The Corner


Teaching Students about the Consequences of Socialism

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during an event to introduce his “Medicare for All Act of 2017” on Capitol Hill, September 13, 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

We keep hearing that a distressingly high percentage of college students favor socialism. That is as absurd as believing in astrology, but at least astrology is a harmless bit of nonsense. Belief in socialism has terrible consequences when acted upon.

Professor Steven Walters of Loyola University (author of a superb book on why cities either succeed or flop entitled Boom Towns) has a way of tarnishing the allure of socialism with his students and writes about it in today’s Martin Center article.

Walters explains:

My freshmen had averaged a disappointing C+ on their first mid-term exam, and there were plenty of pained expressions as I returned their papers. But I brought forth sighs of relief by announcing that, given how low some grades were, it might be fair to “scale” their scores. A reprieve!

Then I revealed my proposed scaling formula — a tricky one surely used to good educational effect by other professors over the years. As grades were re-calculated, hands shot up and different students wore pained expressions. The problem was that my formula added points to the below-average scores by taking them from those who had done well.

Social justice was not so popular at the level of personal consequences. Better still, quite a few students seemed to grasp that effort will decline when everyone is guaranteed a “fair share” of the output.

Many professors like to buy popularity with students by inflating grades. Walters abhors that, writing, “When we inflate grades, we’re saying there’s a free lunch; we’re confirming a bias that redistribution is like magic, conjuring benefits without costs.”

I’d like to see far more profs teaching students the lesson that there is no free lunch.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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