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A Thought Experiment

As the years turn into decades and the decades into centuries, young people running through the education system in America will (and have) become accustomed to this way of educating people and are likely to think of no other way possible. The government can do many good things (more on this in a later post) but I contend that few people are skeptical of its expanse, corruption, graft, etc. that limit how effective the government in the real world can actually be. The myth of good government and all kinds of anti-market sentiments are pushed heavily in the Ed schools (which in my view ought to be eliminated entirely) and in the K12 schools. With this in mind, I was reflecting on a thought experiment proposed long ago by Murray Rothbard (I understand many of my readers are not warm to Rothbard, I have mixed feelings about him):

But one instructive exercise is to try to abandon the habitual ways of seeing things, and to consider the argument for the State de novo. Let us try to transcend the fact that for as long as we can remember, the State has monopolized police and judicial services in society. Suppose that we were all starting completely from scratch, and that millions of us had been dropped down upon the earth, fully grown and developed, from some other planet. Debate begins as to how protection (police and judicial services) will be provided. Someone says: “Let’s all give all of our weapons to Joe Jones over there, and to his relatives. And let Jones and his family decide all disputes among us. In that way, the Joneses will be able to protect all of us from any aggression or fraud that anyone else may commit. With all the power and all the ability to make ultimate decisions on disputes in the hands of Jones, we will all be protected from one another. And then let us allow the Joneses to obtain their income from this great service by using their weapons, and by exacting as much revenue by coercion as they shall desire.” Surely in that sort of situation, no one would treat this proposal with anything but ridicule. For it would be starkly evident that there would be no way, in that case, for any of us to protect ourselves from the aggressions, or the depredations, of the Joneses themselves. No one would then have the total folly to respond to that long-standing and most perceptive query: “Who shall guard the guardians?” by answering with Professor Black’s blithe: “Who controls the temperate?” It is only because we have become accustomed over thousands of years to the existence of the State that we now give precisely this kind of absurd answer to the problem of social protection and defense.

And I would argue forcefully the same of education.

2 Responses to “A Thought Experiment”

  1. Rod says:

    It’s a whole lot harder these days to send your kids to college, as tuition has risen faster than the cost of everything else.

    My parents were children of the Depression. Neither one of them finished college because of hard times, and the same thing happened for many of their friends. When my brother and I neared college age, it was not a foregone conclusion that we would go, either: we had to do well enough in school to make it worth doing. Nonetheless, going to college had become an expectation of kids growing up in what was considered a middle-class family. What’s more, it was something that was within the financial reach of ordinary middle class people, with or without “financial aid.”

    Because my parents refused to fill out the forms for financial aid, they paid the full freight for tuition at a private college, times two. It was a hardship, but it was still something one could do as long as one deferred the purchase of new cars or other major items until the kids were through with college.

    Now, however, those same middle class families are faced with a socialistic financial aid scheme if they want to send their kids to college. If one saves for college, the college will expect one to use up all savings plus any un-utilized equity on one’s house before they will offer a dime of financial aid. On the other hand, if one mortgages everything to the hilt and spends every available dollar on consumer possessions and vacations, the college will grant scholarships and enable the borrowing of tens of thousands of dollars. The more irresponsible you are, the better chance you have at putting all your kids through.

    The good news: inflation bails out borrowers at the expense of investors.

  2. chuck martel says:

    Rothbard’s critique of state monopoly of behavior enforcement doesn’t really correlate with education. While the state can use force to collect taxes and punish transgressions, it can’t, at least at this point, forbid alternative accounts of history, interpretations of events or philosophical viewpoints. Those who are interested can still independently research the ideas of Bastiat, Mill, Spencer, Sumner, etc, even Rothbard.. Unfortunately, most students have other things on their mind. Aside from sex, they are more concerned with clothing, music, sports, parties and the other excitements of student life. Later they will feel that their learning has been completed and the concepts of government and society given them by the state-controlled educational system will be accepted as normal. They will be comfortable with a government that dominates every aspect of their lives and, in fact, be unable to imagine any other kind of life.

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