Christopher Coyne: Why Humanitarian Action Fails (46m)

This episode features a lecture by economics professor Christopher Coyne from 2014. He discusses the sometimes disastrous unforeseen consequences of poorly-planned humanitarian interventions around the world. Purchase books by Christopher Coyne on Amazon here.

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Outschool.com Takes Education Out Of Schooling

Supporting education beyond schooling is a key feature of many educational technology platforms. While some may be integrated into conventional classrooms, complementing a traditional curriculum, emerging technology is increasingly helping to separate education from schooling and catalyze new models of K-12 learning. As its name implies, Outschool.com is focused on out-of-school learning that helps families and organizations to access high-quality content in an array of subjects. Its flexibility and variety engage learners around the world and facilitate the expansion of new learning communities outside of standard schooling.

Instructors choose to share their knowledge and passions, and they are publicly rated by participants, offering transparency and accountability.

Founded by Amir Nathoo in 2015, Outschool now offers over 10,000 live, video-enabled classes for young people ages three to 18. Connecting online in small groups with dynamic instructors, learners select content ranging from typical academic subjects to more adventurous classes such as pet trick training, forensic science, engineering with Minecraft, and wilderness survival skills.

Prices vary by topic and course length, but the introductory wilderness survival class, for example, costs $45 for a total of three, 45-minute classes. Instructors choose to join Outschool to share their knowledge and passions, and they are publicly rated by participants, offering transparency and accountability. They undergo background checks and are then free to offer whatever courses interest them while catering to learner, and parent, demand. Teachers set their own prices and Outschool takes 30 percent of the enrollment fee.

Supporting Passion-Driven Learning

Trained as an engineer, Nathoo’s inspiration for launching Outschool was tied to his own childhood experiences.

My parents were both teachers and although I had an amazing standard education in the U.K., my most impactful learning happened outside of school,

he says. In the early 1980s, Nathoo’s parents bought him a computer, a BBC Micro, and he spent hours tinkering with it. “They gave me unlimited screen time,” recalls Nathoo. “I loved playing computer games and I became inspired to try creating games myself.”

Spotting their son’s burgeoning passion for computers, Nathoo’s parents found a retired economics professor who liked computer science and offered to mentor Nathoo. “That learning experience based on my interests has turned into a career in technology,” he says.

When I think of the skills and learning that I use today, so much of that happens outside of school. Being a technologist and an entrepreneur, it’s always been my idea to apply technology to enable more of the out-of-school learning that has been so valuable to me.

Prior to starting San Francisco-based Outschool, Nathoo worked as a project lead for Square, the payment processing company. He was intrigued by how technology-driven marketplace models such as Airbnb, Lyft, and Etsy revolutionized entire industries, and he was dissatisfied that the same level of transformation was not occurring in education.

As Nathoo began to create the Outschool digital platform, he was intentionally looking for models outside of the existing education system. “The real lightbulb moment came when I learned more about homeschooling,” says Nathoo. He was introduced to this type of education from a San Francisco friend who was homeschooling her children. “There are a bunch of presumptions about homeschooling that I really didn’t see among the homeschoolers in the Bay Area,” says Nathoo.

I found that there was this group of people customizing and curating their kids’ learning and giving them a lot more freedom than they would typically have. And they were doing it socially, hiring teachers, forming groups and creating a much more dynamic style of learner-directed education. To me, this looked like the future.

Nathoo realized that this was the learner-directed education model outside of schooling that he was seeking to support and scale. The path forward became clear: create a product that served this existing audience, build a business around it and then use this business to make the ideas of learner-directed education mainstream.

I had the belief that once other parents had seen the power of this model, at first after school and on weekends, we could cause a big change in how people saw kids learning,

he says.

Global Reach, Local Impact

With a product plan, bold vision and seed capital from Y Combinator and others in 2016, Nathoo and his team built the Outschool platform and launched the first Outschool class in 2017. Since then, more than 60,000 learners worldwide have attended Outschool classes.

During his initial days incubating the Outschool idea within California homeschooling networks, Nathoo contacted Julie Schiffman who had been actively homeschooling her children for years and was very involved in the local homeschooling community. A former public school special education teacher, Schiffman left teaching because she was distraught by what she saw as a widespread practice of over-labeling and over-medicating many children with disabilities while offering limited support to children with serious emotional and behavioral disorders.

Nathoo’s vision is to make interest-based, learner-directed education a mainstream option for many more young people.

“It was insanely depressing and I had to leave the profession altogether in order to preserve my health,” says Schiffman. She began wondering how she could help to fix the problems of conventional schooling. At first, she believed that change could come from within the system, but after she started researching alternative education models, like homeschooling, she became convinced that lasting change would need to come from outside the system, by embracing and helping to expand new and better models of education.

When Nathoo called Schiffman on the phone one day in 2015 to tell her about his Outschool idea, she was spellbound. “I had to literally sit down and stable myself,” Schiffman recalls. “I fully recognized from the moment he told me what he was working on that this was the education revolution.” Schiffman’s children have used Outschool for some of their interest-based learning, including classes on building their own YouTube channels and video-editing. The relevant content and global reach mean that learners frequently take classes with peers and instructors all over the world, often retaining connections long after a class ends.

Outschool continues to expand, raising $8.5 million in Series A funding from Union Square Ventures and Reach Capital earlier this year. Nathoo expects Outschool’s digital platform to grow quickly, but he is also focused on helping to support co-learning communities, micro-schools, and other experimental education models.

Our goal is to provide a service to these types of in-person learning centers so that the kids there can get access to teachers and content to pursue their interests and to fulfill their learning goals.

Schiffman is in the process of opening one of these in-person community centers in Marin County, California, where she plans to rent out space to various instructors and vendors offering a host of different classes. She has been getting advice from Nathoo on how to make her community learning model, known as Home Base, scalable and replicable, with the aim of growing to multiple locations within the next two years. Nathoo explains how Outschool can help:

Local learning centers can focus on providing a great, local, social environment while not worrying about content, and kids can access far more teachers and content globally through this combination of online and in-person learning.

Ultimately, Nathoo’s vision is to make interest-based, learner-directed education a mainstream option for many more young people. He wants more children to have the opportunity he did to pursue passions outside of a conventional classroom that can ultimately lead to fulfilling lives and livelihoods. Now as a parent himself, Nathoo can relate even more personally to what parents want for their children’s education and well-being. He says:

When parents realize that letting kids pursue their interests is a way to get them excited about learning and is a better way to help their kids thrive in the world, that’s really powerful to see.

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Joseph Salerno: Calculation and Socialism (46m)

This episode features a lecture by economics professor (emeritus) Joseph Salerno from 2019. The topic of the lecture is the possibility, or impossibility, of rational economic calculation under a socialist political order. Purchase books by Joseph Salerno on Amazon here.

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In Praise of Spontaneous Order

My girls and I recently spent several days in New York City, where I filmed this clip about unschooling and self-directed education. We decided to make it a field trip, enjoying a Broadway show, Central Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although I have been a city dweller in Boston for over 20 years, it pales in comparison to New York City’s size and scale. Walking through Times Square, the phrase that kept popping into my head was: spontaneous order.

Here were thousands of people in a few square blocks, all peacefully pursuing their own interests in an environment of voluntary association and exchange. Some people might have been in search of Italian food, others Mexican. Some visitors may have been shopping for shoes, or pocketbooks, or travel memorabilia, while others were interested in the street performers and musicians. Some arrived by taxi, others by subway, and still others by foot or bicycle. Some were there to sell, while others were there to buy.

There were countless reasons all of those people were in Times Square, but they came as a result of their own distinct interests, taking advantage of a panoply of dining, shopping, and artistic vendors, without any central planner coordinating their activities. It is an extraordinary example of the power of the marketplace to spontaneously facilitate peaceful, voluntary exchange for highly diverse individuals with many different interests and needs. As State University of New York economist Sanford Ikeda writes, “great cities are Hayekian spontaneous orders par excellence.”

Spontaneous Order

In his book, The Fatal Conceit, the Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek explained the beauty of spontaneous order in greater detail, arguing that while it’s not perfect, the order that arises through decentralized, individual interest is superior to any external attempt to mastermind human action. Hayek wrote:

Such an order, although far from perfect and often inefficient, can extend farther than any order men could create by deliberately putting countless elements into selected “appropriate” places. Most defects and inefficiencies of such spontaneous orders result from attempting to interfere with or to prevent their mechanisms from operating, or to improve the details of their results. Such attempts to intervene in spontaneous order rarely result in anything closely corresponding to men’s wishes, since these orders are determined by more particular facts than any such intervening agency can know.

A few days in Times Square gave me an even greater appreciation for the spontaneous order of the marketplace and its ability to satisfy an array of preferences, peacefully and voluntarily, without central planning or control. It’s an extraordinary display of emergent, harmonious human action.

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Do You Talk About X in Open Borders? Yes!

The modal question about Open Borders is, “Do you talk about X?”  The answer is “YES” for all of the following…

1. Do you talk about the historical pattern of global poverty rates?

2. Do you talk about people’s attachment to their country of birth?

3. Do you talk about overcrowding?

4. Do you talk about the global poor’s ability to function in a modern society?

5. Do you talk about global apartheid?

6. Do you talk about the level of illegal immigration?

7. Do you talk about human smuggling?

8. Do you talk about the effectiveness of immigration law at preventing and deterring illegal immigration?

9. Do you talk about immigration as a civil right?

10. Do you talk about whether the plight of the immigrant is our problem?

11. Do you talk about whether there is a right to immigrate?

12. Do you talk about whether this right is absolute?

13. Do you talk about America’s open borders era?

14. Do you talk about how America’s open borders era ended?

15. Do you talk about the potential dangers of open borders?

16. Do you talk about whether we should look before we leap?

17. Do you talk about the Antarctican farmer hypothetical?

18. Do you talk about the connection between mass consumption and mass production?

19. Do you talk about the benefits of immigration for immigrants?

20. Do you talk about the benefits of immigration for natives?

21. Do you talk about how much immigration actually helps immigrants?

22. Do you talk about why immigration helps immigrants?

23. Do you talk about how much a trillion dollars of gains really buys?

24. Do you talk about whether open borders is “trickle-down economics”?

25. Do you talk about how immigration affects native workers?

26. Do you talk about how immigration affects you personally?

27. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on average national incomes?

28. Do you talk about the Arithmetic Fallacy?

29. Do you talk about what open borders would really look like?

30. Do you talk about the effect of open borders on the visibility of poverty?

31. Do you talk about “swamping”?

32. Do you talk about diaspora dynamics?

33. Do you talk about Puerto Rico?

34. Do you talk about brain drain?

35. Do you talk about what good for places versus what’s good for people?

36. Do you talk about zombie economies?

37. Do you talk about how immigration’s fiscal effects vary by immigrant skill?

38. Do you talk about whether open borders and the welfare state are compatible?

39. Do you talk about rival versus non-rival government services?

40. Do you talk about how welfare states prioritize the old versus the poor?

41. Do you talk about the cost of educating immigrants’ children?

42. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on the sustainability of retirement systems?

43. Do you talk about the best way to measure immigrants’ overall fiscal effects?

44. Do you talk about Net Present Value?

45. Do you talk about empirical estimates of  immigrants’ overall fiscal effects?

46. Do you talk about whether more immigration is likely to save Social Security and Medicare?

47. Do you talk about empirical estimates of immigrants’ overall fiscal effects as a function of their education and age?

48. Do you talk about Milton Friedman’s arguments against open borders?

49. Do you talk about the parallels between the fiscal effects of native births versus immigration?

50. Do you talk about how human beings value their cultures?

51. Do you talk about the value of Western civilization?

52. Do you talk about the cultural dangers of admitting non-Western immigrants?

53. Do you talk about terrorism, mass rape, human trafficking, Sharia, and the decline of English?

54. Do you talk about numeracy?

55. Do you talk about the statistics of terrorism, including the share of terrorism committed by foreigners?

56. Do you talk about the Skittles argument against refugees?

57. Do you talk about immigrant crime rates?

58. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on overall crime rates?

59. Do you talk about the “What if it happened to you?” objection to statistical evidence?

60. Do you talk about first-generation immigrant language acquisition?

61. Do you talk about later-generation immigrant language acquisition?

62. Do you talk about immigrant assimilation across generations?

63. Do you talk about how modernity makes assimilation slower?

64. Do you talk about how modernity makes assimilation faster?

65. Do you talk about the social importance of trust?

66. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on national trust?

67. Do you talk about trust assimilation?

68. Do you talk about how much trust a successful society needs?

69.  Do you talk about the cultural benefits of immigration?

70. Do you talk about immigrants’ desire for freedom?

71. Do you talk about immigrants’ disdain for freedom?

72. Do you talk about the danger that immigrants will vote to “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs”?

73. Do you talk about how Democratic immigrant voters are?

74. Do you talk about Indian-American voting?

75. Do you talk about immigrants’ specific policy views?

76. Do you talk about how immigrants’ specific policy views vary by education?

77. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on actual government policy?

78. Do you talk about immigrants’ political assimilation?

79. Do you talk about whether immigrants undermine natives’ support for the welfare state?

80. Do you talk about “Magic Dirt”?

81. Do you talk about research on “Deep Roots”?

82. Do you talk about whether Deep Roots research shows that “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” are illusory?

83. Do you talk about national IQ?

84. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on national IQ?

85. Do you talk about whether you’re virtue signaling?

86. Do you talk about whether IQ research shows that “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” are illusory?

87. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on immigrants’ IQs?

88. Do you talk about human genetics?

89. Do you talk about “keyhole solutions”?

90. Do you talk about imposing admission fees and surtaxes on immigrants to help less-fortune natives?

91. Do you talk about why tax-and-transfer schemes are any better than simple exclusion?

92. Do you talk about restricting immigrants’ eligibility for government benefits?

93. Do you talk about requiring immigrants to learn English?

94. Do you talk about requiring immigrants to acquire cultural literacy?

95. Do you talk about the dangers of Islam?

96. Do you talk about Muslim bans?

97. Do you talk about keyhole solutions for the dangers of Islam?

98. Do you talk about restricting immigrant voting rights?

99. Do you talk about the political feasibility of keyhole solutions?

100. Do you talk about the bracero program?

101. Do you talk about H-1Bs and other work visas?

102. Do you talk about the fairness of keyhole solutions?

103. Do you talk about Sodom and Gomorrah?

104. Do you talk about what utilitarians, egalitarians, libertarians, wealth-maximizers, meritocrats, Christians, and Kantian should think about open borders?

105. Do you talk about whether immigrants have a right to immigrate to your house?

106. Do you talk about who Jesus would deport?

107. Do you talk about the connection between open borders and socialism?

108. Do you talk about immigration and political polarization?

109. Do you talk about why conservatives should favor open borders?

110. Do you talk about why liberals should favor open borders?

111. Do you talk about citizenism?

112. Do you talk about Trump’s views and policies?

113. Do you talk about the best argument against open borders?

114. Do you talk about whether any human is illegal?

115. Do you talk about the best way to frame the immigration debate?

116. Do you talk about immigration as charity?

117. Do you talk about immigration as justice and abundance?

118. Do you talk about open borders with Canada?

119. Do you talk about why you talk so much about the United States?

120. Do you talk about whether you hate America?

121. Do you talk about earlier cosmopolitan transformations?

122. Do you talk about Brexit?

123. Do you talk about public opinion on immigration?

124. Do you talk about scaring people with extremism?

125. Do you talk about the Overton Window?

126. Do you talk about whether open borders is another crazy Ivory Tower Proposal?

127. Do you talk about how to get there from here?

128. Do you have endnotes?  Lots of them?

129. Do you have references?  Lots of them?

130. Do you have acknowledgements?  Lots of them?

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The Roots of Inertia

Why don’t low-skilled workers try harder to better their condition?  While this might seem a neoliberal question, it weighs on Barbara Ehrenreich’s mind:

I was baffled, initially, by what seemed like a certain lack of get-up-and-go on the part of my fellow workers. Why didn’t they just leave for a better-paying job, as I did when I moved from the Hearthside to Jerry’s?

She starts with some textbook economic answers.  There’s transaction costs:

Part of the answer is that actual humans experience a little more “friction” than marbles do, and the poorer they are, the more constrained their mobility usually is. Low-wage people who don’t have cars are often dependent on a relative who is willing to drop them off and pick them up again each day, sometimes on a route that includes the babysitter’s house or the child care center… I have mentioned, too, the general reluctance to exchange the devil you know for one that you don’t know, even when the latter is tempting you with a better wage-benefit package. At each new job, you have to start all over, clueless and friendless.

And information costs:

There is another way that low-income workers differ from “economic man.” For the laws of economics to work, the “players” need to be well informed about their options…

But there are no Palm Pilots, cable channels, or Web sites to advise the low-wage job seeker. She has only the help-wanted signs and the want ads to go on, and most of these coyly refrain from mentioning numbers. So information about who earns what and where has to travel by word of mouth, and for inexplicable cultural reasons, this is a very slow and unreliable route…

Soon, however, she appeals to industrial psychology.  Employers win workers hearts and minds – what Ehrenreich calls, “the co-optative power of management, illustrated by such euphemisms as associate and team member.”  And don’t forget learned helplessness:

Drug testing is another routine indignity. Civil libertarians see it as a violation of our Fourth Amendment freedom from “unreasonable search”; most jobholders and applicants find it simply embarrassing…

There are other, more direct ways of keeping low-wage employees in their place. Rules against “gossip,” or even “talking,” make it hard to air your grievances to peers or-should you be so daring-to enlist other workers in a group effort to bring about change, through a union organizing drive, for example. Those who do step out of line often face little unexplained punishments, such as having their schedules or their work assignments unilaterally changed. Or you may be fired…

The big picture, though, is that the capitalist system breaks workers’ spirits:

So if low-wage workers do not always behave in an economically rational way, that is, as free agents within a capitalist democracy, it is because they dwell in a place that is neither free nor in any way democratic. When you enter the low-wage workplace-and many of the medium-wage workplaces as well- you check your civil liberties at the door, leave America and all it supposedly stands for behind, and learn to zip your lips for the duration of the shift. The consequences of this routine surrender go beyond the issues of wages and poverty. We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world’s preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship.

The obvious response to all of these stories, however, is: “Why don’t the same factors prevent high-skill workers from trying to better their condition?”  Let’s consider each in turn.

Transaction costs.  While high-skilled workers have fewer problems with transportation and child-care, they also have much more specific skills.  This seriously impedes job search.  To find a new job, most nuclear engineers – and many professors – would have to not just sell their homes, but move to a new city.  The high-skilled are also more likely to be in two-earner families, which makes relocation doubly disruptive.

Information costs.  Firms often publicly advertise low-skilled wages.  This is much less true for high-skilled jobs.

Hearts and minds.  High-skilled workers seem much more likely to identify with their employer – and to define themselves in terms of their work.

Learned helplessness.  Again, the indignities required for starting a high-skilled job probably exceed those for low-skilled employment, especially if you’re a government contractor.  Once hired, however, the petty indignities high-skill workers endure are admittedly lower.  (Here’s why).

The capitalist system. Almost no employer cares for kvetching, but high-skill workers probably feel freer to speak up on the job.  Off the job, however, they are probably more worried about offending bosses, co-workers, or clients.  Who cares what a waiter posts on Facebook?  In any case, why should lack of voice reduce enthusiasm for exit?

So why then don’t low-skill workers try harder to better their condition?  All of Ehrenreich’s answers prove too much.  The better story is simply that there is a distribution of desire to better your condition.  In short, human beings have heterogeneous ambition. Some burn to rise; others take life as it comes; most lie somewhere in the middle.  And though mere desire hardly ensures success, ambition usually works in the long-run.  The more you want to better your condition, the better your condition eventually tends to become.

Like Ehrenreich’s story, my story explains why low-skill workers seem “stuck.”  Unlike her, however, I can also explains why high-skill workers seem mobile.  In short, what my “heterogeneous ambition” story lacks in Social Desirability Bias, it makes up for by explaining mobility and inertia, rather than inertia alone.

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