The Great Equalizer

Here is a little story we came across which may be of interest, a parable for our times. As we go into an election, certain ideas are attractive.

An economics professor had never failed a single student before but had, once, failed an entire class.

The class had insisted that socialism worked – and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer for all, for society.

The professor then said ok, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism.  He said that 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 was given a B.  The students who studied hard were upset, and the students who studied little were happy.

But, as the second test rolled around, the students who hadn’t studied much for the first test had studied even less, and the ones who studied hard weren’t motivated to study hard again, and they 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, name calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for anyone else.

All failed…. and the professor told them that the socialism they wanted would ultimately fail, as they had, because the reward of success normally goes to those that work hard.  When governments take the reward away, few will try, so no one will succeed, and everyone will be worse off.


Like many seemingly attractive things, when you think about them carefully, check the small print, and factor in human nature, they lose their appeal.

Of course the real value of study is not the grade at all– handed out by authority– but the knowledge gained in the course. The student who studied hard anyway would have come out ahead even with an F but then society would have no measure of his competence compared to the others in the class. And if this “equalizing” extended to university faculty and management what incentive would there be for the professor to present the material well? The searching student would have to find material to study on his own. You can see how this system would whittle the number of competents down to those few with the determination to overcome all obstacles. How could this benefit society?

Related: Nik Nanos poll on role of government. [PDF doc]


3 responses to “The Great Equalizer

  1. Few people understand the meaning of socialism whether or not they believe it to be positive or negative. Even worse, you’ll find as many definitions, and often contradictory, as there are people. Let me just make one observation: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with socialism as long as it’s practiced within a free and open market. Allow it to compete openly and you’ll never have a problem. After all, that’s what freedom of choice is all about. Let me operate as I wish and you can do the same. And may the best man/woman be the winner!

  2. Tony, beautifully put. Might I add one thought:

    Free and open markets facilitate synergy and and cooperation, as well as competition.

    That is why free and open markets ultimately create far more winners than losers. What could be more social than that?

  3. Yes, that is true. Within a free and open market, socialism and its principles is simply one of the competitors. It can compete freely and even win. In a dedicated socialist state, where free markets are outlawed, socialism will inevitably fail for lack of free and open competition. That’s an oxymoron to be sure.