Back to basics

NPR reports about a contract among Chinese farmers in 1978:

There was no incentive to work hard — to go out to the fields early, to put in extra effort, Yen Jingchang says. “Work hard, don’t work hard — everyone gets the same,” he says. “So people don’t want to work.” In Xiaogang there was never enough food, and the farmers often had to go to other villages to beg. Their children were going hungry. They were desperate. So, in the winter of 1978, after another terrible harvest, they came up with an idea: Rather than farm as a collective, each family would get to farm its own plot of land. If a family grew a lot of food, that family could keep some of the harvest…

Despite the risks, they decided they had to try this experiment — and to write it down as a formal contract, so everyone would be bound to it. By the light of an oil lamp, Yen Hongchang wrote out the contract. The farmers agreed to divide up the land among the families. Each family agreed to turn over some of what they grew to the government, and to the collective. And, crucially, the farmers agreed that families that grew enough food would get to keep some for themselves. The contract also recognized the risks the farmers were taking. If any of the farmers were sent to prison or executed, it said, the others in the group would care for their children until age 18…

by changing the economic rules — by saying, you get to keep some of what you grow — everything changed. At the end of the season, they had an enormous harvest: more, Yen Hongchang says, than in the previous five years combined. That huge harvest gave them away…

fortunately for Mr. Yen and the other farmers, at this moment in history, there were powerful people in the Communist Party who wanted to change China’s economy. Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who would go on to create China’s modern economy, was just coming to power. So instead of executing the Xiaogang farmers, the Chinese leaders ultimately decided to hold them up as a model. Within a few years, farms all over China adopted the principles in that secret document. People could own what they grew. The government launched other economic reforms, and China’s economy started to grow like crazy. Since 1978, something like 500 million people have risen out of poverty in China.

In 1623 William Bradford figured out the same thing after the Pilgrims spent two years on their communal farms: “they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could…so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number…and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious…The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability.”

It is of note that terrible hardships preceded the discovery of simple truths. In the case of China, tens of millions of people died over decades in service of Mao’s utopian fantasies. In Plymouth it took them three hard years to figure out how to deal with the freeloaders. Small wonder that in our world today, ideas that have lived off a lazy prosperity, like green energy and global warming, are having some problems of their own.

One Response to “Back to basics”

  1. Paul on the Cape Says:

    I exist a bit above the ever expanding welfare class, which is bigger, better, easier every year. Basically I work to pay my existence and taxes. I used to resent the grifters, but really, working hard and having it taken and having worse, or no medical care, etc vs not having to work and being very secure and free and easy on the welfare plantation. All you have to do is vote Dem/Rino every few years.

    Many are now working in the ever expanding cash economy on top of the welfare payments. Pretty good gig.

    I don’t see it getting better. The welfare workers are dependent for their jobs on having, keeping, and growing the welfare roles. Every town points to its growing welfare population to beggar the state government, and the state government beggars the feds.

    Hundreds, thousands of cities from New Jersey up through to Maine and west to Chicago are little more than welfare camps were the best secure jobs are as welfare workers, private contractors, or the crime/lawyer/prison/cop industrial complex.

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