The Corner

Education

Teaching Students about the Consequences of Socialism

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during an event 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 — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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