Common ownership of the means of production implies that production is directed by 'society' rather than by entrepreneurs. Socialists tend to promote democratic government as the representative of society in directing production. Large scale production cannot be planned through direct democratic vote, and requires that bureaucrats and officials decide many issues in production.
Critics of socialism claim that socialism fails to match the performance of capitalism for three reasons. First the equalization of incomes eliminates the incentive to innovate and work hard. Second, bureaucrats and high officials do not posses the informational required to direct production in a complex society. Market prices are needed to solve the informational problems of directing production, and socialism will at best have pseudo-prices. The absence of financial markets is a major problem with socialism. Third, socialism tends to degenerate into oppressive dictatorship. The incentive, informational, and political problems of socialism are inescapable.
Many want socialism for ideological reasons. Egalitarian ethics drive the socialist movement. Marxists claim that capitalism is exploitative. Socialism is indefensible in terms of economic efficiency and natural rights ethics. Socialists envision a better world, but their dreams are unrealizable.
2. Nazi Germany (national socialism based on comprehensive regulation)
3. Sweden in 1991 (before the backed off from the abyss)
4. England just before Thatcher (before the backed off from the abyss)
Just because capital pursuit has indiscriminately stolen from every single living organism it's right to live free from toxic byproducts in the manufacture of our fuel, food, and plastics - it does not make you and I as direct consumers responsible.
Socialism can be seen in many Western European countries working very well.
It involves being taxed proportionally to how much you earn, a free, or semi-subsidised health service, a minimum wage, decent social security and many many other benefits to society.
These same Americans now find themselves unable to pay for medical treatment and having to work 3 jobs in order to stay above the poverty line.
Remember kids, Socialsm DOES NOT EQUAL Communism.
Modern socialist ideas are normally based on re-distribution of wealth by means of a progressive taxation system. For example providing a minimum wage for workers and health benfits in times of sickness.
Although socialism has traditionally been associated with public ownership, many Socialist governments (such as the British Labour Party under Tony Blair) now favour a system of "democratic capitalism" where the government and the market co-operate to provide basic services and living standards to the citizens of a country. See also The Third Way.
Socialism is also associated with unionisation, stemming from a belief that workers should not be exploited by artificialy created market conditions. However the intensity of this belief does seem to vary widley across different groups of socialists.
There are many models of socialism that vary in three ways: the coordinating mechanism for making economic decisions (economic planning or market socialism); the type of ownership; and how firms are managed (self-management, democratic management, etc).
The fundamental difference between socialism and capitalism is the elimination of private property in socialized production under socialism (i.e; in highly collective and mechanized industries) so no idle class can live off profits, rent and interest. Instead of going to a class of capitalists, the profit might go to all the workers in a firm (in cooperative types of socialism) or to the public at large (in public/state ownership types of socialism) - potentially eliminating the need for taxation as a source of public revenue.
2) Political movements that advocate a socialist economic system; but sometimes it is used to refer to the policies of self-described Communist or Social democratic parties regardless of whether or not these policies have anything to do with socialism as a different economic system than capitalism.
"Soo... you think we should tax the rich to pay for social programs and regulate businesses to make them work for 'society'?"
"That is not socialism... socialism means changing the ownership of enterprises. In fact, socialism would mean we don't need to rely so much on taxes because the profits made by enterprises could be used to replace the role of taxes in financing public services. And regulation is just an attempt to correct market failures in capitalism, socialism would not require inefficient regulation because we would directly own and run enterprises."