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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11620/voluntary-socialism-versus-human-nature/

voluntary socialism versus human nature

February 6, 2010 by

Kibbutz Givat Oz

I lived half a year on a kibbutz back in the late 1980s, just as the intifada was starting.

For most of that time, I was the “shotef sirim” — the pot scrubber. For me, it was a proud title. It was the one kitchen job they wouldn’t let women do (something about the weight of the pots or the height of the top shelves), so I spent the work days surrounded by women — but with my own little domain behind the oversized sinks and the power spray of hot and cold water.

Now I learn from the Financial Times (“The rise of the capitalist kibbutz”) that “Tasks that used to be performed by kibbutzniks regardless of their education and background — such as washing the dishes — are today largely the preserve of hired workers from outside the community.”

As the article’s title implies, that’s not the only change confronting the kibbutzim, the once-upon-a-time bastion of voluntary socialism — the “proof,” as some of us once claimed, that “it worked.”

As kibbutznik-turned-economics-professor Omer Moav argues,

the kibbutz movement was always destined to fail. It worked, he says, only as long as kibbutzniks enjoyed a standard of living broadly comparable to, if not better than, the Israeli average. “People respond to incentives. We are happy to work hard for our own quality of life, we like our independence,” he says. “It is all about human nature — and a socialist system like the kibbutz does not fit human nature.”

{ 17 comments }

NonAntiAnarchist February 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm

There is no such thing as voluntary socialism; such is a contradiction of terms.

If action within a group is exclusively voluntary, it is, by definition, a free market.

jeffrey February 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Non, that is true enough but the popularity of the “voluntary” model has risen with the rise of statist socialist theory, and fall in the same direction too. And even in a voluntary system, the same problems of calculation and incentives apply.

DD February 6, 2010 at 10:13 pm

The kibbutz was hardly ever a voluntary organization. It’s members were mostly voluntary but the capital that financed the Kibbutz was mostly Israeli tax money.

NonAntiAnarchist February 7, 2010 at 12:09 am

Jeffrey, that’s why I believe that “libertarian socialists” and the like are hardly anarchists at all, despite claiming to be so. They seem to be fine with voluntary action so long as it is voluntary action [i] they [/i] approve of. They don’t seem to be very tolerant of true individual freedom as you would expect and hope an anarchist to be. I may be generalizing, but such has at least been my experience.

And as DD has mentioned, the Kibbutz was hardly self-sustaining; it was merely a parasite.

Wanfort February 7, 2010 at 4:22 am

["..a socialist system like the kibbutz does not fit human nature."]

It indeed fits on a small-scale… like the nuclear family size.

A typical American family is the essence of socialist theory.

Most people are very comfortable with that normal socialist family model… perhaps explaining why most are also comfortable with the general concept of national socialist programs (…compulsory education, Social Security, etc.).

Perceived as benevolent, wise & effective — government rulers are often mistakenly viewed as selfless ‘parents’ to the mass citizenry.

Socialism can work with very small groups for decades, depending on the circumstances… but quickly breaks down with larger units.

Joseph O. February 7, 2010 at 6:43 am

funny I jujst read a comment on Topdocumentaryfilms.com under an american enterprise institute film on socialism (didn’t watch it) where someone was trying to say the “human nature” argument against socialism was the weakest argument. Needless to say I couldn’t let it go and had to make a comment that will hopefully lead some people here.
Greatest book ever written on economics is titled Human Action right?

SA February 7, 2010 at 8:10 am

I think we are taking the wrong approach to left libertarians. As long as they believe in not initiating violence, what’s the harm? They can try their model and if it works, good for them, and if not, what is to say they will give up their anarchism before their socialism? I think we are missing an opportunity with them…

Ray Sawhill February 7, 2010 at 9:41 am

So anything that doesn’t last forever is a failure?

Inquisitor February 7, 2010 at 10:58 am


It indeed fits on a small-scale… like the nuclear family size.

A typical American family is the essence of socialist theory. ”

I guess firms are also socialist then… they’re not, of course. Neither are families. They are closer to mini-monarchies.

ABR February 7, 2010 at 11:11 am

Inquisitor writes: “I guess firms are also socialist then… they’re not, of course.”

Unfortunately, many companies are run in a socialist manner. They are centrally controlled, and most employees do not own shares.

If an employee fails to do his job adequately, the worst that can happen to him is that he loses his job, whereas a failed capitalist loses his investment.

It is my experience that most employees view a company as a means of providing them employment, rather than a means of providing a return to the shareholders.

J Cortez February 7, 2010 at 12:57 pm

“Unfortunately, many companies are run in a socialist manner.”

I disagree completely. Central control does not implicitly mean socialism. Companies are a strategic means to create economies of scale, lower costs and risk. A board of directors or CEO are not equal to the worker’s council or a commissar, as they have skin in the game. Their capital has been infused into the company, they have a distinct desire not to see their capital disappear. A worker’s council or the commissar are not invested in the enterprise like a board and CEO are. They also do not see the return like a board, CEO or the employees do.

It is my experience that most employees view a company as a means of providing them employment, rather than a means of providing a return to the shareholders.

That is exactly how employees are to view companies. No one joins a company with the notion of providing a return to the shareholder. They are there to get money in exchange for their labor.

. . .

As for the family as a socialist enterprise, I’d agree with Inquisitor, families are more like monarchies.

ABR February 7, 2010 at 1:29 pm

J Cortez writes: “A board of directors or CEO are not equal to the worker’s council or a commissar, as they have skin in the game.” — Not necessarily. Some directors are ‘independent’ and own no shares. Some directors represent another corporation having shares, while the director himself has none.

Cortez writes: “No one joins a company with the notion of providing a return to the shareholder. They are there to get money in exchange for their labor.” — Exactly. This kind of employee has no ‘ownership’ in the product of his labour.

If the labour amounts to digging a ditch, then the distinction is moot. But if the labour amounts to decision making, especially where the labour is opaque and entangled (e.g., software industry) then the distinction is important.

The central controllers can’t possibly evaulate what everyone below is doing. It’s the same fallacy Mises points out re socialism. There is no price feedback loop. Yes, there are earnings, but that measurement applies to the company as a whole, not typically to individuals.

If key players own a stake in their labour, however the company might manage to define that ownership, and worker bees negotiate wages and terms on a per task or project basis, then we start to see something like a feedback loop.

Free Jack February 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Would “companies” ever exist if it was not for the state to grant them a limited responsibility chart.

Under libertarianism, only people exist. Companies as a “moral person” is a gross fallacy that should not be permitted.

Under libertarianism, you work for the entreprenor, not for the company.

Only because of the state do companies exist as persons.

The larger the company, the less fun and the more burden an employee has. The large company can then treat it’s employees like slaves.

Working for a small company that is growing, I can say that it’s becoming more and more tyrannical and I will have to find something else.

DS February 7, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I think family collectivism can lead to a special kind of misery.

Anon. February 7, 2010 at 10:53 am

There are no (or almost no) Kibbutz left that aren’t subsidized by the Israeli state. Therefore it has failed the test of sustainability even before it began outsourcing jobs. And therefore it is also not voluntary.

raul February 8, 2010 at 5:56 am

about companies, management, shareholders, employees …
please read a great little book
Mises’ Bureaucracy

Larry N. Martin February 8, 2010 at 11:12 am

Boy, what a bunch of “kibbutzing”! ;-)
Seriously, though, while it’s true that companies, especially big companies have their own amounts of bureacracy, the limits are that they have to continue to be profitable. Without government privileges and protection, especially regulations that limit competition, companies would have to work harder to accomodate employees, perhaps giving the employees more incentives to consider shareholder value.
I think it’s interesting to note how companies interlock and interact, as well. Companies hire other companies to contract out different types of work or jobs. Perhaps the more free market approach would consider all individual workers as contractors instead of as employees? As a contractor, each individual would be his own “company”, as it were.

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