In an interesting recent article, Dartmouth economist Meir Kohn describes how he gradually shifted from being a socialist to eventually becoming a libertarian. A key role was his experience of living on a kibbutz, the famed Israeli socialist agricultural settlement:
A kibbutz is a commune of a few hundred adults, plus kids, engaged primarily in agriculture but also in light industry and tourism. Members work wherever they are assigned, although preferences are taken into account. Instead of receiving pay, members receive benefits in kind: they live in assigned housing, they eat in a communal dining hall, and their children are raised communally in children's houses, and can visit with their parents for a few hours each day. Most property is communal except for personal items such as clothing and furniture, for which members receive a small budget.
Kibbutz is bottomup socialism on the scale of a small community. It thereby avoids the worst problems of state socialism: a planned economy and totalitarianism. The kibbutz, as a unit, is part of a market economy, and membership is voluntary: you can leave at any time. This is "socialism with a human face" as good as it gets.
Being a member of a kibbutz taught me two important facts about socialism. The first is that material equality does not bring happiness. The differences in our material circumstances were indeed minimal. Apartments, for example, if not identical, were very similar. Nonetheless, a member assigned to an apartment that was a little smaller or a little older than someone else's would be highly resentful. Partly, this was because a person's ability to discern differences grows as the differences become smaller. But largely it was because what we received was assigned rather than earned. It turns out that how you get stuff matters no less than what you get.
The second thing I learned from my experience of socialism was that incentives matter. On a kibbutz, there is no material incentive for effort and not much incentive of any kind. There are two kinds of people who have no problem with this: deadbeats and saints. When a group joined a kibbutz, the deadbeats and saints tended to stay while the others eventually left. I left.
As Kohn explains, the kibbutz experience did not lead him to become a libertarian (that came later). But it did persuade him to reject socialism.
Kohn is far from the only person who reached that conclusion after getting a taste of kibbutz life. Margaret Thatcher's daughter Carol had a similar reaction after spending some months as a volunteer living on a kibbutz. The experience left with her with an "unromantic view of the kibbutz," and (as her father, Denis Thatcher put it), "inoculated [her] against socialism."
Over time, the flaws of the socialist kibbutz model became sufficiently glaring that most kibbutzim gradually abandoned key parts of the socialist model, such as equal pay, rejection of private property, and communal child-raising. See also this 2007 discussion by Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, who himself spent some time on a kibbutz during its pre-reform heyday.
In 2016, I myself visited a kibbutz as part of a trip to Israel with a group of other American legal academics. Our guide admitted that her community had abandoned several key socialist institutions over time, including communal child-raising. She herselfa socialist Zionist immigrant from Canadadecried these ideological deviations. But much of the community evidently felt they could not be avoided.
For reasons mentioned by Kohn and Becker, kibbutzim present the best-case scenario for socialism. At least initially, most participants were self-selected, highly motivated volunteers. Abuses of power and information problems typical of large-scale socialism were mitigated by the right of exit and the relatively modest scale of the community. Strong support from Israeli government and civil society helped alleviate financial and resource problems. Nonetheless, kibbutzim eventually had to adopt market incentives, expanded property rights, private child-raising, and other "capitalist" institutions in order to survive.
By contrast, Israeli "moshavim" have been much more successful. A moshav is an agricultural settlements with private property in both houses and land, though some equipment and communal facilities (e.g. schools) are collectively owned. On the same 2016 trip, we also visited a moshav in southern Israel. The people we met seemed happy with their institutions. But our guide lamented the fact that "the kibbutz has better PR" than moshavim do. People all over the world have heard of kibbutzim. But hardly anyone outside Israel knows what a moshav is, except for property scholars.
Most moshavniks are far from libertarian. Many, including the ones we met, are left-wingers strongly opposed to the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But they do appreciate the benefits of individual and family autonomy, private property, and economic incentives.
The lessons of the kibbutz and the moshav are worth remembering at a time when socialist ideology is enjoying something of a resurgence in much of the Western world. For reasons I summarized here, many of shortcomings of full-blown socialism are also shared by the "democratic socialism" advocated by the likes of Bernie Sanders in the United States and former Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in Britain.
- Ted Budd Officially Entering 2022 NC Senate Race - The Rhino Times of Greensboro - The Rhino TImes - April 29th, 2021
- Elections official admits breaking rule | Indiana | Journal Gazette - Fort Wayne Journal Gazette - April 29th, 2021
- Libertarian Party of Wisconsin holds annual convention in Eau Claire - WQOW TV News 18 - April 25th, 2021
- Letter: Calling out the misinformed, on the right and left, about COVID-19 - Eagle-Tribune - April 25th, 2021
- Boris's threat to intervene in the Super League furore is proof that his libertarian instincts are dead - Reaction - April 23rd, 2021
- WAHRHAFTIG: This Year's Primary Affects Everyone And Everyone Can Vote - Patch.com - April 23rd, 2021
- The Economic Fallout of COVID-19: Could We Have Avoided This Disaster? - Worth - April 23rd, 2021
- Letters to the Editor: April 5, 2021 - West Hawaii Today - April 6th, 2021
- The Bad Kind of Globalism - Splice Today - April 6th, 2021
- Vaccine Passports and Supply Chain Political Blacklist Risk - Reason - April 4th, 2021
- Glenn Nielsen and David Tyson Smith race toward the 45th District special election - Columbia Daily Tribune - April 4th, 2021
- Letters to the Editor for March 31, 2021 | Serving Carson City for over 150 years - Nevada Appeal - April 4th, 2021
- I Am An Ambedkarite And A Libertarian And I Do Not Owe Anything To Your Opinion - Youth Ki Awaaz - March 31st, 2021
- Libertarianism - Libertarian philosophy | Britannica - March 29th, 2021
- libertarianism | Definition, Doctrines, History, & Facts ... - March 25th, 2021
- Education and Naive Libertarianism - National Review - March 25th, 2021
- March 19-21: Libertarian Party of NH convention with keynote from former US Rep. Justin Amash - Manchester Ink Link - March 25th, 2021
- Why We Don't Need Any More "Political" Clubs on Campus The Skidmore News - Skidmore News - March 25th, 2021
- If we don't rediscover our libertarian spirit, the next pandemic will crush us - Telegraph.co.uk - March 25th, 2021
- Is it any surprise Republican men dont want the COVID vaccine? - The Boston Globe - March 25th, 2021
- Area business participates in hygiene drive | News, Sports, Jobs - The Express - Lock Haven Express - March 25th, 2021
- Recover the Moral Imperative of Law and Order city-journal.org - City Journal - March 25th, 2021
- Will Prohibitionists Tie The New Conservative Movement To Trump? - The Fresh Toast - March 25th, 2021
- 'Tip of the iceberg': Lawmakers mull domestic terrorism legislation after Capitol riot, other violence - USA TODAY - March 25th, 2021
- Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs announces he will run for reelection in 2022 - Knoxville News Sentinel - March 25th, 2021
- Bidenomics - The Nation - March 3rd, 2021
- Warren, Pressley among Dems pushing to strip police of 'qualified immunity' - Fox News - March 3rd, 2021
- Nick Robinson on 'Silk Road' and Carrying the Torch for 'Jurassic Park' - Hollywood Reporter - March 3rd, 2021
- Wyoming's Voter Registration Numbers Dip By More Than 20K Sheridan Media - Sheridan Media - March 3rd, 2021
- Recollections of Murray on His Ninety-Fifth Birthday - The Shepherd of the Hills Gazette - March 3rd, 2021
- Threatened by Libertarians, Iowa GOP moves goal posts - The Gazette - February 28th, 2021
- The New Foreign Flavor of CPACs Red Meat - New York Magazine - February 28th, 2021
- CPAC and the New Republicanism - The New York Times - February 28th, 2021
- Libertarian Party of Indiana's response to Secretary of State's resignation - Shelbynews - February 28th, 2021
- Iowa's bad election bill will stifle early voting, micromanage auditors - The Gazette - February 28th, 2021
- Letter: School voucher programs benefit the wealthy - The Republic - February 28th, 2021
- News - The Bankruptcy of Conservative Political Paternalism - The Heartland Institute - February 18th, 2021
- Rush Limbaugh galvanised and embodied the modern American right - The Economist - February 18th, 2021
- People Of Georgia's 14th Congressional Make Decision Who Will Occupy That Seat - Jamestown Post Journal - February 18th, 2021
- My Take: Here's a unity solution: Have one standard - HollandSentinel.com - February 18th, 2021
- 77 third-party candidates received more votes than the winner's margin of victory in 2020 Ballotpedia News - Ballotpedia News - January 29th, 2021
- Empathize with Trump voters? A Progressive and a Libertarian agree to disagree - KUOW News and Information - January 27th, 2021
- STATE: Constitution, Green parties no longer recognized in North Carolina - The Stanly News & Press | The Stanly News & Press - Stanly News... - January 27th, 2021
- Book Review: When A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear, nobody wins (except the reader) - NPI's Cascadia Advocate - January 27th, 2021
- Brennan: Intel Agencies To Probe The 'Bigots' Behind US 'Insurgency' - The Federalist - January 27th, 2021
- The politics of an Auschwitz survivors son - The Boston Globe - January 27th, 2021
- Sedition Cases Against Capitol Rioters 'Will Bear Fruit Very Soon,' Says FBI - Reason - January 27th, 2021
- Former GOP congressman urges Never Trumpers to join Libertarian Party - Washington Times - January 15th, 2021
- Letter to the editor: There are options to political dissatisfaction - Jacksonville Journal-Courier - January 15th, 2021
- The war between Silicon Valley and Washington takes a new turn - POLITICO - January 9th, 2021
- LETTER: Yukon the Libertarian friend of a reindeer? - The News Herald - January 1st, 2021
- 21 Things That Kept Me Going In 2020 - kottke.org - January 1st, 2021
- What Happened?: The 2020 election showed that libertarians have a long way to go before they can become a national movement. - USAPP American Politics... - December 29th, 2020
- My New Year's wish for Sarasotans - Sarasota Herald-Tribune - December 29th, 2020
- Splinter Republican representatives sign "termination of the state" document calling Sununu a 'tyrant' - Concord Monitor - December 29th, 2020
- Theres no right to infect - Sarasota Herald-Tribune - July 21st, 2020
- The Disastrous Handling of the Pandemic is Libertarianism in Action, Will Americans Finally Say Good Riddance? - CounterPunch - July 21st, 2020
- Justin Amash's Tenure as the Libertarian Party's First Member in Congress Will Be Shortlived - Reason - July 21st, 2020
- You don't have the right to put others at risk by not wearing a mask - Newsday - July 21st, 2020
- The Libertarian Case for Immigration (and Against Trump) - Lawfare - July 21st, 2020
- We have now reached peak Libertarianism and it is literally killing us - AlterNet - July 21st, 2020
- Ted Cruz: Future of conservatism is populist and libertarian - Washington Examiner - July 21st, 2020
- Are the British conformist or libertarian? Our face mask response is telling - The Guardian - July 21st, 2020
- Chad Blair: There's A High Bar For Legislative Candidates Without A - Honolulu Civil Beat - July 21st, 2020
- 3 highlights from Penn Jillette's Big Think interview on 2020, cancel culture, and friendship - Big Think - July 21st, 2020
- They praise John Lewis but hate Black voting rights and Black Lives Matter. - Mother Jones - July 21st, 2020
- Md. on the Hook for $27K in Legal Fees to Conservative Group - Josh Kurtz - July 21st, 2020
- Why Boris Johnson is having to sacrifice his libertarian values in the battle against coronavirus - Telegraph.co.uk - July 21st, 2020
- Weber Reaffirms Commitment to Preserving 2nd Amendment Rights - TAPinto.net - July 21st, 2020
- Your Illinois News Radar Longshot day at the ISBE - The Capitol Fax Blog - July 21st, 2020
- Those who claim wearing masks to be un-American haven't thought through the problem - KRWG - July 21st, 2020
- N.Y. Primary: Who Is on the Ballot? - The New York Times - June 22nd, 2020
- We Watched the Libertarian Party Vice Presidential Debate So You Didn't Have To - Reason - May 27th, 2020
- That Time the Libertarian Party Debated the Private Ownership of Nuclear Weapons - Reason - May 27th, 2020
- You Dont Have to Like the Decree, But Wear Face Masks Anyway - Bacon's Rebellion - May 27th, 2020
- Justin Amash, Ross Perot and the third-party future: Ranked choice voting is the answer - Salon - May 27th, 2020
- An outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere - Modern Diplomacy - May 14th, 2020
- Libertarian Party To Choose Its Presidential Ticket in Virtual Vote Over Memorial Day Weekend - Reason - May 11th, 2020
- Johnson address shows he has been swayed by hawks in his cabinet - The Guardian - May 11th, 2020
- Dershowitz Defends and Criticizes Flynn by Railing Against Entrapment and Fair-Weather Civil Libertarians - Law & Crime - May 11th, 2020