The Delicate Art of Listening but not Listening

“If I asked people what they wanted, the would’ve said a faster horse.” — Maybe Henry Ford

Changing the world means showing people something they couldn’t tell you that they needed.

Nevermind. They can and do tell you what they need. Just in the wrong language.

People will tell you what they need in a language composed of what they see around them. You need to listen carefully to the meaning but ignore the language. When they tell you “faster horse”, you listen and take it seriously as a clue to a problem while ignoring it completely as a solution.

Why faster? What does a horse do? Get you from A to B. OK. That’s a real problem people are telling you they want solved. Better A to B travel. Listen to that. But ignore the word “Horse”. That’s a solution word. For real innovation, you don’t want to listen to their solutions, only their problems.

If their solution was awesome, it’d probably already exist. But their problem is a source of all kinds of inspiration and opportunity.

This is a weird kind of listening. You can’t play the tortured creator who hates consumers because they demand things you think are crappy. The consumer is king and deserves utmost attention and respect.

But you can’t treat them as a solution generator either, and focus group your way to innovation by asking them to design it for you.

Your job is to be more keyed in on the problems people feel than anyone else. Listen to the pain. Your next job is to be less keyed in on the expected and proposed solutions than anyone else. Ignore the remedies.

That’s how you change the world. Introduce something nobody was asking for but everyone was asking for.

Easy, right? 😉

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Arbitrary Legality Makes Bad Laws

Recently, out of curiosity, I scanned the daily jail log for Curry County. I had never done so before and probably won’t do it again. Afterward, I felt guilty and was ashamed of myself.

I learned something interesting, though. Half of the people — five out of 10 — booked into the jail that particular day weren’t even accused of having done anything wrong; only things that have been arbitrarily declared illegal.

What’s the difference?

An act that violates an individual’s life, liberty, or property is wrong; a real crime, whether or not the law considers it a crime. These acts are wrong in and of themselves. The Latin term for this is “mala in se.”

Those booked into the jail that day and accused of having actually harmed someone were claimed to have either harmed others physically or to have violated someone’s property rights. Your main responsibility as a human is to respect the rights of others, so I have no sympathy for anyone who chooses to violate others.

This is assuming they actually did what they are accused of, which isn’t necessarily a reasonable assumption to make these days.

The other half of those jailed weren’t even suspected of harming anyone. The only justification for caging them was that they had offended the government in some way. Either they refused to identify themselves to a government employee, didn’t have the required permission papers, had forbidden substances, or tried to avoid being apprehended and kidnapped by an armed government employee. This makes these inmates political prisoners, not criminals. Even if I believed in punishment and imprisonment instead of justice, I wouldn’t believe these people deserved it. They are the real crime victims.

I understand why government would like for you and me to think of those things as crimes, but they aren’t They can’t be. Instead, these acts are “crimes” only because someone wrote legislation designating them so — a made-up rule with no ethical foundation. “Crimes” only because government employees say so. The Latin term for these acts is “mala prohibita.”

If you get aroused by punishing others, you probably don’t care. “It’s the LAW! It has to be obeyed,” you might insist.

Still, if you want your laws to be respected, you’ll first need to make them respectable. A good beginning is to get rid of all those laws based on nothing but the empty opinions of politicians.

This would eliminate all of your counterfeit mala prohibita “laws.”

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I’m the Little Brother

I’m the one who was never big enough, fast enough, strong enough.

I’m driven by proving the perpetual big brother voice wrong. Being doubted, disbelieved, and disrespected drives me. Fighting to survive and surprise as an underdog. Then one day you land a blow. You win a game of one on one. After years of trash talk and dismissal, you do it. And guess what? You get no credit. No acknowledgement. It’s downplayed. Forgotten by everyone but you. You’re still the little brother.

Par for the course. Bring it. I love to be underestimated. I love to fight the world and win.

That’s the story that weaves through the back of my mind as I go about building my life. And it’s the story that’s working for me today.

My actual big brother is a good dude. He’s probably my biggest supporter. This is not a story about true and false facts. It’s a story about my identity in the universe. I am the little brother with something to prove. I always will be, no matter how much I prove. I choose to embrace it and be empowered by it. I will surprise all comers with the fight in me. I’m used to taking shots and getting back up.

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Compulsory Schooling Laws Aren’t Progressive, They’re Inhumane

Someone asked me recently if I could wave a magic wand and do one thing to improve American education what would it be. Without hesitation, I replied: Eliminate state compulsory schooling statutes. Stripping the state of its power to define and control education under a legal threat of force is a necessary step in pursuit of education freedom and parental empowerment.

Some argue that compulsory schooling laws are no big deal. After all, they say, private schooling and homeschooling are legal in all 50 states, so state control of education is limited. While it’s true that some parents may have access to government schooling alternatives, many states require private schools to receive authorization in order to operate. Despite ongoing efforts to expand education choice mechanisms, most parents have no choice but to send their child to an assigned district school.Homeschoolers in most states must comply with state or local reporting mandates that in some areas require homeschoolers to take standardized tests or meet state-determined curriculum requirements.

These hoops are for those lucky enough to jump out of compulsory mass schooling. Despite ongoing efforts to expand education choice mechanisms, like Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tax-credit scholarship programs, most parents have no choice but to send their child to an assigned district school. Even if their child is being relentlessly bullied, even if they don’t feel that the academic environment is rigorous enough, even if they may personally disagree with some of the district’s ideological underpinnings—these parents are required by law to send their child to the appointed public school.

And what if they don’t?

Truancy and Neglectful Parenting

Truancy laws, which originate from a state’s compulsory schooling statutes, grant the full power of the state to come after parents whose children may have spotty attendance records. An in-depth article in HuffPost recently revealed the damaging impact these laws can have on families and children, with parents being pulled out of their homes in handcuffs and sent to jail.

For Cheree Peoples, one of the parents spotlighted in the article whose daughter misses school frequently due to sickle cell anemia that frequently leaves her hospitalized and in pain, enforcement of these truancy laws has been extreme, adding to the stress of her already difficult life caring for a chronically ill child. Awakened in the early hours by police officers who arrested her for truancy, she told the HuffPost: “You would swear I had killed somebody.”

The HuffPost investigation revealed that Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris was responsible for much of the heightened aggression toward parents regarding truancy. As California’s attorney general, Harris was a crusader against truancy and was instrumental in toughening criminal prosecution of parents whose children missed too much school. According to HuffPost:

Harris’ innovation was that school authorities and the district attorney would work in concert, articulating the threat of prosecution much earlier in the process and keeping school officials involved long after a case was transferred to court.

Harris held firm to her belief that neglectful parenting was the root cause of truancy, ignoring other potential explanations like lack of education choice for parents whose children may be suffering in their assigned district school. Harris’s actions to aggressively prosecute parents for truancy “were cementing the idea that parents always were the ultimate source of the problem.”

This is all so familiar. Harris, who billed herself as a “progressive prosecutor” for California, likely believed she was doing the right thing for children, saving them from their allegedly neglectful parents. Horace Mann, the “father of American public education” who is credited with helping to usher in the country’s first compulsory schooling statute in Massachusetts in 1852, also considered himself a progressive. At the time, Massachusetts was experiencing a massive immigration wave that, some lawmakers believed, threatened the current social fabric.

The History of Compulsory Schooling Laws

Indeed, between 1820 and 1840, Boston’s population more than doubled, and most of these newcomers were poor Irish Catholic immigrants escaping Ireland’s deadly potato famine. They challenged the dominant Anglo-Saxon Protestant norms of the time, prompting many state leaders to lobby for a new compulsory schooling statute that would mandate children’s attendance in state-controlled public schools. It was for the children’s own good, they said. As William Swan, editor of The Massachusetts Teacher wrote in 1851, just before the first compulsory schooling law was passed:

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.

Prior to the 1852 compulsory schooling law, compulsory education laws were common throughout the country. Massachusetts again led the way, passing its first compulsory education laws in 1642 and 1647, respectively. These education laws differed fundamentally from compulsory schooling laws. The education laws indicated a state interest in an educated citizenry and compelled cities and towns of a certain size to hire a teacher and/or open and operate a grammar school. It was the town that was compelled to offer schooling, not the parents to send their children there.

This is a significant distinction. A state arguably has the authority to require its cities and towns to provide certain services, but compelling parents to partake of these services under a legal threat of force—as the 1852 compulsory schooling law ultimately did—crosses the line. As the HuffPost article makes abundantly clear, parents, particularly those who are disadvantaged, continue to bear the brunt of these archaic and deeply flawed compulsory schooling laws.

The Solution

The first step to restore education freedom and empower parents with choice and opportunity for their children is to eliminate compulsory schooling laws that authorize state control of education. States could still require cities and towns to provide public schools to those who want them, but the power to compel parents to send their children there would disappear. In its place, a decentralized network of educational opportunities (including, but not limited to, various types of schooling) would unfold, fueled by visionary parents, educators, and entrepreneurs.

Parents, not the state, would decide how and where their children are educated. New possibilities for education innovation would emerge as the shadow of forced schooling waned. Education freedom begins when government compulsion ends.

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Paasche Says Progress

When economists debate economic stagnation, I routinely recall my undergraduate macroeconomics textbook, Dornbusch and Fischer’s Macroeconomics (5th edition). In Appendix 2-1, these famed economists introduce readers to two main contrasting price indices: the Laspeyres, or base-weighted, and the Paasche, or current-weighted:

While this may seem technical, much is at stake. Suppose a stagnationist belittles the economic importance of the internet. “So we get some free stuff. How much can it possibly shift official GDP calculations?” The answer: Tremendously.  Why?  Because calculations of real GDP use the GDP deflator, and the GDP deflator uses a Paasche price index.

Let’s set our base year to 1990 – the very year my old textbook was published. Now consider Youtube. Its measured annual contribution to GDP is about $15 billion. Relative to GDP, that’s a pittance, right? But Youtube consumption is about 1.5 billion hours per day. Back in 1990, a typical video rental cost $2.49. So even ignoring the massive increase in consumer choice and convenience, the annual contribution of Youtube measured in base year prices is 1.5B*$2.49*365.  That’s roughly $1.4 trillion dollars.  Paasche power!

The results for Google are even more dramatic. People run an average of 3.5 billion searches a day. Back in 1990, you would have been lucky to get comparable service for $20 – perhaps by hiring someone to spend a couple hours pouring through the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. So while the value of Google’s services in current prices is about $100B a year, the value in base year prices comes to over $25 trillion dollars.

You can see where this is going. If we sum the current revenue of the top internet companies, it’s probably well under $1T per year. However, if we sum the value in 1990 prices of the cornucopia they provide, it easily exceeds $50 trillion a year. Yes, much of this consumption happens abroad, increasing Gross World Product rather than U.S. Gross Domestic Product.  Yet using a Paasche price index, there’s still no doubt that the GDP deflator has sharply fallen since 1990. That means decades of non-stop deflation. This in turn implies that real GDP has risen far more than almost any respectable economist will admit.

Switching to the Laspeyres price index naturally makes this stunning result go away. If we take 1990 output at today’s prices and divide it by 1990 output at 1990 prices, we’ll only see modest progress. A few sectors – like video rental – will basically vanish from the numerator, but they’re only a small component of the denominator.  For example, using a base-weighted index, the value of video rentals in 1990 at today’s prices is roughly zero because video is now virtually free.  But the value of video rentals in 1990 prices is also modest, because when video was $2.49 a pop, total consumption was modest.

So which method of price indexation is correct?  Once they understand what’s at stake, dogmatic optimists will say, “Paasche!” Dogmatic pessimists will naturally answer, “Laspeyres, of course.” I say both sides should be more broad-minded.  Yes, there is a sense in which progress since 1990 has been modest. However, there is another important sense in which progress since 1990 has been astoundingly awesome.

If you don’t remember 1990, the modern world is easy to take for granted. The rest of us, however, know – or at least ought to know – that modernity is a living miracle. Though we don’t own fifty cars each, we still enjoy fabulous luxuries beyond of the budget of the richest residents of 1990. Stagnationists live to belittle these gains, but that’s not science; it’s perspective. Paasche points the way to a radically different yet equally scientific conclusion. The judicious approach, though, is not to pick a side, but to triangulate. Economic progress is complex. In some major ways, it’s been slow; in other major ways, it’s supersonic. And overall? Seems speedy to me – and not because I don’t know the numbers.

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You Can’t Have Civil Rights Both Ways

It’s interesting to me how many people want their own rights respected, while also wanting other people’s rights to be violated.

People who want their rights as gun owners respected often advocate a massive government welfare program, carried out through taxation and land theft, in order to build a border wall, which violates the right of association and the right of people to move about freely. They also demand a police state where you can be stopped and checked for your papers.

To justify these violations, they’ll insist it’s necessary because of other kinds of welfare and because of laws that all but criminalize self-defense and the uninterrupted possession of the proper tools with which to carry it out. To abolish any violations appears unthinkable.

On the other hand, those who oppose a rights-violating border wall want to continue to violate everyone by funding government handouts and usually want the rights of gun owners to be violated more than they already are.

Then you have those who seem happy to violate themselves. They’ll demand their right to marry whoever they want to marry, but want government permission — even licenses — to do so. Or they want to have their right to use cannabis respected while they beg for this right to be violated through taxation and regulation.

Did I say it’s interesting? I meant disappointing.

It makes one thing perfectly clear: People either don’t understand rights or they don’t respect them.

People aren’t good at consistency, especially when they don’t realize that all rights are connected so thoroughly they might as well be one and the same. How can you expect your rights to be respected if you refuse to respect the rights of everyone else? How much do you really value your own rights if you’ll let others treat them as privileges?

I want your rights respected, no matter who you are.

I don’t want you robbed to fund things I believe are necessary. I don’t want your real estate stolen for projects I want. I won’t hire armed agents to impose things on you that violate your life, liberty, or property even if I suspect you are up to no good. I won’t impose licensing on you.

If you violate me, I have the natural human right to defend myself. Laws can’t change this.

It’s one reason I will never compromise on gun rights.

I’ll stand up for all your rights, consistently.

Your rights matter to me.

Do they matter to you?

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