Alan Stevens - AWAH - Libertarianism, Freedom.
Education and The University of life – Part 2
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
The state sponsored education monopolies in the West have been yet another big-state failure. Productive people have paid dearly, only to be abused by ideologically possessed state bureaucrats. What would happen in a Free Society?
Taxpayers have paid to support an educational system which not just economically draining but is also ideologically hostile to their values, prosperity and freedom. Education’s historical tendency to involve more indoctrination than enlightenment has been pressed into the service of the predator state.
Only a profound shake-up carried out in a free, private-law society can undo the damage and enable young people find their productive place in the world.
SYMPTOMS OF LEFTIST INDOCTRINATION
One can’t help noticing that the more years of ‘education’ a person has, the more likely he or she is to believe in bogus science. It was supposed to be that educated people could understand logical arguments. In particular they could grasp the principles of the key scientific method on which so much depends. They should be well equipped to reject notions such as climate change and coronavirus alarmism. But they don’t.
The problem is graduates in particular, especially in the humanities. Extra years out of the real world in the hands of mainly Marxist professors do not make them more employable. The truth is the state employs most such graduates, directly or indirectly. The public sector is full of them. Even in the private sector they often work in professional monopolies underwritten by the state and often paid by it such as Law, Medicine or Accountancy. Or for ‘corrupt corporates’ (also known as ‘crony capitalists’). These are the many big companies whose profits depend on using state power to exploit consumers and suppress competition.
So maybe it makes perfect sense that graduates, especially inexperienced younger graduates, support big state nonsenses like climate change and coronavirus alarmism. They also support the biggest nonsense of all, belief in socialism and the benevolent technocratic state, even though the projected socialist paradises all fell flat on their faces. But arguments based on evidence, logic and the normal scientific method fail with a generation ‘educated’ not to believe in such things.
There has been a century of uninterrupted socialist failure, mayhem and death in all its myriad Communist, Fascist, Maoist forms. There has been consistent under performance by social democratic societies compared to freer societies. The state centric model of the world clearly has a bad record. But of all this many young graduates seem wholly unaware. Possibly they have not been taught history. Possibly they fear deep down that they are permanently unemployable by anyone but the state. Which is a terrible burden for anyone to bear.
A LIBERTARIAN AND CONSERVATIVE RESPONSE
The correct response to post modernism’s insight that there are infinite ways to perceive reality is to point out that only a very few ways are viable - as Jordan Peterson explains. The others don’t work. Basic evolutionary forces operate constantly within and between societies. They ruthlessly weed out unviable ways-of-being in the world.
Britain’s traditional toolkit of liberty, family, private property, equality before (judge-made) law, and respect for objectively determined truth was wholly viable. Our remarkable past success shows this. These things were freely chosen. They worked to make people as prosperous as the technology of the time allowed, and as happy as human nature allows. They are supported by believers in liberty, and by those who would conserve a better past.
Most people believe, or perhaps they just assume, that the state and its allies should have the legal right to rob or coerce productive people. That belief needs to be rejected in favour of the libertarian vision of private-law societies. There everyone will be equal before the law. There will be no risk of Marxist takeover in a society with no state to implement one. There will not be tribute taken to support, train and indoctrinate more generations of would-be predators and parasites.
And there will be no interference in the crucial task of preparing people to participate in a free society. Which means that society would develop new and sometimes unexpected ways of helping young people find their place in the world. Which could be very different.
SCHOOLING IN A FREE, PRIVATE-LAW SOCIETY
Some things are clear. Schooling costs would collapse. Currently we have monopoly schooling established by law. Like any other legally privileged monopolies, it goes on costing more and achieving less. In any free market productive people will find what they think works best for them and their children. All artificial price structures and costs will vanish. The £10,000 per annum cost to taxpayers per state school pupil will end.
The inefficient use of capital-intensive school facilities and of playing fields caused by literally medieval holidays timetables is just one obvious example of institutionalized waste.
Technology everywhere else in life has cut the real cost of virtually everything by improving labour productivity. Yet education still puts an expensive full-time teacher and (often nowadays) a teaching assistant in every class. Originally, university ‘lecturers’ were so called because they - and school teachers generally - literally read (lecturer meant reader not speaker) aloud from hand-copied books to students. Pupils couldn’t afford such books themselves. There used to be no alternative to this format. Now there is. Books have been cheap for some time. Students can read them themselves. Interactive software off the internet is cheaper still. Time for a change.
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
The underlying choice is between parents controlling schooling of their children in a free society, or control by a school, especially as part of a state bureaucracy.
To recap, formal schools developed because the few pupils destined for city state politics or, later, church or state bureaucracies, needed full time specialized instruction. This instruction would not equip pupils for most productive activities as farmers or tradesmen.
The Humanities curriculum was an evolved response to the requirements of the universities and their ultimate employing institutions, all of which were part of the state (and state church) sponsored extraction of value from productive people. In particular, until the last two centuries, pupils had to learn Latin, the international language of western Christendom. The grammar in Grammar School was not English but Latin. (And English grammar schools taught in French, the language of the conquering Norman nobles, until the mid-fourteenth century.)
This led to the peculiar arrangement where a few youngsters of the same age and general level of ignorance were segregated from the adult world and made to learn a specifically academic curriculum. For the longest time most children didn’t go to school. To help the family survive in pre-industrial times, the children of the abjectly poor half of the population were put to any work in the home or the fields which might aid survival. The groups above them were only slightly more prosperous. Preparation for life was home based and informal – especially as almost everybody worked from home, either on the farm or in the workshop.
Later on, as we have seen, in the nineteenth century living standards rose so much that children could be let off working. It also became common for men and, initially, unmarried women to be employed away from home ‘at work’. Children therefore went to school until twelve to learn the three Rs - reading, writing and reckoning.
Even after most women went to work and schools became taxpayer-funded babysitting services, most schools characteristically declined to change their highly inconvenient hours and term times. This is merely another instance of a state sponsored monopoly’s unwillingness to trouble itself to suit its captive customers.
This will all change in a free society with no state deformation of the key task of helping the young grow up into useful adults. The parents, and as they grow the children too, will be in the driving seat. They could then delegate much of the teaching to single entities, schools if you like, willing to manage each child’s portfolio of learning activities, of physical and mental education.
But some households may well make themselves the centre of education management. So, as many have discovered during the lockdowns, internet home-schooling resources have come on a long way. Home-schooled children have better results than children at any class of school on average – at least in the US. There are home-schooling courses on the internet which can be used inexpensively to supplement parental instruction and example. One such is the Ron Paul home-schooling course (See the link from this website to the Ron Paul Institute).
DECENTRALISATION OF INFORMATION AND THE UNIVERSITY OF LIFE
The internet makes it possible to acquire information easily which could only be gained by formalised training just a few years ago. This is so basic that it is easy to overlook. A few minutes of research now will reveal effective training videos on how to brew beer, care for bees, transfer bitcoin or get the tube off BBQ gas canisters. There are also podcasts and audio books on the most abstruse and intellectual topics, as well as the more practical.
And many people of all ages are getting a much fuller range of information than the mainstream media (MSM) provides. The correct understanding of the coronavirus fiasco, of climate change alarmism or of the 9/11 narrative, has been almost entirely nurtured by the internet. There you can watch incisive videos put out by scientists uncorrupted by big state narratives. Only those who rely on the MSM need remain information-poor nowadays.
It has suited the school and certainly state bureaucracies to keep schooling in a curriculum straitjacket for, literally, ages. Certain skills arguably remain indispensable and need to be taught by someone. But not many. My daughter is hopeless at geography, for example, but knows perfectly well that there is a map app on the phone in case of need. So too is a highly effective language learning app in Duolingo, and mobile phones will translate for you in real time soon enough.
Education in a free society, like everything there, will not just be better value but also much less one-size-fits-all. Children soak up whatever interests them. Now they can follow their interests so much more easily. I suspect there will be far more scope for them to start identifying the skills and interests that will guide their choice of occupation at an earlier stage. But what future schooling would actually look like in detail we will have to wait to find out. Because many of the innovations have not yet been made.
One likely outcome is that children will spend their teens much more out in the world and less in schooling of any kind. There they will be in the University of Life. They will be acquiring valuable knowledge and experience, not to mention income.
The world is kept going by productive people doing all the hard work of voluntarily cooperating with others to create value. It is a demanding job. And this is still true in the West where so many people have been seduced into living off resources extorted from the productive core. Amongst productive people in the real world there is however a learning dynamic which is completely alien to much of what has passed for education.
To engage in voluntary exchange means the chance to gain a lot but also to lose. You need to make judgements about the reality of each proposed exchange. Does it conform to a viable explanation of how the world works? Are the assumptions about the pros and cons realistic? Are they logical? Are there contrary pieces of information available which should be considered? What information - possibly currently unknown to any other person – would help evaluate the hypotheses on which success will depend?
In other words, in dealings in the real world, people have to develop all the essentials of rational logical enquiry which is supposed to be taught by formal education – but isn’t. How else can one explain the inability of ‘educated’ opinion to see the coronavirus fiasco for what it is, other than as a total failure of the state education monopoly? Maybe the West developed its previous habits of analytical thought because enough of its people were free enough to need these workable ways of thinking to cooperate.
THE END OF THE UNIVERSITY?
It is a big task unpicking the university problem but a start must be made. Libertarians have at least one major intellectual advantage over statists and other enemies of liberty. We cannot invoke the state as a get-out clause to save us thinking about a problem. You know the type of thing; ‘I assume a perfect state will sort everything out just the way I want it’. We have to try to think things through from first principles, which the left wing does not do. And it’s inadmissible to say let’s just close the universities down because that is incompatible with the Non-aggression Principle.
Firstly, the typical big campus university is a composite entity. Most likely there is still the theology faculty where it all began. Easily separable out from the university too, are what amount to potentially independent training institutions such as Schools of Medicine, Law, and of the many forms of Engineering and IT.
As soon as the state decided to rob taxpayers to provide professional training free at the point of use, it made sense for employers of engineers, lawyers, doctors etc. not to bother to train people up at their expense. Plus, they could use the requirement to have a degree and then get postgraduate credentials to restrict entry to the professions. The American medical profession has made a specialty of restricting medical school capacity to jack up salaries spectacularly in their closed shop.
The extension of schooling into the late teens also knocked out hybrid learning on the job and working formats (‘apprenticeships’). These arrangements were naturally more effective and inexpensive than the massive university cost-push machine can achieve. Young people had a real incentive to identify the right arrangement for them. They also would have the incalculable advantage of using the teen years well, so that by their twenties most young people would be in some sense competent.
In a free society there will be no closed shops and restrictions on entry into any profession or business (such restrictions contravene the NAP). Therefore, the element of genuinely necessary training for a profession would be separated out from the costly guff that is all about getting into some closed shop to exploit consumers unprotected by cushy deals.
Professional training would typically start, and end, earlier in life, cost less, be more focused. It would take place in varying degrees in the workplace, on line or in specialised training organisations, depending on what was discovered to work best.
THE CORE OF THE UNIVERSITY
Separating out what amounts to professional training leaves the core of the University. It is surprisingly like the old Humanitas curriculum with more science (and less rhetoric and music) thrown in. What can one say about that? Well, there is the question of quality, the question of cost - the best institutional arrangements for transmitting the great tradition – and the question of who pays.
First quality. My children are both going to university to study English. Except of course with the current lockdown lunacy they are not physically going anywhere. But they are listening to their lecturers online. On the face of it this is actually odd.
The situation is a bit like Italian Opera singers before modern sound reproduction technology and cheap travel. Italian cities would all proudly maintain their own opera houses and singers. The opera singers could only be heard in person. Inevitably they would be good but generally not absolutely top rate. Still for almost everybody they were the only accessible singers. Then came the modern world. Everyone can now hear and see the best opera singers in the world anytime and anyplace on line. And in person, if they fly relatively inexpensively to the world-cities where talent congregates.
The state generally uses its bullying power to protect established vested interests from having to adjust to the legitimate demands of their fellow human beings. Teachers and university professors have been protected more than opera singers. It is likely that my children are not listening to the best lecturers worldwide in their subjects, though it would cost no more for them to do so.
There will be a small number of brilliant teachers in each subject globally accessible online. Effective follow up monitoring and supplementary teaching arrangements could be provided for students at much lower cost. The least one can say is that instruction at all levels would need many fewer teachers, lecturers and administrators, and therefore much less in the way of facilities.
And it is not clear that the best teachers and scientists need a university at all. Speakers like Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan in their separate domains are just well-known examples of people who are supplanting Marxist riddled state university systems as dispensers of philosophical teaching and enquiry. And as Terence Kealey points out, many great scientists have been hobby scientists with little if any reliance on universities, including Darwin, Einstein and Cavendish.
COST AND RETURNS OF A DEGREE
Books are cheap now but the internet is nearly free. At the moment my children are listening to their universities’ lecturers on-line in houses rented in each university city. There is no way this justifies up to £30,000 p.a. of living costs and tuition fees. Maybe some science and technology degrees cost a lot to provide. They might have to charge more.
But most Humanities (Liberal Arts in the USA) courses are cheap to provide now and could become cheaper still. Frankly many such courses could be done as the equivalent of evening courses, and done wholly remotely. Evening classes were the traditional way that industrious people got the training and information they wanted. That way people avoided the huge extra cost of formal secondary and tertiary education. And the greatest cost is the opportunity costs of lost income and lost years of useful experience out in the real world.
By the way the opportunity cost of not working would be higher in a free society because incomes would be much higher, and they would be completely untaxed.
Once you remove the elements of a university which are engaged in professional training, or at least in enabling entry to feather-bedded professional closed shops, the financial return for the mass of students in the core updated Humanitas component of the University, including theoretical sciences, is not just meagre but negative.
Of course, in Austrian School economics terms people will still transact to get a traditional Humanities, (Liberal Arts in US terms) degree so long as they expect it to increase their wellbeing – their ‘Psychic Income’ in Austrian School terms. After all I was happy to pay to study for an MA in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American studies at Kings College, London. It was money very well spent. I am not against a properly conceived liberal education, just against ever making others pay for it.
Obviously if people want to attend a traditional university, even one promoting largely unviable and destructive ideas such as Marxism and Keynesianism, they must be free to do so in a free society. For example, I expect Oxford University would survive and probably prosper greatly as an independent institution in a private-law society. That is despite the fact that it has supplied all (I think) of Britain’s Prime Ministers who had a degree since the early 20th century. That period has seen one of the most shocking declines of any formerly great power. One could be forgiven for suspecting that something is wrong somewhere, at least in Oxford’s Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) course, which most of them took.
Well this is all very well Alan, but what about academically talented young people who can’t afford a university degree? Well there is also no justification for stiffing taxpayers to pay for what you want – it will be impossible in a free society anyway. If you want something badly enough, you can often find a way, say by working while studying and/or borrowing. But even here humanity’s profound inclination to charitable effort and care has a bearing.
For example, when I began my undergraduate degree, some of our number had won scholarships or exhibitions. Their achievement meant they had better rooms. They were certainly worth having. It also meant that they had an annual income from the college of £100 and £50 respectively. We regarded these minimal sums as something of a quaint joke.
Instead they were a message from a saner past. Until 1914, £100 was simply one hundred gold sovereigns. At the current gold price (in mid-November 2020), one hundred sovereigns are worth £35,000. That is roughly the current average annual UK income. At nearly 40 shillings a week, it would have been a good income in 1914, especially with college board and lodging. For comparison, Engels paid Karl Marx 50 shillings a week for his family to live well while he wrote Das Capital (by sending half a bank of England five-pound note weekly).
Once again, the same two lessons appear:
1) The state and its City chums really have stolen the difference between £35,000 and £100 over a century or so, in this case making those scholarships nearly worthless.
2) In a freer society there really was (and will be) ample charitable and philanthropical effort, in this case to enable academically talented youngsters to come to university.
The whole education system is a hugely expensive, dysfunctional and illiberal structure. It is ripe for demolition. Its roots lie in an academic approach to life associated historically with indoctrinating a minority of boys. They would then staff religious and state bureaucracies which predated productive people (as discussed in Part 1 of this post). The welfare/warfare state extended this problematic structure to encompass and imprison the whole population. It has been allowed it to jack up costs and dumb down its output, not to mention foisting Marxist poison on generations of young people who deserved much better.
In a free society it wouldn’t be a question of doing education better. The whole, vital business of preparing young people for life would be completely rethought by an intense entrepreneurial effort. The pillars of this effort will be interaction with newly empowered and enriched parents and businesses, and the enormous scope for much better quality, much lower cost, and much less timewasting. It’s impossible to know what exactly would arise, though, as ever, the nineteenth century experience of much greater freedom offers clues, as we have seen.
One-size-fits-all will be out. There will be a steely focus on what actually works. Things will be much less academic in every sense. Education will have to integrate back into the real world. Back to being part of the University of Life, as one might say.