The story below arrived in one of those mass emails that an old school friend sends out on a daily basis. No doubt you’re on some similar list. You learn to hit “delete” without opening.
For some reason, I opened this one for a change. It turned out to be an apocryphal tale, a good explanation of how things work in the real world.
Schools give out inflated grades as a matter of course now: can’t afford to bruise little Johnny’s self-esteem by giving him whatever grade he’s really earned. However, if the methodology in this story were applied across the board, our children would learn the hard lessons of socialism young enough to recognize its perils before they were put in harm’s way.
If anyone knows where the story started tell us, please.
An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single student before but had, once, failed an entire class.
This particular class had insisted that socialism really worked: no one would be poor and no one would be rich, everything would be equal and ‘fair’. The professor then said “Okay, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism. Instead of money, we’ll use your grades.”
All grades were to be averaged and thus would be “fair”. This meant that everyone would receive the same grade, which meant that no one would fail. It also meant, of course, that no one would receive an A…
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After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who had studied hard were upset, but the students who had goofed off were quite happy with the outcome.
As the second test rolled around, the slackers studied even less now – they knew they’d get a good grade anyhow. Those who’d studied hard in the beginning now decided they wanted a free ride too. Thus, going against their own inclinations, they copied the slackers’ habits. As a result, the second test average was a D.
No one was happy.
By the time the third test had been graded, the average was an F.
The scores never increased but bickering, blame, and name calling began to be the environment in which this class operated. It had been their own quest for “fairness” which had led to this unintended result of hard feelings and grievances. In the end, no one was willing to study just for the benefit of everyone else. Therefore, all the students failed…to their great surprise.
The professor explained that their experiment with socialism failed because it was based on the least effort by all. Laziness and resentment were the outcome. There would always be failure in the situation they’d agreed to in the beginning.
“When the reward is great”, he said, “the effort to succeed is great, at least for some. But when government takes all the reward away by taking from some without their consent and giving to others without their effort, then failure is inevitable”.
This story resembles “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” except that there isn’t any way to improve one’s lot by choosing to take a chance. You are stuck with the dumbing down of those who don’t care.
From what I’ve read of Walter Williams’ work as a professor of Economics at George Mason University, this is the kind of folksy tale he would have used with his students. So perhaps it originated with him. If this didn’t originate with Dr. Williams, it nonetheless represents his style.
If you want to study a series of lectures on “Economics for the Citizen”, try Dr. William’s essays, here. He wrote them while on sabbatical since he wouldn’t be teaching that semester. The man is a born teacher so he has to keep his hand in the game.
Here’s his summary from Lesson VII:
There’s a reggae song that advises “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife.” Mechanics have been accused of charging women higher prices for emergency road repairs. Airlines charge business travelers higher prices than tourists. Car rental companies and hotels often charge cheaper rates on weekends. Transportation companies often give senior citizen and student discounts. Prostitutes charge servicemen higher prices than their indigenous clientele. Gasoline stations on interstate highways charge higher prices than those off the interstate. What are we to make of all of this discrimination? Should somebody notify the U.S. attorney general?
The summaries make you want to read the whole lesson.
One of his books, Liberty vs. The Tyranny of Socialism, is in its second printing and is now available again from Hoover Press. This page also provides a .pdf link for each chapter in full. Several of his other books are also on the site.
If you haven’t availed yourself of Dr. Williams’ humor and clarity of thought, you’re in for a treat. I used to listen to him on the radio, thus becoming a fan of the Williams method, i.e., “keep them entertained and they’ll realize that economics is not difficult and that everyone can become more informed”.
Dr. Williams is dead serious about his mission, but his philosophy is one of laughter along the way.