According to several online blogs, posts, and emails circulating on the Internet, there was supposedly a relatively new classroom experiment that was conducted by an economics professor in an attempt to prove to his students that socialism doesn’t work. But it’s highly suspicious whether or not this classroom experiment ever actually took place, because I can’t seem to find the name of the professor or the name of the college the experiment took place in or the name of the original author who posted this story, anywhere, nor can I find any documentation or references that could lead to such information, which is usually a tell-tale sign that a story is complete fiction. However, a description of this classroom experiment, along with the results, have been circulating the Internet for awhile now. Many, for and against socialism, have responded to it by posting their own reactions, analyses, critiques, and opinions. As someone who believes in a careful balance between capitalism and socialism, I had to post my own response. Below is a copy of the email I received, with no known author.
An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.
The professor then said, ‘OK, we will have an experiment in this class using the socialist plan.’ All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A. (By substituting grades for dollars the kids would understand first hand how socialism would affect them in real time.).
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 wanted a free ride too so they studied little.
The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the new average was an F. As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed. Human nature will always cause socialism’s style of government to fail, because the world has producers and non-producers (makers and takers). It could not be any simpler than that.”
Every now and then, I come across an experiment like this one. These type of experiments always include the most inaccurate descriptions of what socialism actually is and are usually circulated by hard right-winged Republicans and/or hard-core capitalists. The professor in this story sadly gave his students the erroneous impression that socialism is all about averaging everyone’s rewards. That’s not what socialism is. Some of the most common misconceptions about socialism is that everything is always perfectly shared, everybody is exactly equal, and everyone’s salary always gets averaged out regardless of how hard someone works or contributes. This is a very superficial, narrow view of socialism and is usually promoted by those who either don’t know any better or by those who wish to completely discredit socialism. The best way to accurately convey socialism is to compare it with a capitalistic business model. Instead of all the powers and rewards going to one individual or a select privileged few at the top of any given business or company, as the case would be within a capitalistic system, imagine that every employee gets a share of the business, a percentage of the rewards, and a say in how the business is operated–not necessarily equal but, none the less, a shared return and a partial say that fairly corresponds with their position and efforts. Allow me to briefly describe how most reputable sources accurately define socialism.
Socialism is an economic and political system (based on group-interest and cooperation) in which all the means of production and distribution are collectively owned and operated by all members of a society, rather than completely divided up to be privately owned amongst individuals or a select few. In other words, instead of one person or a few receiving all the profits and having all the control, everyone gets their fair share for their labors and has some sway. It’s not about a free ride, a handout, or any form of social loafing. Though, those things will and do occur within any system, such as in a capitalistic system whereby an elite few unjustly receive at the expense of the hard labor of the majority. Socialism is all about cooperation, equal opportunities, shared sacrifice, and fair compensation.
Even though this experiment may have never really taken place, and even though the professor’s model of socialism is shamefully incorrect, and even though he was the only one allowed to hand out these grades which could have been negatively affected and skewed by his own biases in regards to socialism, the idea of the experiment can still be carefully analyzed. If this experiment really did take place, I have to assume that this ‘phantom’ professor did not have many more grading sessions after the first three tests and likely ended the experiment shortly after the class overcompensated–a natural response–to fit his preconceived view of socialism; because I find it very hard to believe that all the good students, who have already proven to be very capable of making good grades, would have allowed themselves to continuously fail, over and over, even given the fact that they would be forced to pick up the slack where others would be slacking off. Their desire to pass would certainly outweigh any contempt they held towards any slackers or the redistribution process. That’s the law of self-preservation found everywhere in nature. It’s really the main reason I believe this experiment was completely fabricated by an anti-socialist and propagandist. College students would have been smart enough to kick it into high gear as soon as they saw that their ship was sinking, so-to-speak. So, if the professor had allowed the experiment to run its full course, I believe the whole class, as a team, would have self-corrected. The only other possibility I can think of is that the disincentive not to fail was not strong enough nor equal to the real world. Place a live chicken on a hot-plate and it will jump out! If failing meant real pain and suffering or even dying, then students would have definitely adjusted their attitudes. If they truly feared the consequences, I believe the class, as a whole, would have found an appropriate range of equilibrium, especially with the aid of some form of leadership which is always present within any group, including a socialized group.
Several studies have already been done, involving students of all ages, when it comes to working in groups, and the results always show an overall improvement in grades and productivity. Poor students do better and good students continue to do well. It has also been shown that students who worked in groups improved their test scores, indicating that they were more motivated and actually learned more. If the success of the class as a whole truly mattered, reflecting a real socialistic system and the real world, then they would all work together to ensure its success. In fact, this social teamwork tends to naturally show itself, sooner or later, within any failing economic system. People always eventually pool their resources in an attempt to save their dying world, because they know that if they don’t, all is truly lost. For example, let’s say the professor told his class that if they were all to make above a C minus, then the entire class would get to take a trip to Hawaii or be the lead actors in a new Star Wars film. But, if they failed, they would all be publicly whipped, beaten, and spat on. You can bet your entire annual salary they would all make above a C minus! If it were ever proven to me that such an experiment was ever honestly carried out and that an entire class actually failed under such conditions, it would shock the hell out of me!
Now if this professor had designed a more accurate model of socialism, whereby students get fairly rewarded for their efforts and jointly share the classroom, chalkboard, bathrooms, and water fountains, and where there’s an endless supply of grades (currency), and the power to grant upward curves on all grades, then I have no doubts that the students would have all passed. For the most part, most classrooms across the world are already set up this way, only eliminate much of the power each teacher has, who currently serve as a single dictator over their class with all the power to award grades and, instead, allow the students to evaluate and grade each other, unbiasedly.
In a socialized society, there are safety nets. No one would ever be allowed to fall so far below the poverty line. Every citizen would always have access to the bare necessities of life. To achieve this support system, money would either be simply given to those in need by the government, which ideally is controlled by the people, or money would be taken from well-to-do citizens and redistributed to those in need through taxation. In the original experiment, the professor chose the second option to illustrate the widely debated concept of wealth redistribution, whereby rewards are taken from some and given to others in order to stabilize the overall system–kind of like moving a bunch of passengers from one side of a boat to the other to even the distribution of weight, so the boat doesn’t tip over. But I still believe that if the students agreed to have a small percentage taken from their grades, if they did well, to be redistributed to students who truly struggled or had some sick days, as a safety net and as a form of universal insurance, the entire class would all pass and be better off.
I would also like to address the use of grades in exchange for currency. Interestingly, I have often used the analogy of a classroom and its grading system to convey the way I think we should all get paid–an idea I shared with my college professor back in 2001. The reason is because grades are not a resource that could ever be in danger of running out. Notice how there is never a shortage of grades to go around. There are never any students who are not doing their work or not taking exams as a result of a shortage of good grades like in a capitalistic system. Also notice how grades are not backed up by anything tangible like precious metals or rare gems which could become scarce. Instead, they are backed up by the integrity of the school system. They are recognized by teachers, students, parents, and employers as valid indicator’s of one’s efforts. Similarly, in a socialized society, grades could be used to determine and issue spending credits–which would be backed up by the mutual agreement of the citizens–and, therefore, used to purchase goods and services like food, clothing, and room and board. The one main thing that worries capitalists and gold standard supporters is the idea that government would control the value and distribution of their currency. Don’t worry; there will always be gold around, along with similar precious metals, gems, and other rare commodities that would be in place as a backup. After reviewing all the popular monetary systems, I’ve come to realize that there is no one perfect single solution that will solve all monetary problems. It takes a combination of systems–at least a binary one.
Now suppose another classroom experiment were conducted, only this time using a capitalistic model, which uses a sink or swim ideology. Normally, in such a system, there would be problems like unemployment, because the top wealthy would be free to massively store up all the wealth, kinking the circulation of money and overall prosperity. Therefore, in a capitalistic classroom experiment, you would eventually have many students sitting around who are not even given an opportunity to take a test because many would not be willing to give up a percentage of their own grade-wealth to pay another student to take a test, or many would not be able to afford to give them a grade, not even a D minus. So in order to hold all else equal, so as to focus primarily on how the students perform under the pressure of capitalism and not how well the system performs as a whole, the professor would obviously have to create the conditions of a perfect economy. He would need to simulate the conditions where there is always an available source of employment and reward, a system with the power to always grant a good grade to anyone willing to earn it. In other words, we will simply have to pretend that all the good grades that are, in reality, granted by the professor are, instead, coming from well-to-do citizens in a booming economy. It’s also important to point out that in a capitalistic-type system it’s not necessarily how hard one works that matters but rather how successful one is, because in such a system people aren’t always rewarded for their hard work. They are usually only rewarded for their success. The same would be the case for these hypothetical students in this new hypothetical experiment. They may struggle and strain to study and pass the exams but still fail.
The results would be what we already see in most classrooms all over the world, and that is an unacceptable number of failing students and students with very low test scores, even in places where the instructors and school books are of high quality. We have to imagine that those who make failing grades would either resort to begging other students, who would be free to “donate” a portion of their grades to them, or resort to crime in order to survive. If a passing grade meant survival and great pleasure and a failing grade meant great humiliation and suffering, or even death, and if a student could steal grades from other students or steal the things they purchased with those grades, then there would clearly be students who would have to resort to begging and stealing from other students and possibly even killing them in order to survive. In a socialized system none of these things would ever happen for survival reasons. Any system that allows continuous, prolonged, intolerable failure is, in of itself, a failure.
Overall, the professor’s experimental design reveals that he thinks that the condition of the economy all boils down to everyone’s willingness to work hard. The experiment is clearly designed to measure students who don’t want to work hard (do their homework) and students who can’t do the work (don’t know the answers on the tests). He obviously feels that capitalism encourages people to do their best and to work hard and that socialism encourages laziness and social loafing. You can tell he mainly set out to demonstrate that many hate to be forced to make sacrifices to aid those in need, as well as the overall system, and will begin to slack off in defiance or out of a lack of motivation and that the needy are merely lazy people who will always take advantage of the system. I can’t express to you enough how wrong and damaging this view is. In the real world, the condition of our economy is affected by many other more serious factors. Poverty is not primarily the result of laziness or people’s inability to do their jobs as most anti-socialists falsely believe. Poverty and a poor economy are mainly due to a lack of jobs and low wages. The reason why there are usually not enough jobs or higher wages is because the top wealthy few selfishly refuse to spread the wealth. All the wealth is being stored up like the blood in ticks who inflate themselves from all the relentless blood-sucking. The only way to prevent this is to limit the size of their purses and the volumes of their hidden safes. Citizens cannot be allowed to become ridiculously rich, nor can citizens be allowed to become ridiculously poor. We have to maintain a healthy midrange level of individual wealth and prosperity; though some stratification should always be allowed, for we should never allow ourselves to become completely equal and homogenized. The answer, once again, is a balance between the extremes. Capitalism has it’s good sides, but it definitely has its dark sides too. A successful economic system must incorporate at least some compassion and a little bit of safety. Economic systems that show both a little tough love and at least a little compassion will rise above all others.
I have commented on each of the five statements made by the anonymous author, down below:
1. “You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.”
Actually, you can. Franklin D. Roosevelt did it during The Great Depression and saved America from a complete collapse. Statistics show that the top wealthy tend to sit on their money instead of putting it back into circulation. They often don’t hire more people or spread the wealth to those who have helped them build their business. They often do the opposite by sending American jobs to other poorer countries who will work for far less, so they can hold on to even more money. When the government raises their taxes and forces them to add to the communal pot, every one does better, including the rich, because the economy improves. The main reason for the recent fall of the economy is because taxes and regulations went way down during Bush’s presidency. Though, wasteful government spending didn’t help either.
2. “What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.”
In its simplest form, that is true. However, it’s a necessary evil in life that we have to make sacrifices for the overall good. When a mother sacrifices her time and energy to help her sick child they are both rewarded in the end. Most capitalists don’t realize that what they’re getting for their forced “donations” is a better system. Remember, if someone needs to eat but doesn’t have the money to buy food, they will rob a store and possibly shoot a rich man in the process. The more spending power the poor has the more they can buy products and services from the rich. The more that happens the more businesses can afford to hire more people and, thus, the better off the economy. It is said that people are far more confident to start up a business or invest their money when there are proper safety nets in place, much the way a trapeze artist is more confident to jump, swing, and twirl high into the air. So all those who give will and do receive something wonderful in return, and that is a better nation.
3. “The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.”
True, but again, we have to make sacrifices in life for our fellow man or we will all eventually fall. Socialists are always trying to carefully explain that concept to hard-core capitalists, but unfortunately it usually falls on deaf ears. Hard-core capitalists can’t seem to step back and see the bigger picture, so I always try to explain it to them in a language they would understand. I tell them to think of it in terms of self-interest. The more they help their fellow man the more they are helping themselves and their nation.
4. “You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!”
Actually, yes you can. It’s done every day and has been done throughout history. Although, there’s a right way and a wrong way to divide 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[ed] for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.”
That is all true. However, that is the grossest misrepresentation of what socialism is, and that short-sighted view, unfortunately, continues to spread like wildfire. Socialism is not about giving half the people the idea that they don’t have to work or that one half has to completely take care of the other half. The reason hard-core capitalists and far right-winged Republicans are always pushing this idea is because they genuinely feel they are being robbed by the government, and they hate self-sacrifice. They can’t stand the idea of paying taxes towards a support system which they truly believe yields no return. If only they could realize that what affects others, ultimately, affects themselves and that their contributions are for the overall good of the group which stabilizes the stage they stand upon. They can’t see that doing the wrong thing is easy and doing the right thing costs. That’s just how life works and always will. A great spiritual leader once said, “He who will be great must be a servant,” and “He who lowers himself will be exalted.” Of course, at first glance, we all want absolute freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want, just as a child wants to eat his or her dessert first before the main course, but sometimes we have to endure and do the things we’d rather not in order to truly succeed.
We have to move beyond the mode of absolute self-interest, which is killing some of our greatest nations, unless that self-interest means helping all others as much as possible. Overall, we have to care about one another and we have to make sacrifices! Only when we give and make sacrifices do we truly profit!
Guyus Seralius–Jan 28, 2013 (Re-Edited on March 19-29, 2013)