Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Socialism seems to work better in small groups

Do you have a favorite recipe? Have you ever tried to make it in large quantities for a large party - to double or triple the recipe simply by multiplying the ingredients by two or three? What if you had to serve 1000 people?

I don't know why it is, but simply doubling or tripling the recipe ingredients doesn't always work out. I suppose the reason is, if there is a small error in measurement, or a "rounding" of amounts in the original recipe, the error is compounded more and more as the quantity grows. Probably large feeding institutions such as cafeterias or hospitals or even restaurants have to have their own special recipes which have had the ingredient amounts adjusted for those quantities. I also suppose it works the other way; large recipes don't always reduce properly if you only want to make the dish for only 4 people.

Socialism is a lot like that. Socialism works in relatively small groups. The Amish are an example. In relatively small groups, such as communes, one can control not only the division of labor, but one can insure each person works or they get kicked out.

Unfortunately, this concept does not seem to work that well when you try it with millions of people. Oddly, not all people want to work at the job they are assigned. Some don't want to work at all. All still want to eat.

If I have condemned Socialism on this blog, it is only because I believe history shows us that it isn't workable on a large scale. Too many people have to be forced to do this or that, and the society gets too oppressive. Or else, work isn't enforced at a level to meet needs and desires, and Greece happens.


  1. Well, one big reason why scaling up recipes doesn't work well is that some fundamental properties don't scale linear: The surface/volume ratio for example, which would be the reason why making huge omelettes is difficult: The interior will stay runny while the exterior burns.

    So it is not scaling up that is the problem, it is scaling up without a proper understanding of the physical processes involved. This is why it takes so long from finding a new substance/process in the lab to introducing it to the general public - scaling up to an industrial production is not simple and can take years.

    (takes of scientist's hat)

    That being said, I agree with you that strict socialism has not and will never work for a people larger in number than a small tribe. Like you I'd argue that this is because there are social mechanisms and pressures at work in a small tribe, such as everybody knowing each other, that do not exist in larger communities.

    That being said, Greece is not a socialist state. It's a social democratic state, with a free (if regulated) market. A very irresponsible social democratic state, though, I'll give you that - and they (and we, as in the rest of the EU) are paying the price for that.

  2. And Boris touches on what I would have said. "Pure" communism and socialism on a large scale have not fared well. In my opinion, they are too idealistic and real people, even if it's only a tiny faction, who are greedy can muck it up in a heartbeat.

    Socialistic notions, combinations of socialism and democracy have worked quite well (arguing it's possible), but not always (arguing it's not a given), depending on the implementation and the culture involved.

    When making a recipe your own, even if it's proven elsewhere, you have to adapt it to fit your crowd, whether big or small. Sometimes that takes iterations. Sometimes that takes adjustment.

    Assuming it can't work when only the most basic and mindless adjustments have been tried, well, that shows a serious lack of imagination.

    In my opinion.

  3. I can't disagree that scaling up doesn't work with socialism. Part of the problem may be that in a small community an individual can discuss, air a difference of opinion, influence a decision, whereas in a large community the decisions are made remotely by unknown people unaware of the effect on an individual.

  4. Socialism & Communism are different, and both are affected greatly by the culture of the lands in which they operate.

  5. Jesus, Boris. :)

    The recipe thing was only an analogy lead-in, but thank you for the scientific information. I understand better about how to make large batches of food now. :) I think the main problem with large recipes is that Americans refuse to use the metric system. Just my opinion.

    Greece is not a socialist state? Ok.

    Incidentally, for those who don't know, Boris in real life is an EXCELLENT cook who knows his food and produces delicious dishes. So my taunting is good-natured and totally baseless. I don't know how good a scientist he is, though. He travels a lot and is a man of the world, so I would vote that he is a good scientist too.

  6. Stephanie, a tear came to my eye at the thought of a person wanting a little bit more could muck up a perfectly good system of communism. Sad, no?

    I do apologize for giving up on communism on a large scale, when only the most basic tweaks have been tried. Pray tell, what inventive tweaks pop into your mind that would cure the human aversion to slavery?

    You know what? If Viet Nam would only have told us they were going to stop killing their people and introduce capitalism into their society, we could have saved a lot of time and money laboring under a misconception. But Uncle Ho seemed so sure...

  7. If you were REALLY talking about simply adjusting food recipes, then I apologize.

  8. Adullamite, I know. Same with religions.

    Personally, I am conflicted as to whether communism is working better in Cuba or in North Korea.

    Enough people have died in North Korea, though, to where Socialism will soon work. The scale will be small enough.

    Actually, the only place where I can think of where I've seen communism working well was in Israel. Those were the days. The good life down on the Kibitz. Kibbutz. Whatever.

    All kidding aside, I think the only system that works over the long haul is a percentage of capitalism coupled with a compassionate percentage of socialism. The helpless and needy must be cared for, and capitalism needs built-in curbs on its inherent greed. Yet leave enough capitalism so that the people can at least dream of a better life if they are especially industrious. Then, if they succeed, take their money and give it to the not so successful. Wait. I am going in circles here.

  9. I have never, in all the world, known anyone who can twist what I say into something else like you can, RM. Not even my husband.

    Why aren't you working at Fox News?

  10. Relax Max there is a website called you find a recipe you like and then type in how many people you want to make it for, then....... it calculates the ingredients for you. It's awesome.

    Hmmmm socialism. That's when people seek a higher education, study instead of party because they took out a student loan. Graduate, start paying off their student loan while investing in a business of their own, become successful because of their hard work, determination and brains. Then they are demonized because they have money and are taxed to death to pay for people that squat out babies during the commercials for Oprah? I'm not sure, I'll have to go to and check.



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