On Income Inequality II

Those who fight for economic egalitarianism and against income inequality are attempting to do the impossible by government force. Not only do they want income levels coercively flattened, but they also hope that more and more of their fellow human beings will share their ideals. In essence, they hope to build a race of “New Men” and “New Women” and they aren’t opposed to using state violence to do it. Are these aspirations any different than Communism’s or Fascism’s “New Man” campaigns? What about Nazi Germany’s campaigns for racial hygiene? Distinctions without a difference, perhaps? While they may have slightly different ends, their means of choice are likewise predicated on the belief that government may be used to threaten or attack those who prefer to live their lives and use their property in their own chosen, peaceful ways. Think about it. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago

When congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) confessed her personal financial dilemma — “I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real” — to  the New York Times, guffaws broke out on the right.

“Some of those shoots she had during her campaign, she had these multi-thousand dollar outfits that could pay a month’s rent in Washington,” said Fox News correspondent Ed Henry.

“[T]hat jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles,” wrote the Washington Examiner‘s Eddie Scarry in a tweet he deleted after an uproar.

I get it. It’s easy to mock a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” who wants to remake the US economy when she hasn’t proven her own financial acumen by piling up a nice nest egg before running for Congress.

But return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear …

Former House  Majority Leader Dick Army (R-TX), who served in Congress from 1985-2003, slept in his office rather than rent an apartment in DC. So did outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan. In fact, that trend caught on among Republican members of Congress to such an extent that earlier this year it resulted in an ethics complaint from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

A half-religious, half-political organization  called The Fellowship runs the C Street Center, where (mostly Republican) congresspersons pay discounted rent for rooms — with maid service. Why? “A lot of men don’t have an extra $1,500 to rent an apartment,” The Fellowship’s Reverend Louis P. Sheldon told the Los Angeles Times in 2002.

Some congressional Republicans describe the “live in my office” routine as political theater, demonstrating their principled devotion to “fiscal responsibility.” Others frankly admit that even on a salary of $174,000 a year it’s not easy to maintain two households (one in their districts, one in very, very expensive DC).

And, let’s be clear here: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an outlier. She was a waitress before running for, and unexpectedly winning, election to a body in which the average member’s net worth is more than $1 million. If anyone has a valid complaint about the increased living costs involved with serving in Congress, it’s her.

This is a chance for her to show off her “democratic socialist” credentials. She favors income equality and presumably opposes rent as exploitative, right?

Ocasio-Cortez should introduce a bill to provide housing for members of Congress — in squad bays at Marine Corps Barracks Washington DC, a mere 25-minute walk from the Capitol — while simultaneously reducing pre-tax congressional pay to the average American’s post-tax income.

I wonder how many “fiscally responsible” Republican members of Congress would support such frugality and equality. And, given their own similar preening, why some wouldn’t.

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On Privilege Binarism

It may just be my perception, but it seems that social justice warrior and gender feminist types engage in, quite ironically, privilege binarism. According to them, there are two types of people, white heterosexual cisgender men (WHCM), and everyone else. The former is mostly privileged, the latter is mostly not. Nevermind that most WHCM have never held political or economic power, nor have they exercised aggression against non-WHCM to any degree that would constitute political or economic privilege. Most WHCM have been just as much victimized by institutional aggression a la schooling and the state as non-WHCM. Most WHCM are doing their best to be productive, hard-working, decent human beings, all the while being duped and coerced from a very young age into politico-religious fervor. When you fail to “problematize” the effects of institutional and parental aggression on not only WHCM, but on everyone, then you fail to see the fundamental problem of privilege: authority. If your first and loudest complaints are not made against unjust and illicit governance structure (the state) and violent parenting practices, then you are totally failing as a warrior for social justice and equality. And that’s today’s two cents.

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The Problem Definition Fallacy

Nobody asked but …

Any problem solution algorithm must go through a problem definition stage, but all problem definitions do not lead to an appropriate solution.  You cannot solve, but by random luck, a problem that you do not understand.  And that blind-hog solution will probably not survive downstream consequences for long.

A good example of what I am talking about appeared on Facebook today.  A poster declared that the main problem in the world was that some people were too rich.  He further implied that a solution was an ultimate fix-all for the problems of history.  Then she implied that the answer was simple — to cap the income of everyone.  If there were no excess wealth, there would be no unbalance in power, no bar to equality.

What should the cap be?  Who would determine it?  When will it take effect; will there be a grandfather clause?  Where; will it be worldwide or universal?  Why would it work?  The poser did not answer any of these questions, although there was much hand-waving.  This reminds me of a frequent symptom of addiction — saying a thing will make it come true with no further effort, eg “I am going to quit tomorrow.”

There are two rocky shoals in the passages past problems, and Ockham’s Razor applies to each.  1) The definition of the problem must be precise, neither too much nor too little, and 2) the solution to the problem must be precise, neither too blunt, nor too finicky.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Compulsory Schooling Laws: What if We Didn’t Have Them?

We should always be leery of laws passed “for our own good,” as if the state knows better. The history of compulsory schooling statutes is rife with paternalism, triggered by anti-immigrant sentiments in the mid-nineteenth century and fueled by a desire to shape people into a standard mold.

History books detailing the “common school movement” and the push for universal, compulsory schooling perpetuate the myths that Americans were illiterate prior to mass schooling, that there were limited education options available, and that mandating school attendance under a legal threat of force was the surest way toward equality.

In truth, literacy rates were quite high, particularly in Massachusetts, where the first compulsory schooling statute was passed in 1852. Historians Boles and Gintis report that approximately three-quarters of the total U.S. population, including slaves, was literate¹. There was a panoply of education options prior to mass compulsory schooling, including an array of public and private schooling options, charity schools for the poor, robust apprenticeship models, and homeschooling—this latter approach being the preferred method of Massachusetts education reformer Horace Mann, who homeschooled his own three children while mandating common school attendance for others.

The primary catalyst for compulsory schooling was a wave of massive immigration in the early to mid-1800s that made lawmakers fearful. Many of these immigrants were Irish Catholics escaping the deadly potato famine, and they threatened the predominantly Anglo-Saxon Protestant social order of the time. In 1851, the editor of The Massachusetts Teacher, William Swan, wrote:

“In too many instances the parents are unfit guardians of their own children. If left to their direction the young will be brought up in idle, dissolute, vagrant habits, which will make them worse members of society than their parents are; instead of filling our public schools, they will find their way into our prisons, houses of correction and almshouses. Nothing can operate effectually here but stringent legislation, thoroughly carried out by an efficient police; the children must be gathered up and forced into school, and those who resist or impede this plan, whether parents or priests, must be held accountable and punished.”

This is the true history of compulsory schooling that rarely emerges behind the veil of social magnanimity.

So what would happen if these inherently flawed compulsory schooling laws were eliminated?

A Power Shift

First, power would tilt away from the state and toward the family. Without legal force compelling school attendance, parents would have the freedom and flexibility to assume full responsibility for their child’s education. They would not need government permission to homeschool, as is currently required in the majority of U.S. states. Private schools would not need to submit their attendance records to the state to show compliance. Public schools could still be available to those who wanted them, as they were prior to the 1852 law; but government schooling would no longer be the default education option.

More Choices

Because the state would no longer need to bless the creation of various private schools and ratify their curriculum and attendance protocols, an assortment of education options would emerge. Entrepreneurial educators would seize the opportunity to create new and varied products and services, and parents would be the ones responsible for determining quality and effectiveness—not the state. With less government red tape, current trends in education would gain more momentum. Virtual schooling, part-time school options, hybrid homeschooling models, and an array of private schools with diverse education approaches would emerge. As more education choices sprouted, competition would lower prices, making access to these new choices more widespread.

More Pathways to Adulthood

Without the state mandating school attendance for most of childhood, in some states up to age 18, there would be new pathways to adulthood that wouldn’t rely so heavily on state-issued high school diplomas. Innovative apprenticeship models would be created, community colleges would cater more toward independent teenage learners, and career preparation programs would expand. As the social reformer Paul Goodman wrote in his book New Reformation: “Our aim should be to multiply the paths of growing up, instead of narrowing the one existing school path.”

A Broader Definition of Education

In his biography of Horace Mann, historian Jonathan Messerli explains how compulsory schooling contracted a once expansive definition of education into the singular definition of schooling. Indeed, today education is almost universally associated with schooling. Messerli writes: “That in enlarging the European concept of schooling, [Mann] might narrow the real parameters of education by enclosing it within the four walls of the public school classroom.”² Eliminating compulsory schooling laws would break the century-and-a-half stranglehold of schooling on education. It would help to disentangle education from schooling and reveal many other ways to be educated, such as through non-coercive, self-directed education, or “unschooling.”

Even the most adamant education reformers often stop short of advocating for abolishing compulsory schooling statutes, arguing that it wouldn’t make much difference. But stripping the state of its power to define, control, and monitor something as beautifully broad as education would have a large and lasting impact on re-empowering families, encouraging educational entrepreneurs, and creating more choice and opportunity for all learners.


¹ Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, “The origins of mass public education,” History of Education: Major Themes, Volume II: Education in its Social Context, ed. Roy Lowe (London: Routledge Falmer, 2000), 78.

² Jonathan Messerli, Horace Mann: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), 429.

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Gun Policy Costs, Equality and Property Rights, & Minarchism (26m) – Editor’s Break 094

Editor’s Break 094 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: whether homicides, suicides, et cetera, are a valid consideration for the costs of liberal gun policy; the achievement of wealth inequality in a society where property rights are secure; the status of minarchism, or minimal statism, as a libertarian political philosophy; and more.

Listen to Editor’s Break 094 (26m, mp3, 64kbps)

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