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We Can Experiment With Socialism Right Here in Eugene

July 3rd, 2019 by dk

Socialism is losing its stigma for some Americans, because the limits of capitalism are becoming apparent. Unfettered competition will not produce equitable outcomes, unless and until government intervenes. If some government control will be required eventually, why not just create a controlled economy?

A controlled economy will never match the efficiency of a market economy, but efficiency is not all that matters. We need new tools to keep capitalism humming but humane. To learn where government controls can be most effective, it would be best to experiment inside a controlled economic environment.

University of Oregon could help save capitalism from itself by incubating some new ideas inside its own controlled culture. If lessons learned on campus can then be applied to society at large, we might change the world. Why hope for anything less?

First, the customer is not always right. Or, the customer IS always right, but should anyone aspire to being a perpetual customer? It’s often more satisfying to be a community member, a collaborator, a citizen — even if it means occasionally being “not right.” Articulate that trade-off for 23,000 students, and the world may begin to notice.

The second follows from the first. Capitalism sets prices according to supply and demand. But demand is not always elastic. For example, medical procedures and wonder drugs do not become less popular when the price goes up. Price cannot always curb demand.

In the same way, the university has certain core offerings that students must pass to earn the degree. Those courses are not priced higher than others. Those classes may be more valuable, but a university that minds its mission will make those classes easy to schedule. Moreover, some students may require extra assistance to master that core curriculum. Meeting those needs is at the core of the university’s pledge to students and to society.

Society has not drawn such bright lines for its citizens. How does society meet basic needs, no matter the cost, without creating a culture of endless entitlements? UO President Michael Schill and the Board of Trustees could solve this societal challenge in its controlled Petri dish, where a lifetime is designed to last four years.

The third life lesson that could be formulated better on campus is the touchiest, because it created negative headlines for the university. If we want a dynamic society that grows and changes, we must reformulate our expectations around success. Success doesn’t always create innovation — it often stifles it. How can a capitalist society encourage entrepreneurship?

The university can show the way. Our society now needs a declaration of interconnectedness. The whole must always be considered greater than its parts.

The Bach Festival must now grow with less support from the university, so it can invest funds in the new Center for Art Research. UO’s Labor Education and Research Center may need to become more independent, while the university helps its new Black Cultural Center get its footing. These are difficult trade-offs, but that’s what they are — trade-offs.

We’ve already accepted the heavy hand of central control in our university governance model. We may as well use learn to articulate its benefits.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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