The tendency of communist systems to devolve into cronyism largely stems from a lack of accountability from a leadership that is not personally bound to its constituents beyond what is required through public duty. Recent inquiries into the natures of governance and morality suggest that shared moral systems can act as a “glue” that binds planners with those for whom they are planning and therefore reduces the tendency to defect from the public good. For instance, Haidt (2010) suggests that the common moral dimensions of popular religions lower the transaction costs of interacting with other believers and therefore contribute to social harmony. Taking this into account, it might seem that a communistic system that is fundamentally grounded in religion and nationality, like the kibbutzim in Israel, would be more immune to the downfalls of communism in secular, disparate communities that plagued the experiments in China. Indeed, the kibbutz arrangement has outlasted all other modern attempts at communal agriculture and has avoided some of the more violent missteps of the state communes in China; however, these cultural institutions have not been strong enough to completely eliminate the human propensity to take advantage of an easily-exploitable system when afforded the power to do so.
Despite the advantages that kibbutzim enjoy by virtue of a shared moral matrix and cultural identity, communal agriculture in Israel is susceptible to the same problems of cronyism, corruption, and clientelism that wracked other communes that lacked any shared values. Shapira (2008) documents how the early kibbutz experiment that blossomed from the efforts of a handful of radical idealists in the 1920s and 1930s slowly wilted as the leadership aged and became more protective of their power. In spite of the strict tenure limits that were ostensibly enforced by the informal norm of “rotatzia,” charismatic kibbutz leaders held onto power for dynasties that lasted for half a century. Subordinate office holders were rewarded for their allegiance to the executive leader with increased power, tenure, and rewards of luxurious gifts like cars and private flats while rank-and-file members had to make do with their meager communal rations. De Vries and Shalem (1999) write that for most of their existence, Israeli kibbutzim have not been self-sufficient but rather are critically dependent on external financial support from Jewish and Israeli institutions. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that kibbutz elites have consistently dominated the national Israeli political scene despite comprising only three percent of the Israeli population. Abramitzky (2008) tests for the hypothesis that the kibbutz redistribution scheme that moves wealth from value creators to political insiders prompts an exodus of high-skilled workers from the communes and finds substantial support.
In fact, most of the modern academic literature on the kibbutzim discusses the “crisis” that has been gradually undermining the harmony and productivity of kibbutzim over many silent decades. Even scholars who are generally supportive of the concept of communal agriculture and are committed to the kibbutzim’s success as a proof of concept for socialism correctly identify the emergence of a self-interested political elite as a primary weakness of the kibbutz arrangement while simultaneously pinning the blame of this outcome on the moderate liberalizing reforms that some kibbutzim have enacted in order to more correctly align value creation with compensation and entice the high-skilled laborers that Walder observed to move back to their kibbutz. At the same time, many of the reform proposals that are commonly offered by these scholars, primarily a return to vertical centralization, are likely to only further aggravate the problems. To fundamentally engender successful reform, the kibbutzim must emulate the successful reforms of the Chinese People’s communes by diminishing the amount of rents that can be seized through political allocation and increasing the number of avenues through which all members of the commune can offer and trade value.
Or, for brevity’s sake: “no, hivishness is not sufficient to coordinate resource allocation for large populations.” I’m really happy with this section.