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

On Authority

Our society has a sickness. No, not COVID-19, but a lack of real authority. I’m not talking about the chattering heads in State and national capitals, the authoritarians. Those people won a popularity contest by making impossible promises and emotional pleas with a complete disregard for economics and ethics. I’m talking about the authority that comes from experience and wisdom. Leaders, the kind that have earned their station by consistently demonstrating to others the ability to do what’s right and needed in the face of serious challenges to both the protection of life and the preservation of liberty, not rulers, are totally absent in our society at this crucial time. I think that people are only spreading misinformation on the one hand and propaganda on the other because they recognize that the people who call themselves “the authorities” are totally false. They haven’t earned it the only way it can be earned, and so our society’s prognosis is possibly quite grave. Statism has that effect. And that’s today’s two cents.

Open This Content

After the Pandemic: Back to School, or Forward to a Better Future?

Anyone who tries to tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic, and its associated social, political, and economic panics, are good things is  an idiot, or trying to sell you some kind of snake oil, or both. Society-wide disasters are always net negatives, or we wouldn’t think of them as disasters in the first place. Silver linings are never as shiny as the clouds they run through are large.

That doesn’t mean silver linings don’t exist, though. They do, and some of them are significant.

One major silver lining in the United States is that the nation’s  patchwork of government-operated daycare centers / day prisons / drone worker boot camps, aka “public schools,” have temporarily shut down as part of the effort to slow the spread of the disease.

That’s a silver lining in itself: Even if the kids only miss a quarter-year of classroom confinement, most of them are probably going to advance at least a full grade level where real life skills are concerned. Yes, they’ll lag in terms regurgitating whatever propaganda they’re spoon-fed, but that’s a feature, not a bug. They’re getting a glimpse of what real freedom might look like.

But when the pandemic and its associated panics end, parents are going to be faced with a wrenching choice: Continue educating their kids, or hand those kids back over to the professional parasite class that’s monopolized “education” in America for more than a century?

The tax burden imposed by that parasite class has increasingly forced both parents in most households to work outside the home over the same time period.

But a second silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the discovery that working from home is practical for millions who were previously fooled into thinking it wasn’t.

And a third silver lining has been new attention — beyond even that cast by mass school shootings — to the fact that packing dozens of children into single rooms and hundreds or thousands into single buildings on a daily basis would be a bad idea even if the purpose WASN’T to stunt their intellectual growth and turn them into obedient robots.

Millions of American parents just became homeschoolers. That’s a good thing regardless of the reasons. And homeschooling just became more practical as well.

Instead of handing our kids back over to the parasite class when this crisis is over, let’s not.

And let’s stop handing our money over as well.

Open This Content

COVID-19: What Would Rosie The Riveter Do?

Half the readers I hear from accuse me of Trump Derangement Syndrome. The other half accuse me of rabid Trump fandom. In truth, I think of US President Donald J. Trump in exactly the same way I think of most other politicians: He’s usually wrong and often dangerous. But when he’s right he’s right.

He’s right when he says that America needs to “open up” soon.

If anything, his target date of Easter is too distant.

The longer we wait to get moving again, the longer it will take to recover.

The longer we wait, the more Americans will descend into, or fall deeper into, poverty.

The longer we wait, the more Americans will die of causes other than coronavirus.

If we wait TOO long, starvation and malnutrition will be among those causes.

We don’t have to like it. That’s how it is whether we like it or not.

One of the oddest assertions I’ve heard from American politicians is that the COVID-19 outbreak is “our generation’s World War 2.”

I’m far too young to remember World War 2, but I’ve listened to veterans talk about it, read its history, and love the era’s propaganda posters. Rosie the Riveter in “We Can Do it!” “Lay-Offs Cost Lives!” “Work To Win.”

I’m trying to imagine a propaganda poster for “our World War 2,” and all that comes to mind is a hand reaching out from under a bed to grab a government check.

That image isn’t nearly as inspiring, is it? Nor is the sentiment nearly as practical.

America won World War 2 by working and fighting. It isn’t going to beat COVID-19 by shutting down and cowering.

Our politicians are thoroughly enjoying their extended Mussolini cosplay holiday, but their “lockdown” orders and such are merely feeding their egos, not starving the virus. The longer we continue to put up with that authoritarian nonsense, the harder it’s going to get to reclaim our rights and put them back in their places. Once they get used to filthy serfs like you and me taking a knee when they pass by, they’re not going to want to give it up.

The more quickly we seize back control of our lives — from the virus and from the politicians — the more quickly our lives will start getting better again.

Call me a Trump fanboy if it makes you feel better, but I’m with the president on this one.

Open This Content

Moral Approximates

 “I urge you to beware the temptation of pride–the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.” – Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” Speech

During the Cold War, folks like Ronald Reagan accused their domestic opponents of believing in the “moral equivalence” of the United States and the Soviet Union.  Having lived through the era, I am confident that believers in moral equivalence existed.  Knowing the relevant history, I agree that this was an absurd belief.  However bad the United States was, the Soviet Union was vastly worse.

If you want to nitpick, admittedly, we never find literal moral equivalents in real world.  Why?  Because in a continuous world, one side in any conflict is bound to be at least a little worse.  Still, careful examination of real-world conflict does occasionally uncover not moral equivalents, but moral approximates.  Though the two sides’ moral status is not precisely equal, they are morally more-or-less the same.

It’s easiest to identify examples that are far away in time and place.  During the Wars of Religion, who was worse – the Catholics or the Protestants?  During World War I, who was worse – the Germans or the Russians?  During the War of the Roses, who was worse – the Yorks or the Lancasters?  You could plead ignorance.  Yet even if you studied the history for a year, you would plausibly conclude that the two sides were moral approximates – both sinned so egregiously that it really is hard to know who was worse.

For recent and ongoing conflicts, assertions of moral approximation naturally inspire far more pushback.  If we were rational, however, the opposite would be true.  The very fact that people have strong emotions about recent and ongoing conflicts is a strong reason to discount their judgment.  Furthermore, when a conflict is recent or ongoing, we usually lack a great deal of not-yet-released relevant information.  No one is likely to scare up shocking new revelations about the Lancasters, but in fifty years we’ll have a much better understanding of what the Trump administration actually did.

Those limitations in mind, here are the top three moral approximations I am willing to defend.

1. Communism and Nazism are moral approximates. Why?  Both movements were fanatical attempts to build dystopian societies – and both self-righteously murdered tens of millions of innocent people.  Contrary to much propaganda, Communists did not have noticeably better motives.  Both groups imagined that a totalitarian society would be a big improvement over the status quo – and recklessly embraced the necessity of mass murder to get there.

2. Socialism and fascism are moral approximates.  Why?  Socialism is a toned-down version of Communism; fascism is a toned-down version of Nazism.  As toned-down versions, they aim for much less, and murder far fewer people in the process.  Yet the vision of both movements – society as a big family with a common purpose – remains dystopian.  And while their methods are far less brutal than Communism or Nazism, socialism and fascism both casually advocate pervasive coercion for flimsy reasons.

(My main doubt here is that while I’ve repeatedly publicly debated socialists, I would not so engage a fascist.  Doesn’t that show that I think fascism is markedly worse?  Not exactly.  The main reason I don’t debate fascists is that avowed fascism is now so low-status that its adherents are low-quality and scary.  In a world where fascists were as mainstream as socialists, I would debate them).

3. The Democratic and Republican parties are moral approximates.  Why?  Both are dogmatic, emotional, and demagogic.  Neither party internalizes the maxim that with great power comes great responsibility – or dwells on the possibility that they might be mistreating people who don’t agree with them.  Both parties say they want various radical changes, many of which seem very bad.  The policies Democrats and Republicans actually impose when they have power are similarly mediocre, though that doesn’t stop them from rhetorically making mountains out of molehills.  On immigration, for example, the Democratic-Republican debate basically comes down to whether the border should be 98% closed or 99% closed.  Though I prefer 98% to 99%, it’s approximately the same.

I am well-aware that both Democrats and Republicans will protest angrily being lumped together; in their eyes, the differences between their parties are “huge.”  My question for them: In 200 years, how big will these “huge differences” look to historians?   Yes, during the Wars of Religion, Catholics and Protestants mutually called each other servants of the Antichrist.  Today, however, we can plainly see that both sides were unhinged.

Similarly, if you carefully studied the politics of, say, France in 1970, would you really conclude that the arguments that enraged contemporary French partisans were, in fact, a big deal?

Back in 2016, many Democrats told me that Trump’s election exposed the sheer evil of the Republican Party.  In a way, this understates.  I say that the mere fact that a man like Trump did well in the primaries shows that the Republican Party is rotten.  However, I’d say the same about Bernie Sanders’ success in 2016.  The mere fact that a man like Sanders did well in the primaries shows that the Democratic Party is rotten, too.

You could respond, “Suppose Democrats and Republicans really are moral approximates.  Shouldn’t an economist, of all people, still be eager to discover the slightly lesser evil?”  My answer: If I were America’s kingmaker, then yes.  But when I’m just one voice among tens of millions, no.  While I’m always happy to share my views with curious Democrats or Republicans, I’m too much of a puritan to ever join either party.

P.S. Lest anyone misinterpret me, I think the Democratic and Republican parties are markedly better than socialism and fascism, which are in turn markedly better than Communism and Nazism.  Mathematically: D≈R>>S≈F>>C≈N.

Open This Content

Instead of Explaining Greta Thunberg, Debate Her Claims

What is Greta Thunberg’s superpower?

She obviously has one, if not more. Your average sixteen-year-old doesn’t start successful global activist movements,  address UN Climate Action Summits, and have those addresses go viral as death metal videos.

Critics slam Thunberg as everything from “mentally ill” (a claim which got one Fox News guest blacklisted),  to naive pawn in a well-funded propaganda operation, to just plain annoying teenager.

I think those critics miss the point. If they disagree on the facts, they should dispute those facts rather than focus on Thunberg at all. But since the focus IS on her, let’s take a closer look.

Thunberg herself describes her autism-related diagnoses as among the aforementioned superpowers. “I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism,” she said in a TEDx Talk. “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”

Thunberg as pawn isn’t as dismissive as it sounds, but it doesn’t ring very true either. Yes, she and her efforts enjoy support from well-funded organizations and individuals, but there’s no reason to believe they randomly plucked her from the global mass of teenagers and set her in motion.  She attracted their notice by taking action. They didn’t make a winner, they saw a winner and decided to bet big on that winner.

As for her age, that’s a double-edged sword. Her supporters can position her as wise beyond her years, her opponents as too young to yet possess wisdom at all.

Personally, I think Thunberg’s superpower is that she’s a great actor.

No, that’s not intended as an insult. And no, I’m not just pulling the idea out of thin air.

She comes from a theatrical family. Her mother’s an opera singer. Her father’s an actor. Her grandfather’s an actor and director. She’s spent her entire life surrounded by the idea of performance as primary.

Formally trained or not, naturally gifted or not, she’s clearly mastered the art of holding an audience’s attention while she tells us what she thinks we need to hear.

So: IS what she’s telling us what we need to hear? Does she have her facts straight? Is her understanding of the science accurate? Are the models she trusts for climate predictions sound?

With or without Greta Thunberg, those are the questions we need answers to.

Someone hand the lady her Oscar and let’s get back to work.

Open This Content