Saturday, March 07, 2020

1889 Institute: Two Stories on why Socialism Fails

Strange But True: Socialism Fails
By Byron Schlomach

What follows is a true story – actually, two true stories, or the same story that occurred in two different places in very different times and circumstances. Read on to find out where.

They had been discussing amongst themselves for months, concerned with poverty, hunger, and lack of progress in growing crops, so important to feeding themselves and building a thriving community. They should have succeeded. They all worked together – clearing, tilling, sowing, weeding, and reaping – everyone in the same fields at the same time. Anyone weak in one skill should have had it made up by others working beside them, so that all should benefit from each other’s labor.

They had a common purpose, which was to prosper and live peaceably. Mostly, they liked and took care of each other. Everybody got an equal share of the yearly harvest. But something was amiss. Harvests were more meager than the farmers knew they should be.

So they finally discussed the problem and what to do about it. It was not a problem of bad soil, or a lack of knowledge, or lack of skill. Instead, they realized none of them truly worked as hard as they were capable. Why? Because they got the same share of the yearly output regardless of their personal effort, all attempted to let others do the work. Nobody was working to their full capabilities because nobody was rewarded extra for doing so, and nobody lost more than others for avoiding work.

The solution was amazingly simple. They divided the fields and worked their own plots individually, keeping the gains for themselves. The next year, the harvest was bountiful, not because of great weather or new, special seeds, but because everyone worked harder. And since most had produced more than they could eat, everybody had more because of trade.

This story has likely played out many times in many settings for ages, but two come to mind. The Pilgrims practiced socialism for two or three years, nearly starving themselves to death. Some 355 years later and half a planet away, farmers in a Chinese village, Xiaogang, defied Communist decree with the same results as when the Pilgrims abandoned socialism. The two stories are the same in every important detail except that the Chinese farmed separately in secret and mutually agreed to raise the children of any that might be arrested.

These two examples of socialism’s failure teach us that all humans respond to incentives and are self-interested. Thus, giving everyone equal shares as a way to guarantee security actually results in poverty and insecurity. As William Bradford, the Pilgrim governor put it, rather than socialism, “God in His wisdom saw that another plan of life was fitter for them.”

Byron Schlomach, 1889 Institute Director. Contact:


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