A couple of weeks ago I came across this post. It is one of the many that demonstrate that socialism cannot work. In this case, it is through the parable of a professor teaching a class that ‘Obama’s socialism’ cannot work: this was ‘achieved’ by averaging out the marks the students scored in the next test – so you got what the class deserved on average rather than what you achieved individually. That had those who had studied hard angry and the lazy one happy: in the test after that they both studied less because all counted on someone else to do the work for them, so the average was even lower for everybody.
There are many more layers of bullshit to this than I care to count, but I guess it summarizes most of what people think socialism to be. So let me point out a few issues.
First, this is income redistribution, not socialism, althought it might well be a consequence of socialism. But it is even debatable if in a socialist framework the whole idea of income redistribution would make sense any longer.
Second, the whole experiment demonstrates that the students want good marks, but are not interested in learning – knowing more is not an incentive per se, or rather, it is second-order vs. getting good marks.
Third, no student decided that it would have been better to co-ordinate and share the burden of studying so that they all (or at least a group of cooperating students) achieved a better performance: they decided there was no alternative to competition other than living on the shoulders of others. That is another debatable assumption – students already work together without any need for an incentive. A system that rewards cooperation rather than competition is not necessarily doomed, in my view. Or, this says much about the school and the student’s background.
Fourth, by redistributing marks that way, the teacher had effectively turned the marks into currency, so I wonder what would have happened if she/he had allowed students to trade them. I guess it would have made for a rather more interesting experiment.
Fifth, it is high time these ‘critics’ understood that socialism is about the ownership of the means of production, not income distribution. The whole point of socialism is that a system in which a (small) group of people alienates the surplus product from the work of another (large) group of people creates social tensions which are not sustainable forever. These tensions will at some point in time resolve themselves into a different model of ownership, through which access to the products of work for all society is maximized.
Sixth, the above in itself is sufficient to discard whatever Obama is doing (or people confusely think he’s doing) as socialism. (Incidentally, that’s enough to discard anything also Lenin did as such – as the first thing he dedicated himself to when he came to power was to dismantle the distributed power model of the factory Soviets and replace it with the bureaucratic hierarchy that was the skeleton of the Soviet state, thus effectively wiping out workers’ ownership of the means of production). And, intrinsically, fairer taxation (whatever that may be) cannot solve the inequality problem (assuming you think inequality is a problem).
Seventh: socialism is the social organization that should manage the transition from a scarcity economy to an abundance economy (that would be communism). Socialism is possible when technology allows for such efficiency in production that there’s potentially enough output for everyone to live comfortably out of, with even a wide amount of choices possible. In those conditions, the idea is that workers’ ownership of the means of production would remove the inefficiencies due to profit protection (output which is lost into sharholder value, for example) and make this potential accessible to the whole of society. Income distribution in those conditions would not make sense any longer.
Eighth, we can debate as much as you wish if the above make sense, but to me key issues with socialism are things like the problem of central planning, not the fact that ‘people who work hard would be wrongly deprived of the fruits of their efforts’. In a socialist society ‘income distribution’ would take over an entirely different meaning than what it has now.
Ninth, critics of Marxism (and a lot of marxists as well) should please give up with the whole idea that socialists should consider capitalism unfair, and that that is the reason why it should be replaced with socialism. That idea obliterates the historical perspective in Marx, and the observation that democracy as we know it today and the capitalist system emerged at the same point in time because freedom and equal rights are two necessary conditions for the establishment of capitalism. Socialism (and communism after that) is a projection of the path that the history of society might follow as a consequence of the class struggle – but the class struggle itself can only emerge when a capitalist mode of production is in place.
And by the way – I take from the comments that the author of the post believes the current regime we live in not to be ‘real capitalism’. That’s fine, people more economically savvy than me (such as Yanis Varoufakis) think capitalism is ten years dead – substituted by a global bankrupt’s banks regime. I wonder whether from here we want to go back to what originated this, or forward to something else.