by Ron Meyer
As a college student, I constantly hear about how college is supposed to be trial place for new ideas. New ideas like communism. A student government experiment at Principia College has produced some humorous and rather predictable results.
Last year, my student government decided they were going to try this new idea called "Go-Bikes." Basically, the school would have community bikes where any student could take these labeled bikes wherever they needed to around campus. In theory, it looked like it would make student life much easier.
At first, the students loved the bikes. On our large campus, it nice to not have to walk or buy your own bike in order to travel from the dorms to class. Even though they were used bikes, everything seemed to work for the first few weeks.
Then the horror stories started.
The first came from a close friend. He was riding a "Go-Bike" down the biggest hill on our campus when the brakes gave out. By the time he noticed, he was traveling well over 20 mph, and to avoid broken bones and epic road-rash, he slammed his feet on the ground. Despite losing most of the rubber on the bottom of his shoes, he was able to walk away traumatized but unharmed.
The next incident came when a student hopped on a bike and after pedaling for 30 feet realized that the handle bars weren't completely attached. The student lost balance and fell, but he luckily did not sustain any serious injuries.
These types of occurrences started popping up all over campus. Pretty soon, most of the bikes were completely dysfunctional. People stopped leaving them at the bike kiosks and eventually stopped using them at all. "Go-Bikes" became somewhat of a campus joke.
Now, the only time I see them is in the woods or tossed in random bushes across campus. Every once in a while, a brave student rides one at the risk of their own peril.
This failed experiment serves as a hilarious yet illustrative reminder of why communism still doesn't work.
Considering I have free market principles inherently planted in my body, I was skeptical of the plan from the beginning. The problem for college students -- especially because economics is not a required class-- is that Marxism and collectivism have always sounded good to the untuned ear.
College students are so vulnerable to this type of thinking because we are generally idealistic and the failures of collectivism are rarely, if ever, discussed in history classes. More shockingly, many teachers encourage this type of thinking.
Plus, for lazy college students, what's not to like about free bikes?
Well obviously our students found out. When nobody owns a good, no one has the incentive to take care of it. Without individual ownership, no one cares about the individual condition of the bikes or even where they're left. No one has responsibility.
This is one of the reasons that property rights are the foundation for a free society. Besides the trade aspect, property rights give people a reason to take care of the stuff they use. When you own something, you're much more likely to take care of it and use it more efficiently.
When collectivism is tried, someone also has to pay for the collective good. In this case, the student body budget paid for the program out of student funds. It's very similar to what we see when tax dollars go to big government programs were the bureaucrats have no monetary incentive to manage the service effectively and the reciepient has no reason to value it because it's free he doesn't have to pay for it.
What is really awesome is that the solution to a bad program is more programs. The student government at my school has decided to double down on this idea by buying newer, more expensive bikes in hope that the result will change. I'm looking forward to sitting back and watching while the new round of bikes are destroyed or lost around campus.
I just love when good money goes after bad programs. that sounds rather like our federal government...
You might think that these students would learn from history, not only the history of the "Go-Bike" program, but of communism in general. I'm thinking that colleges need to offer more classes about the failures of the Soviet Union. Somehow I doubt that will happen anytime soon with the liberal leanings of our higher education system.
My generation needs an economic wake-up call. We have not been brought up in the ways of free enterprise. The average college student can't even explain the advantages of trade. My college, like many colleges, requires me to take three science classes and zero economics or business classes.
If my generation wants any hope of paying for the gargantuan debt left to us, we need to start understanding basic economics. We've got a long way to go. And we won’t get there on a Go-Bike.