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09/02/2007

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B

I think the interesting point about the kibbuzim is not that most eventually switched to a standard capitalist setup, but that it took them on the order of half a century to do so. Some would class that kind of several-generation span as a `long-term society'. Nor was most of the history of the kibbutz just a collapse waiting to happen. As you mention, there was a lot of talent that voluntarily went to live there, and to a great extent Israel owes its existence to these communes.

So what (in your opinion) allowed this organization of self-interested actors to succeed and prosper for so long? What worked for the kibbuzim from the early 1900s to their eventual decline at the end of the century? What could potentially work elsewhere?

David Salvage

I, too, am very skeptical about socialism's ability to produce large-scale, long-term benefits. But doesn't your post discuss an extreme of contemporary socialist action? Are socialist democracies like Sweden in danger because of enforced altruism? Or are developed nations who have never really warmed to the nuclear-family ideal, like Iceland, inevitably headed for trouble? What about successful businesses that run on socialist models, like Southwest Airlines, or, here in Brooklyn, the Park Slope Co-Op -- which runs a positively booming business? Aren't nations and institutions like these the real rallying-calls for socialists in a post-Soviet age?

Thomas B.

"...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."

The failure of the kibbutz is illustrative of the failures of socialism, but I don't see how this supports or requires an evolutionary account of behavior. It would be interesting to read why you side with Dawkins over Gould on evolutionary psychology, if you can squeeze it in a comment sometime.

Peter Zelchenko

Yeah, they didn't work very well. What makes the kibbutz and other designed communities interesting is the population dynamics and the ideal size of a community. Size was a major decisive factor in how a community functioned. The Shakers had smaller numbers:

http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1536-7150.1997.tb03456.x?cookieSet=1

[Shaker community size: 'referring to comments by the Shakers, Andrews (1963,107) notes that "(experience proved that the ideal size was about fifty members."']

My recollection is that the kibbutzim found 150-250 members to be ideal, but I can't find a reference for that. A hippie farming community I studied in Tennessee had about 150 in its "golden age," but became so popular that it grew to 1,500 -- so many that the sense of social fraternity collapsed with the community. It's since reverted to about 100.

Lab Rat

I suspect the ideal size of communities like these derives directly from human neural architecture. If I recall correctly, the average person can form strong emotional connections with around, you guessed it, 150 people simultaneously. Beyond this and other people start to blend together into an emotionally indistinguishable mass.

I don't know much about Shaker communities, did they interact with each other frequently? Probably yes, given the lower ideal size - there needs to be room in the net for members of other communities. I'm guessing the kibbutzim were relatively isolated, given their larger ideal size.

gator80

Jack - great parody of a leftist rant! Thanks for a good laugh.

Jonathan

I grew up in a kibbutz and my parents still live there. If there's sufficient interest I might be able to come up with current and historical data about the quantity of members in different kibbutsim (plural of kibbutz, in Hebrew).

Jonathan

Jack

You're welcome gator, but I notice that neither you nor your spokesmen EVER tackle the details. Would you like to, risk, taking a look at our ever deepening trade deficit and offer a rational, suggestion of how we get out of the tailspin w/o, further, lowering of the median standard of living? Thanks, Jack

DanC

Jack, a bit off topic but for example..

Ireland's population is young, healthy, and educated. Compared to much of europe it is a capitalist dream. Groups such as the blue shirts may talk socialist but act capitalist. Still, in time, as the population ages the cost of their social programs will increase and their productivity numbers will decrease. Ireland is a wonderful country but it has it's problems (Dublin more expensive then New York, amazing)

Jack

Thanks Dan and a few comments, just for discussion:

Jack, a bit off topic but for example..

Ireland's population is young, healthy, and educated.

......... One of my laments is that of the US chest thumping "we're the best" but as you point out, Ireland's work force may on average be far better educated. While Ireland may be an "economic miracle" we've had a long and strong headstart. Seeing them whiz by should be further cause for concern.

......... as for being young our boomers are largely still in the work force and theoretically at near the peak of their productivity. Further we should be getting a boost in terms of per capita GDP by immigrants from all over coming in and putting their shoulder to the grindstone as young adults who we did not have to raise nor educate.

......... "healthy" Interesting as they have comprehensive health care for all. I can't help wonder what the drag is on our economy due to so many lower income folk not having access to decent health care, not to mention the obvious drag of our spending 18% of our fairly high GDP while others "competing" nations spend half that percentage of their, generally lower per capita GDP.

Compared to much of europe it is a capitalist dream.

.......... Hmmm, did you know that on an hours worked basis the French worker is more productive than are the US workers?

Groups such as the blue shirts may talk socialist but act capitalist.

........ They too may be like me...... I'm far more interested in appropriate organization and practical solutions than ideology.

Still, in time, as the population ages the cost of their social programs will increase and their productivity numbers will decrease.

......... As GDP is the monetary sum of all goods and services the care of our oldsters, or theirs, is another element of GDP. (Though I'm aware that it doesn't do much for the standard of living of the younger generations and would be the first to suggest that GDP is a poor measure of the health of an economy or the living standard of its people.

Ireland is a wonderful country but it has it's problems (Dublin more expensive then New York, amazing)

........... Hmmmm, Is that in terms of our eroding, debt burdened buck? The CIA and the IMF have Ireland above the US in Purchasing Power Parity.

But I don't really care that a few nations are above us, but considering we have most of the resources we need (if we didn't waste so much energy) and have the best farm and the best fisheries and should have the best infrastructure, unless we're doing a LOT wrong the standard of living in the US should be above that of any other country. That our productivity is on par with war torn nations with few resources such as France, I take as warning that we ARE doing a LOT of things wrong. The link is wiki on GDP
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita


Thanks for the reply, Jack

Jack Knows Jack

Mom has to work nowadays, unlike the good ole days. Why? Because Mom & Dad pay more taxes. This is the fault of "capitalism" and "corporations." The only solution? Raise taxes.

Hans Bader

This is a fascinating blog post, well worth reading. Collectivism generally doesn't work and defeats initiative and inventiveness.

But there are exceptions to the rule. Didn't the Shakers in their heyday prove unusually productive, despite their collective commune living?

It's said that they came up with a lot of inventions.

Then again, the Shakers, unlike the Kibbutzim, were completely celibate. Maybe given their complete celibacy, that inventiveness reflected the redirection of their reproductive energies elsewhere, rather than the absence of any dulling effect on inventiveness of collectivism.

Married people may be more stable than single people, and thus have a higher median income, but all that energy being devoted to child-rearing, and risk-averseness that results from family life, may discourage inventiveness.

And time spent looking for a mate may end up consuming time that would otherwise be spent inventing something.

Ian

Jack said:

"I'm not a fan of socialism nor really any "ism"".........

Nihilism?

ronghai,zhang

Does the socialism fail? What is the criteria for this kind of judgement? You can never say feudalism fails only because it seldom exists on this planet anymore. Circumstances change, the best suited system will change. Success and failure means whether you can fulfill the original objective or not. I am a Chinese. I donot know much more about Israeli kibbutz. But the socilist practise in China is quite different with the conceptive version of socilism in Marxism. It is rather a special phenomenon resulting from a special circumstances.
Let's see the objective function of Chinese people in 1949 first. Private goods and public goods (security or safety) are both in the utility function of Chinese people. There is a great need for the government to protect the people from outside world, mostly from America and sometimes from the former Soviet Union. But the army force are quite underdeveloped which can be seen clearly from the Korean War from 1950-1952. So there is a need for the development of the national defense industry.
But the Chinese economy is a rural one which means the price of labor is low and the price of capital is rather high, and the most part of govenment income comes from the agriculture. The problem is the development of defense industry demands a great deal of capital. The only solution is the control of the rural part and collect rural products as much as possible to exchange critical technology or machines in the world market. The market system cerntainly does not work here, for the labor is cheap and the capital is expensive, no self-interst entreprenare would like to develop the heavy-industry or the defense industry. There is also a free-rider problem in the provision of pulic goods.
That is true that the planned economy lowers the incentive for workers or peasants. But the critical point is that this can enable the government collect money as much as possible and guarantee the minimum living standard for its citizens. In other words, planned system guarantees the minimum consuming private goods and helps the government to direct the limited resources for the development of its heavy-industry or defense-related industry. The incentive problem may move the production possibilities curve inward, but not necessarily achive a lower welfare state.
Then, when the government has the strategic nuclear weapons, the securtiy concern is largely relieved. The planned economy never fits anymore and it comes the era of transformation.

ronghai,zhang

Does the socialism fail? What is the criteria for this kind of judgement? You can never say feudalism fails only because it seldom exists on this planet anymore. Circumstances change, the best suited system will change. Success and failure means whether you can fulfill the original objective or not. I am a Chinese. I donot know much more about Israeli kibbutz. But the socilist practise in China is quite different with the conceptive version of socilism in Marxism. It is rather a special phenomenon resulting from a special circumstances.
Let's see the objective function of Chinese people in 1949 first. Private goods and public goods (security or safety) are both in the utility function of Chinese people. There is a great need for the government to protect the people from outside world, mostly from America and sometimes from the former Soviet Union. But the army force are quite underdeveloped which can be seen clearly from the Korean War from 1950-1952. So there is a need for the development of the national defense industry.
But the Chinese economy is a rural one which means the price of labor is low and the price of capital is rather high, and the most part of govenment income comes from the agriculture. The problem is the development of defense industry demands a great deal of capital. The only solution is the control of the rural part and collect rural products as much as possible to exchange critical technology or machines in the world market. The market system cerntainly does not work here, for the labor is cheap and the capital is expensive, no self-interst entrepreneur would like to invest in the heavy-industry or the defense industry. There is also a free-rider problem in the provision of public goods.
That is true that the planned economy lowers the incentive for workers or peasants. But the critical point is that this can enable the government collect money as much as possible and guarantee the minimum living standard for its citizens. In other words, planned system guarantees the minimum consuming private goods and helps the government to direct the limited resources for the development of its heavy-industry or defense-related industry. The incentive problem may move the production possibilities curve inward, but not necessarily achieve a lower welfare state.
Then, when the government has the strategic nuclear weapons, the securtiy concern is largely relieved. The planned economy never fits anymore and it comes the era of transformation.

Jake

Apologies to Mr/Ms Zhang, but Red China (for that it remains) offers no realistic economic prescription.

ben

Jack, you are repeating the exact same points you made six months ago on this blog. Nothing you have posted here is on topic. And you have the chutzpah to accuse gator of not addressing details.

Jim Winfield

Interesting string of comments.
I recently visited a kibbutz where I had worked for a few months in 1974. I had a tour of the place with an old man I had kept in touch with.
I don't know whether this is typical, but that modern kibbutz has the following features:
Graded salaries according to value of work.
Staff recruited for special expertise.
Houses rented to outsiders when they are not needed by members.
So it is an employer and a landlord too!
But, the members don't only pay their taxes to the government. They also contribute to a fund so that the poorer members can be assisted. So there is nobody without a reasonable standard of living.
And there is another fund for special help for one-off emergency needs.
So the kibbutz members still help each other out. Though I doubt whether it would be invented - without the existing institution to modify.
Incidentally, I agree about the optimum size - you need to know everyone by their first names.
More on my blog - http://alfredsdomain.blogspot.com

Including the ultimate kibbutz experience - involving a roomful of boys and girls and a heap of trousers.

Jack

Ben! Great pun to use "chutzpah!" But, truth is, it doesn't require much when the fact is that "leftist rant" isn't much more than a schoolyard taunt that is perhaps indicative of getting too much talk radio into one's diet.

BTW I note you've included no detail either. Does that mean I've stepped upon your ideology somehow, but you really DON'T want to address such issues as our spiraling trade deficits? Or the D E B T? and the Admin/Majority having established a post WWII record for expanding the size and cost of the federal government in their first term? Anyway, if you see some great positives in these fundamentals or what they say about our ability to "compete" in the "global economy" perhaps you can detail them soon? Jack

"Jack, you are repeating the exact same points you made six months ago on this blog. Nothing you have posted here is on topic. And you have the chutzpah to accuse gator of not addressing details."

Tracy W

Jack - whatever the problems of the US, millions of people still want to move there, life expectancies are rising and unemployment is low. There's no sign of people moving away from the US or other capitalist countries like they moved away from kibbutzes and communist countries (or tried to move away from communist countries).

I don't think capitalism is dependent on access to resources at very low costs - Japan has prospered greatly despite having very little in the way of natural resources. Wages are low in many places around the world because productivity is low - the US still manages to trade with countries like Germany where wages are high because productivity is high. If a Chinese worker costs 10 c/hour and produces goods with a value of $10 each hour after all other costs and taxes (or in other words a net benefit of $9.90 once you take off his salary), and a German worker costs $10/hour but produces goods of a value of $20 each hour after all other costs and taxes (or a net benefit of $10 once you take off his salary), then it makes sense to trade with the German guy as the German guy is producing more value. As productivity rises in China, Chinese wages will go up and they will be able to buy more American goods (or possibly they will choose to buy more Indian goods and the Indians will therefore be able to buy more Mexican goods and the Mexicans will therefore be able to buy more American goods - there's no reason for trade to be bilateral).

Capitalism has been getting by with "fixes" and "patches" for all of known human history - this appears to be a far more effective way of improving matters than all the grand schemes of fixing everything up in one great sweep. Humans are too complex to be fixed in one great sweep - no human brain can comprehend the complexity of the economy. Instead we tinker, we see what the feedback is from the tinkering, we tinker again, we maybe go 0.9 steps back for every 1 step forward, but we get there. Meanwhile big grand sweeps have lead to dictatorships and the killing of millions.

Trade across people and across countries has always been vital to economic prosperity. Americans may have produced their own cars, shoes, clothing and other consumer goods back 50 years ago, but that doesn't mean every single American produced their own car, shoes, clothing, and other consumer goods. Instead some Americans spent their days designing cars, or spray-painting the doors on cars, or sewing soles onto leather uppers for shoes, or raising cows to make the leather for the shoes, or raising cotton, or weaving cotton into fabric, or designing new dresses, or washing dishes by hand, and they all traded with each other so each had more cars and shoes and clothes and food than they would if they had constructed every single car and shoe and clothes and raised all their own food by themselves. How come you think adding people in other countries to this division of labour makes Americans worse off?

Government deficits are a problem of political will, not of capitalism per se.

The trade deficit is because millions of non-Americans want to invest in America. If you want to initiate a trade deficit with me I am happy to let you do so - please send me lots of goods and I promise not to reciprocate. I will even endure the pain of consuming more goods than I have produced. It's tough, but I'll endure it. :)

The problem of people using government power to benefit themselves is far more significant under communism or socialism or feudualism than it is under capitalism.

As for GDP per capita - the gaps between the countries aren't that large in the OECD. Sometimes one country grows faster, sometimes another does. I hardly think 8th in the world is something to be tearing your hair out over.

gator80

Jack's last couple of posts have left me very depressed. No, it's not his doom and gloom outlook on life. The first reason is that he didn't get my joke about having spokesmen. I shouldn't be surprised. My kids have been telling me for years that my jokes aren't funny.

Second, he seems to have WAY more time on his hands than I do. He gets about 50 words in for every one someone else writes! I need more spare time!

Jack

Gator, sorry 'bout not finding time to comment on your witty retort and the kids not chuckling at your jokes, but are you lifting your material from those prone say things like "leftist rant??" Now you have me wondering why there are so few (any?) humorists among the hucksters of the whack-right, though I do find the somber, funereal, straight-man act of Orin Hatch a hoot.


BTW as for spare time, the efficient engine of a functioning capitalism should bring us time and wealth in spades. For much of our history productivity HAS moved along at just under 3% per year. As you know 3% yields a doubling time of 24 years. Thus, if JFK were still around to insist that a "rising tide lift all the boats" the median household should have the option to work half a week or to enjoy a doubling of their income.

But....... curiously? purchasing power for median incomes, and below has been, well, flat, or down. So, if we'd like to honor the hopes of JFK we'd better get crackin' and we'll need something on the order of 7% of real, after inflation, gains each year. Oh, and were that to take place the "unsolvable problems" of SS and healthcare would return to being quite manageable. There may be some costs, however, for example, CEO gleanings might not rise by the 2000% that it has over the last 25 years. Do you think they'd still get out of bed when the alarm rings if we capped 'em at the current level of 500 times what the working folk earn? Do you think raising the min wage by one of our emaciated bucks is likely to "tank the economy?"

"Between 1995 and 2004, U.S. output per worker grew at a 2.9% annual rate, even faster than the impressive pre-1973 pace."

Cheers, and wondering why you find taking a look at our economic engine gloomy? Often, as Churchhill pointed out, "America does the right thing after trying everything else". So, take heart, we've put a lot of wrong things behinds us! Jack

ronghai,zhang

To Jake:
Maybe you mean Red China is not special. Special and peculiar and even mysterious phenomena are always valuable pratical background for great economic thought. I kind of disagree with your opinion. Gold needs to be dug out of the dark world. Maybe China only lacks those excellent diggers like Mr Becker.

ronghai,zhang

To Jake:


Maybe I am not clear about my opinion. Suppose there are two families. The first one has some kind of advanced weapon. The second one hasn't Period 1, the first family beats the second one badly. Period 2, the second family may allot a large amount of its income in investment of this advanced weapon. If its income is quite small compared with the income of the first family, then this investment in security will affect greatly the living standard of the second family. Anyway, the advanced weapon is developed. Period 3, the second family can allot most of its income in private goods again.


Then suppose the same thing happens between two clubs. Period 1, the second club is badly beaten. Period 2, the commitee of the second club is determind to invest in this weapon. This commitee may want to do this through taxing its members. But if the members are very poor, the personal contribution needed is, say 70%. It has a too huge impact on the living standard of the club members. Enough taxes can hardly be collected. Then the commitee tries to publicize the desirability of socialism. Then all the income belongs to the club commitee, and it allots 70% in the weapon investment and at the same time gurantees the minimum living standard of its members. So socialism here is more like some kind of implied taxing. The point is the commitee acts in the best interest of its club members. Period 3, everything just turns normal.

DanC

Please explain
Club One is beaten (ignore that China was an ally in WWII.)
Step One kill millions of your own people to impose a new order.
Step Two imprison some of the most gifted members of your society and make sure benefits go mostly to loyal party members.
Step three corruption becomes such a way of life that new socialism becomes a joke.
Step four people grow tired of deprivation and start to cheat on margins
Ruling elite realize they either must again kill millions or accept a higher living standard based on capitalism.
Things start to turn normal.

Of look at the Iran model, prepare to millions in the name of a new world order based on their vision of the one true faith

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