Socialism has a couple of different definitions that make talking about it very confusing. It can be a transition stage in Marxist theory between capitalism and communism (communism is where the means of production are owned by the people as opposed to owned by the state), the abolition of private property, communism and similar theories or when society allows the means of production to be owned and controlled by the state. The most accurate definition for what I'm going to be talking about it the last one.
b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state sourceThe social market economy model in Germany combines free market capitalism with regulation and state intervention to promote fairness and equality. It's not socialism but the word is social is thrown in there because some important things are owned, run or regulated by the state since they can't be trusted to direction by the economy. Please note the difference between everything being controlled by the state and just some things. Americans tend to grossly misuse the word and throw socialism out there any time they talk about government intervention in the economy. Those people don't know what they're talking about. Type 'Obama a socialist' into Google and this is one of the first things that pops up.
It might be hard for someone raised in modern society to believe that the only thing keeping us from savagery is the state. What about religion? What about the moral compass? Ancient and modern history can give us plenty of examples of people doing terrible things to other humans the second they are no longer prohibited by government or society. This phenomenon crosses all races, religions, gender, age, education and economic status. It usually happens during times of government disruption like war or conquer. In no particular order: the Holocaust, feudal system, Kosovo, Conquistadors, Somalia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Portugal's age of discovery, Belgium Congo, Nanking, My Lia, Katrina, modern day Iraq, Haiti and Dakar, historical and modern day slavery.
I think one of the flaws of American thinking is that America's focus on the individual doesn't take into account the role of society and government in maintaining the individual. Society can continue without one person but one person would find it mighty difficult to go one without society. That doesn't lower the value of the individual, it just puts it into perspective. This is the part of the post where I throw poetry at you because who would I be if I were combining sociological theory with art?
For whom the bell tolls a poem
(No man is an island)
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
The resounding cry of Americans is 'why should I pay for someone else?'. The answer is because you live within the benefits of society and the social contract. Those at the top of the income bracket essentially exploit those at the bottom and is therefore responsible for their wellbeing. Anything less is robbing the less fortunate of their civil liberties for your own gain. Denying poor people health care, food, shelter, paying them unlivable wages, these things that happen in the US make the social contract skewed towards favoring the wealthy and exploiting the poor. If the social contract works against a group of people they probably aren't going to follow it. That's one explanation for crime in the US. Denied equal access to resources people are more likely to seek income in illegal areas like selling drugs, prostitution, or theft. Right now the US deals with the symptoms of inequality by passing tougher prison sentences and building more prisons to house people pushed to the fringe of society.
by John Donne source
Every time an American labels something like universal health care socialism I feel completely frustrated. Not only is it inaccurate fear mongering, it casts something that would promote equality in a negative light. I can think of a couple of things in the US that are owned and controlled by the state: k-12 education, the US mail system, the Army, police, social security, some banking institutions, unemployment, student loans and subsidies. In comparison things I can think off the top of my head that are controlled by the German government: subsidized housing for low income families, daycare, k-12 and university education, state mandated vacation and maternity leave, health care and welfare. These state run programs allow Germans to live a better life on less money. Low wage earners can go to work because the state subsidizes things like child care. These programs promote autonomy whereas America leaves single parents in a bind. Parents can't work if they don't have affordable child care. Germany has a more equal society and they mostly finance it by taxing higher earners. Germany still has wealthy and middle class people. They have the biggest economy in Europe. What is America so afraid of?