Yesterday I had an email from a friend asking me if I had a response to an email she’d been sent by another friend and wanted to refute. She knows me well enough to know I was more than likely to have a view, and of course I did. Here’s the email she was sent :

An economics teacher at a local school made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Gillard/Brown socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.
The teacher then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on the Gillard/Brown plan”. All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A…. (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).
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.
As the tests proceeded, 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.
To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the teacher 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, and gives to those who do nothing, no-one will try or want to succeed.

Gah. So, leaving aside the fact that this mostly shows us a hopeless teacher who is not encouraging their students to do well NO MATTER what grades they get (grades being an external recognition of internal work anyway), and undercutting the idea that some people will always want to acquire knowledge for its own sake (which is also pretty appalling teaching), and that I have a feeling the teacher is actually using a mean or median score, not the average score, here’s my response …

Those who think that socialism cannot work because people are only concerned about their own, individual success (and perhaps that of their immediate family), those who think that people only work for reward and will work harder for greater reward, totally underestimate the human spirit.
They underestimate the parent who can lift a ton weight to shift a car trapping their child’s body – and who would do the same to save another child because they have empathy and perceives their own child in that child.
They underestimate the people who work in hospices caring for the dying and their loved ones. People who do that for no financial reward at all, for whom the ‘reward’ is seeing someone else, someone they are not related to, someone they do not love, die a slightly less painful/less lonely death.
They underestimate the millions of nurses and teachers who work, many in extremely difficult conditions (outside the wealthy west for eg), for very little recompense, because they are drawn to care and to help.
They underestimate the fact that small children routinely say “that’s not fair” because we NATURALLY understand fairness.
They underestimate the medical professionals of Medecins Sans Frontiers, and those of the Peace Corps who routinely risk their lives for those in war-torn countries.
They underestimate the Blitz spirit, the siege of Leningrad, the astonishing courage of the firefighters in NYPD police who went back into the Twin Towers time and again, the young men and women who lost their lives fighting facism in WW2, the Danes who saved Jews in WW2, the Palestinian doctor whose daughters and nieces were killed in an Israeli raid who still went to work saving Israeli and Palestinian lives, the white people who fought alongside black people to stop apartheid in South Africa, the women who were force-fed (and worse) to gain universal suffrage, they underestimate Rosa Parks and Primo Levi and Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. They say those people are rare. I say those people are common and to deny that many many many of us would care for our fellow human being as readily as we would for ourselves is to deny the human spirit.
Those who think socialism cannot work because people are inherently selfish and only work for financial reward are cynics who simply do not understand that, for so many of us, from each of the great monotheist leaders, to the nice home counties lady delivering meals on wheels this lunchtime, to the first-year teacher in an inner city school, to the kid who shares his lunch in the playground, human beings WANT to care for each other. They underestimate humanity.

ps – though it’s true the great big socialist states didn’t managed it very well. Russia didn’t work well under feudalism either (unless you were a Romanov!!). Too big, nothing to do with socialism.