If you want to understand why collectivism will never work, the next time you fly somewhere just pay attention to the behaviors at the gate. I was stuck at JFK for a few extra hours today and observed about a dozen flights go out from my perch in the SkyClub in Concourse B…mostly small regional jets but I have seen the same behaviors when I fly internationally. This behavior is the same no matter where I am – China, the UK, Europe, South Asia or South/North America – it doesn’t matter.
No matter where it is, what country or what culture, there are always a majority of people acting in their own rational self-interest.
We all know how planes work. If you are at the gate, you will be given the opportunity to board. You aren’t getting left behind; the gate agents will make sure you board. If you are sitting at the gate when boarding starts, the only way you don’t go is that you decide not to board. Every airline has a boarding scheme – mostly by designated “zones” based on the location of your seat, the cost of your ticket, your frequent flier status, etc. Even though 99.9% of the people know this (and the only reason some don’t is that they either aren’t regular fliers or they simply aren’t listening to the public announcements), when the first boarding is announced, typically the “anyone needing more time to get down the Jetway or people travelling with small children” announcement, people get out of their seats and crowd around the entrance to the boarding gate lanes. Not all, of course, but statistically significant majority do. Today was no different.
Why do people do this? What motivates them to get up and crowd the gate even though they know the rules?
There is a commodity on an aircraft that all travelers value…and now that seats are shrinking, rows are getting tighter and tighter and the airlines are charging for checked bags, that commodity has increased in value substantially.
What is it?
Why, it is overhead bin space – and bin space is first come first served. There is an unwritten (and often unobserved) rule of common courtesy that you are only supposed to use the space above your seats but I’ve seen people with seats in coach stuff their bags in first class so they can grab them on the way out (you never want to have to put your bags behind you because you will be swimming against the tide when disembarking and unless there is a Good Samaritan who grabs them for you, will have to wait until the plan clears before you are getting off the plane).
People crowd the gate because even if they are boarding in Zone 4, they have a self-interest in getting the best bin space for their carry-on bag possible – they want to be at the beginning of the zone to have the best chance to 1) actually get space and 2) get the best possible remaining space.
As I said earlier, this behavior is common all over the world – in capitalist America and in communist China. People everywhere understand the self-interest and value of unoccupied overhead bin space and act accordingly. It is a natural response to a scarce resource. It lives in everybody, it is everywhere and it isn’t that people are inherently selfish – there are many examples of people helping others, giving up space, shoving a big bag under the seat in front of them to make space for someone else – but the impulse to gain advantage to make life a little easier for yourself is something we all have.
This basic understanding of the concept of inherent value combined with rational self-interest is why collectivism will never work and every time it is tried, some coercive power must back it. Suppression of self-interest creates frustration and anger, coercion results in contempt and resistance. There is no outlet for these emotions because the collectivist system demands “sameness”, that all must act the same, be subjected to the same and never complain about it. The harder people push the harder the management of the collective must push back to keep everyone in line. It’s a death spiral.
A simple observation of human nature at the airport reveals why suppression of rational self-interest assures collectivism will never work.