Author Archives: Adam Selene

Quotes To Ponder

Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them — and then, the opportunity to choose.

— C. Wright Mills

When liberty is taken away by force it can be restored by force. When it is relinquished voluntarily by default it can never be recovered.

— Dorothy Thompson

Quote of the Day

It’s been a while since any of us posted a “quote of the day”, so it seemed to be time. And this one is so true, except that it seems more like 8 decades, not 3.

Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.

— Thomas Sowell

We could probably name 10 things without even trying. Maybe the commenters would care to start the list.

How To Not Explain Things To Libertarians

Chris Clarke, at Pandagon, has written a long article about How To Explain Things To Libertarians. As you might expect, as he leads into all of this, he gets some things wrong. The things he gets wrong are the traditional propaganda of the left related to why we need social democracy. For example:

If those don’t work, sometimes these people [ed: Libertarians] are persuaded when it’s pointed out to them that back in the late 19th century, the US essentially was the Libertarian state they now advocate, and a very few people got very wealthy while the rest of us died of food poisoning or coal mine collapses or shirtwaist factory fires.

Well, now, there is some truth to the fact that the owners of industrial corporations were getting very wealthy in that time period. There is also some truth to the fact that people were more likely to die of things like his examples than they are now. There are some inconvenient facts left out, though. Like:

  1. The US in the late 19th century was not functioning the way a classic liberal would want it to. It was not a capitalist society. Rather, it was corporatist, the government provided all sorts of benefits to corporations and the wealthy, taxed imports fairly heavily and even made the guns of the government available to the corporate owners to coerce their workers. This is hardly the stuff of classic liberal (or libertarian) philosophy, where we advocate an even playing field; i.e. equality of opportunity.
  2. Another inconvenient fact. Although, by our standards today, the average worker’s life was pretty bad, it was much better than when they had been a subsistence farmer in South Dakota. There is a reason why people left the farm, went to the city and got a job in a factory. They made more money, had more leisure time and lived longer. And they knew it. Does that mean all was sweetness and light? No, but it was better than being a farmer, which was their alternative. And it generated wealth that allowed more people to buy things, increasing the demand for industrial output, increasing the demand for workers, etc. This cycle was wealth creating, farming never could be.
  3. Those factory workers his heart bleeds for were wealthier than the previous generation. Chris is raising the typical cry of socialists in favor of equality of outcome. I haven’t the time to show why that is unworkable except with totalitarianism, but Hayek did. So, I suggest reading Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” to understand why equality of outcome leads to totalitarianism.

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Education and Liberty

In a recent thread on schools and gifted children, one of our frequent commenters said a couple of things that I think bear further discussion. First, she said:

I do believe there are successful public schools.

Well, I do too. I happen to be, from an education perspective, a product of public schools. My first two years of school were in a private school, actually, and everything else was public education. Including university for that matter (California State University). But, I sincerely believe, based on my current experience with the public education system in two different states, that the typical public education today is mediocre, at best. Then again, I don’t define success as attendance, standardized test scores and a diploma.

A significant portion of the problem here is what we define as a successful school. I consider a school to be successful that teaches students to learn and think critically. That, of course, is not in the mission statements of most schools today. In fact, I find the opposite today. I find that schools teach students to accept what authority tells them and that it teaches them to pass standardized tests rather than think critically about the material presented. Most schools view their mission as preparing children to become part of the workforce, I think an education is about being a successful citizen.

By any measure I can find, our current education system is failing, even its own defined criteria.

The fact that a few schools succeed proves the rule when we call them out as examples of what all schools could be.

The next thing our commenter said was:

I also believe that if we must continue to have government that works and a successful country, we need public schools. I think they are essential to democracy.

While there is a certain strength to this statement, it isn’t quite right in my opinion. I would say that in order to have a successful, liberal society we need schools that work. They are essential to the preservation of liberty.

Now, it seems obvious to me, that education and liberty go hand in hand. Democracy is a means, just as education is, to a desired end. That desired end, which I believe is a common goal of the great majority of the commenters and contributors on this site, is a liberal society, one that values the individual and individual rights above the collective whole. It is possible, although reasonably unlikely, to have liberty without democracy. It is quite possible to have democracy with no liberty, as we see daily around the world.

It is entirely improbably that you could have a liberal society without education. Given that, a liberal society should provide a mechanism where all citizens receive an education to a certain level. However, it seems to me, that a truly liberal society would provide publicly funded education as a safety net for those citizens that cannot provide an education themselves. A mandatory education monopoly, such as we currently have, is not a product of a liberal society. In fact, it has, in the past, been used for distinctly illiberal ends, and continues to be today.

While vouchers may not produce a perfect system, I tend to believe that competition will always work better than a given government monopoly. The sad thing about Utah’s approach is that it will isolate the public schools from market competition. There will be no incentive to improve their offering, leading to a unique situation where the public schools will actually do better financially when a student leaves the school for a private one than when the student stays. Still, many students will benefit from leaving the failed public school system.

The bottom line is two-fold. Education is essential to the preservation of liberty. Our current approach to education is a failure.

The Quest for Security of Privilege

I’m rereading F.A Hayek’s “The Road To Serfdom“. In Chapter 9, where I currently find myself, Hayek is discussing security and freedom. This seems timely, considering the conversation occuring on Doug’s post The Right Direction on Health Insurance Reform.

In this chapter of Hayek’s classic work, he discusses the quest for security and how it impacts the freedom of the individual. Beyond that, he shows that as we increase security for one segment of the population, the insecurity of the other segments necessarily increases. This applies whether we are discussing securing certain levels of income, specific jobs, or social benefits like healthcare. The basis of this is very simple. As one group has their jobs, for example, secured by society, then other groups are left to compete in a smaller market for jobs. Further, those people are going to be more significantly impacted during economic cycles than they would be if a larger pool of jobs and employees were in the free market. The more security you provide, the larger the group that has that security, the more insecure will the unprivileged groups become.

You can read the chapter yourself (here’s an online version of the book) if you like. The bottom line is that the only way to avoid this problem AND provide security of position or income or privilege is to provide perfect security to everyone. To do this requires taking away all liberty. I leave it to the reader to follow the logic on this. So, your option, if you wish to provide security, is to remove liberty.

Hayek has this very insightful thing to say about the quest for economic security (as well, it applies to security of position and privilege) on page 143 (of the 50th anniversary edition):

Thus, the more we try to provide full security by interfering with the market system, the greater the insecurity becomes; and what is worse, the greater becomes the contrast between the security of those to whom it is granted as a privilege and the ever increasing insecurity of the underprivileged.

This is precisely what has happened with healthcare in this country. As I pointed out in my post Specific Healthcare Changes, our supposedly free market healthcare system is massively regulated and subsidized. The effect of the tax subsidies, regulations requiring specific health insurance minimum standards, healthcare welfare and so forth is to create security and privilege for a subset of the population. This has, necessarily, increased the insecurity of those that do not have that security through the action of the government. If you wish to provide the most security to the most people, you have to stop providing privileged security to a subset of the whole. Or become a serf.

When the government controls all of your decisions about, and ability to get, healthcare, you have lost your freedom. You may retain the illusion of freedom by being allowed to vote in elections, or choose which doctor you will see, but you have no true freedom. Are you truly willing to sell your freedom for the illusion of security? Because even that security is an illusion. It is only secure so long as someone other than you decides it should be.

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