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Dogma Premise # 4

 Group projects cannot be trusted, because there will inevitably be opportunity for free-riders, and people will attempt to benefit from others’ labor without contributing commensurately themselves, thus dooming even well-intentioned projects that theoretically might create a net-social benefit.

The false idea that people are intrinsically selfish (see Dogma Premise #1) generates Dogma Premise #4, that group efforts are generally doomed.

Any time people come together in a group, the story goes, will be an opportunity for some people to shirk their share of the work, while still claiming the rewards.  And if there is one thing that Capitalism's proponents insist on, it is that workers not be rewarded for deficient work.  It is a familiar scenario in real life, and was immortalized in children's literature by the folk tale of The Little Red Hen.

A similar problem is presented by any project designed to advance the general welfare, for example by improving water quality or researching the cure to a disease.  Because the benefits of the project will be shared by all, there is a risk that "free riders" will reap the public benefit but attempt to avoid paying their share of the cost.

The problem is real enough, but the best solution is less obvious.  The Little Red Hen proposes private property as the solution.   In the parable, the title character did all the work in making a bread loaf, and therefore was entitled to exclude the other barnyard animals from eating any of the bread.

The Little Red Hen parable does not have a happy ending.  The industrious bird keeps the entire loaf -- more than she can eat, and more than she wanted at the start of the enterprise -- while the others starve and regret.  Leaving aside the moral and economic implications, and the recurring work-or-starve motif that pervades the Capitalism myths, the Little Red Hen's solution is not the only way to deal with the free rider problem, and indeed the free rider problem is no different in private or public group endeavors.

One simple solution would be to require the other animals to help -- the Little Red Hen might not have taken no for an answer.  Such an imperative might be cast as forced labor, but it is no more coercive than the situation of most employees on most days, who get assigned their work hours, work place, and work task, under threat of discipline or discharge, which is only effective if the consequences are serious.  In the tale of the Hen, everybody would be better off if the work and reward were both shared, and there are ways of achieving that.

But a more subtle view of the problem might assign the reticent barnyard animals tasks more suited to their temperament.  A baking hen is an impressive thing, but it is probably too much to hope that the same bird will also make candles.  Perhaps the pig or the cat or the rat would have more readily accepted the candle-making task, and then the animals might have had food and light both.

And so it is with the economy as a whole.  There is no justification for any person to gain the benefits of others' labor without contributing their own fair share.  The Capitalist plan, like the Little Red Hen's, seems to call for the application of hunger or starvation to ensure compliance from would-be non-contributors.  But it would seem more humane and efficient to prevent the transgression rather than to punish it.

We see, then, that the risk of free-riders is a problem both ancient and widespread, and familiar, tested solutions abound.  In private workplaces, coercive rules are enforced against employees by bosses.  In the case of public works, taxes are levied against beneficiaries to ensure a fair distribution of costs.

The suggestion that only private property, economic duress, and wealth inequalities can solve the problem is an ancient notion, but not supported by the facts.  A better outcome would result from an effective system for monitoring work, ensuring compliance, and assigning the proper tasks to each worker.  The Capitalist solution is neither more humane nor more effective than other solutions to the free rider problem.

Dogma Premise 5

All Dogma Premises

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