mormons, the kibbutz, and egalitarianism in a voluntary society

When I debated Amy Wax a few years back, I noted that one issue with conservative demands to return to a different family regime is that most people don’t want to do it. I noted that in American society, you can definitely join a group with strong norms against pre-marital sex and strong against divorce. It’s called the Church of Later Day Saints – the Mormons. Even though people are free to join this religion, it remains small. According to this Pew report, it’s only 1.7% of the population. And it’s no mystery – the LDS requires a lot of investment in terms of time and money.

I was reminded of the left wing version of this point: socialists will often argue that kibbutz, or communally organized farms and residences in Israel, show that an egalitarian society is possible and it works. My response is similar: there is definitely an audience for a voluntary communal society and family system, but it’s small and comes with a cost that many people aren’t willing to pay.

Ran Abramitzky, an Israeli economist, did an interview with Russ Roberts where he discusses his book on kibbutzim. The bottom line is that a kibbutz does work, but it has the following properties:

  • it is small, usually a few hundred individuals
  • it is ethnically heterogeneous
  • people have a high degree of ideological commitment
  • there is a lot of screening, to ensure fit and prevent free riding.
  • there are many social norms where people are punished for not contributing

Like the LDS, the kibbutzim “works.” It’s real, it’s (relatively) stable, and it provides both cultural stability and economic security. Abramatzky notes that at the height of their popularity, kibbutzim only accounted for 7% of the Israeli Jewish population. Furthermore, there has been a modification of the system in some ways. For example, communal child raising has been scaled back and there are examples or cases unequal levels of wealth.

The LDS and the kibbutzim show me a few things about communalism in a free society. The first is that yes, it’s possible and that it works. The second is that it’s definitely a niche product. Both the LDS and the kibbutzim provide social insurance and other very important things, but most people are not willing to pay the price. Third, these groups suggest that hard core economic egalitarianism and social insurance requires cultural and ideological commitment. Bottom line: Communism is for the few, not the many.



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Written by fabiorojas

October 31, 2019 at 12:04 am

Posted in uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. It have learned a lot following this list, so it occurred to me my recently published book might be of interest: The 99 Percent Economy: How Democratic Socialism Can Overcome the Crises of Capitalism (Oxford UP). It’s a public-facing book that aims to explain I think why we need socialism and how I think it would work.
    The book focuses on six crises–economic irrationality, workplace disempowerment, government unresponsiveness, environmental degradation, social disintegration, and international conflict–and argues that the root cause of each lies in the capitalist nature of our economic system. I show why, so long as the core of the economy remains capitalist, neither voluntary corporate efforts nor government regulation can overcome these crises, even if sometimes they can be somewhat mitigated. To overcome them, we need to reorient production and investment to the needs of people and planet, rather than leaving such decisions in the hands of the top managers of enterprises driven by the need for profits. We must assert democratic control over the management of society’s productive resources, both within individual enterprises and across the entire national economy
    No country has successfully implemented such a system in a way that would meet our expectations of democracy, innovativeness, efficiency, and motivation, but we can find something close to a working model in a surprising place–in the strategic management process used by some of our largest corporations. Many of these corporations operate internally like planned economies–coordinating their subunits’ production and investment through strategic management rather than relying on market-like competition among subunits–and in doing so, they face many of the same challenges as socialist planning would. This experience yields valuable lessons for socialism, because in some of these corporations, the strategic management process is remarkably participative, as well as delivering impressive levels of innovation, efficiency, and motivation.
    Their success in this remains limited: under capitalist conditions, participation is restricted, the scope of strategy is largely limited to the individual firm, and the profit imperative constrains choices. But if we socialize the ownership of our economy’s productive resources, democratic councils at the local and national levels could use that strategic management process to decide on our collective economic, environmental, social, and international goals and on how to reach them.
    Socialism is not a leap into the entirely unknown. Capitalist industry is building some of its material and managerial foundations.
    Such, at least, is my argument. I’d be eager to hear any responses.
    Thank you

    Paul S. Adler,
    Harold Quinton Chair of Business Policy,
    Prof. of Management and Organization, Sociology, and Environmental Studies,
    University of Southern California.
    Personal website: here

    From: “”
    Reply-To: “”
    Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 5:06 PM
    To: Paul Adler
    Subject: [New post] mormons, the kibbutz, and egalitarianism in a voluntary society
    Resent-From: Paul Adler
    Resent-Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 5:05 PM

    fabiorojas posted: “When I debated Amy Wax a few years back, I noted that one issue with conservative demands to return to a different family regime is that most people don’t want to do it. I noted that in American society, you can definitely join a group with strong norms a”


    Adler, Paul S.

    October 31, 2019 at 1:09 am

  2. Th kibbutzim case show exactly the opposite: the utter failure of communal socialism. The entire project collapsed in the 1980s. The only reason why the kibbutzim haven’t vanished from the face of the earth is that the corrupt government at that time forced taxpayers to pay the enormous debts (which partly accounts for the collapse of the labor party and the rise of the conservative right in Israel). In the 1990s the entire project was privatized (salaried work, private property, no more communal raising of children) and most kibbutzim adopted capitalism with a touch of communalism.



    November 1, 2019 at 9:19 pm

  3. I thought this before but didn’t have time to reply. Mormon seems an odd example for your case, as the REALLY traditional Mormons are the renegade polygamists. Judging by my Mormon relatives (admittedly a non-random sample, one uncle who converted as an adult and his family), Mormons have women who work outside the home and can have relatively open social attitudes and critique their own church. I.e. they have a distribution of opinions & practices like other large religious groups. It does seem true that Mormons have some extra social practices that foster community. But there are many conservative Christian churches in a wide variety of denominations that have traditional patriarchal ideologies, engage in attempts to prevent premarital sex among their children, and oppose divorce. Many Christian churches at the local level form insular communities that dominate their members’ lives. The Catholic church has very strong norms against divorce. People who divorce leave the church.



    November 9, 2019 at 1:26 pm

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