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.

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Feel Challenge, Not Pride, from Your Heritage

If you were born in America, you were gifted with quite a heritage: explorers, craftsmen, warriors, statesmen, sailors, writers, and artists from Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis and Thomas Edison.

Should you take pride in that heritage? (Set aside the bad heritage – and there is plenty of it – let’s talk about the good.)

A common rejoinder is that even the best of our heritage is not a reason to feel any pride. After all, we are not those men, and we did not do their great deeds.

This is true. It’s a good criticism, really. But in its oft-intended effect – to make us lose interest in our heritage (or to be more critical of it) it misses the mark.

We should not feel any personal pride for the inventions of Edison, for the writing of Thoreau, the explorations of Lewis, or the philosophy of Jefferson. We should instead feel our pride challenged. These guys should make us ashamed of ourselves – at least insofar as we are not living up to their standards of character and achievement.

See, this is what our remembrance of history and heritage should do for us. It should not be self-congratulatory, but self-examining and self-motivating. It is up to us to rise up to the best of the legacy given to us, and to exceed that legacy.

If this seems like a tall order, it is. But there is another gift of heritage. With its challenge comes also the strength to meet it. The blood of great men and women flows in our veins – either literally, in genetics, or metaphorically, through ideals and tradition. The heritage they left includes the strength to be better men and women ourselves. And that, insofar as we use it, may be something to be proud of.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases

In July 1864, Confederate forces led by General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens and Fort DeRussy on the outskirts of Washington, DC. Union forces drove them away after two days of skirmishes, but the battle threw a scare into the capital city and constituted a high point in the Confederacy’s Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

More than a century and a half later, the Confederates are back in Washington, meeting stiff resistance on Capitol Hill but garnering support from the White House.

This June, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sought the removal of portraits and statues honoring Confederate figures from the Capitol and its grounds.

Meanwhile,  the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to the annual National Defense [sic] Authorization Act, offered by US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The amendment would give the Pentagon three years to re-name military bases named after Confederate figures.

US president Donald Trump says he’ll veto the NDAA if it comes to him with that amendment intact.

Will he? Almost certainly not.

The NDAA is the US government’s largest annual corporate welfare and middle/lower class workfare bill. This year’s version isn’t even at full pre-passage bloat yet and it already tops $740 billion in sweetheart payouts for “defense” contractors, plus salaries and benefits for more than three million jobs in, or related to, the military.

If Social Security is a political “third rail” (touch it and you die), the NDAA is the train that runs down the tracks on either side of that rail (get in its way and you’ll be run over and smooshed).

So no, Trump’s not serious about a veto. He’s just virtue signaling to those members of his southern and rural base who were weaned on pro-Confederate “Lost Cause” mythology (basically every southerner and most midwesterners who came of age before the 1990s). And yes, Pelosi and Warren are virtue signaling to their side of Culture War, 2020 Election Edition, too.

Both sides will drag this fake, silly fight out until after Election Day because it’s the fight itself, not the outcome, that brings in the campaign contributions and the votes. Style over substance, as usual.

But just for laughs, let’s think about what a compromise could look like if the two sides actually worked for the taxpayers instead of for the military industrial complex. How about this:

Don’t rename those “Confederate” bases. Instead, shut them down. Completely. Move or destroy the weapons, move or discharge the troops, and sell the real estate (with contract clauses forbidding use of the bases’ names or namesakes in subsequent uses).

For the sake of balance, shut down an equal number of bases named after Union military figures, on the same terms.

Then cut that NDAA by $100 billion or so, and call it a good start.

No, that’s not going to happen, at least while we keep sending Republicans and Democrats to Washington. They’ll occasionally slap new labels on their wicked and murderous behaviors, and sometimes assign blame to the old labels for those behaviors, but they won’t willingly change.

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The New Censors

Do you say what you think? That’s risky! You may get fired!

You’ve probably heard about a New York Times editor resigning after approving an opinion piece by Senator Tom Cotton that suggested the military to step in to end riots.

Many Times reporters tweeted out the same alarmist wording, “Running this puts Black NY Times staffers in danger.”

Really? How?

In my new video, Robby Soave, a Reason magazine editor who writes about young radicals, explains, “They only claim it because that’s their tactic for seizing power in the workplace.”

They learned this tactic from so-called woke professors and fellow activists at expensive colleges, says Soave.

Last year, Harvard students demanded that law professor Ron Sullivan resign as a resident dean. Why? He’d agreed to be part of Harvey Weinstein’s legal defense team.

A female student said, “I don’t feel safe!” although Sullivan had been a dean for many years. Sullivan resigned.

At UCLA, business school lecturer Gordon Klein rejected a request to give black students different treatment on their final exam because of George Floyd’s death. Klein pointed out that since the class was online, he had no way of knowing which students were black. He also told students: “remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the color of their skin.”

The activist group Color of Change (which once demanded that I be fired) launched a petition to have Klein “terminated for his extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist response.” UCLA quickly caved. Klein is on mandatory leave.

Now that many former college radicals have jobs at elite media companies, they demand that newspapers not say certain things.

When, in response to looting during George Floyd protests, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran the insensitive headline, “Buildings Matter, Too,” 44 staff members claimed that “puts our lives at risk.” Their letter didn’t give any evidence as to how it threatened their lives (in fact, today both blacks and whites are safer than ever), but they won. The editor resigned.

A week later, young activists at NBC news tried to silence The Federalist, a respected conservative site that NBC labelled as “far-right.” The Federalist had published a column that said, correctly, that the media falsely claimed that violent riots were peaceful. But the column did contain a mistake. It quoted a government official saying tear gas was not used, when it had been used.

NBC then ran an article bragging that Google blocked The Federalist‘s ads after an “NBC news verification unit” brought The Federalist‘s “racism” to Google’s attention. NBC’s reporter even thanked left-wing activist groups for their “collaboration.”

But NBC was wrong. Google didn’t cut off The Federalist. Google merely threatened that if The Federalist didn’t police its comments section.

It was one time when the activist mob’s smears failed. But they keep trying to kill all sorts of expression.

Some now even want the children’s TV show Paw Patrol canceled because it suggests law enforcement is noble.

When activists decide that certain words or arguments are “offensive,” no one must use those words.

But “we’re supposed to occasionally offend each other,” says Soave, “because you might be wrong. We have to have a conversation about it. We have to challenge dogma. What if we were still with the principle that you couldn’t speak out against the King?! That’s the history of the Middle Ages.”

That’s when authorities arrested Galileo for daring to say that the earth revolved around the sun.

“That’s the condition that all humans lived under until just the last 300 years, and it was a much less happy place,” says Soave. “Then we came to an idea that we improve society by having frank and sometimes difficult conversations about policy issues, philosophy, about how we’re going to get along and live together.”

Life has been much better since people acquired the right to speak freely.

Elite colleges spread the idea that speech can be a form of violence. “Words are like bullets!” they say.

But words are words; bullets are bullets. We must keep them apart.

When entitled leftists declare themselves the sole arbiters of truth, it’s crucial that we all speak up for free speech.

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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.

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Afghanistan Bounties: Pot, Meet Kettle (and Turn Off the Stove!)

“American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan,” claims the New York Times.

More controversially, the authors write that US president Donald Trump was briefed on the assessment (he denies it) and the piece’s tagline says that his administration “has been deliberating for months” on how to respond (he says the US intelligence community didn’t find the claims credible).

Naturally, the response preferred by those who buy the Times‘s version of events is:

First, make domestic political hay with it. Sure, trying to frame Trump as a Russian asset has backfired spectacularly every time it’s been tried, but sooner or later it’s bound to work, right?

Second, make foreign policy hay with it. Punish the Russians until they’ve been baited back to full-blown Cold War levels of enmity, all the while whining that “they hate us for our freedom.”

I’ve got a better plan.

First, reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan to zero. If there aren’t any US forces in Afghanistan, no US forces in Afghanistan will be in danger due to supposed “Russian bounties.”

Second, ignore — forget! — the slim possibility that Russian bounties were behind any American deaths.

Problems solved.

Why should the US let the Russians off the hook and quit worrying about it? Here’s why:

To date, fewer than 2,500 Americans have died in Afghanistan in nearly 19 years of war.

The Russians’ 1979-1989 Afghan war lasted about half as long. Their toll was 15,000 dead.

Why didn’t the Russians get off as lightly as the Americans?

Because the US government spent at least $3 billion directly  funding and arming groups like al Qaeda to fight the Russians in Afghanistan (through the CIA’s “Operation Cyclone”), and billions more indirectly via the Pakistani government.

Even counting only the known direct aid, that amounts to a $200 in-kind bounty for every dead Russian soldier. $200 was a pretty sweet paycheck, more than Afghanistan’s per capita GDP during most of that period.

If there is a Russian bounty program on US troops in Afghanistan now, it’s clearly been less successful than the equivalent US program was 30-40 years ago. And with that program, the US government gave up any conceivable standing to complain about a Russian remix.

That supposed remix is just one more reason, from among a long list of good reasons, to bring the troops home from Afghanistan.

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