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The New Left was a term used mainly in the United Kingdom and United States in reference to activists, educators, agitators and others in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to implement a broad range of reforms on issues such as gay rights, abortion, gender roles and drugs in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist approach to social justice and focused mostly on labour unionisation and questions of social class. The New Left rejected involvement with the labour movement and Marxism's historical theory of class struggle. In the U.S., the "New Left" was associated with the Hippie movement and anti-war college campus protest movements, as well as the black liberation movements such as the Black Panther Party. While initially formed in opposition to the "Old Left" Democratic party, groups composing the New Left gradually became central players in the Democratic coalition.

According to a 2013 article in The Guardian, "Contrary to popular belief, Americans don't have an innate allergy to socialism. Milwaukee has had several socialist mayors (Frank Zeidler, Emil Seidel and Daniel Hoan), and there is currently an independent socialist in the US Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont." Sanders, once mayor of Vermont's largest city, Burlington, has described himself as a democratic socialist and has praised Scandinavian-style social democracy. Anti-capitalism, anarchism and the anti-globalisation movement rose to prominence through events such as protests against the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999 in Seattle. Socialist-inspired groups played an important role in these movements, which nevertheless embraced much broader layers of the population and were championed by figures such as Noam Chomsky. In Canada, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), had significant success in provincial politics. In 1944, the Saskatchewan CCF formed the first socialist government in North America. At the federal level, the NDP was the Official Opposition, from 2011 through 2015.

Socialists argue that the accumulation of capital generates waste through externalities that require costly corrective regulatory measures. They also point out that this process generates wasteful industries and practices that exist only to generate sufficient demand for products to be sold at a profit (such as high-pressure advertisement); thereby creating rather than satisfying economic demand. Socialists argue that capitalism consists of irrational activity, such as the purchasing of commodities only to sell at a later time when their price appreciates, rather than for consumption, even if the commodity cannot be sold at a profit to individuals in need; therefore, a crucial criticism often made by socialists is that making money, or accumulation of capital, does not correspond to the satisfaction of demand (the production of use-values). The fundamental criterion for economic activity in capitalism is the accumulation of capital for reinvestment in production; this spurs the development of new, non-productive industries that don't produce use-value and only exist to keep the accumulation process afloat (otherwise the system goes into crisis), such as the spread of the financial industry, contributing to the formation of economic bubbles. Socialists view private property relations as limiting the potential of productive forces in the economy. According to socialists, private property becomes obsolete when it concentrates into centralised, socialised institutions based on private appropriation of revenue (but based on cooperative work and internal planning in allocation of inputs) until the role of the capitalist becomes redundant. With no need for capital accumulation and a class of owners, private property in the means of production is perceived as being an outdated form of economic organization that should be replaced by a free association of individuals based on public or common ownership of these socialised assets. Private ownership imposes constraints on planning, leading to uncoordinated economic decisions that result in business fluctuations, unemployment and a tremendous waste of material resources during crisis of overproduction. Excessive disparities in income distribution lead to social instability and require costly corrective measures in the form of redistributive taxation, which incurs heavy administrative costs while weakening the incentive to work, inviting dishonesty and increasing the likelihood of tax evasion while (the corrective measures) reduce the overall efficiency of the market economy. These corrective policies limit the incentive system of the market by providing things such as minimum wages, unemployment insurance, taxing profits and reducing the reserve army of labor, resulting in reduced incentives for capitalists to invest in more production. In essence, social welfare policies cripple capitalism and its incentive system and are thus unsustainable in the long-run. Marxists argue that the establishment of a socialist mode of production is the only way to overcome these deficiencies. Socialists and specifically Marxian socialists, argue that the inherent conflict of interests between the working class and capital prevent optimal use of available human resources and leads to contradictory interest groups (labor and business) striving to influence the state to intervene in the economy in their favor at the expense of overall economic efficiency. Early socialists (Utopian socialists and Ricardian socialists) criticised capitalism for concentrating power and wealth within a small segment of society. In addition, they complained that capitalism does not utilise available technology and resources to their maximum potential in the interests of the public.