By Senator Rand Paul
A few years ago, NPR did a fabulous story on China’s rise from the ashes of Mao’s Marxism to allow a modicum of freedom. The story takes place in the small village of Xiaogang in 1978. Several farmers had come together in a dirt-floor shack to sign a secret compact. To these farmers, this contract was dangerous. They still feared the terror of Mao and believed that if this contract were discovered, they could be executed.
The farms had been owned by the collective since private property was abolished in the 1950s. To defy common ownership of any farmland was very risky.
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Yen Jingchang, one of the farmers at this secret meeting, said that “back then, even one straw belonged to the group. No one owned anything.”
One of the men present remembers a farmer asking at a local communist meeting, “What about the teeth in my head? Do I own those?” The party official responded: “No. Your teeth belong to the collective.”
Jingchang said in those days, “In theory, the government would take what the collective grew, and would also distribute food to each family. There was no incentive to work hard – to go out to the fields early, to put in extra effort.”
Work hard, don’t work hard – everyone gets the same. So, people don’t want to work.
According to Jingchang, it didn’t matter how much effort you expended: “Work hard, don’t work hard – everyone gets the same. So, people don’t want to work.”
Since the collective farms never produced enough food, there was chronic hunger and a sense of desperation. A small group of farmers decided to act.
According to NPR, “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.”
It had been nearly 30 years since anyone had “owned” his or her labor or the fruits of their harvest. This “new” old idea went against 30 years of communist dictates, which is why the farmers met in secret to discuss a new compact.
One by one, they filed furtively into the agreed-upon farmer’s home. As NPR described it, this home was “like all of the houses in the village – it had dirt floors, mud walls, and a straw roof.. no plumbing, no electricity.”
Despite the danger, the farmers agreed to try privatizing the land – they formalized the agreement and wrote it down as a contract. One of them, Yen Hongchang, wrote out the agreement.
In the contract, the farmers agreed to apportion the land between families. The families would not get to keep the entire harvest. There still would be taxes and a portion for the collective, but for the first time in a generation, the vast amount of the harvest would go to the family that grew the crop. The more you grew, the more you and your family would profit.
The farmers were anxious about the government’s response. There were rumors that the harshness of Mao was abating, but the farmers still felt the need to include a provision in the contract that if any of them were executed, the remaining farmers would take care of their children.
The contract was kept secret. NPR reported, “Yen Hongchang hid it inside a piece of bamboo in the roof of his house.”
What they couldn’t hide was the dramatically increased harvest. Farmer Hongchang estimated that the harvest was bigger than the last five years together. A miracle occurred, albeit a miracle known at least since the time of Adam Smith: Incentives do matter.
As NPR reported: “Before the contract, the farmers would drag themselves out into the field only when the village whistle blew, marking the start of the work day. After the contract, the families went out before dawn.”
We all secretly competed. Everyone wanted to produce more than the next person.
Yen Jingchang explained: “We all secretly competed. Everyone wanted to produce more than the next person.”
Self-interest and reward allowed the same farmers on the same land to grow five times the amount of food grown when everyone – and therefore no one – owned the land.
NPR reported that the “huge harvest gave them away. Local officials figured out that the farmers had divided up the land, and word of what had happened in Xiaogang made its way up the Communist Party chain of command.”
The farmers worried that they would be executed, but they were lucky to have taken this risk just as Deng Xiaoping was coming to power. Deng and his lieutenants were deciding to allow a little Adam Smith to creep in and give a boost to the moribund socialism that had, by that time, killed millions of Chinese.
On the one hand, it is a great relief to see the horrific socialism of Mao thaw enough to allow at least some version of private property and profit to exist. Yet it is an immeasurable calamity that tens of millions of Chinese had to die before the Chinese discovered the horrors that come when a government tries to enforce complete socialism. Let’s hope today’s American socialists will realize that violence is not an aberration but a necessary tool if you want a society made “equal” by redistribution of wealth and property.
Excerpted from The Case Against Socialism by Rand Paul. Copyright 2019 by Rand Paul. Published with permission from Broadside Books and HarperCollins Publishers.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul, MD, is one of the nation’s leading advocates for liberty.
Elected to the United States Senate in 2010, Dr. Paul has proven to be an outspoken champion for constitutional liberties and fiscal responsibility. As a fierce advocate against government overreach, Dr. Paul has fought tirelessly to return government to its limited, constitutional scope. As a hardworking and dedicated physician – not a career politician – Dr. Paul came to Washington to shake things up and to make a difference.
His latest book, The Case Against Socialism, is a must-read as we head into what will prove to be a very important election in 2020. You can get your copy right here.
Notes From a Conversation With Rand Paul
By P.J. O’Rourke
In February 2014, Senator Rand Paul was considering running for the Republican presidential nomination. I went to interview him for the now (sadly) defunct Weekly Standard. It wasn’t much of an interview in the sense of “asking the hard questions” because it quickly turned into a conversation. Asking the hard questions is fun… as long as you have a low opinion of the person answering them. But conversations are what you have with people you like and admire. Below is a condensed version of that conversation:
“If I try to be a pretty good libertarian, I get attacked by the left, by the right, and by the libertarians,” said Sen. Paul, describing his own political conflictions.
This is the same message General Ferdinand Foch sent to Marshal Joseph Joffre during the First Battle of the Marne: “My center is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking” – except not in French and said with a smile.
As for political principles, Sen. Paul said, “In Washington, principled individuals are in the minority. There’s a good side to this. The majority can be influenced by public opinion.”
And, reversing Lord Acton’s maxim about power corrupting, Sen. Paul actually thinks the lack of it purifies. “As opponents to President Obama, we’re more principled than when we were in power.” [Never mind what happened – unfortunately for purification – when Republicans got back in power.]
“A principled GOP,” said the Senator, “could find people on both left and right to cooperate on issues.” He even listed some…
“The inequities of the criminal justice system.
“Fourth Amendment privacy.”
“The economy,” Sen. Paul added. “Although that’s mostly on the right. But some on the left are beginning to realize what’s wrong, sort of.” [Although, six years later, it’s evident that they’re not.]
Sen. Paul said, “Any number of arguments for limited government can be made, but just two are necessary. First is the Thomas Paine natural liberty argument.”
Which is to say that we surrender some of our natural liberties to a government of our own making in return for public safety and order. Government is a necessary evil, and like all evils, however necessary, should be kept as small as possible.
My example would be serving sizes of food… Some varieties of kale grow to a height of six or seven feet. I don’t want that on my dinner plate next to a T-bone steak the size of a Susan B. Anthony dollar.
“Second,” said Sen. Paul, “is the Milton Friedman efficiency argument.”
In Milton Friedman’s 1980 PBS TV series Free To Choose, Friedman drew a simple diagram showing that, mathematically, there are only four ways to spend money…
1. Spending your money on yourself is efficient. Tonight’s special, prime rib with a small side dish of kale, looks like a good deal.
2. Spending your money on other people is efficient, too. She’ll have the mac and cheese.
3. Spending other people’s money on yourself is not so efficient. The Wall Street Hedge-Fund Managers’ Annual Dinner will be at Maxim’s in Paris.
4. But, spending other people’s money on other people, is the way government spending is done. Free caviar for all Americans! Whether they like caviar or not. And get in line because there’s nothing except caviar, and it will be rationed!
Sen. Paul called himself “libertarian-ish,” willing to vote against planks in the platform of the Libertarian Party, “of which I am not a member.”
“The difficulty,” said Sen. Paul, “is that everyone has his or her opinion, and everyone knows he or she is right.”
Meaning everyone else, including every other libertarian, is wrong. “Isn’t that,” I said, “an odd outcome for a political theory based on the value of each individual?”
The Senator smiled and shrugged. “I never really felt like it was a problem explaining libertarian principles in practical politics. Republicans are champions of economic liberty. Democrats are champions of personal liberty. Bring the two back together.”
He continues, “There are different ways to get where we want to go.” And he gave an example of going nowhere. “Nothing good has come out of the war on drugs.”
“What’s a different way?” I asked.
“I like the unenumerated powers.”
Amendment X in the Bill of Rights: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
“In The Federalist Papers,” I said, “Hamilton argued against the Bill of Rights on the grounds that when government even so much as mentions rights like free speech, this implies that government has some power over those rights.”
“But it’s a good thing we did write them down,” the Senator said, “otherwise we’d have nothing left.”