Fifth in a series why socialism is the anti-agency.

Every few years, a useful illustration about socialism pops up that provides better clarity than when people think only in dollars:   

Students in a college economics class argued that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

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The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment.  All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A.” 

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B.  The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy.  As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they too wanted a free ride, so they studied little.

The second test average was a D.  No one was happy.

When students took the third test, everyone received an F.

Over the course of the tests, scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling led to hard feelings.  No one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

Every student failed the class but learned a great lesson – that socialism, whether applied to the economy or college grades, will always fail.  When the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when someone takes away the fruits of others’ labor, effort disappears.

It could not be simpler.  The students achieved socialism’s vaunted goal of equality, but it was poor, boring, sterile and stale – the misery of sharing less and less.  Socialism stamps out the variety that makes life enjoyable.

This lesson was learned the hard way in America’s early days.

Pilgrims in the famous Plymouth Colony, America’s first socialist republic, tried cultivating crops in common for two years.  They nearly starved to death.  Governor William Bradford recorded that …

“… the less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields, and were slow and easy in their labors.  Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent in their efforts.  The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony.  Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.”[1]

So they abandoned the idea of communal property and gave each his own land.  Guess what?  Governor Bradford again, “It made all hands very industrious … and much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”

Same experience in the Jamestown colony in Virginia.  Of 104 men in 1607, only 38 survived the first year of communal living.  After the experiment was abandoned, Captain John Smith observed, “When our people were fed out of the common store, and labored jointly together, glad was he who could slip from his labor or slumber over his task ….  We reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty, as now three or four do provide for themselves.”[2]

Both experiences demonstrate that socialism is based on faulty principles inconsistent with human behavior.  When these early inhabitants finally woke to reality, they established property rights and free-market enterprise and prospered.

As Thomas Sowell observed: “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.” 

Sadly, some today don’t learn from history.  Panera Cares, a socialism experiment of its parent Panera Bread, had to close its doors.  Customers were asked to pay what they could afford or felt like.  It was mobbed by students and the homeless.  Students ate without paying and the homeless would eat every meal there, paying very little.  All told, the restaurant covered less than 70% of its total costs.[3]

The same thing happened with Israel’s communal kibbutzim.  Voluntary socialism?  Back to the drawing boards. 

Five morals from such stories:[4]

  1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
  2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
  3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
  4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
  5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

Socialists think they can change one part of a system and the other parts will keep going as if nothing had happened – that they can dump a boulder into one end of a pond and not cause ripples at the other.

Socialism fails because it is inconsistent with fundamental principles of human behavior and our agency.  It is a system that ignores incentives and strangles motivation.

God put hunger on the earth for a reason.

An excerpt from “The Magnificent Gift of Agency; To Act and Not Be Acted Upon” available in Deseret Book stores and at