth based on productivity of people in a democratic system. Bryson provides a comprehensive review of the impact of socialism in America and includes his personal hope that changes set in place after 2008 by the Obama administration are reversible.