Archives for category: Public Policy


Santa's Gifts

Gift-giving can be a kind of revenge, or of affront: an expression, in either case, of the will to power. It is definitely not a univocally benevolent act. Charitable acts are often expressions of the starkest egoisms.

I noticed this as a child, amidst the mad scramble of wintertime celebrations: of Christmas wishes and expectations dashed and fulfilled and then undermined; of the sad parade of gift misfires and recipient regrets.

But perhaps sentimentality shields us from learning the lessons under the mistletoe. There are many other occasions for such reflection. Indeed, one need look no further than the native Americans in the area where I live. They engaged in a rivalry of benefaction. The point of the Potlatch was to demonstrate tremendous wealth. The recipients were honor-bound to, in turn, honor the benefactor. Indeed, it was almost a trade: goods for praise.

The white folk who came to the area, and not a few anthropologists, saw the Potlatch culture as amazingly, brazenly egoistic. It seemed indecent, all about puffing up the efficacious leader as chief, and praising the productive chiefdom over the under-productive.

But later anthropologists noticed that this egoism led, as if by an invisible hand, to serve as a redistributionist system for the whole region. If a salmon run was insufficient one year, another group in a more blessed region would help out, bestowing bounty. For the honor of it.

But the invisible hand has not been so kind in our age.

By adding a force of law and regularity to the redistributionist* emprise, denizens of modernity have aimed to supplant emergent order with over-arching planned order. And, when this happens, the “law of unintended consequences” plays not so much an invisible ordering role, but a disordering one.

Whether or not this slapback/blowback effect is overwhelmingly negative, I will leave for other occasions. But there is something we can conclude from the start, regardless of a weighing of outcomes: support for tax-funded state “charitable” aid is never wholly charitable in origin. Indeed, we should expect to witness a whole heckuva lot of Pharasaic posturing and moral preening by those who favor extensive “aid” to this group or that.

And we do.

As I see it, there are many advocates of “cheap charity” in today’s ideological combat. Proponents of increased levels of aid can take immediate satisfaction of “at least I care.” Even if, in nearly all cases, the proposals are far from certain to be enacted (and thus quite inexpensive to make), and the financial burden of the aid likely to descend mostly on some richer others (and thus being almost of zero cost to advance), the advantages in “honor” and social status are quite certain and immediate.

It seems obvious to me, when I look at the world of policy advocacy: state aid proponents’ lack of real beneficent interest is clear as ice on a winter pond . . . or cold heart. How better to explain their alarm at the very thought of means-testing “welfare”? Or considering any negative effect of state aid? If they really cared, being careful with limited resources would be foremost in their minds.

I usually suspect advocates of dirigiste statism to be little more than sub rosa power lusters and tribal bigots. I rarely find examples that prove otherwise.

Indeed, one of the things noticed by many among the new wave of African-American (and other “people of color”) libertarians and limited-government conservatives is the condescension of the rich white “liberals” and their assumption of incompetence, stupidity, folly and general witlessness among darker-hued populations in America. This reaches an apogee of ridiculousness in the cause of voter registration, which progressives have (naturally!) racialized:

It is hard not to conjure up from the chthonian collective unconscious a terrifying charge: that the welfare state has succeeded in turning large swaths of middle-class and rich white people into slave-owners by proxy — folks quite proud of their support “of support” . . . for dependent populations . . . dependent populations who seem to be valued as less-than-human. You know, like slaves in antebellum days.

Perhaps some day soon a once-obvious truth will once again gain some credence. Too much help is too much. Yes. There can be too much of a good thing. Aid is one of those good things that the “too much of” can prove disastrous.

Alternatively, with natural checks built into redistribution — the limits of charitable imagination and empathy, the hint of indeterminacy that ego-driven generosity provides — an invisible hand process can indeed yield wide social benefits even in situations not based on explicit trade.

But the sad truth seems to be that combining those all-too-human ego-driven pseudo-benevolences with legal plunder (taxation) and sanctioned tribal warfare (political and ideological contest) means, yes, we should expect long-cycle negative social instabilities and and rising anti-sociality.

The Invisible Hand slaps back.


* By “redistribution” I mean distribution after the fact of initial appropriation, and outside the scope of explicit voluntary trade. Contrary to recent libertarian theorists who object to the term redistribution on the grounds that, under laissez faire “there is no distribution, just trade,” I counter with this: all allocation of goods is distribution, which is an act, either of giving or lending, or abandoning; or giving in exchange for return gift (trade), lending in return for remuneration (rent and usury), or re-appropriating once-abandoned property. All these are forms of distribution. And by norming initial acquisition and trade, I see giving without exchange, and taking without exchange, as redistributive.


American Statesmen

What if the Trump presidency gets so crazy that Congress bucks up and starts performing its constitutional duties?

You know, like

  • being in charge of when and where and with whom to go to war;
  • the budget and debt;
  • all major policy decisions, for that matter; and
  • riding herd over Executive branch performance?

An effective House Speaker or Senate president pro tempore could change the course of everything.

In the early 19th century, arguably the most effective leaders (the Jackson and Van Buren alliance aside) never held the presidency: Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.

Technically, it could happen.

Unlikely, considering the decadence of modern popular politics . . . but still!


img_3595-1One of the reasons I refused to vote for Trump: the fear that he would escalate the War on Drugs as well as the much-less ballyhooed (but perhaps even more pernicious) War on Property. And now it has begun in earnest.

“U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatens to make himself one of the biggest threats to your liberty,” writes Paul Jacob. “President Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General just promised to encourage police departments to seize the personal property (cars, houses, cash) of criminal suspects.”

IMG_3918And the new Attorney General has delivered. Sessions has rolled out his new policy, claiming that “President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that,” Sessions said. “We will continue to encourage civil asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”

But the vast majority of civil asset forfeitures are directed against people who have never been charged with a crime.

It is normal Americans who have been “hit in the wallet.” Besides, as Paul Jacob put it, “No one is a criminal, before the law, until proved in court. Taking away property to make it harder for suspects to defend themselves — which is what RICO laws and other Drug War reforms intended to do — is obviously contrary to the letter of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments as well as the spirit of the U.S. Constitution.”

This is a complete return to police state practices, an amazing flouting of the rule of law, an affront to both liberal civilization and conservative caution.

The fact that our police and local governments engage in any practice that confiscates property without trial is so egregious it is hard to know where to begin.

Though Trump’s AG, Jeff Sessions, is the one advancing this practice, it is worth noting that Obama’s first AG, Eric Holder, demonstrated his sole restraint in a minor pulling back from “adoption,” the not-very-common process of taking over confiscation prerogatives from state and local governments. Reason’s C. J. Ciamarella explains that politic jurisdictional finagling pretty well . . . and the “logic” of the share-out spoils system, too: “Law enforcement groups say asset forfeiture is a vital tool to combat drug trafficking and other organized crime, and they argue the equitable sharing program provides essential funding for police equipment. The body armor used by police at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, one attendee at Wednesday’s meeting noted, was bought using equitable sharing funds.”

I have a cheaper, more Constitutional solution that may very well have prevented the extraordinarily high Pulse body count: allow nightclub (and other public business) personnel to conceal carry the weapons needed to take down mad jihadists. That is, reëstablish gun rights everywhere — definitely not rely upon militarized police phalanxes.

We have every reason to be disgusted with Sessions and Trump. But let us not forget that the Obama Administration was actually quite bad on this, too — as it was on so much else. Over the last ten years $3.2 billion in assets were confiscated from people not even charged with a crime.

Think about it, then ask yourself: what would Thomas Jefferson do?

One thing, he wouldn’t be voting Democrat or Republican.

Jefferson started a new party over a similarly insane and unconstitutional federal government practice.

What shall it be, then? A “Liberal Whig” Party? A Responsibilitarian Party? The Receivership?


N.B. Image of Sessions is by James Gill and has been nabbed from Paul Jacob’s Common Sense site. Below is a screenshot of a post by one of my pro-Trump friends on Facebook:


Screenshot 2017-07-19 18.19.24

The “Elio” seemed so promising. Named for Paul Elio, the Dreamer-in-Chief, the three-wheel concept is beguiling; the design, elegant. But the dream may be over.

Elio Motors was funded largely by advance reservations, a risky scheme in itself. And the delivery date for the three-wheeled totally-enclosed “cars” has been postponed several times, ultimate production delivery nowhere in sight.

As of January, the company was over a hundred million in the red, with no firm date for the production units, and nothing but a few test vehicles delivered, according to Jalopnik. Cedric Glover, the mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, where the factory resides, insists that early consumer-investors are “waiting for nothing”:

If you look at Paul Elio from 2009, certainly by the time you get to 2011 and 2012, it’s clear that what he is in fact is a dreamer and a schemer. It leads one to ask, what was the actual motivation behind committing these facilities, this equipment to Paul Elio and the Elio operation.

Easy to answer: hope. Though I suppose it could have been a scheme, a fraud, from the beginning.

Trouble is, it is the nature of start-ups that the difference, on paper, between a fraud and a hopeful long shot is a mere hair’s width . . . right up until the moment of success — or failure. This is one reason why government regulation of start-ups is such a bad idea. It should be up to entrepreneurs, bankers and investors to provide the desired checks and balances.

But the story has not stood still. Government demands obeisance. According to KSLA News 12, dateline Jefferson Parish, Louisiana’s “Motor Vehicle Commission is accusing Elio Motors of operating as a manufacturer/dealer of recreational products without a license.”

First I heard of a license, and I’ve been following the story for some time. I wonder when Mr. Elio heard about that license.

The panel decided during a hearing Monday in Metairie to fine Elio Motors $545,000 for offering reservations for the future purchase of its 3-wheel vehicles.

The commission also ordered Elio Motors to obtain both licenses to manufacture and deal in Louisiana and to place all refundable Elio Motors reservations into a trust account within 60 days.

This is awfully late in the game to try to secure some exit strategy for investors. Indeed, the whole thing looks more like a simple shake-down, or perhaps a pretense to prosecute for fraud. That is, government-as-usual.

I sniff something more, though: the influence of competitor greed. As the company made in its statement informing of an appeal to the recent ruling, it makes no sense now to grab funds from the production process. It is sure to doom the whole project. Which I would not be shocked to learn is precisely what a lot of other businesses want.

Which would not be unheard of.

This is how it works, folks: licensing and registration is instituted to help current businesses keep out upstarts.

Par for the course for mercantilism, protectionism, progressivism or whatever we call the modern corporate state. The sanctimonious tone to the mayor’s cavils, calling the company founder a “dreamer and a schemer,” is a little hard to take. Where does the mayor think new products come from? Other mayors? They come from dreamers, schemers, wheeler-dealers.

I understand — there was a goofy odor to the whole emprise from the start. Though excited about the concept, I wondered at the initial promised purchase price, less than half of what the in-production Polaris Slingshot (see  below) goes for. Further, funding by consumer investment (pre-order reservation charges) is so . . . “not done” . . . except that it is: GoFundMe and Kickstarter and all those other crowd-funding operations have proven how well this sort of endeavor can go. Perhaps the fact that Elio didn’t use one of those hubs suggests the fatal glitch.

It is worth noting that automobile guru Eric Peters suggested last year another problem besetting the Elio: it is not an “electric car,” so it got very little play in the news. There is indeed a cultural conspiracy (that is, no real conspiracy at all; just groupthink) to snub innovations in internal combustion tech while promoting even goofier (and much-subsidized) “alt-fuel” auto technology.

Had the major media not fixed its collectivist head so firmly up its collective colon, perhaps Paul Elio would not be in his current predicament. And maybe, just maybe, we would be seeing the Elio on the roads by now.




a thesis sans argument*:

IMG_3872Amusingly, what makes the infamous and much-castigated “social Darwinists” conceivably Darwinistic is not so much the theory of natural selection, especially construed as a “survival of the fittest” by way of a ruthless weeding out of weak individuals, but, instead, a reliance upon sexual selection as the basis of human breeding. By defending a dispersed responsibility for begetting and rearing children, the individualists** completely relied upon individuals to choose their own mates and determine their own fates, as well as that of following generations.

This quasi-Darwinistic social vision of the individualists was challenged and replaced by a new hard-headed view of society — in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — that of the social engineers associated with Fabian Socialism and American Progressivism. Their new vision was not so much “Darwinian” as “Galtonian,” in that it carried social engineering to the extreme of coercive eugenics.

This did not mimic either of Darwin’s great contributions, Natural Selection or Sexual Selection.

The principle to which the new social engineers appealed was quite old-fashioned and understood by folks prior to Darwin: Artificial Selection. They insisted upon direct human control of the process of selecting qualities to breed into future generations. Sure, the selection criteria “were scientific” — just as breeders of cattle and dogs were careful in their arrangements of livestock mating — but in no way dispersed.

Their idea was to concentrate (centralize) choice (or at the very least the “breeding out” criteria and enforcement) into the hands of experts. It was thus sexual selection turned artificial.

An old idea, to some extent (since marriages were historically subject to arrangements by clans and courts, to encourage the inheritance of some traits, usually non-biological traits such as wealth and power), but now more expicitly statist, and in theory defocused from families and focused wider onto society as a whole. To be managed by the State.

Yes, social engineering and eugenics were indeed promoted as “scientific” during the heady, early days of Progressivism, and Darwin’s name was often . . . taken in vain.

Darwin had nothing to do with the outrageous notion of applying Artificial Selection to human populations at the macro-social (societal) level. His theory of sexual selection indicated, instead, a more dispersed process that explained adaptation and speciation.

The eugenicists of Progressivism were engaging, on the other hand, in a scientistic misappropriation of Darwin’s legacy, and it was the earlier individualists, relying instead mostly on invisible hand processes of nature and society, who were closer to the spirit of evolutionary science.

But, in fairness, the eugenics movement had its scientific backers. The term eugenics itself was coined by Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin once removed. And Galton was no slouch, revolutionizing statistics and the research of inheritance.

Tipping the hat to Galton, honesty and precision suggests an alternative to “social Darwinism,” societal Galtonism.***

Resting upon Galton’s obsessions, the statist eugenicists donned the mantle of science. Within a half century of the eugenics heyday, progressive intellectuals, under the guise of “liberalism,” rewrote the history and jiggered with the concepts to obscure the enormity that their parent generation had embraced whole-heartedly. And, twist of the proverbial knife, they castigated the earlier individualists as cruel “social Darwinists” when the real crimes — their tradition’s — were far more directly inhumane and unchristian, and more plausibly a misappropriation of evolutionary theory.

Politics and ideology are full of droll reversals of fortune.

The memes that survive must serve functions, yes, but they are selected, artificially selected by humans with interests. And “social Darwinism” has served progressives for a long time, helping them bury the sorry history of their own movement by deflecting to others the apt charge of scientism.


* This post is admittedly mostly just assertion. But I hope the reader will forgive me for floating the notion before I find time to defend it. Maybe I should do a Kickstarter campaign to fund my elaboration of this and allied ideas!

** I am mostly referring to Herbert Spencer here, though the Americans John Fiske and William Graham Sumner might also fit into this category as relevant.

*** A Google search called up just one comments-section coinage of “social Galtonism,” but “social,” to my ear, more properly applies to micro- and meso-levels of human interaction than the macro level, so the uglier adjective “societal” makes a quantum of sense.

Americans are over-schooled and under-educated.*

Extensive research is not required to demonstrate this . . . though, happily, that extensive research has been done. (See the recent work of Charles Murray, for starters.) All one really needs is a few minutes spent with a modal student, whether it be high-schooler, collegian, or even college grad. Such folk usually disappoint. Only rarely do they impress.

I noticed this when I was in high school. I wondered, first, whether the prime reason for such limited educational success was not far from view. Much of school life is spent spinning gears, wasting time on superfluous activities just to keep the inmates from revolting and the parents from having to pay for babysitters.

What I figured next, and came to realize with increasing clarity as time went on, is that the only education worth the title is mastery. If you haven’t mastered something, you haven’t learned it.

Now, it is true that there is “education for exposure.” Everyone should be exposed to grammar, rhetoric, great art, history, athletics, mathematics, science, the world’s religions, metaphysical speculation, engineering, map-making, and how to use a computer. To name just a few. Realistically, only a few of us will master more than a handful of these. Nevertheless, we should expect each person above the level of a mental defective to master basic arithmetic, reading and writing in at least one language, and the use of some basic tools, like the automobile and the computer.

Recognizing the limits of possible mastery, we should nevertheless promote the achievements of our civilization in such a way that everyone with aptitude can go on to master at least one domain of the culture, such as music or science.

But at no point should our promotion of exposure to the best preclude students from achieving the best. Nor should we trick them into thinking that extended exposure amounts to mastery. It does not. Mastery in any domain takes practice, persistence, and sometimes a little pain. (Occasionally a great deal of pain. It depends on the discipline, and upon the student.)

It’s easy to look at the last few generations of schooling and see where teachers and administrators went wrong. But it’s quite another thing to change it. Why? Because the errors of the age are closely tied to the means of production and distribution of the goods in question, how they are bundled in supply and in demand.

In a word, the errors of education are largely related to the fact that it is government that is in control. Indeed, if present levels of education were supplied on the market, and not by government, no one to the left of Arlen Specter would tolerate the institutions; the widespread cry would be revolution, now!

But, as it is, schooling in America and around the world is largely a government emprise, and the radical critiques of current education are not primarily from the left — though the left does have its august radical critics, such as Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, to name the most interesting and the most over-respected, respectively.

The trouble with most critiques, however, is their narrowness. And the unifying feature of current educational failures coalesces, it seems to me, around one idea: the problem of supplying an allegedly uniform good to a vast diversity of learners.

The whole culture of learning and teachings needs to grow up. It needs to hit the market. It needs to spread out, diversify.

There are many types of learners, and many types of teachers. One cannot — and, therefore, should not — pretend that one simple educational change will change everything for the better. Only by recognizing the diversity of students will education substantially improve, and by “recognition” I don’t mean “establishing a general consensus in the teachers’ colleges.” (The teachers colleges are probably one of the main institutional impediments to the advancement of learning in general, anyway.) By recognition I mean “seeing opportunities and filling them,” in the entrepreneurial sense. Only when teachers become part entrepreneur, and aim to fill in the gaps themselves, in a distributed, vibrant culture of learning, will this happen.

And this will almost certainly not happen until the public schools become as the dinosaurs: Defunct.

This scares natural conservatives. I know. There is always a presumptive case for the status quo. But remember: Public schools are as close to socialistic institutions as we can get in America, and it should surprise no conservative (natural or otherwise) that socialism doesn’t work well. Socialism, which has been tied since its early years to a sort of moralistic militarism, only works if those who participate in it give up their individual courses and march, march, march to the uniform beat of a designated drummer. Ludwig von Mises showed long ago why socialism cannot provide a wide dispersal of goods, matching actual, individual human needs. So why should we expect our public schools to produce excellence in education to the diversity of its students? Instead, we get a few groups (the studious, usually, and the willing-to-go-along-to-get-along crowd) advance while vast hordes of students stagnate.

Many people I’ve talked with balk at my negative assessment. They point to rising test scores in some institutions, high marks for “their school,” and the like. Teachers, often, become especially incensed — except for a perceptive few, the ones who remember what high standards are.

Perhaps not coincidentally, high standards themselves have been the chief casualty of the past 50 years of American schooling. The saddest truth of the age is that what was once the goal for every elementary school graduate is now the challenge to provide a mere majority of high school grads: Basic proficiency in English and math. Colleges and universities have had to add on remedial course after course, just to make up for the painful-to-witness failures of public schools around the country.

Most Americans are utterly ignorant of high standards, though. They have been educated in the system that has abused them. They only remember a small portion of what they have been exposed to, and do not know, for example, that in writing the art of rhetoric was elaborated thousands of years ago, and that the tools discovered by ancient masters can be learned, today, by most seventh graders — with pleasure, even, if guided by an enthusiastic teacher who is also not a dullard. But most of us only learned a half dozen of the major figures of speech (hyperbole, simile, metaphor . . . that’s about all I was taught), a small percentage of the very helpful ancient list. Par for the shoddy course.

Since World War II, much of the attention of education promoters has been waylaid. Noting that college schooling greatly affects wage earning potential, promoters have pushed college schooling. As such. Instead of insisting on instruction in the skills and knowledge that potential workers might need, they have promoted “college schooling” in and of itself, as the major means to achieve that magic ability to earn extra dollars in the marketplace (which, alas, also includes growing ranks of the functionary class in government). This promotion has not been a matter of boosterism only. It’s not been confined to public pronouncements of encouragement, all to send kids to college. No. The promotion has been a major intervention into the higher education market, such as financial assistance in a wide variety of forms, including outright subsidies to both students and institutions.

In a manner similar to the recent boom and bust in the mortgage market, this massive government intervention has resulted in an artificial boom in higher education. Far more students than necessary have gone to college. And far too much respect has been paid to the sheepskin itself. It’s bad enough that UPS and the U.S. Postal Service is filled with doctorates in philosophy and liberal arts — it might be worse that our businesses are filling up with MBAs and our news outlets with journalist majors.

Worse, you ask? How can education be worse? Well, by being miseducation. The lowering of standards and the pushing of junk science and fake mastery into areas like business and administration has had wide effects in the real world. Indeed, for my money, no fact seems more pregnant with meaning than the fact that George W. Bush was our first president to graduate from college with an MBA.

Brummagem learning characterizes whole domains of today’s educated classes. Women’s studies and English departments have been corrupted by idiotic yammerings of neo-Marxist theorists and what Richard Kostelanetz calls (perhaps with a ribbit ready, under in his cheek) frogspeak (the “critical theory” of postmodernists, heirs especially to the French Academy, but also to Germany’s Frankfurt School). Economics, particularly the pseudo-sciences of macro-economics — has been over-mathemetized (or mis-mathemetized) to glass-bead game proportions, so that the best students have “learned” reality-warping nonsense about risk — to the chagrin of nearly everyone, today.

How does one unlearn folly?

Well, that’s not a widely studied subject.

Which, in itself, might tell you something about any number of academic disciplines, from philosophy to psychology to political science.

One of the great errors of public goods theory is to suppose that, if everyone needs a set of goods A, then these goods must all be supplied from one source. That’s the theory of public schooling, at its erroneous core. But we all need to eat food. Food comes to us in wide variety, and yet there is no advantage in massive government intervention to assure that everyone eat to a certain level.

If there were such a program, that level would — I hazard — fall over time, till massive starvation were the norm. And the great, illustrious professors of feeding and agriculture and allied sciences would fret over how to raise standards so that children, at the very least, all got a minimum quality of food.

The alternative method of improving the level of consumption of food would be to get government out of the setting of standards, raising of funds, and organization of production of foodstuffs altogether. And, over time, the standards of consumption would rise, just as, over these last 30 years, the standards for computing have risen. (I use the example of computing and allied technical instruments for the simple reason that this has been the most astoundingly progressive markets while, at the same time, the least regulated and subsidized of markets, too.)

So, there’s no reason to argue, now, over the identification of the very highest — or next achievable higher — standard. The relevant standards will emerge in a free marketplace.

Still, those of us who know something about a particular domain of learning, we have much to contribute to the teaching of that domain. And, were the market opened up, we could contribute.

The future of education will likely look almost nothing like what we have now; the institutional make-up will almost certainly be radically different.

Even if, right now, free-marketers argue back and forth about the relative merits and demerits of institutions like public schools, private schools, home-schooling, and charter schools, and various instruments of reform like vouchers and tax credits and the like, what people in markets will eventually supply to meet the extremely varied demand that will necessarily exist for educational services will be mostly unpredictable. We do not know which solutions will prove most successful on the market. I would guess that virtual schooling and private tutoring will be the most effective wedge to improve education, and that large schools may (if we’re lucky) soon prove themselves dinosaurs. But I could be wrong. Maybe private schools will prove successful. Maybe co-operatives will dominate the landscape.

But, no matter what the mix — and no matter what vast, broad networks of educators and students evolve — if actual supplies meet with actual, negotiated demands, then we can expect a return to learning in our culture.

In my final year of socialized schooling, the principal of the high school stopped by the Current World Problems class to give a little speech. He said that the job of the school we had wiled away the bulk of our waking lives, up to that point, was not to teach us, but to help us “learn how to learn.”

My immediate reaction was: “Boy, does this man live in an illusion.” Few of my classmates had mastered anything like that skill. Had the brighter ones done so, they might have been tempted to learn outside of the college system (which most of them did attend). And had the less academically inclined learned such a skill, they might have shown, in their later lives, a glint of excellence hinted at in the current academic cliche: “helping students become ‘life-long learners.’”

Life-long learning is, indeed, a desirable capacity. That it has become a cliché of modern education mavens may be the only salvable element of their theory. But, like earlier goals like “socialization” and “citizenship” and what-have-you, it rarely flourishes in its fullest and most admirable sense. Down-to-business concerns somehow usurp attention.

Indeed, modern schooling has fostered the illusion that exposure counts for mastery. And this, in turn, has led thousands of barely-trained college grads to think that they can enter a government bureau or join a social cause and, from their limited experience but seemingly impressive curriculum vitae, can easily fix the messes others have caused . . . and merely by writing a new law or enacting a new program.

It turns out that mastery requires the acquisition of many skills that cannot be articulated into simple textbook formulae. There is a difference between “knowing how” and “knowing that,” and the modern academy has encouraged many a lettered dilettante into thinking that, because he has studied something, he is now fit to rule that something.

The modern state and modern schools have grown together, in tandem, the one driving the other. Now that I think of it, I’m not sure which has driven the other. Call it a dialectical process, and then wonder: How can the one be fixed without the other, also, similarly and simultaneously, be subjected to such transformation?


* Retrieved from my notebooks; dated September 12, 2010. A little over a week later I wrote on a related theme for The Libertarian Standard, with the first sentence of the above repeated exactly in the new piece, though not given priority.

According to rumors, some of the President’s Goldman-Sachs economy czars gave him a good talking-to.

Donald Trump had bolstered his political standing, in part, for pushing two policy positions, both of which resonate with many (though not necessarily the same) Americans:

1. Trade deficits are bad . . . and are caused by a too-strong dollar.

2. Taxes on businesses and investments should be cut to encourage growth.

The Goldman-Sachs folks informed him (the rumor mill has it) that doing the second (2) would likely subvert the first (1) by strengthening the dollar.

Economist Bob Murphy (on Contra Krugman) notes that Trump’s lack of understanding here is hardly surprising, since only by studying economics would one see the connection, follow the chain of cause and effect that far. One would not learn this “by running a business.”

Most of everybody’s economic understanding and policy is on this level, because economics is not necessary to success in most enterprises.

Arguably, lack of economic understanding has long been a prerequisite for success in politics. People like to hear simple untruths stated boldly.


One problem in assessing public policy is the ease with which people switch away from their own perspective, and the perspectives of their fellow citizens, onto the role of Legislator or Philosopher King, ready to command the State.

The State’s perspective is quite enticing.

Common sense might suggest that simple short cuts to a desired goal can easily be managed merely by establishing a policy, and a governmental system of rewards and punishments. On top of this switched perspective is the philosophical conceit that states are established for the general, public interest, and not for capture by special interests. So every goal, no matter how particular to a specific person or group, we quickly transform in our minds from my end or your end or our end or their end to “the public good,” without much critical thinking at all.

The startling thing is how easy are the mental operations that allow us to do this. I hazard that they are pre-programmed into our brains as part of man’s hierarchical nature, as reinforced by ancient tribal cooperation and the history of military and ecclesiastical practice. But, regardless of my surmise, these operations go on in our head with amazing ease, and — this is the important part — without any need to apply critical thought to the metamorphosis from special to general (shared) interest.

This is aided greatly by both our internal biases and the very core nature of the State in society. What I call the Beneficiary Focus Illusion (existing as an entelechy in our heads) reinforces the perennial structural arrangements (existing as an entelechy within society) that divorce resource acquisition from resource dispersement while coupling dispersed costs to concentrated benefits.

Most people never bother to examine critically the process by which they transform some particular goal into the public interest. Instead, they instinctively apply the given interest “commonsensically” to political governance. From the perspective of the State. Or, uncritically, from their own perspective, or that of their favored group.

See Herbert Spencer, “From Freedom to Bondage,” for a discussion of social processes apparently at odds with “common sense.”


One does not normally insure against chosen and regularly incurred costs, like fill-ups and oil changes in cars . . . or haircuts, waxes, and contraceptive devices on people. When insurance companies’ policies do cover regular, pre-injury/-illness purchases, they are not economically engaging in an insurance contract. They are offering a payment system, a kind of premium savings plan.

Why would they do that? Sometimes to attract customer with a convenience — an expensive convenience they expect to make money off of. But also for another reason: because they are compelled by law.

The corruption of the insurance industry by government policy has been ongoing for decades.

Especially in medical markets.

How? At a fundamental level.

Economist Friedrich Freiherr von Wieser (Social Economics, 1928, p. 149) noted that there are three kinds of “binding compensatory contracts”: exchange contracts, insurance contracts, and social contracts. Wieser noted that insurance contracts sometimes look like social contracts, sometimes like exchanges. But the resemblance to explicit social contracts is that they mimic the widespread effects usually aimed at by social contractors, but through private exchanges. An ingenious invention. Insurance provides a public good by private means. The core nature of insurance contracts Wieser explains thusly:

Its purpose is to distribute the effects of loss over many private economies. It has attained great importance in developed economies. But it has to do only with the security of the economic body, not with its creation.

Wieser did not examine this form of contract in detail. He also, in developing economic theory, put aside discussion of the social contract:

One should expect that it be adopted to the integration of the social economy. Nevertheless in its effect it has been overshadowed by the exchange contract, which although as a rule is made only between two parties, has manifested itself the coördinating instrument that binds individual economies into the national economy.

This manifestation of unexpected and unintended coördination puzzles many people. Which is perhaps one reason why, as Wieser’s student F. A. Hayek suggested, we witness much social distress regarding — and political pressure to undermine and control — market order. The coördination provided by markets is “spontaneous,” as Hayek metaphorically put it (“inadvertent” is more exact), and its mechanisms and processes mysterious, in no small part because of its inadvertence. Folks balk at accepting an unplanned order.

This is especially true of insurance contracts, which often seem “unfair.” For example, I was a very good and safe driver as a young man, ages 16–28. Never an accident. Never even a complaint. But an appreciable number of my peers drove recklessly (but not “wrecklessly”!), skewing the actuarial tables that make insurance bets doable, so my insurance rates were high. Young women, on the other hand, had far lower rates — despite my personal knowledge of many dangerous young female drivers.

But I understood the unfairness, and rallied through. Meanwhile, during that same period, feminists pushed through in my state regulations that forced insurers and their customers to pay equal rates, disregarding the sexes. Young women tend to have more medical issues, especially regarding pregnancy — which, one should note, are usually the result of free choices, not wholly accidental events — and thus are greater risks for insurance companies, requiring higher rates.

But . . . unfair!

For some reason, feminists did not push for a forced equalization of auto insurance rates.

So, consider what that regulation did: it increased the pool of insured people, bracketing out of consideration reliable data upon which insurance businesses calculated profitable rates. So, it decreased the information content of insurance rates — prices, really — and made the business decisions less efficient, and less capable of adding efficiency over the course of time.

And by equalizing men’s and women’s rates, it swept into the mix a mostly non-insurable expense: pregnancy and birth. One insures for things out of one’s control. And, except in case of rape, one can choose not to engage in sexual intercourse, the activity that causes pregnancy. So, under modern regulatory requirements, more and more people are swept into the pool with more social contract problems associated with such pools: that is, “the tragedy of the commons.” When some gain at the expense of others, they tend to opt to do just that. A common resource subject to individual exploitation tends to degrade, as has been understood since the time of Aristotle, but clarified by William F. Lloyd, Garret Hardin, and Richard Stroup. In the case here made as an example, what would normally be unforeseeable and insured-for is now intermingled with eventualities placed under a woman’s or couple’s control. Thus they are able to game the system and free ride off of it. Basically, shifting their avodiable medical expenses onto other people who do not choose to produce babies.

This jiggering with the insurance industry basics changes its very nature. But not without costs.

And it is certainly not limited to just the one example. Tax policy, regulation and now subsidy have been contriving to turn medical insurance contracts wholly into social contracts. And politicians and activists have succeeded in convincing many simpletons and distracted citizens into thinking insurance should cover events that no honest business would cover — events such as already existing disabilities, or expenses that are wholly voluntary.

Remember: One cannot “insure” against the present; one cannot “insure” against controlled outcomes. It is only future uncontrolled events with assignable probabilities that make sense to insure. Only these eventualities that can make for stable, long-term and sustainable and efficiently provided buffering of the effects of loss or injury.

But, to repeat, tax law, regulations and now subsidy — by state and federal governments — have so twisted the industry that it now is a badly run redistribution scheme, something one would normally expect from governments pretending to enforce “social contracts.”

Wieser’s “coördinating instrument” of the exchange system, and the pricing (in this case) of insurance rates, has been scuttled by people more comfortable with the seemingly “rational” — but much more ungainly and discoördinative — government policy. Also, the instrumentality of force quickens the vindictive soul, spurring folks to demand a great cause — fairness, justice. Which allows, naturally enough, for the heady mix of self-righteousness and outright oppression (for what else is forcing others?) as well as the precious social signaling that moral crusades engender.

But because information is thereby decreased, and the tragedy of the commons introduced into the industry, society is corrupted, hobbled, injured.

The very opposite result, you might think, of medical insurance policy.

And witless Americans carry on with the fiction and lies. As if they were being smart and wise. Anyone who repeats the current wisdom about medical “insurance” — such as demanding “coverage” for a wholly voluntary aid, like contraception — is a dupe or a liar.



Friedrich von Wieser portrayed at top, in sketch; the current blogger immediately above.

You know a person isn’t serious about opposing child labor if they keep up bringing sweat shops but never mention farm work.

Traditionally, had children not worked on family farms, many families would have starved. Personally, I worked on our family farm without recompense, growing up, and also worked on other farms for money. Before I came of age. I know that this was good for me, and everyone else knows this too.

img_0056My mother grew up in the Great Depression. She was one of the family breadwinners — as a child. Only an evil person would regard this as exploitation and wrong to the point that it should have been illegal.

A close friend of mine and I both spent time picking fruit in the summers. We earned a few bucks. This was good for us, even at ages nine, ten and eleven.

Now, in the state due south of where I live, such child labor is unlawful. Or so I’m told. I do know that illegal Mexicans pick most of those crops. Progress?

Harping on sweat shops and factory work by children makes moderns feel good about themselves. It is much like imagining themselves as great opponents of slavery — despite their lack of interest in slavery rampant, today, in the Islamic world.

Harping on sweat shops and factory work by children means never having to think about context, progress, wealth creation, or even what actual conditions in most of these situations were really like. I have never met a progressive who talks about this who has read one word of the current scholarly literature on the subject. They are merely repeating stuff pushed to them by brainless high school teachers and Marxist college professors.

Every time I mention that rates of child labor were plummeting prior to child labor being regulated and then prohibited, I get blank looks or eyebrows of incredulity.

Some day these uninformed ideologues may realize that they are merely ignorant buffoons parroting dogmas of little value.

By then, though, they will have supported dozens of insane regulations and deceitful politicians.