Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Soviet vs. Capitalist Propaganda Still With Us

I received this story as one of the endless forwarded emails from right wing sources. I don't want to analyse every one of them in my blog, as there are simply too many. But this was the first one forwarded to me by Mary Ann, as she normally hits the delete key first. This one seemed to bother her because of who sent it, and because it was about teaching. So I decided to use it as an example lesson in media literacy. (i.e. bullsh*t awareness 101)

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had once 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 would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A.

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.

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.

All failed, to their great surprise, 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.

This would actually be an interesting experiment, from a scientific point of view, just to see what the outcome would be in real life (instead of the imaginations of email spammers). I'll bet some people would be surprised to find out that many, maybe thousands of real scientific experiments have been done about what motivates people. Motivating people is the basis for many human endeavours, including sales, political propaganda, education (as illustrated), and just about any business that has hired people to work for them. It would be mind boggling if no one had ever studied human motivation before.

What have we learned from real scientific studies of human motivation? Some students will work for high marks in school, and many students do not. In the workplace, many people will work for money, but other motivating factors have been discovered. And it has also been determined that once the workers have enough money to cover their basic needs, that money loses some of its motivational power.

Anyway, to summarize, it is way more complicated in real life than this fictional story indicates, it is even way more complicated in a real scientific study.

I find it easy to imagine a Soviet style story just like this one, except "proving" that capitalism does not work.

It starts off like this "My comrades, once upon a time there was a professor at a local college..blah blah.. all his students thought capitalism was a great system ... blah blah ... all the students who get low marks have to give their lunches to the kids who have high marks." and finally. it ends like this "The students who got low marks threatened the students with high marks, so that they would not do so well in their tests next time." And to summarize. "Finally, everybody failed, therefore capitalism does not work. Glory to Stalin and the Communist Revolution!"

By the way: No socialist has ever proposed removing all rewards from their economic system. On the other hand, capitalist generally agree that starvation, torture, and poverty is not a requirement for the capitalist system to work. And, oh yeah... Obama is not a socialist anyway. Extremist black/white viewpoints like the stories above are useful only in brainwashing the masses.

Picture: Fake soviet style poster from


  1. You contend that, 'No socialist has ever proposed removing all rewards from their economic system.'

    There are probably as many socialist paradigms as there are socialists and some may, in fact, advocate this sort of extreme position.

    However, most reasonable socialists would propose that social 'necessaries' and protection of 'the commons' be a function of the state - as things that historically have not handled been well by 'the market.'

    I must admit that I have a great deal of trouble understanding why so many Americans seem to believe that Obama is a 'socialist.' In fact, any objective assessment of American politics quickly reveals that, in practice, there is effectively little difference between Democrats and Republicans. And, thus, the criticisms of Obama as a 'socialist' are simply Republican cant, which more people should simply ignore.

    [Continued, below]

  2. But I digress. You posit that, 'maybe thousands of real scientific experiments have been done about what motivates people.' Serious academic research into motivation has been carried on for quite some time, with 'classic' hypotheses such as Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs accepted as useful models of motivation.

    The conservative insistence on money as the prime motivator seems to be a indicator of personality pathology. It certainly seems to be a pathology prevalent among corporate CEOs, where 'money is just a means of keeping score' even if it means depriving those at the bottom of the social structure.

    Anyone who gives any serious relevance to that story you quote might be well advised to do a little reading. For example, Tom Slee's No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart very effectively uses game theory to probe the myth that 'the market' is the panacea the conservatives continue to insist it is.

    Slee's discussion of the Tragedy of the Commons is particularly relevant to those who advocate that all our economic activity be conducted with a view to financial reward.

    [Continued, below]

  3. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently published an
    excellent analysis of Canadian income and wealth inequity.

    'Canada’s richest 1% — the 246,000 privileged few whose average income is $405,000 — took almost a third (32%) of all growth in incomes in the fastest growing decade in this generation, 1997 to 2007. ... [B]y the end of 2009, 3.8% of Canadian households controlled $1.78 trillion dollars of financial wealth, or 67% of the total.'

    Among the interesting findings in that report is that wages now account for 68% of income among the top 1%, as compared to 46% in 1946. But relatively few at the top are entrepreneurs; most are lavishly paid executives. And most of their gains have been at the expense of the lower and middle classes.

    [Continued, below]

  4. We now find ourselves in a situation where 15% of Canadians owe more than they own, and 25% have no financial assets whatsoever. Thirty years of 'trickle-down' economics has now been revealed for the sham it is. Income tax cuts have dome little for lower income citizens who pay little in taxes in any event, but they have diverted hundreds of billions from the revenue stream, resulting in the transfer of much of the load onto lower income members of our society through sales taxes, user fees and shrinkage of public services.

    Although I realize that many are inclined to disagree with me that this level of inequity is a formula for social unrest, I do believe history has some lessons to teach us, and we ignore those lessons at our peril.

  5. One of the anomalies with our 'reward based system' is that the folks at the 'top of the heap' are in a position to scratch each others' backs when it comes to compensation - essentially to vote each other major 'rewards' for their 'efforts.'

    Current executive compensation rules require only the disclosure of the top handful of executives (CEO, CFO and top three 'others'), In a large corporation, this results in a huge body of lavishly paid executives who operate under the radar of shareholder (and public) scrutiny.

    For example, in the case of Manulife Financial, the highest compensation is $9.7 million (yes, annually) and the lowest, $2.8 million. That leaves an awful lot of wiggle room for all those executives with earnings in the quarter to half-million dollar range.