I’m lying. This is actually going to be quite a long word.

Background: there’s a Socialist anecdote doing the posting rounds on Facebook. And there’s all kind of support being thrown in its direction. Here it is:

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.

If I could just interject here: YES – I can think of some reasons*:

  1. Firstly, because nothing validates an argument like exaggeration! That is: exaggeration does the same thing as “nothing” to validate an argument.
  2. This is a fine example of the reductio ad absurdum fallacy – where an overboard interpretation is shown not to work. And therefore, the whole concept must be flawed.
  3. And, well, that’s just not a good argument.
  4. Here’s a better test: let’s rather say that the professor took 5% off those people who had an A and would still have an A after that – and gave it to those who were borderline Es and it pushed them up to a D.
  5. The people with As still have As.
  6. The people with Es now have Ds, and are thus in a position to progress to next semester’s course, where they have the opportunity to learn more and be better.
  7. The people with As, who are naturally competitive, now have more competition, which incentivises rather than disincentivises them to work.
  8. And we end up with better educated people all round.
  9. Is that so unreasonable? Sounds a lot better than letting the cards land where they land.
  10. Also, on the flipside, are you just meant to reward the intelligent for being genetically gifted? Or do you try and put a system in place that rewards effort, which is a choice…
  11. Conclusion: Socialism doesn’t work when it’s badly implemented.
  12. And actually, democracy is the fail for encouraging the short-term, vote-winning, bad-socialist-style policies that are doomed to fail.

When I made this argument to a poster in question, I got told that I was missing the point. And that I was manipulating results to suit my conclusion. And, like, totally assuming that only the intelligent get As, not the hard-workers.

So let me pre-empt those particular responses by saying:

  1. Surely the defence of the argument cannot be that the socialist professor could be “manipulating the results”, when the free market professor proudly professes “he had never failed a student before”?!
  2. Secondly, I don’t think I’m missing the point of the experiment – I’m just saying that the results of the experiment aren’t linked to the conclusion. If you use socialism unreasonably (by making everyone the same), then it doesn’t work, agreed. But that’s not a reflection of socialism – it’s just a reflection of badly-applied socialism.
  3. It’s much like bad free market economics gets you a world of monopolies (the winners, free to win at any cost, destroy their competition). Socialism, in itself, can work. Just like free market capitalism, in itself, can fail. The argument is not so clear cut!
  4. Also, if you really want to apply free market economics to the situation, you would need to allow students to trade grades between themselves: where the A-graders would have the most to play with; and the lazy masses would never have any surplus marks to give up.
  5. The masses would borrow from the A-graders, using what little they have as collateral.
  6. The A-graders would then persuade the teacher to accelerate the speed at which learning takes place, as the better grade distribution clearly demonstrates that the class is able to take on more.
  7. More content results in the masses beginning to fail under the pressure and default.
  8. The A-graders take all the marks of the masses.
  9. The masses, now sitting with grade averages of zero, drop out.
  10. The A-graders then threaten to lay a complaint against the professor for causing the drop-outs as they clearly indicate bad teaching; but kindly offer to hold back provided that he lets them see the test beforehand.
  11. The A-graders now win without having to do any work.
  12. Oh – and yes, I am saying that the As generally go to the intelligent. Some B-graders might get As by working hard. But mostly, it’s just fortuitous genetics.

I’m just saying.

PS: at this point, I usually get told that the problem has nothing to do with the students – the problem is actually the whole concept of authoritarian teaching and the arbitrary awarding of grades. What we ought to do, of course, is let everyone learn from experience and mark themselves. And society would naturally give some grades better standing than others by virtue of the outcomes of the graduate’s skill. Problem solved. It’s the teacher’s fault.

*which, as an aside, is horrifying. Because I have long been a free market capitalist. Today, it seems, I am no longer that. I blame my new hipster glasses – which are clearly turning me hipster. I’m preparing to be disavowed by the economic world at large.