School’s Out; Reactionaries Hate That

If there’s been one bright spot in America’s COVID-19 experience, it’s the near-complete shutdown of an expensive and obsolete government education system cribbed from mid-19th century Prussia.

Across the country, “public” pre-K thru 12th-grade programs closed their doors this spring. Some districts attempted to hobble along using not yet ready for prime time online learning systems. Others just turned the kids loose to likely learn far more than they would have in the combination daycare centers and youth prisons that pass for schools these days.

It was a perfect opportunity to scrap “public education” as we know it, perhaps transitioning entirely to distance learning as a waypoint on the journey toward separation of school and state.

Naturally, the political class hates that idea. Primary and secondary education constitute an $800 billion per year job and welfare program, with beneficiaries (read: voters and campaign contributors) up and down its extensive food chain.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran isn’t one to let a little thing like a pandemic derail that gravy train: He’s ordered the state’s government schools to re-open in August,  operating at least five days per week and offering “the full panoply of services” — from glorified babysitting to teacher pay to big agribusiness buys for school lunch programs — to those beneficiaries.

It seems likely that most states will follow Corcoran’s lead to one degree or another, naturally also seeking ways to blow even more money than usual on enhanced social distancing, increased surface disinfection work, etc.

That seems to be the consensus of the entire American mainstream political class, from “progressive left” to “conservative right.”

Yes, Republicans and evangelical Christians will bellyache about the teachers’ unions,.

Yes, Democrats and the unions will gripe about charter schools and voucher programs.

But they’re united in their determination to resuscitate the system as it existed before the pandemic, instead of letting that rotten system die a well-deserved death and moving on to better things.

There’s a word for that attitude.

The word is “reactionary.”

As time goes on, we’ll hear lots of agonized propaganda about how the pandemic has forced huge changes in “public” education. Those changes will be entirely cosmetic. The authoritarian infrastructure beneath won’t have changed at all.

By letting the political class pretend that history can be forced to run backward, we’re denying future generations the real educational opportunities that past generations denied us.

School’s out. We should keep it that way.

Open This Content

Think While Doing

I recently listened to a fine episode of the Working Man podcast in which the interview made the good point that the trades are beneficial to help young men stop living so much in their imagination. They’re tactile, and they require presence.

His observation bore itself out for me today, as I spent much too much time scrolling through Twitter rather than starting my day productively. I felt depressed – and it wasn’t so much from thoughts of the ridiculous and tragic things happening in the wider society – but more from a feeling of listlessness about my own life.

Here’s what I gather from my experiences with moments like this:

If you are only thinking about your future, you will feel despair. You will continue to project out your current mode of behavior (in my case, sitting on Twitter) into the future and see what a bleak place it is. Thinking about how bad the world is, too, – while sitting on your butt – will only make you more depressed about the future of the world.

Thinking about the future – even some daydreaming – is fine and natural, but do it while you’re doing something to move forward into the future. This is the only way to keep imagination – which can tend toward darkness and anxiety or grandiosity – in check.

Daydreaming is not ideal during action, but it’s a lot better than being an idle daydreamer. You can think about your athletic future when you’re on your next run, or your next building project while you’re making the saw cuts. You can think about your move while you work to save money for it.

Your thoughts will find new channels – optimistic channels – in the work you are doing in that moment. They will take assurance from your actions. And your mind may still play tricks on you, but it will at least extrapolate out your better behavior rather than your stagnation.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Aphorisms in Honor of Liberty, Part Two (26m) – Episode 320

Episode 320 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following aphorisms written by Jakub Bożydar Wiśniewski: “A bad economist believes that pay can be legislated. A good economist believes that legislation can be paid for.”; “A barbarian believes in the benevolence of power. A civilized person believes in the power of benevolence.”; “A fool believes that people are free when they are all equal. A person of reason believes that people are equal when they are all free.”; “Achieving peace of mind is the dual task of becoming aware of the extent of stupidity in the world and resolving not to contribute to it by refusing to dwell on it.”; “A fool believes that a ban can eliminate debauchery. A person of reason knows that it can increase its attraction.”; “A fool believes that uncertainty infects human life with the misery of fear. A person of reason knows that it imbues human life with the benefit of choice.”

Listen to Episode 320 (26m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

Open This Content

Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty: The New Republic

I’ve been waiting to read the fifth volume of Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty for over 30 years.  Now my former student Patrick Newman, professor at Florida Southern College, has miraculously undeleted this “lost work.”  Patrick’s quasi-archaeological efforts are nothing short of amazing, but how does the actual book hold up?

In the first four volumes of Conceived in Liberty, Rothbard tells the story of the American colonies’ rise, rebellion, and victory over the British.  In this final volume, he tells the story of America’s brief time under the Articles of the Confederation – abruptly  (and illegally!) ended by the revolution/coup/counterrevolution that we now know as the United States Constitution.  Rothbard, a vociferous detractor of the Constitution, could easily have subtitled this last book in his series “The Revolution Betrayed.”

Under the Articles of the Confederation, government was much more decentralized – and therefore much better:

Overall, it should be evident that the Constitution was a counterrevolutionary reaction to the libertarianism and decentralization embodied in the American Revolution. The Antifederalists, supporting states’ rights and critical of a strong national government, were decisively beaten by the Federalists, who wanted such a polity under the guise of democracy in order to enhance their own interests and institute a British-style mercantilism over the country.

Rothbard’s main focus, however, is not in persuading the reader that the Articles were superior, but simply chronicling the details of their demise.  As a result, the book is disappointing.  I expected to watch Rothbard debunk the standard civics case for the Constitution – to insist that the Articles fostered rapid economic growth, high individual liberty, and peace both between the U.S. states and between the U.S. and the world.  I expected him to enthusiastically defend the repudiation of war debt.  And I expected him to at least consider reconsidering his earlier support for the American Revolution and its many slave-holding philosophers of freedom.  Instead, Rothbard glosses over the Big Questions in favor of detailed multi-stage Constitutional vote analysis.

Admittedly, quantitatively comparing growth, freedom, and peace under the two colonial regimes would be difficult due to data limitations.  But there’s no excuse for ignoring the implications for revolutionary change.  In his engaging introduction, Newman depicts Rothbard as a dedicated supporter of the American Revolution:

Although the Revolution was enormously costly and resulted in the near destruction of the economy (through hyperinflation, military confiscation of goods, British pillaging of infrastructure and supplies, and the flight of British loyalists), the war was worth it since it led to the achievement of highly libertarian goals of inestimable value. Rothbard explains that the American Revolution was radical and led to the restriction of slavery in many areas, the end of feudalism, the emergence of religious freedom, democratic constitutions with increased suffrage, and revolutions in European nations.

Here’s the rub: How can the war (including the “near destruction of the economy”!) be “worth it” if the libertarian revolution gets cancelled a few short years later?  This is an astronomical price to pay for such a transient gain.  Sure, you could reply, “Well, the war would have been worth it if the Articles had endured.”  But that immediately raises a deeper question: Was the American Revolution even a prudent gamble?  The probability of victory aside, what is the probability of winning the war but losing the peace?  If your answer isn’t, “Very high,” I question your knowledge of the history of violent revolution.

Perhaps Rothbard would insist, “The Constitution was only a partial counterrevolution.  Many of the libertarian gains of the American Revolution endured.”  Then he could point to all the items in the preceding list: “the restriction of slavery in many areas, the end of feudalism, the emergence of religious freedom, democratic constitutions with increased suffrage, and revolutions in European nations.”  Given the hellish history of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, I’d say the latter “achievement” outweighs all the others.  In any case, Rothbard barely grapples with the counterfactuals.  How do we know slavery wouldn’t have been restricted anyway?  What’s the probability that the British would have restricted slavery earlier and more peacefully?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Rothbard also fails to grapple with the complex interaction between decentralization and mobility.  As I’ve explained before:

[D]oes decentralization alone really promote liberty or prosperity?  The mechanism is elusive at best. Imagine a world with a thousand sovereign countries of equal size.  This is far more decentralized than the status quo, right?  Suppose further, however, that there is zero mobility between these countries.  Labor can’t move; capital can’t move.  In this scenario, each country seems perfectly able to pursue its policies free of competitive pressure.  Why should we expect such policies to promote liberty, prosperity, or anything else?

The story would change, of course, if you combine decentralization with resource mobility.  In that case, each country’s government has to compete to retain labor and capital at home.  If you don’t make the customer happy, somebody else proverbially will.  But without this “universalist” mobility rule, decentralization leaves everyone under the rule of a preordained local monopolist.

Standard civics classes claim that under the Articles of the Confederation, interstate tariffs were a serious problem; they offered decentralized politics without free trade.  Rothbard only response is to downplay the severity of the regulation:

While Connecticut taxed imports from Massachusetts, and New York in 1787 moved to tax foreign goods imported from neighboring states, the specter of disunity and disrupting interstate tariff s was more of a bogey to sell the idea of a powerful national government than a real factor in the economy of the day.

Perhaps Rothbard’s right, but remember: interstate tariffs only had a few years to get online.  What would have happened to interstate tariffs in the long run if the Articles endured?  And doesn’t the question illustrate the critical insight that decentralization without resource mobility is no recipe for liberty?

To be clear, I enjoyed reading the final volume of Conceived in Liberty.  And to be fair, Rothbard probably would have greatly improved it before publication.  As it stands, though, Rothbard’s lost book dodges the fundamental questions that Mr. Libertarian famously relished.  If you want to read one of his posthumous works, you’d be better off with The Progressive Era – also beautifully edited and annotated by Patrick Newman.

Open This Content

Stop Blaming Russia, China for US Disarmament Failures

On June 22 and 23, Russian and American diplomats met in Vienna to discuss New START, a nuclear arms reduction treaty which expires next year. The treaty provides for an optional five-year extension. Alternatively, the parties could negotiate a new agreement as has happened several times in the past.

A third possibility involves one or both parties playing silly games like insisting that China be brought into the negotiations despite Beijing’s complete lack of interest in participating. Which is exactly what happened.  US negotiator Marshall Billingslea tweeted a photo of empty seats with People’s Republic flag placeholders in Vienna, calling China a “no-show” and accusing it of a “crash nuclear build-up.”

It would take quite a build-up indeed for the Chinese nuclear arsenal to get competitive with that of the US or Russia. The latter two regimes boast thousands of bombs and warheads. Most estimates of China’s collection are in the hundreds.

And, given the US government’s record of treaty violations, why would Beijing’s diplomats be inclined to trust their Washington counterparts anyway?

Negotiations with other nuclear powers — not to mention its attempt to both withdraw from, AND remain recognized as party to, the  “Iran Nuclear Deal” —  aside, the US government continues to flout its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to “pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of” its arsenal.

Instead of decommissioning and destroying nuclear weapons as should be happening, the Obama and Trump regimes have committed to spending a whopping $1.7 trillion over 30 years (a number anyone familiar with government spending knows will mysteriously multiply) on “modernizing” them.

The purpose of arms control talks is to reduce the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used. The purpose of “modernizing” those weapons is to make those weapons easier to use. The US government needs to commit to the former goal and renounce the latter possibility.

Even accepting the exceedingly weak case for continuing to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrent to first strikes, the numbers needed for that use would be a fraction of, not a multiple of, China’s or Russia’s arsenals.

A serious approach to arms control would consist of the US government announcing a unilateral and verifiable reduction to an arsenal of, say, no more than 100 nuclear weapons, challenging the Russian and Chinese governments to match that reduction, and committing to complete elimination if, and as, other nuclear powers agree. Anything less is just potentially deadly politicking.

Open This Content

Immigration vs. Social Desirability Bias

Consider the following specimens of Social Desirability Bias.

1. This is my country, I would never want to live anywhere else.

2. Patriotism matters more than money!

3. I couldn’t bear the thought of my children not growing up as citizens of [my country of birth].

4. This is the greatest country in the world.

5. Nothing is more important than keeping our whole family together.

6. We’re nothing without our traditions.

7. Our identity matters more than gold.

8. We’ve got to solve our country’s problems our own way.

9. We don’t need foreign help to build a better country.

10. My country, right or wrong.

Claims like these are popular all over the world.  No matter how awful their country is, people love to proclaim their undying devotion to folk and land.  Why then have hundreds of millions of people left their countries of birth?  Because the migrants don’t literally believe this flowery talk.  Though almost everyone voices these sentiments, actions speak louder than words.  The act of migration says something like:

1. My country is subpar, I want to live somewhere better.

2. Money matters more than patriotism.

3. I can bear the thought of my children not growing up as [citizens of my country of birth].

4. This is not the greatest country in the world.  Not even close.

5. Enjoying a higher standard of living is more important than keeping our extended family together.

6. We’re going to dilute our traditions and adopt some foreign ones.

7. I would like more gold and less identity.

8. Our country isn’t going to solve its problems “its own way,” so I’m moving to another country that has its act together.

9. I need foreign help to build a better life.

10. My country is a major disappointment to me.

Quite a list of heresies!  You could demur, “This may be what migrants say with their actions.  All the people who don’t move, however, are saying the opposite.”  But this overlooks the glaring reality of draconian immigration restrictions.  At least a billion people would migrate if it were legal.  And since migration is a drastic step, belief in these heresies must be widespread indeed.

My point: Immigrants do what people aren’t supposed to say.  They are the living embodiment of the fact that nationalism and identity politics are mostly doth-protest-too-much rhetoric rather than earnest devotion.  As I’ve explained before:

[Note] the stark contrast between how much people say they care about community, and how lackadaisically they try to fulfill their announced desire.  I’ve long been shocked by the fraction of people who call themselves “religious” who can’t even bother to attend a weekly ceremony or speak a daily prayer.  But religious devotion is fervent compared to secular communitarian devotion.  How many self-styled communitarians have the energy to attend a weekly patriotic or ethnic meeting?  To spend a few hours a week watching patriotic or ethnically-themed television and movies?  To utter a daily toast to their nation or people?

The main reason people resent immigration is probably just xenophobia.  But a secondary reason, plausibly, is that every immigrant is a tiny beacon of unwelcome candor.  The act of immigration says, “Trying to fix my country of birth is a fool’s errand.  The people I grew up with are hopeless.  Instead, I’m going to personally fix my own life by moving to a new county that works.  It won’t be perfect, but I’m willing to suffer for years to make the switch.”

As an iconoclast myself, I love what the act of immigration says.  Most people, however, hear the implied heresy and recoil.

Open This Content