Freeman

ARTICLE

From Each According to His Abilities . . .

Socialism Eventually Results in a Living Death

MARCH 01, 1996 by THOMAS J. SHELLY

Filed Under : Socialism, Communism

The late Mr. Shelly was a high school teacher in Yonkers, New York. This essay, first published in 1951 as “A Lesson in Socialism,” was a popular FEE reprint for many years.

As a teacher, I found that the socialist-communist idea of taking “from each according to his abilities,” and giving “to each according to his needs” was generally accepted without question by most students. In an effort to explain the fallacy in this theory, I sometimes tried this approach:

When one of the brighter or harder-working students made a grade of 95 on a test, I suggested that I take away 20 points and give them to a student who had made only 55 points on his test. Thus each would contribute according to his abilities and—since both would have a passing mark—each would receive according to his needs. After I juggled the grades of all the other students in this fashion, the result was usually a “common ownership” grade of between 75 and 80—the minimum needed for passing, or for survival. Then I speculated with the students as to the probable results if I actually used the socialistic theory for grading papers.

First, the highly productive students—and they are always a minority in school as well as in life—would soon lose all incentive for producing. Why strive to make a high grade if part of it is taken from you by “authority” and given to someone else?

Second, the less productive students—a majority in school as elsewhere—would, for a time, be relieved of the necessity to study or to produce. This socialist-communist system would continue until the high producers had sunk—or had been driven down—to the level of the low producers. At that point, in order for anyone to survive, the “authority” would have no alternative but to begin a system of compulsory labor and punishments against even the low producers. They, of course, would then complain bitterly, but without understanding.

Finally I returned the discussion to the ideas of freedom and enterprise—the market economy—where each person has freedom of choice and is responsible for his own decisions and welfare.

Gratifyingly enough, most of my students then understood what I meant when I explained that socialism—even in a democracy—would eventually result in a living death for all except the “authorities” and a few of their favorite lackeys.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

March 1996

comments powered by Disqus

EMAIL UPDATES

* indicates required

CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
Download Free PDF

PAST ISSUES

SUBSCRIBE

RENEW YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

Essential Works from FEE

Economics in One Lesson (full text)

By HENRY HAZLITT

The full text of Hazlitt's famed primer on economic principles: read this first!


By FREDERIC BASTIAT

Frederic Bastiat's timeless defense of liberty for all. Once read and understood, nothing ever looks the same.


By F. A. HAYEK

There can be little doubt that man owes some of his greatest suc­cesses in the past to the fact that he has not been able to control so­cial life.


By JEFFREY A. TUCKER

Leonard Read took the lessons of entrepreneurship with him when he started his ideological venture.


By LEONARD E. READ

No one knows how to make a pencil: Leonard Read's classic (Audio, HTML, and PDF)