…and everyone will be happy as they ride their trabants into the sunset.

There are few experiences more frustrating than debating economics with someone who is illiterate on the subject.  I recently had a discussion with a loose acquaintance from Germany, who has come up with a Really Smart Idea(tm) to achieve social justice and economic equality.  I shall now attempt to relate the main points of his theory without stabbing myself in the ear with a cocktail fork at the pain of the recollection.

His Really Smart Idea:

The government needs to seize all the private cash in the country–bank accounts, savings, and especially corporate assets.  All essential industries and businesses need to be nationalized.  Once that’s accomplished, you’ll have a gigantic pile of cash.  Now you divide up all the money between all the citizens, and give everyone a million Euros each.  (Why a million?  Because our Really Smart theorist considers this “all the money a person could ever need for the rest of his or her life.”)  Bingo!  Everyone has everything they’ll need, and there’s equality all around.

At that point in the discussion, I asked how he thought all that money would influence prices of consumer goods.  I mean, with eighty million people sitting at home with their newly flush bank accounts, what happens when people go on eBay and start bidding on stuff they want?  Say there’s a really nice designer purse.  With a million Euros in everyone’s accounts, where’s the bidding going to stop if there’s only ten of those things on the ‘bay, and three thousand people get into a bidding war?  And never mind luxury goods–what about any consumer good in limited supply?  The money situation is going to adjust itself according to supply and demand, and your million Euros aren’t going to last you very long if your tank of gas costs two thousand, and people buy purses for a hundred grand off eBay.

His Really Smart Solution (and he has one for every scenario I threw at him):  pass a law that makes it illegal for anyone to sell stuff for more than it is worth.  How do we determine what something’s worth?  Easy! The government freezes the prices of raw materials, and people can charge the exact price of the materials that went into the product, plus the exact labor that went into it according to a pre-set hourly wage table.  No more evil profiteering, and those million Euros will once again stretch from cradle to grave.

Then I brought up individual money management skills.  If Citizen A blows his million Euros in his lifetime, and Citizen B saves half a million to pass down to his kids, won’t we have economic inequality starting in the next generation again?

The answer is simple, of course.  His plan: confiscate all personal assets at death, and put that money “back into the pot”.  That way, everyone starts out at the same position in life, and there’ll be no more unfair advantages bestowed on upper-class kids via unearned inheritances.

At that point, I excused myself from the debate, realizing that we were inhabiting separate realities.  I mean, linguistically speaking, we were communicating in the same language, but it felt rather like trying to talk trigonometry with an automated customer service recording.

I don’t know what’s more frightening, though: the fact that this is an adult with full voting rights, that quite a few of his twenty-something college-educated peers think along the same lines, or that I could turn that theory into a lecture and *not* categorically get laughed out of the lecture hall?

24 thoughts on “…and everyone will be happy as they ride their trabants into the sunset.

  1. divemedic says:

    I have had the same conversation before. My question is this: So your prices are fixed. Everyone has cash. Why would anyone ever go to work again? After all, I have all the money I will ever need.

    So when no one goes to work, there will be no products to be had at any price, as no one will be there to produce them. What will you do then? Assign people a job, and force them to work? How will you decide who does which job? What will be the penalty for a person who doesn’t do that job? Or does it poorly?

  2. aczarnowski says:

    Sweet $deity.

  3. Carteach says:

    Ideally, there should be a place on the planet where this person, and those who think as he does, can go try their theory out. Some small island someplace…. someplace temperate, and with an excellent growing climate. Someplace with industries and farms they can confiscate and redistribute as they see fit.

    Oh, wait…..

  4. BobG says:

    What a dumbass.
    Did anyone point out to him that all he did was re-invent communism?

  5. og says:

    You fool! This WILL work! it’s just that nobody’s done it right yet!!

    I had the same damned conversation with an employee of one of my customers once.

    They cannot be convinced. They cannot be educated. Pitiably, they’re breeding like rabbits. Bitchslapping might work, but I doubt it.

    • Mike says:

      I had a similar conversation with my former sister-in-law. Once I realized that she was batshit crazy and no amount of reason was going to make her see the light, I simply told her that there was nothing on this earth that could make me barricade myself in my home and see how many of her type I could kill before they took me down like coming to take all my stuff.

      She got flustered, literally huffed a couple of times and finally fell silent. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to hit a woman before or since that day…

  6. Baker Mike Romeo says:

    You might be able to get away with that lecture in a Sociology Class (i.e., why whitey is a son-of-a-bitch 201) or in some graduation-requirement social studies class, but speaking as a student who’s majoring in Economics, in my experience I think if you tried to pull that nonsense within 500 yards of any of the Econ or Business buildings at my school, you’d probably burst into flame.

  7. In my experience, people like that always miss a step in their process. The actual process only has three steps.
    1. Sieze all assets
    2. Get shot down like a dog by angry citizens
    3. there is no step 3

  8. Jingles says:

    I met a guy in college this year who does WWII reenactments, shoots, and likes O’Rourke. I thought thee was some real bromantic potential until I learned that he’s a devout Leninist who rejected an inheritance from his aunt because he “didn’t earn it.” Otherwise, he’s very intelligent, but on economic matters he’s nuts. Funny how that works.

  9. Kristopher says:

    Marxism is a religion, Jingles.

    No amount of reason will fix your friend. He has faith.

  10. Groundhog says:

    Funny how Russia tried it and bombed. China tried it and bombed, then decided profit was pretty good and “modified” things.

    These people remind me of the two types of people that watch Star Trek. There are those that wonder who or what keeps that ship so darned spotless all the time, and those that just believe it never gets dirty.

  11. Al Terego says:

    There’ll never be

    equality,

    ’cause there’ll always be

    equaler and equalee.

    AT

  12. Montie says:

    Your friend is from Germany? Does he not know of his own country’s history in dabbling with this type of thing? It didn’t turn out well.

  13. T.Stahl says:

    Hey Marko! How did you meet Sascha?😉

    Or…no…you’re not telling me there are two of that kind here in my country. If there are two, there might be three. Or four. Or 5,155,933 who voted for The Left in last year’s election.😦

  14. Ancient Woodsman says:

    O.K. so you did tell us that he was “from Germany”, but you obviously left out the part that “he’s in Massachusetts now, working in the Governor’s office.”

  15. wrm says:

    There’s a SF story out there which I read $MANY years ago, can’t remember title or author. But basically you wake up one morning and on your doorstep and everyone else’s, there’s two machines which can be used to duplicate anything non-living. Two, so that you can make more of these machines.

    So what’s the first thing you do?

    You start gathering slaves. Because nobody is going to take out your trash willingly, ever again.

  16. julie says:

    i’m with divemedic … why would anyone want to go to work again given this starting point? But generally i avoid these types of conversations because “it’s just not worth it”.

  17. MarkHB says:

    I have a better idea.

    Give me all the money, and I’ll make sure everyone gets what they need. You betcha.

  18. Samsam von Virginia says:

    I find that the existence of money confuses people when it comes to understanding the simpler aspects of economics. Pretend that we all engage in bartering: the car dealer willingly takes 5000 loaves of bread from the baker in exchange for a delivery truck; the hardware store clerk will take one-tenth of a shoe in exchange for the screw the shoe-maker needs to fix his machinery.

    It quickly becomes apparent that each individual needs to PRODUCE something, or provide a service that helps others produce something; they need to be able to call into existence something that wasn’t there before in order to have something to trade with other people.

    With money, it’s too easy to imagine it magically appearing from Uncle Sam’s pocket. When dealing with only tangible goods (and related services), it’s more difficult to believe in it magically appearing.

    Of course, some folks will still believe in magic; they can’t be helped.

  19. Jared says:

    Your friend is a moron. Tell him to read the economic history of the USSR.

    I wont entertain an economic discussion with anyone that cant explain the Laffer Curve. If a person has not internalized the relationship between tax rates and the economic behavior of the individual, they are beyond hope.

  20. paul says:

    While reading this I thought if Marko changed he to she, he’d be talking to my sister. Since she’s in California and he’s not that means there’s a lot of alternate reality living going on out there…and she votes. Scary stuff.

    • Windy Wilson says:

      Paul, really? Because that sounds like my brothers’ wives, and one has no siblings, and the other has two brothers who live in the ostensibly non-communist Orient, in one of the former “Asian Tigers”. Are you a Neurologist or a physical therapist living near the Sea of Japan?

  21. Casey says:

    I think it sounds like a great idea! I’m all for it!

    As long as I’m the one doing the seizing, and managing the “pot” all this imaginary money is going into🙂

    I think that before it gets disbursed to all the people foolish enough to give it up, I’d probably use it to by myself a well fortified island somewhere along the equator🙂

  22. Firehand says:

    While back had a conversation with someone I’d thought fairly solid on such things. Until she informed me that “Seeing how things are, I really think we should give socialism a try!” Like Cuba and the USSR and China? says I with disbelief. “Well, we’ll just have to do it right.

    Turns out she also thought it was ‘unbridled capitalism’ that got us here, and hoped Obama would deal with the businesses and people who’d ‘bought everyone else off’…

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