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You Can’t Make an Omelet Without Breaking Eggs

A part-time college economics & finance instructor who began his career in banking, Chuck frequently writes on money & economics online.

A Phrase Triggers a Memory

The title of this Hub is a metaphor that appeared in an opinion piece by columnist Lance Morrow in the December 28, 2021 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Morrow’s articles usually deal with political topics but it was the end of the year holiday season so his article for that week dealt with the use of metaphors in writing. From a writer’s perspective it provided many good suggestions for how to use, and not use, metaphors effectively.

What caught my attention was his using You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs as one of his many examples of a metaphor. I hadn’t heard this metaphor since my senior year in college decades ago where I heard it uttered a number of times by the same professor in one of the advanced economics classes I was taking.

A Socialist Economics Professor

Professor Shoenburger was in the process of completing his PhD thesis at another university and had taken a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin in the rural northwestern city of Superior which was located on the tip of Lake Superior across the bay from Duluth, Minnesota. The class was a senior level comparative economic systems class focused on comparing classical free market economics (which included both the Keynesian and Friedman theories) as well as socialist economic theory. Even though our instructor was an avowed socialist, a fact that he didn’t hide, he was extremely well versed in the major theories underlying both the free market and socialist schools of thought.

The class was small, consisting of just seven of us, all seniors and all majoring in economics. My friend John, whom I had met and been friends with since we were freshmen, sat next to me in the front row near the door. A third fellow, Ed, sat in the same row as John and I with the four other students sitting across the aisle in the front row on the side of the room next to the windows.

Professor Shoenburger’s classes were always lively with him moving around the front of the room delivering his lectures but pulling us in regularly with questions as well as taking questions from us. The concept of supply and demand came up regularly and I remember him constantly stressing a point by saying “it’s all about supply and demand people” while shooting his arms straight up above his head and crossing them to form an X just like a supply and demand curve.

Discussions Frequently Turned Political

Politics and economics are closely related with both disciplines having begun as the single academic discipline known as Political Economy that eventually separated into the separate academic disciplines of Political Science and Economics. Our instructor encouraged discussion and we had many lively discussions with our teacher expounding on the merits of socialism while we, mostly John, Ed and I with one or more of the other four occasionally joining the three of us against our instructor. Many of the discussions involved economic issues such as the pros and cons of having central planners deciding what and how to produce and distribute products versus having individual businesses thrive or fail based upon how well they were able to anticipate consumer preferences based upon consumers preferences.

However, these discussions could also move from economic systems to Cold War era global politics. Professor Shoenburger was one of those liberals who believed that the Soviet Union’s socialist model was a road map to a better society. John, Ed and I countered his arguments by pointing out the brutal repression and deaths that accompanied the communist take over and rule in the, now former, Soviet Union. In these discussions between socialism in practice versus socialism in theory we always ended up backing our instructor into a verbal corner when it came to the millions of people slaughtered on the Soviet Union’s path to a socialist "paradise". However, he always cut his losses as he quickly ended the discussion by throwing up his hands and saying “Well, you can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs” as he adroitly flowed back into his economic lecture for that day.

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Professor Shoenberger Didn’t Condone Murder

While dismissing the slaughter, arrest and torture of millions of human beings with a shrug while saying you can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs sounds cruel and inhumane, I don’t think Professor Shoenburger was a cruel or even heartless person and he didn’t condone the millions of deaths of innocent people as his comment was simply a quick way to end the discussion.

When talking about millions of nameless people being murdered over the course of a few decades on the other side of the world the killings tend to become mere statistics especially when the killings are part of a cause one believes in. During a war few tears are shed over the deaths of enemy soldiers. For our professor. who sincerely believed that socialism would lead to a better society, such deaths were simply casualties on the road to a better society.

Also, communism and socialism have been popular with many academics since Karl Marx and other left wing writers and academics began popularizing it in the mid-nineteenth century.

A Valuable Lesson

In addition to Professor Shoenberger being one of the best economics instructors I had ever had, he also modeled a way showing us how to have a heated discussion without either side walking away mad. It turned out that throwing up his hands and saying you can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs was a great way to end the discussion without either side feeling defeated and upset. He was basically saying ok, let's agree to disagree and get back to today’s lecture.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Chuck Nugent

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