Education

Crusty Old Libertarians Spar Over Public Education

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Wendy McElroy, who is working on a full bio of the amazing R.C. Hoiles, former editor and publisher of the Orange County Register and America's greatest quasi-anarchist newsman of the 20th century, reproduces in full some great correspondence between Hoiles and libertarian supereconomist Ludwig Von Mises from 1949, which I alluded to in my history of the libertarian movement, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

In it they spar over the propriety of public eduction. Round one highlights, from Hoiles to Mises:

The part of [Human Action, Mises gigantic masterwork on economics] that you really did contradict yourself, and which is rather serious, is on page 872 where you make this statement: "In countries which are not harassed by struggles between various linguistic groups public education can work very well if it is limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic." I have repeatedly contended that even if pubic education was limited to these branches, the fact that some people were compelled to pay who did not want to have their children taught or who had no children, was teaching by example that the majority had a right to coerce the minority to pay for anything the majority wanted. If that is not the worse kind of government intervention, I do not know what intervention means…..

When you make this one concession you are denying that our government is limited in what it has a right to do. It seems to me that intervention by the government is just the same thing as initiating force. Understand, I am not opposed to the use of force to stop someone from initiating force, but the government has no right to initiate force…..

I would certainly be glad to have you explain how you can harmonize such a statement with the rest of the book. When you make such a statement, it looks to me as though you are setting yourself up as God, and that you know how far the government should go and how far it should not go. It is so serious that I think you should have a little slip printed up correcting this and have it put in the back of the book.

I think public schools are bound to destroy the country because they create public opinion that sanctions and endorses government intervention in an unhampered market. 

At the end of the letter, Hoiles buys 10 copies of Human Action from Mises. Hoiles still loves the book.

Mises tries to defend himself against the pugnacious publisher, but doesn't really seem to get to Hoiles' main points. Hoiles rears back up:

The English language doesn't mean a thing if you say you were not expressing an opinion of page 872 where you say: "In countries which are not harassed by struggles between various linguistic groups public education can work very well if it is limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic." Does not the phrase "works very well" express a good thing…?

I contend….that it does great harm because it teaches the youth of the land that their parents are not responsible for the support or education of their children and that the parents have a right to gang up and make those people who do not want public education pay for it….it is the worst form of interference with an unhampered market. it takes from an individual who wants to education his own children part of his life energy and part of his income….

Mises has written of how Hoiles' opinion seemed to require unanimity for government action, whereas the U.S. Constitution worked on a majority-rule principle. Hoiles strikes back:

If we are to study governments that will permit or encourage an unhampered market we must not look at history. There never has been a government that completely practiced or even completely sympathized with an unhampered market. The principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence approach it nearer than any other governmental document that I ever know of. The Constitution was a bad compromiser…..Did you know that William Garrison said the Constitution was in league with the devil and burned it? It sanctioned slavery, and slavery is the very antithesis of an unhampered market.

I wrote my own good thoughts about Hoiles back in 2007.


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  1. See, it seems so unfair to make people pay for the education of their future fellow citizens. Much more fair is to have people’s liftetime opportunities sharply curtailed by whose vagina they happened to fall out of!

    But apart from ‘fairness’ public education is a great example of a public good where everyone benefits so everyone should have to pay. The more people who are educated in a democracy and modern economy the less pathologies and more wealth there are for everyone concerned.

    1. Is this a spoof?

      1. Hey, so, nobody likes the idea of mandatory registration to comment on H&R, but the spoofing is getting pretty crazy.

        How about non-mandatory registration, and unregistered posters can’t use a name that’s taken by a registered user? Best of both worlds?

        1. (registered users would need a “Joke Handle” field added to the commenting interface, naturally.)

          1. Can we use joke handles to spoof? Because otherwise some asshole is going to take all the good joke handles. Personally, as someone who uses an average of one joke handle a day, I must protest any restriction on handle usage.

            1. registered users will always* have their email linked from their name, joke-handle or not. (*Visible to other registered users, or to everyone, profile/registration setting.)

              I still think spoofers should fess up and modify the name of their target to better represent the spoof. Bad Form, Peter. But we’d have a mouseover to confirm the less polite spoofers.

              1. Rules? There’s no rules. There’s no rules in anarchy!

        2. Let’s avoid changing H&R’s format yet again, shall we? Threaded comments were a brutal and unfortunate change; what do you think registration–even non-mandatory–will do?

          1. Thank you for your generous advice on how to guard the hen house

          2. P Brooks won’t have to register, and he still wont have to use threads. Ok?

          3. disclosure: i like the threads, even if they need some refinement.

            1. Hey now!

              1. I don’t usually thread my comments, but when I do, I thread them with Dos Eqis.

                1. ok, you caught me, I’m just advocating for a change that would protect me from joke-handle mishaps.

    2. So, taking a huge chunk of the income of people that could otherwise afford to educate their children without assistance, then giving it back to them in the form of a shitty union-hamstrung government service is improving people’s opportunities?

      People’s opportunities for success are curtailed by starving to death, but we didn’t nationalize the food system to deal with the few people who can’t afford food in a freeish market, we just have charity, and food stamps because people don’t trust charity.

      Public education is a holy grail not because it improves opportunity — given that it fails the only communities that could be said to really need it, it’s worthless in that regard. However, it does give one ideology an opportunity to indoctrinate an entire nation’s children. As soon as we recognize ideology as the modern form of religion and start utilizing the First Amendment accordingly, this shit will be done with.

      1. If you want to argue that public education is not the best means to open up opportunities for all, be my guest (I don’t think you will win that argument since a good chunk of people could not afford quality private educations even if their tax money were returned to them). My post was about those like Hoiles who want to argue it is “unfair.” Not only is the alternative more unfair but seeing as how all benefit from opportunities opened up for all it would be unfair to not make everyone pay.

        1. It’s way too easy to use that line of reasoning to rationalize coercive action of all sorts. Hey, everyone benefits from the opportunities opened up by capitalism. Let’s allow CEOs to levy taxes on the public. Hey, everyone benefits from the moral instruction provided by churches. Let’s create a state church.

          Disagree with the premise? Well, I’m sure plenty of people disagree with your premise.

          If you think everyone benefits from schools, then open schools up to donations and let’s see if “everyone” agrees enough to open up their wallet. It’s pretty easy to claim a program is wonderful and beneficial for society if it’s predominantly someone else’s problem to fund it.

          1. The premise is not the problem with your “everyone benefits from capitalism therefore CEO’s should be publicly funded” it’s the logic.

            The more educated people are the better chance they have at being productive members of society rather than social drags and/or threats. The streets become safer for everyone and the society becomes more productive. It’s a better society that has benefits for all, so everyone should pay for those benefits.

            Of course, it is also the fair thing to do for kids who otherwise would have little opportunties.

            1. “The more educated people are the better chance they have at being productive members of society rather than social drags and/or threats. The streets become safer for everyone and the society becomes more productive. It’s a better society that has benefits for all, so everyone should pay for those benefits.”

              How much of that is correlation and how much is causation? The same attributes that inhibit broader social success inhibit educational success, and vice versa, so pointing out that there aren’t many gangbangers with PhDs doesn’t mean that graduate studies will transform a thug into something better.

              Some people are by their nature not going to be terribly productive members of society. Retarded people would be the extreme case, but it’s a sliding scale. 12 years of brainwashing isn’t going to do nearly as much for dumb people as a year of vocational training, something that primary education tries to avoid, instead serving as half-assed college prep for a group of people that in large part don’t belong in college.

            2. The more educated people are the better chance they have at being productive members of society rather than social drags and/or threats.

              Are you seriously arguing that public inner-city schools controlled by teachers unions result in “more educated” citizens than a free market system of schools would produce?

              Or are you confusing “time spent behind a desk” with “better educated”?

            3. MNG claims, falsely:

              The more educated people are the better chance they have at being productive members of society…

              And then MNG commits non-sequitur:

              …The streets become safer for everyone and the society becomes more productive. It’s a better society that has benefits for all…

              to get to his or her bogus conclusion:

              … so everyone should pay for those benefits.

              MNG does not get the whole of economics, which hinges on the one, true, great, invariant law — the Law of Prices.

              The Law of Prices holds that the winning bids of demand in the face of supply set the price. If ever more persons are educated, the supply of labor for any particular activity increases.

              This lets entrepreneurs substitute labor for tools (aka intermediate goods, aka capital), making the per unit output per capita fall. Said another way, the productivity of each worker falls even in the face of total output (productivity) rising.

              In so far as the non-sequitur, streets do not “become safer” (presumably a metaphor for individuals become safer) because other persons work. Persons become safer when others learn to do to others as they would want done to themselves. The educated BTK killer worked as a government employee for dozens of years. Ted Bundy was in law school.

              The obligation is MNG’s to show the correlation between education and morality.

              Because MNG’s major premise is wrong — more education gives more chance to be productive — and MNG’s minor premise is wrong (the non-sequitor), it follows necessarily that MNG’s conclusion is wrong — that bogus business about how everyone should pay.

              That MNG joker should quit while he or she is so far behind and perhaps take up knitting or archery or stumbling on StumbleUpon rather than stumbling on Reason.com

        2. Everyone should pay for the poor and middle-class (and up) should pay for their own kids schooling. There you will have lower taxes and you can address educating the poor. You can even use private schools to educate the poor with public dollars.

        3. Education (note the lack of public preceeding the word) *is* the best means to open up opportunities. As a former school teacher and current technical trainer I firmly believe that.

          I’d love to start a school that works thusly: Students/parents pay anywhere from $0 to full cost of “tuition”; contract for schooling has a provision that gives my school a certain (tiny) percentage of the student’s income each year they work as an adult–the more the tuition paid, the smaller the percentage. All students pay at least something back to the school each year. If my school has done its job–made the students productive members of society–then my school profits. And as you can see, it will take quite a while for my school to begin to reap the benefits; I’m in it for the long-haul. Obviously, lots of details to work out–but there’s a private, incentive-based way to eduacate all, independent of current income.

          1. You just reinvented banking and loans.

            If you’re poor but want to be a plumber, convince the bank you’ll be a good enough plumber to pay back the loan and interest.

            BAM poor people becoming wealthy plumbers.

          2. Didn’t indentured servitude go out when Colonialists began importing slaves?

    3. public education is a great example of a public good

      That explains a great deal about the quality of public education.

    4. I am not persuaded by your assertion.

      Not in the slightest.

      Political control of education must necessarily become doctrinal and promoting of subservience.

      That does not produce a citizenry capable of managing government, but rather a people managed by government.

  2. The more people who are educated in a democracy and modern economy the less pathologies and more wealth there are for everyone concerned.

    Assuming this is true, the question remains: how do we get the most education stuffed into the most people? I’m not sure that mandatory taxpayer funded institutions are the answer.

    1. “stuffing” probably isn’t involved in whatever that answer is.

  3. MNG- Is 25 April the real April Fools’ Day? You can’t really mean what you have written.

    1. That looks like standard MNG to me, possibly a good spoof. What has you thinking otherwise?

  4. that you really did contradict yourself, and which is rather serious, is on page 872 where you make this statement:

    WHOA. Ok, Chonyrissmaxward, THIS^^ is what a citation looks like.

  5. My good friend is a teacher in Bronx, NY making about $67k/year in a union job.

    She has 32 kids in her 6th grade class and says ONLY 5 are worth educating.

    Being the liberal that I am, I asked her what does she need from the tax payer? Most of these kids don’t really have functioning parents. Even if you do as she suggests (hiring more teachers and making class sizes of 10), there’s no one there to do homework with them.

    We can blame slavery, the parents, drugs, the white man, the black man. However, no matter who you blame, the problem appears to have no cure.

    And, with the american libertarian movement growing so strong. I can only see these class sizes going to 100.

    Back to the argument, libertarians are inherently middle and upper middle class (if not millionaires). I’ve never met a poor libertarians. SO I can see how the conservatives, libertarians, and some of the wealthy can say ‘Fuck these kids’. DOn’t get me wrong. Many people in the hood would be open to PRIVATE EDUCATION and getting rid of that GARBAGE they call the PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

    You will ALWAYS HAVE PUBLIC schools for the failing kids. These kids, can learn with smaller classrooms. Or more teachers. Perhaps we can create public schools for these kids only and have a means-test to keep out the middle class and the wealthy. This would keep taxes low and improve education for all.

    1. What you describe is not “school”; it is “day care” or even “children’s day prison”. Once again, your “liberal” solution is to force kids who do not belong and often do not want to be in school into classrooms with kids who do want to be there and can benefit from being there.

      I know these distinctions are hard for someone of your limited intelligence to grasp, but give it a try, Cheech.

      1. I say have options. Get rid of the BOard of Ed. Have all privately run schools…Very libertarian of me.

        But for the poor, you’re better off with the clandestine prisons/daycare. The fact is, many of kids can be saved. And some, there’s nothing you can do.

        1. You really are a piece of shit. “You’re better off with the clandestine prisons/daycare.” It’s beyond laughable that you consider yourself compassionate.

          1. what else do you do with these people?

            I’ve been in these classrooms. They have armed police, metal detectors, and some of them have detention centers. I’ve seen 14yo boys sucking their thumbs.

            I’m sorry, Epi, I just can’t think of a better solution than militarized baby-sitting for the most violent. But that doesn’t make up for ALL of the kids.

            Have educational prisons for the most violent that are not PUBLIC and funnel tax dollars to them.

            1. You want to imprison kids who haven’t committed a crime, but are just neglected, stupid, or don’t want to be there. You’re a fucking totalitarian.

              1. Holy shit Epi! Did Christ rise at your apartment this weekend? Don’t confuse me with a streak of decency. We all know you kidnap babies from cribs and ship them in ‘live cat’ boxes to Sugarfree-I heard he eats them

            2. what else do you do with these people?

              They, hopefully, go to work with a parent. I loved days-off when I’d get to “work” at the orchard with my mom. Good Times. And by “Good” I mean “Tasty and Filling.”

              1. and yes, “days off” != “every damn day”. So, the kids will get less slacking and snacking, and more tasks that are productive. OMFG CHILD LABOR!11!! Yeah, under parental supervision. DECREASED PRODUCTIVITY111!111, meh, reduce pay if it’s really a problem for your employees. Somehow I doubt most Americans could perceptively decrease their productivity. For the employee, the “pay reduction” is made up by the reduced school-bill/tax burden (in an ideal world.)

        2. Getting rid of the Board of education is not the same thing as getting rid of public education.

    2. Why have government schools if not for the dipshit parents who can’t or won’t take care of their kids?

      The parents who care about their kids’ education will find a way to make the sacrifices necessary, whether financial sacrifices to get private schooling or tutoring, or time sacrifices to home school or help their kids where the public school teacher failed.

      Public education fails at the only task it could arguably be useful for. Scrap the fucker.

    3. In the past, many of those children would have been educated by non-profit schools run by churches and other charities.

      Other children would be apprenticed out.

      Forcing children who do not want to learn to sit in a classroom means that teachers will be forced to spend time dealing them, interrupting or slowing down the learning the pace of learning of the children who want to be there.

      1. In the past, many of those children would have found work.

        ftfy.

        1. -5pts for not reading the whole comment before posting. *self flagellation*

    4. Back to the argument, libertarians are inherently middle and upper middle class (if not millionaires). I’ve never met a poor libertarians.

      You don’t know anyone who voted for Nixon, either, do you?

      At what income level is one allowed to be a libertarian, in your view?

      1. Monocles.

    5. She has 32 kids in her 6th grade class and says ONLY 5 are worth educating.

      I think it speaks volumes about public education that she has given up on 27 out of 32 kids.

      I say ALL 32 are “worth” educating. If your point is that that particular public school is failing to teach about 80% of the students, that is a pretty damning indictment of that public school. It should be shuttered and the kids sent somewhere with effective teachers.

      1. This. There are Charter schools that are rising up and proving that you can educate these same kids. Stop blaming the damn kids and the parents because you are a shitty teacher.

    6. “Back to the argument, libertarians are inherently middle and upper middle class (if not millionaires). I’ve never met a poor libertarians.”

      Ok, so I’m just another anonymous name on the internet. I get that. And you may not ever even read this, but I’ll put it out there anyway.

      I’m poor. I’m a libertarian. I’m a self taught computer engineer. Industry certified by CompTIA, for all the good that does. I do not have a degree, so to most potential employers, I’m invisible.

      I haven’t had a job in over a year. I haven’t received a single penny in unemployment benefits. I have no insurance and no source of income. I’ve been living entirely off of savings. I once went a month eating nothing but plain white rice and boiled eggs to be able to save enough to pay my rent.

      The point of all this is that I believe in personal responsibility. The libertarian philosophy is the only political philosophy that I’ve encountered that appears to have any respect for personal responsibility at all. So please, don’t tell me that only wealthy people are willing to be held accountable for themselves.

      1. Crazy question, but were you ever in the Air Force?

  6. It turns out to be very hard to pay for other people’s education. Schooling? That we’ve solved. Throw tons of taxpayer money at monopolistic institutions that excel at producing a never-ending counterculture in and outside of classrooms, and, in many locations, surprisingly good sports teams. Aside from that, they also excel at producing high school graduates who can barely read, and cannot write a decent paragraph.

    America’s public schools are an embarrassment to the country. For a real education, people are increasingly turning to home schooling – though that’s also a refuge for educational scoundrels, too.

    1. Not all public schools, in my neighborhood they are amazing. However, high taxes and property values keep the poor out. And, that’s by design. We pay about $12k to educate a child. The kids from the ‘other-side-of-the-track’ cost the tax payer $27k. And, unfortunately for these kids, they have no choice. They should be given choices. I’m sure with the right mix of educators and business people, we can come up with private schools for ghetto kids.

      1. The market will do that. It really will. Just like the market provides grocery stores that accept cash from the poor who got it from public assistance programs, private schools will accept cash from the poor who got it from public assistance programs.

        1. Are you saying there are actually things for which I can’t pay cash?

          So much for Legal Tender.

  7. By the way, Hoiles’s most interesting argument is that socializing the costs of educating children decreases parental responsibility. And we wonder why parents, today, are so irresponsible! Generations of Americans raised in public schools. Simple answer.

  8. To add an alternative classical liberal/libertarian perspective, I think public education is a worthwhile investment because it is arguably the only form of welfare that has the capability to more than pay for itself in the long term. In my opinion, public education should be considered the “playing field leveller” to correct the past effects of oppressive historical government policies and cycles of poverty caused by government.

    Beyond that, there should be little to no welfare except for emergency crisis response and assistance for the mentally and physically handicapped. Education is the only way to really create an economically mobile, meritocratic society, in which people have no real excuse to ask for forceably extracted handouts later in life.

    Of course, the system as implemented has been an utter failure in most regards, perpetuating the cycles of poverty instead of breaking them – and alternatives should be explored as much as possible. But as a concept, public education is probably the only form of welfare that can be called an “investment” and that can have real returns, as well as a net reduction of government in the long term.

    1. In my opinion, public government education should be considered the “playing field leveller” to correct the past effects of oppressive historical government policies and cycles of poverty caused by government.

    2. I don’t know. How much of our education really counts as human capital? I’m reasonably intelligent, reasonably educated, and doing reasonably skilled work, but the only thing most of my schooling prepared me for was arguing on the internet without making too many deliberate grammatical mistakes. Math was somewhat useful, but all the job-relevant stuff I learned in college, and while I like a lot of courses I took, especially the AP stuff, none of them turned out to be relevant from a productivity perspective. Seems like a really inefficient way of doing things. Teaching a man to fish doesn’t take 16 years.

      1. but the only thing most of my schooling prepared me for was arguing on the internet without making too many deliberate grammatical mistakes.

        Private School fancy-paints. pants. DAMMIT PUBLIC SCHOOL!!!!

      2. I would certainly agree with you that the current system is unaffordable and unsatisfactory in almost every regard.

        One problem is that high school focuses too much on shit that doesn’t matter and not enough on shit that does (consumer finance, vocational training, civics, economics, business, web design, applied math, etc.) It seems to me that most of the stuff public schoolkids learn in the senior year of HS could be learned by the 8th grade (i.e. be literate and quantitatively competent), and HS could be a combination of advanced classes and practical training for the real world, assuming that students won’t go to college (or wouldn’t need to with this advanced training.) Consumer finance is especially underemphasized, and in my opinion should be one of the most important fields – especially if you see school as an investment that should pay for itself and alleviate poverty. Alleviation of poverty is critical to liberty from a practical and ethical standpoint.

    3. I’m afraid that they’re gonna call u a liber-tard and a pinko.

      1. Libertard and pinko are opposites, you know? And my thinking is firmly rooted in Adam Smith and Thomas Paine.

    4. Jesus Fucking Christ. It will never end.

  9. Education is the only way to really create an economically mobile, meritocratic society, in which people have no real excuse to ask for forceably extracted handouts later in life.

    Even Ann O’Connor asked for handouts later in life you know.

    1. (Give me strength.)

      It is obvious, in such cases, that a man receives his own money which was taken from him by force, directly and specifically, without his consent, against his own choice. Those who advocated such laws are morally guilty, since they assumed the “right” to force employers and unwilling co-workers. But the victims, who opposed such laws, have a clear right to any refund of their own money?and they would not advance the cause of freedom if they left their money, unclaimed, for the benefit of the welfare-state administration.

      1. For what it’s worth, there is ample evidence that, in her youth, she accepted goods and services from the COMMUNISTS on multiple occasions.

        I can’t believe nobody points that out. What a hypocritical bitch.

    1. What’s up with that porno? There’s a chick chewing on a condom. This isn’t the place for that.

      1. This isn’t the place for that.

        I thought this was definitely the place for bad-spam-that-somehow-always-gets-through-the-filter-meanwhile-the-filter-just-screws-with-everyone-else-making-“legitamte”-comments.

  10. I really don’t get why parents don’t have more “skin in the game” than non-parents. I don’t agree that it’s everyone’s responsibility to pay for education. I need someone to mow my lawn and haul the garbage and they don’t need a diploma. It should cost you a ton to have a child.

  11. Speaking of crusty libertarians, check out what the crusy progressive had to say (it answers all the questions about what we’re dealing with now.)

    http://www.intellectualtakeout…..ion-reform

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