Dr. Russell is Professor of Economics at Rockford College and Chairman of the Department of Economics and Business Administration. This article is from his weekly editorial column in the Sunday edition of the Rockford (Illinois) Morning Star, January 21, 1962.
Sociologists generally agree that "aid to dependent children" (including foster homes for them) is a great improvement over the old system of orphanages and other institutions. And for the past 50 years, most sociologists have advocated more government aid for this purpose—that is, to permit the children of deceased or destitute or depraved parents to grow up in a more normal home environment than can be found in an institution.
Unquestionably, the sentiment behind that objective is excellent. I am convinced, however, that sociologists who advocate more government subsidies as the best solution to this problem are overlooking a vital point.
For example, orphanages and similar institutions have traditionally operated on straight socialistic theory. The authority expects each youngster to contribute to the group whatever he can. And each receives from the authority whatever he needs. Individuality is not encouraged.
The effect of this equal treatment has generally been dismal for all concerned. Sociologists are well aware of the drawbacks of institutional life for children, but they seldom if ever consider the possibility that the cause of the undesirable consequences is the socialistic arrangement itself, rather than the absence of parents.
An Orphan’s Experience
Perhaps this true story (merely one of many I could select for the purpose) will help to illustrate the point I am here making.
A new superintendent arrived at an orphanage near Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1932. He discovered that the institution had always been run on the socialistic principle of "to each according to his need; from each according to his ability." The children were treated absolutely alike; in fact, it was necessary to assign each one a number in order to distinguish their equal and identical possessions. That socialistic paradise of equality and security, however, was a drab and deadening place without challenge; kids were always running away from it.
The superintendent immediately installed an arrangement that was as close to a free market operation as the situation would permit. All of the children (even the six-year olds) were put on an incentive system of one kind or another. Those who were age 12 and over were assigned basic quotas for their regular farm and house jobs. They were also given small plots of land for themselves, and free time to use as they pleased. If they produced more than their quotas, they were paid in cash or in additional free time. Each could use as he pleased any money he earned from his own land and from his own free time.
Not surprisingly, the first thing that this competitive system brought to light was the fact that no one is equal to anyone else. That had always been true, but the socialistic system had tended to conceal it.
Quite a number of the kids (perhaps one out of five) didn’t prosper under the new arrangement. They earned nothing. And for all I know, the experience may have given them an inferiority complex.
Most of the children, however, were happy indeed with the new system. Almost all of them were better off in one way or another. And none ran away.
They used all of the customary ways for youngsters to earn money, and then invented a few of their own. Frequently, they produced the season’s earliest tomatoes in that area, and sold them at a high price. Sewing, baby sitting, dishwashing, cleaning, car washing, snow shoveling, shoe shining, delivering papers, selling magazines—you name it, and some boy or girl tried it.
One boy got rich—almost $100 in 15 months. Most of it came from his new business of selling live minnows as bait to fishermen. He finally had to hire several of his friends to catch minnows for him to sell.
When those kids left the orphanage at age 18, they knew that people are not equal. They had been taught that their futures depended strictly on their own abilities and efforts. Thus, they were a bit surprised to discover that the world they were entering was moving backwards toward the socialistic system of compulsory equality and security they had abandoned. But since they were impressionable and adaptable teenagers, most of them soon reverted to the old philosophy of their new leaders.
Over the years, the number of children in that orphanage decreased steadily—not because there were fewer orphans but because government aid to dependent children soon abolished the need for the institution. It is now closed.
Government Must Provide
Today’s children of deceased and destitute and depraved parents are now all taught that it is the duty of government to support them, as well as their parents and grandparents and others. Since they are impressionable and adaptable teenagers, almost all of them accept it as right, and teach it to their own children. Thus, after 30 years of such instruction, it is hardly surprising that most American people now believe that the primary function of government is to provide for all who are having economic difficulties—real or merely comparative.
Under that socialistic philosophy, crime, greed, and immorality on all levels of our society are increasing steadily, both absolutely and percentage wise. Most sociologists are still teaching and advocating more government subsidies to stop it.
Perhaps they will eventually give serious consideration to the possibility that socialism is not the cure but the cause of the problem.
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