Impact of Kibbuts

the kibbutz is, as of 2010, while only 2% of the population, are 9% of Israel’s industrial output, worth about $8 billion, and 40% of the agricultural output, worth 1.7 billion.

they had a disproportionate impact on the ideological, political and military leadership of Israel

These were not a bunch of rejectionist hippies. These were people playing the game seriously but just in a different way.

they were never in the margin of society. They always influenced and were influenced by society around them. They would go to schools, high schools with non-kibbutz members. They would serve in the military with non-kibbutz members. And so at some level it’s small interest. It’s not like the Amish or like other communes, that maybe they have such different belief system than society around them that it just makes sense for them to group by themselves in a somewhat isolated place.

the kibbutz was not a monolithic movement. There were different flavors


Incentive Problems

  • kibbutz gives you a terrific insurance, a safety net against all the problems and miseries that life can bring you.

  • I really strongly suggest for you to bring highly idealistic people to your effort. So don’t just bring these cynical people that are so selfish that they only care about themselves. But rather try to bring people that share the same ideological and vocational training, that are idealistic, that they have shared and common goals, those kind of people

  • you should build your society in such a way that will help you avoid all these incentive problems in way that

  • how about social sanctions? In a kibbutz, everybody knows everybody. You work in the same place you live in. Your kids go to the same schools. Kibbutzim are all the size between about 100 people to 1,000 people. The average size of a kibbutz is around 440 members, which is about 150 or 200 families. So they can, in the kibbutz, they can make your life sufficiently miserable that you are better off leaving rather than not working hard. You don’t work hard, they wouldn’t sit next to you in the dining hall. They would let you feel awful. But of course the things is that, for social sanctions to be effective, you kind of need to design a relatively small community, because social sanctions don’t work in a huge country, where not everybody knows everybody

    • We still have to keep them small enough in order for everybody to know everybody and for social sanctions to be effective.
  • So there is no such thing as unemployment in the kibbutz. Everybody is working. And of course the other side of social sanctions is social rewards, if you want, so rotations in leadership. So unlike in other communes, it was never, in the kibbutz, it was never one charismatic leader that is the leader of the kibbutz for 50 years. Leadership is rotated. So the kibbutz manager, the farm manager, the kibbutz secretary, those are jobs that are rotated. And they are always given to people who are perceived to be doing more than their share.

  • if you want to enter, they have tough screening processes for people who want to join. You have to show that you’re able to make a living in the kibbutz, that you have a high enough education. Even once you get in, even once they let you in, you are on a probation period for a year or two until they vote.

  • “Why don’t you abolish all private property, have all property owned collectively. And if you want to leave, no problem. You can take your brain with you, but you cannot take your share of the kibbutz. You cannot take your part of the factory. You cannot take your house. You cannot take the swimming pool and the dining hall, and so that makes exit costly. There is no money for many years, and so there is no ability to save. And so there is no bequest, so it makes it difficult to leave, even if you are very ambitious. You want to study? No problem. The kibbutz would allow you to study agronomy but not law. So they would let you study stuff that is more valuable in the kibbutz. And all these things make exit costly.

  • that lack of privacy and the lack of private property, which were so essential in the traditional kibbutz to help solve some of the incentive problems, are stuff that many people don’t like.


  • So the average kibbutz member, even in the periods of equal sharing, on average, they are similarly educated to the Ashkenazi population outside. Of course in the margin, there are differences. So for example, less of them are completely uneducated relative to the general population. But also, fewer of them have maybe very advanced degrees. But this is one thing that I take as, if you want, suggestive against this simple economic theory of studying because of the financial returns. Kibbutz members were always educated, even when there were no financial returns to it.
  • we do find that kibbutz students do start to take school more seriously once their kibbutz shift away from equal sharing. And they do start to take fields that are more potentially profitable. So they do respond to incentives. It’s not like the incentive problems stop at the gate of the kibbutz.

Poverty, Equality, Happiness

  • So rich kibbutzim maintain their high degree of equality. Kibbutzim that were hit by the financial crisis and were required to reduce their living standards are the first to shift away from equal sharing. And once they do, fewer and fewer of the talent, of the educated members exit.
  • That’s a very interesting insight and probably a very important insight for anyone who wants to build a community, which probably is to the degree you want to be able to maintain equal sharing, egalitarianism. You better figure out how to be really successful in the world, because it’s hard to maintain that in poverty
  • if you asked people how they feel about the social life and the social atmosphere in the kibbutz, you see that the more egalitarian kibbutzim actually have a higher reported degree of happiness from their social life and so again indicating that it’s a trade off between incentives and equality.
  • even kibbutzim that did reform, by the way, they are still based on mutual ed and mutual assistance. And the equality and helping others is still a building block. And it’s still important to them, even if they shifted away from equal sharing. So I think the kibbutzim did get to a sweet sport, whether or not they reformed. And they are an example of how, if you’re flexible enough to respond to the changing world around you, you can actually make equality work for you

Equal Sharing is Possible but has costs

  • kibbutzim survived for more than 100 years, and they are one of the most important social experiments in equal sharing. And they survived for a long time, and they were successful. It is possible because even today in the 21st century, there are 30 or 40 kibbutzim that are still based on full, equal sharing. And it is possible, because even reformed kibbutzim are still taking care of their weak and the old members. And they are based on the safety net and otherwise on the mutual ed and assistance.
  • But it has a price in the sense that kibbutzim are small community. Full equality has a price, because kibbutzim are small community. And when you try to implement equality and socialism at the country level, you very quickly get a Soviet Union or something with heavy restrictions on individual freedom and otherwise. It has a price because of what we talked about, that lack of privacy and common property that were so important to deal with incentive problems are also sacrifices that many people are not willing to make. And that explains why they are so rare. And again, it has a price because of the screening and entering into the kibbutz means that the equality inside the kibbutz does come at the pice of excluding many others from the equality arrangement.

Problems with Other Communes

  • Religious communes, for example, ended up being more successful than secular ones oftentimes. There is interesting work by [Ovid 01:08:43] and by [Socis 01:08:44] about these religious communes and others. I find that one characteristics of short-lived communes is that members did not share ideological training and had very different backgrounds. And maybe communes that collapsed early were formed in a haste or with little ideological preparation and so on. So the brotherhood of cooperative and the new harmony and others, other communes that were more long lived had more shared ideology.

Optimal Diversity

  • I think it’s just the reality that diversity is a value, but it’s not a monotonically increasing value. I give the example, suppose you lived in a community of 150 families, and every single one of them was from a different culture and spoke a different language, and none of them knew two languages. That would not be a very pleasant place to live. So there’s an optimal amount of diversity, like there’s an optimal amount of everything.