Kickin’ in the Kibbutz

Nobel laureate Gary Becker, at his blog with U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner, has an interesting look at Israeli kibbutz, socialistic societies that started in the early twentieth century in what was then Palestine by Zionist émigrés from Europe:

Capitalism, industrialization, and the conventional family repelled these émigrés. Kibbutzniks, as they were called, replaced these fundamental aspects of modern societies with collective agriculture where all property was owned by the kibbutz, where adults were treated equally regardless of productivity, and they were rotated every few months among the various tasks that had to be performed on a farm, such as milking cows, planting crops, serving meals, and so forth.

The children were placed in Platonic-type settings, away from their parents, to be taught the ideals and norms of their society. Posner comments that these utopian societies were helpful in Israel before statehood when there was no effective central government:

Collective ownership and wage equality are ways of protecting each member of the collective from economic and other vicissitudes; “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”–the communist slogan actualized in the classic kibbutz–is then a method of social insurance.

These were especially important in protecting the recent settlers from So what’s the point of all this? Well, predictably, most of the kibbutz have failed. Becker and Posner each list several reasons for their failure:

Becker: However, from what I was told and could observe during my brief visit, there was not much harmony-jealousies abounded of those who were only a little better off…Anger was also felt toward those who were considered slackers since they clearly lived off the labor of others. Since everyone ate, worked, and socialized together, small differences were magnified, and became festering sores. Nor were the family arrangements any more satisfactory since parents missed their children, and visa versa.

Posner: There have always been communes, such as the Israeli kibbutzim, but they have usually failed, mainly because of free-rider problems. If wages are uniform, shirkers flourish; also, incentives to undergo training that would increase the value of one’s output are blunted. Thus we read in the New York Times article of August 27 mentioned by Becker that “Mr. Varol was born on a kibbutz in the far north, but he left at 18. He is at peace in his new home, but bitter about the past. ‘My parents worked all their lives, carrying at least 10 parasites on their backs,’ he said. ‘If they’d worked that hard in the city for as many years, I’d have had quite an inheritance coming to me by now.’”

So why talk about this on a blog about Mitt Romney? I think there are a few points to be taken from this

First, despite the seductive platitudes of socialism, in practice, even on a small scale, it does little but impoverish all those under its dominion. This may seem a fairly ordinary conclusion to MMM readers, who are no doubt attracted to Romney’s stout defense of capitalism. Yet in spite of the success of capitalism, free markets, and individual incentives, there is still a culture of collectivism in Washington. Thus, it is not sufficient for a President alone to embrace capitalism, but there must be a change in the federal government’s culture in order to effectuate change. For that I offer this from the South Carolina debate:

Second, family structure matters. Becker’s conclusion is this:

Basically, they ignored the evidence of history that self interest and family orientation is not the product of capitalism, but is human nature due to selection from evolutionary pressure over billions of years.

It is common to find politicians deride the importance of the family. Even some Republicans (I’m looking at you Rudy) seem to embrace the notion that family is an artificial construct, that can (or perhaps should) be disregarded as elemental to the preservation of our society. This notion is present in the ever expanding role of schools in teaching about sexuality. Some programs proposed (I’m looking at you Barack) imply that schools are the better environment in which to broach sensitive topics. Alternatively, they find little use for increased parental involvement and responsibility for their children’s education. Additionally, the nature of marriage (instrumental in the formation of a solid family structure) is under attack almost daily, as evidenced by the recent court decision in Iowa. All these ideas, as Becker concludes, are inconsistent with billions of years of natural selection. The family has been the constant structure of society. As governments have come and gone, the family has survived and provided the most important elements of human existence. Romney understands and advocates strengthening the family:

Third, Mitt Romney is the best candidate to advance those themes. In fact, I think that these two Becker conclusions, along with the main purpose of government in providing for the common defense, are Romney’s campaign pillars:

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