Common Sense About The Socialist Professor

Comments: 4 Comments
Published on: 2014.01.20

Someone I love and respect sent me this link and asked me what I thought of it. So here’s my analysis.

Short description: It’s a story (the author indicates that it’s not even true) of a professor who decided to “socialize” the grades in his class, after students “insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich”. The professor averaged the grades for every test. Those who’d initially worked harder grew frustrated that their grades were lowered in the averaging process and quit trying. Eventually, everyone failed.

Then there are “possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read on this experiment”. I plan to engage them one at a time.

First, “Obama’s socialism” is a straw man. President Barack Obama has never — to my knowledge (I’ll be glad to be proven wrong) — supported any legislation or change in our government that could be considered actually “socialist”. I assume the “story” refers to Obama’s speeches about income inequality, reiterating some of the very things he said in his book The Audacity Of Hope — that the gap between rich and poor has grown dramatically in the past several decades, that the poor have even less opportunities today than they did a couple of generations ago, and that a few life preservers tossed their way could completely re-invigorate our nation.

The “story” refers to “substituting grades for dollars” — in other words, giving everyone the same grade in this story is an analogy for giving every American the same paycheck, regardless of how well they perform in their jobs. Again, this is something that neither Obama nor any other elected official in the U.S. has proposed (if you know of one, please send me a link to a reputable source).

Second, it’s less of a theoretical exercise and more of something that happens every day.

I’ve been to public school (and to college, for that matter, if less successfully than I’d planned), so I’ve participated in group projects where everyone in the group gets the same grade. This is something that happened rather frequently when I was in school (I don’t know if it still happens in school; my own children aren’t yet old enough). Sometimes we were in pairs, but more often trios or quartets. In every case I can remember, except one, there was at least one member of the group who underperformed — or ignored the project altogether, knowing that the rest of us would do the work for the grade. (The exception was in college, where all four of us put in seemingly equal work.)

I’ve never seen it done on a class-wide scale as in the story mentioned above, but the effect is the same. The next time the hard-working people are put in such a group, they still work hard, and the lazy guy still gets a decent grade. It’s a team-building exercise.

Third, if this group averaging is “socialism”, then we’ve been socialists for a long time.

The very same thing happens often in workplaces frequently. (“This entire department will be shut down if we don’t all pull together and meet this new quota!”) It’s not socialism; in fact, it could very well be said to be capitalism. The market will give you a “failing grade” if your entire group doesn’t pull together and make up for the lack of the weaker/lazier members.

This is true for entire companies, divisions within companies, and is even true of cities, regions, or nations. Everyone in City A is averaged together and ranked against the average of City B, when a big corporation is deciding where to build the next factory. You might be the highest-performing worker in City A, but those unemployed jokers will bring your city’s grade down and City B will get the new factory.

There are plenty of other examples. You keep your house and property in perfect condition, but property values in your whole neighborhood drop when nearby homes are overgrown or boarded up.

Fourth, though the author of the web page claims that “the left simply won’t leave it alone; something about it strikes a chord and they have to lash out at it, even though it’s a story”, there’s no link to where “the left” is lashing out at the idea. If there is a link, perhaps I didn’t see it behind the popup ads and flash ads spread around the page.

The left doesn’t need to lash out at it, since the story doesn’t “expose” or argue against anything liberals or progressives strive for.

Now, on to “possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read on this experiment”. I’ll quote each sentence and then blather about it.

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

I haven’t heard anyone in the U.S., left or right, suggest taxing the rich out of being prosperous. In fact, as I blogged recently, many of them pay a lower tax rate than I do. I’m certain that a majority of U.S. citizens would like to see the wealthy taxed at least as much as the middle class and poor, and this includes those who make their money from capital gains.

Eliminating the loopholes by which some wealthy citizens escape even normal levels of taxation would go a long way toward assuaging the resentment of the non-rich — not to mention putting more money in the federal coffers.

It’s also worth mentioning that when we non-rich folk say “the wealthy”, we also mean multi-billion dollar corporations like Apple, which have found ways to pay less than their share of taxes.

(Apple’s tax burden was estimated to be about “$2.4 billion” less in one year than it could have been without their tax-avoidance schemes. That’s about $8 per U.S. resident — including everyone, even babies, or about $20 per U.S. household. And that’s just from one company.)

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

Yes. And very few would suggest it should be otherwise. Your taxes pay for my roads. My taxes pay for military retirement checks and insurance. Some guy in Florida pays taxes so that our local fire departments get Hazmat trucks.

In fact, that’s kind of the whole idea of taxes. You can’t afford to hire an instructor for just your kids, but a bunch of people in your town pay enough property taxes so that the total is enough to build a school and fill it with teachers and desks.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

Again, that’s the whole idea of taxation. The idea is that we all (most of us) throw in a fair share, and we all (most of us) get out a fair share too. (Doesn’t always work, but that’s the general idea.)

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!.

This was the one I didn’t get (and not just because there’s a period after the exclamation point), though I’ve seen this phrase on other far-right reactionary sites. If anything, it’s subtraction and addition. The government taxes us (subtracts from our income) and then puts all that money together (addition).

If each of us contributes a little bit, that adds up to a lot. I can’t afford to build the roads I drive on, but we’re all forced to pitch in, so there’s a road. Imagine if we weren’t forced to pitch in.

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.

This fifth bit is built upon the incorrect assumptions further up, which I hope I’ve clearly explained away.

Despite the basic incorrectness of Mitt Romney’s now-infamous “47 percent” remarks, there are people — an awful lot of them — who still believe that about half of the U.S. is getting more from the government than it puts in — and believe that that half always votes Democrat. If this was true, would any Republican ever win any election?

I could not find anywhere any study or statistic showing even approximately what percentage of U.S. citizens get more from the government than they put in — everything I found referred to some specific tax like “income tax” (this is what Romney referred to), which doesn’t take into account the separate category of “payroll tax” or any other amounts given to the government at any level. But I’d be very, very surprised if that number is even close to “half”.

The second half (the workers who supposedly entirely support the first half) is very far from deciding “it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for”. Very far indeed.

I don’t know a lot of wealthy (or even upper middle class) people, but I can’t think of a single one that would give up their source of income if their taxes went up ever-so-slightly — which is all the left has suggested to date. I certainly can’t imagine any of them throwing up their hands and deciding to live in the projects or even a low-end suburb.


Disclaimer: From 1972 through 1995, and again from 2009 to the present, I have been a part of households that obtained more money from the government than they put in. (My father was a federal government employee, as is my wife.)

  1. Idealogs have been circulating this kind of naive, one-dimensional propaganda for lots of year, and political simpletons always claim it “proves” something. The good news, of course, is that it is alway partisan cheerleading and doesn’t actually change any minds.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      “The good news, of course, is that it is alway partisan cheerleading and doesn’t actually change any minds.”

      I see a lot of that on all sides… ‘preaching to the choir’, we always used to call it. If any side has any good points, I think they should take care to couch it in terms that anyone — on any side — can make sense of.

      (For what it’s worth, I think Obama’s “income inequality” speeches had some poor choices of words… the very phrase implies that you want incomes to be equal, which he doesn’t.)

  2. Shari says:

    “If any side has any good points, I think they should take care to couch it in terms that anyone — on any side — can make sense of.” Sometimes the “sides” are just too dumb. Reading the letters to the editor yesterday, I saw a response to an earlier letter. Sunday’s writer argued that the previous writer was obviously retarded for saying that the wealth gap had increased under Obama, when it was common knowledge that Obama frequently talked about having the wealthy pay their share. Facts don’t really stand up to propaganda.
    FWIW, I’d love to see a new, loophole-free tax code, rather than tax “increases.”

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      ‘I’d love to see a new, loophole-free tax code, rather than tax “increases”.’

      I completely agree there. One place the government could save a bunch of money is not having such a complicated tax code. I know it’s supposed to be funny in movies when a legal assistant wheels in a cart of 100+ books and — when asked if that’s all the tax code — says: ‘Oh, no, this is just the table of contents’, but whenever I see that, I just get sad.

      I occasionally read the letters to the editor for our local paper, but usually only for entertainment. :-)

      (One huge local discussion recently was about the renaming of a school. Or rather, whether the name of a closing-down school would carry over to a new, replacement school. If I understood the arguments correctly, keeping the old name for the new school would “insult” and possibly even “harm” the families of other people it should be named after, but not keeping the old name would be racist — the previous namesake was a black leader, I think.

      One person actually argued that the black students would lose hope and fall behind in their studies if it wasn’t named after the black guy. An opposing person argued that black students are less able to keep up with studies anyway. I was appalled by the whole thing.)

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