Socialists believe in an economic system that promotes common property ownership and a political hierarchy government. Under socialism, people in positions of authority make the decisions for the collective group, according to About.com. Although far less intrusive, socialism is often confused with communism. The difference is that communism encompasses both the economic and political systems, whereas socialism is more subtle and flexible, and usually applies only to economic systems.
The original concept of socialism involved replacing private ownership of property with a market exchange. Over time, this has proven to be unsuccessful, as it is impossible to prevent people from competing for scarce resources. Today, most socialists believe in collectively planning market exchanges, and having their production and distribution controlled by the entire community.
Under socialism, the proceeds of a market exchange are divided according to each person's contribution to society, unlike communism, which divides resources according to need. Some examples of common socialist policies in modern times include worker benefits, such as universal health care, subsidized child care and employee vacation time.
Some countries that are influenced by socialist beliefs include Sweden, Norway, France and Canada. In addition to underlying socialist policies, these countries also incorporate a democratic political system and a capitalist economy.