Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Grade Averaging as an Allegory for Liberal Politics? Think Again

This is an oft-repeated story, and I'd like to take some time to cut it down to size.

‘The Obama Experiment’ Causes Economics Professor to Fail Entire Class
An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently 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 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 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. It could not be any simpler than that.

First, let's address the central fallacy of the allegory: the dichotomy between equal opportunity and equal outcomes. Do you believe that the current state of income inequality is a problem in the United States? I'm guessing most people answer in the affirmative. Now, do you believe that NO ONE should be poor and NO ONE should be rich? Far fewer hands raised. Do you believe that everyone should receive the same income regardless of work done and value added? Nary a "yes" to be found. Yet this is the premise of the allegory. A false premise: that "Obama socialism" implies entirely equal outcomes.

Let's look at the lessons we're supposed to draw from this allegory.

"1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity." Fortunately for everyone, we're not trying to do either.

"2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving." Blatantly false. If one person is taxed and two people use the resulting road, both benefit.

"3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else." But that’s certainly not a reason to never take anything from anybody. Sometimes, “He needs it more” is a valid argument. Then, too, the government is also capable of creating value. From research funding to education to infrastructure, society is littered with examples of this.

“4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!” Disregarding the technical innumeracy of regarding division and multiplication as fundamentally different, I would counter by saying that multiplying the wealth of the wealthy alone is not the best solution.

“5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they worked for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.” There’s rather a gap between eliminating all incentives to work and eliminating all stopgap measures for those who cannot work, or cannot feed themselves, or can’t receive adequate medical treatment (the factors that contribute to absurd American healthcare costs are a subject I’ll discuss another time). I’d like to think we should fall somewhere in between.

I don’t agree with everything Obama does. Hell, I don’t even agree with most of what he does. But that’s all the more reason not to make up nonsensical stories upon which to base my disagreement. No?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The allegory would be more apt, yet still stupid, if grades weren't capped, much like salaries aren't capped.