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Man and Rat

Capitalism versus Socialism:
A Cautionary Tale

By Michael Koran

Twenty-five years ago the tenants in our 12 unit apartment building refused to pay their rent. The landlord fixed nothing: toilets didn't work, storm windows remained broken and gutters clogged. The city of Cambridge was under rent control. Our landlord in a rare moment of responding to us said, "I can only break even if I don't fix anything that breaks."

He tried to sell the building the first day he learned we were on a rent strike. No one wanted to buy. We did. For $56,000 we bought our building. Thanks to one of our tenants, Carl, who had inherited $17,000, we had enough for a down payment. We tried to be like a food co-op. Anyone who moved in was automatically one of the owners. If they moved out the new tenant became the new owner.

After a few years some of the tenants wanted to "really" own their units. During our monthly meetings Donna (unaffectionately known as "Donna Trump") said, "If we don't take ownership of these units, someone someday will."

I, one of the "socialists" said, "our co-op arrangement is beautiful. Our building will always belong to the people who live in it. If we let people own their units even if they move away, we'll be creating absentee landlords." Donna yelled, "You're stealing money from our children with your silly socialist ideals."

My friend Carl (unaffectionately known as "Commie Carl") screamed, "You capitalists only think of money." This argument continued for ten years. I still was happy to live in a building where I got to know my neighbors so well. "I said, "we are unlike any apartment building I've ever lived in." Donna said, "even if we came to the meeting with knives, you'd still say "how nice it is for us to share our silverware together."

Sometimes I put my hand over my friend's Carl's mouth to stop him from screaming "Oink oink" at the "capitalist pigs." Our apartment building's roof began to leak. We needed over 70,000 to fix it. Donna said "we'll only sign a note if we can own our unit. Why else give over $6,000 of our own money to build a roof for someone else." The Socialists, to keep our rooms dry, caved in. We all became owners.

After ten years Carl and his wife had a son and Donna and her husband had a daughter. The rooms in our building were not big enough for couples with children. These new parents, who knew each other quite well by this time, decided to buy a two-family house together. They could do this because they could now sell their units.

I moved out to get married. The marriage only lasted for two years. I now had a home to move back to. I invited Donna and Carl's families over for my first dinner. My toast as we raised our wine cups, "thanks to the capitalist pigs we all have a home of our own."



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