Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Common Items and Communism

Yesterday we covered the rise to power of Mao Zedong in China. Initially, his version of Communism made the poor people of China much better off. After all, he took away the land from rich people (and then killed a lot of them) and gave it to the poor people! But that's not really communism*, is it? That's actually theft and land redistribution. These actions could have been justified in the minds of some as a "good of the many outweighing the good of a few" scenario except that then he took the PRC in a really communist direction. In the Great Leap Forward, he had peasants' private lands consolidated into huge communal farms that removed individual ownership of even furniture. Among other causes, the lack of material rewards for individual efforts on these communes led to decreased agricultural production and famine that killed approximately 30 million people.

*   Communism, per Merriam-Webster: : a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) and there is no privately owned property

I wanted my children to understand the problems with communism, but because most of their time is spent with family--at its heart a very communal unit, especially our home, where I use King Solomon's method of dealing with fights over objects ("work it out or Mommy confiscates the toy")--I wasn't sure how to illustrate why communism keeps failing in a broader setting. I ended up using Play-Doh as an object lesson.

We have a family collection of Play-Doh canisters and Play-Doh shaping toys. Because it is arid here, Play-Doh dries out if not stored promptly and properly. Also, our Play-Doh tends not to stay nice because the children mix colors together and end up with muddy-colored stuff. Yesterday at the grocery store, I saw a sale on individual containers of Play-Doh: just $0.49 each! Each little girl got to pick out her very own color of her very own container of Play-Doh. When we got home, all four played and played at the small kitchen table with their Play-Doh yet never mixed colors. And, except for dd2, they cleaned up the Play-Doh off the toys without adult help and stored it neatly away in the containers.

Give people--even children--private property, and they'll tend to take better care of it and be less wasteful than they would be with common property. I pointed out to my children that their behavior with the Play-Doh illustrates one very basic reason why communism works so poorly.

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