Asides

I’m no economist, but I’ll have a look around

535516_4788059894309_310138793_nI feel compelled to respond to a glib, schmucky post making the rounds on Facebook at the moment. (This is not a travel post.)

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 Obama’s 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 on Obama’s 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…. (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).

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 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. Could not be any simpler than that. (Please pass this on) These are possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:

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.

Can you think of a reason for not sharing this?
Neither could I.

This analogy of “socialism” is strikingly simplistic, frighteningly naïve and dangerously misleading.

First off, this professor is comparing apples to oranges. Capitalism is cannibalistic, the great economic Ponzi scheme, and if you haven’t had a look around you lately, please do. Economies are collapsing all over the show. Education should be regenerative and constructive. Should be.

Secondly, this professor is clearly attacking Barack Obama’s social reforms. WTF is this guy doing swaying political opinion among his students like this? No counter-arguments either? Cheap trick; smells like the Cold War.

But OK, let’s go with this analogy. What would this classroom look like in a capitalistic scenario?

Let’s look at the how these students are getting their grades. You get good grades because you answer questions correctly within the context of the class; students do well because they are able to perform well within the predefined limits of the education system. They are able to manipulate their opinions to align with consensus, and are rewarded for this.

In this system, education is a means to an end: to get rich. Education is not considered an end in itself, it’s not a way for the students to find a meaningful place within their society and to learn how to contribute with purpose to their space and people around them – unless they pursue that education independently, of course.

This system breeds the “me first” mentality, which we see reflected everywhere in our society. This system doesn’t teach compassion, or humility. It perpetuates dog-eat-dog behaviour and contributes to the destruction of community and environment. No wonder we live in a society of people who hate going to work, who live for the weekend and holidays, who are too afraid to admit to yearning for a life where they would never have to work, instead meekly waiting for retirement and politely smiling and saying “thank you” while being fucked by The Man. Do I really need to say this? Money does not equal happiness.

And how are these “hard working” kids being treated? Infinitely better than the rest. The professor tailors the syllabus and pace to the advantage of those who perform best within his system. He pays them more attention and lavishes them with praise. The “non-working”* ones are ignored or ridiculed, treated with impatience, while the successful ones form elitist groups, rife with smugness and disdain. They are the golden kids.

Often the lazy students are physically separated from the rest; presumably if isolated from their counterparts, the clever kids will flourish. What does logic tell us will happen to the other ones? Will their perceived stupidity not also flourish?

The smart ones become the leaders, decision makers, the only heard voices. Their unfair advantage becomes a self-lubricating machine.

No wonder the smart ones were angry about other students reaping benefits that were promised to them alone; how else would an essentially selfish soul respond? Bickering, name-calling and blame are, after all, par for this course.

And why are these students working to excel? Is it for the betterment of their environment and their fellow man? On the contrary, it is to alienate themselves even more and integrate themselves with the system.

Yeah, woohoo capitalism, what a wonderful world you’ve made for us.

I’m no economist, but I’ve had a look around and this much is clear: the current system demands that there are N times poor people for every rich person, it is built into capitalism. After all, who is going to clean your mansion for slave wages as you drive off in your Hummer to your job you hate? (Bad example.)

One look at that hallowed bell curve – incidentally also used by schools and universities to measure their own success – proves this point; the curve is a little too sharp and steep on one end for comfort, from where I’m sitting. It’s time to redefine prosperity to include all people as well as the natural environment; it’s time to let go of financial wealth as an indicator of success – all it really does is buffer us from the reality of life on this planet; it’s time to really understand that all money is debt. The idea is not for half the people to do the work; the idea is for all the people to do the work for our common good and for our own individual genuine fulfilment, but as long as the prevailing system balances (precarious as it is) only when two-thirds of all its members suffer and lose, we are all fucked, my friends.

*I think the man working in the mine for 15 hours a day for minimum wage will have something to say about the concept of hard work.

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4 thoughts on “I’m no economist, but I’ll have a look around

  1. The story of the professor is a fable, not an actual event. And one obviously dreamed up by people not familiar with the basics of economics or, for that matter, capitalism and socialism.

    Assuming the supposed professor actually said these things, here’s my take:
    1. If he was really an economics professor, he should be fired, because any economist who got through first year economics should understand the difference between communism and socialism – communism mandates equal distribution of resources no matter what (usually controlled by government), while a common socialist motto is “to each according to his contribution”, which is something quite different. Socialism advocates the common good, not a fundamentalist Marxism. While communism and capitalism are polar opposites, in my view socialism is compatible with both. If you want to know why communism (not socialism) is stupid, open a 20th century history book.
    2. Obama does not advocate communism. He does seem to have a socialist angle, but whether he would actually qualify as a socialist is debatable. I’d say he’s aiming to strengthen America’s capitalist system more than anything else.
    3. Capitalism works best when all people are both healthy and educated. I am in favour of universal healthcare and education. It doesn’t have to be free, but the inability to pay shouldn’t be a barrier to access. This could be achieved by the state being the sole or primary provider, or by ensuring universal access to privately provided healthcare and education. They both achieve the same ends. I don’t see the capitalism and socialism as incompatible. Capitalism incentivizes innovation and hard work, while socialism ensures equal access to opportunity.

    According to capitalist philosophy, the state is responsible for ensuring that people don’t break the rules by preventing fair competition and that everyone plays on a level playing field. Most of the problems that capitalist societies (in particular the US) are experiencing at the moment are due to the state failing in this task. It’s not a failure of capitalism, but of governments to enforce the rules of capitalism. Corruption is not exclusive to any particular economic system.

    I’m not that familiar with how South America is dealing with this sort of cognitive dissonance, I’d be keen to hear what you’ve experienced while you’ve been there.

    • I was hoping an actual economist type would chime in! Relieved to hear it’s a fable, sadly of course it’s being shared out there like the gospel truth. When will I learn about Facebook!

      I agree with your middle-ground approach though I’m not entirely convinced that that can be achieved because it looks to me like governments operate like corporations. As you say, the states are failing in their tasks.

      I think many Argentinians share your views, while others on the Right are extremely vocal about their disdain for the socialist tendencies (particularly farmers and businesspeople, who feel they are the targets of reforms. Well, they are). At the same time education and healthcare are free and good (even to immigrants), or at least the cost is based on what you can afford. It feels to me that this where one can truly gain access to real opportunity. With just over 40-million people and at least thrice the land area of South Africa, I don’t know that all Argentinians (rich and poor) know how good they’ve got it.

      Thanks for providing the “let’s all be friends” insight, John! Maybe if we invented a new word for the marriage of the best of the two systems’ qualities, people will stop resorting to Rooi Gevaar ideologies.

      • We don’t need a new word, we just need to take back the original meaning of socialism. Like we need to take back the original meaning of liberal in SA, where ‘liberal’ has somehow come to mean ‘pretending-to-be-liberal-but-really-conservative’.

        *Gets out guitar, breaks into Kumbaya*

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