Fallacy Number 1: Learning should be fun.
The worst criticism of our time is that something is boring, as if that made it less true or less important or less right.
There is nothing wrong with fun, but there is everything wrong with a society whose primary purpose is to seek fun.
In American society, particularly among those under 40, the love of fun is the root of all evil. This is the legacy of the sixties—seeking fun has become a national pastime.
With respect to the education of an adult, fun is simply not a legitimate measurement of value.
Things should be judged by whether or not they are good, true, wholesome, important or right. Commercialistic society judges things by whether they are profitable, and even socialism judges whether something is fair or equitable.
No fancy buildings or curricula or assemblies or higher teacher salaries change this core principle.
Learning occurs when students study, and any educational system is only as good as the student’s attention span and the quality of the materials.
Now, study can be fun, but it is mostly just plain old-fashioned hard work, and nearly all of the fun of studying comes after the work is completed.
In essence, there are really two kinds of fun—the kind we earn (which used to be called “leisure”), and the kind that we just sit through as it happens to us (entertainment). There are very few things in life as fun as real learning, but we must earn it. And this kind of fun always comes after the hard work is completed.
No nation that believes that learning should be fun, in the unearned sense, is likely to do much hard studying, so not much learning will occur.
And without that learning the nation will not remain free. Nor will people stay moral, since righteousness is hard work and just doesn’t seem nearly as fun as some of the alternatives.
No nation focused on unearned fun will pay the price to fight a revolutionary war for their freedoms, or cross the plains and build a new nation, or sacrifice to free the slaves or rescue Europe from Hitler, or put a man on the moon. We got where we are because we did a lot of things that weren’t fun.
Americans today believe that it is their right to have fun. Every day they expect to do something fun, and they expect nearly everything they do to be fun. Most adults eventually figure out that fun isn’t the goal, but many of today’s students firmly believe that learning must be fun; if not, they put down the books and go find something else to do.
The problem with this false lesson, besides the fact that some of the best teachers aren’t a bit entertaining, is that it assumes that teachers are responsible for education in the first place.
Now remember, I’m speaking of the role of adult and youth students to own their responsibility for their education.
This is not intended as license for parents and educators to abdicate the responsibility to be all that they can be as mentors.
But think of it: if we, as students, are waiting around for our teachers to get it right or else we’re not gonna study, who really loses?
Whose job is education anyway?
All of us have watched a movie with a bad ending, and since our goal in watching was to be entertained, we are upset that the movie ended that way. We blame it on whoever made the movie; it was their fault.
Our culture approaches teachers the same way—if we weren’t entertained or didn’t learn, it is their fault. “What kind of a teacher is he, anyway; I didn’t learn anything in his class.”
But if I don’t learn something in a class, it is my own fault, no matter how good or bad the teacher is.
Good teaching is a wonderful and extremely important commodity, but that is another essay, and it is not responsible for a student’s success. Students are. To tell them otherwise is to leave them victims who are forever at the mercy of the system.
And history is full of examples of students who owned their role and achieved greatness because they recognized that it was their job to supply the motivation and the effort to gain a great education.
And it is easier for parents and politicians to join the blaming game than to set an example of studying that will inspire their youth to action.
The impact on education is clear: We blame teachers and our schools for the problems, while we do everything except the hard work of gaining an education for ourselves, thus inspiring and facilitating our children to do the same.
The impact on freedom is equally direct: Students who have been raised to blame educational failure on someone else usually become adults who expect outside experts to take care of our freedom for us.
Even those who become activists tend to spend a lot of time exposing the actions of others, “waking people up” to what “they” are doing.
And whether “they” refers to conspirators, liberals, or the religious right, the activists seldom do anything about the situation except talk—in more shallow 30-second sound bite opinions.
A corollary of this false lesson is that students need a commercial every 8.2 minutes. We are conditioned to short attention spans, and therefore to shallow educations and nominal freedoms.
The reality is that unless you spend at least two hours on something, chances are you didn’t learn much. Without attention span, little is learned.
Fallacy Number 3: Books, texts and materials should be simple and understandable.
Now, mind you–I’m not suggesting that authors should be purposely obscure or irrelevant. I’m just returning to the idea that we, as students, must step up to whatever obstacles may be in our way.
It’s our job to do whatever it takes to get an education, no matter the quality or interest level of our materials.
But even beyond that obvious point, the problem with this error is that the complex stuff is actually the best, the most interesting, ironically the most fun, and certainly the most likely to produce individual thinkers and a free nation.
Consider the impact of simple materials on education.
For example, what kind of nation would the founders have framed had they been taught a diet of easy textbooks, easier workbooks, more quickly understood concepts and curricula?
A free people is a thinking people, and thinking is hard work—it is, in fact, the hardest work, which is why so little of it takes place in a society which avoids pressure and takes the easy path.
The only reason to choose easier curriculum is that it is easier, but the result is weaker graduates, flimsier characters, vaguer convictions and impotent wills.
Thucydides said it bluntly: “The ones who come out on top are the ones who have been trained in the hardest school.”
This is true of individuals and of nations.
I am not saying that everything that is hard has value, but I am saying that most things of value are hard. If your studies weren’t hard, really hard, chances are you didn’t learn much.
To be continued…..
Fallacy Number 4: “Balance” means balancing work with entertainment.
Today’s adults don’t usually find out what really hard work is until they graduate and have to support a family.
The average person supporting a family in modern America puts in over fifty hours a week at work; in most countries the amount is much higher.
But the American high school system conditions most students to attend class five hours a day and do outside study a few extra hours a week.
The rest of the time is filled with activities, friends and occasional family time. And this has become the standard for balance.
Most college students follow suit: they are in class three to five hours a day, they study a couple of hours a day, and they fill the rest of the time with activities and friends.
Again, this is considered “balanced.”
Once people get out of school and go to work, “balance” most often means the need to spend more time with their family.
But while in school, they say it to mean that they need to spend more time with their friends engaging in fun activities. Family time and study time are shoved aside.
One of my mentors, a religious leader from my faith, taught that the right approach to daily life is eight hours a day of sleep, eight hours a day of work, and eight hours a day of leisure.
And he spoke at a time when leisure didn’t mean entertainment.
Indeed, leisure means serving people, studying, learning, being involved in community service and government, and so on—whereas the slaves in Rome were considered incapable of leisure and so their masters gave them entertainment to keep them pacified.
The media age has tried to convince us all, quite successfully, that we need entertainment—and often.
In all my years of teaching, I have never had a married, working 40 hours a week student complain about not having time to study. They all make the time.
Those who complain are always those wanting more time for entertainment, never those who want more time for work or family.
Every single one of those complaining that they want balance has been someone without a full or steady part time job. That is amazing to me.
The simple truth is that they are right—they do need balance. They need to start working and studying as if they were college students.
Studying a minimum, and I mean minimum, of forty hours a week in college is balance—it balances the pre-college years where most students did real, intensive study only a few hours in their whole life.
And a few college students actually studying enough to become Jeffersons and Washingtons is balance to a whole generation of college students playing around.
If you really want to invoke balance, I think you could make a strong argument that entertainment is not part of a balanced life—unless it is the leisure sort done with family or to learn or serve. Get rid of entertainment time, and fill it with studying, and you will start to find balance.
Until then, you will continue to feel unbalanced—and whatever you blame it on, the study will not unbalance you.
On occasion I have had students who did become unbalanced in the side of their studies, and I have recommended that they cut back and spend more family time. But this has happened perhaps three times out of hundreds of students.
In contrast, it always surprises me who tries to argue for balance—they are usually the ones in no danger whatsoever of becoming unbalanced studiers.
Fallacy Number 5: Opinions matter.
This is perhaps the biggest, most widespread and most fallacious lesson of the electronic age.
A time traveler visiting from history might well consider this the most amazing thing about our age. Everybody has an opinion, which can be delivered in 30 seconds or less, and these opinions are considered newsworthy, valuable, and a sound basis for public policy and individual action.
But an opinion is really just something you aren’t sure about yet–either because you haven’t done your homework, or because after the homework is thoroughly complete the answers are still a bit unclear.
Opinions are at best educated guesses, at worst dangerously uneducated guesses. In any case, opinions are just guesses.
Great people in history know and choose. Opinions are really nothing more than the lazy man’s counterfeit for knowing and choosing. Again, there is a place for opinion, but after the hard work is completed, not as a replacement for it.
In short—opinion is not a firm basis for anything except passing time (which may be one of the reasons the market won’t listen to more than 30 seconds of it at a time).
Imagine what the educational system might look like in a society that values opinions over knowledge. Or try to imagine the future governmental and moral choices of a society where all opinions are created equal, and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.
Certainly such a society will not be wise, or moral, or free.
III. How to Increase Attention Span
Now, in pointing out these false lessons of the electronic age, my point is not that books are better than computers or televisions. There is nothing I know of that makes paper and binding inherently better than plastic and silicon.
Computers are better than books for many things, such as tracking and storing large amounts of information, speeding up communication and technological progress, and increasing the efficiency and even effectiveness of business.
Television is better than books for many purposes, including mass and speedy communication, business advertising and marketing, and entertainment options where important ideas can be portrayed and carried to the hearts of people more quickly.
My point is not that books are inherently better than electronic screens, nor is it that electronic media is bad. Nor is my point that the electronic media undermines our morals; the truth is that many books are at least as bad.
My point is that books are better than television, or the internet, or computer for educating and maintaining freedom.
Books matter because they state ideas and then attempt to thoroughly prove them.
The ideas in books matter because time is taken to establish truth, and because the reader must take the time to consider each idea and either accept it, or (if he rejects it) to think through sound reasons for doing so.
A nation of people who write and read is a nation with the attention span to earn an education and a free society if they choose.
The very medium of writing and reading encourages and requires an attention span adequate to deal with important questions and draw sound and effective conclusions. The electronic media arguably does not do this in the same way.
Now, idealism aside, the reality is that 30 second sound bites is how public dialogue takes place in our society, and we can either whine about it or we can adapt to the realities and develop our skills to be leaders.
A leader of public dialogue in our day must use the 30 second method; in fact, the reality is closer to 6 seconds than 30.
I am not saying that we should ignore this reality and prepare for 7-hour debates to impact public opinion. The electronic age is real and statesmen should be prepared to utilize it effectively.
But there is a huge difference between those who just polish their media technique and those who do so after (or at minimum, while) acquiring a quality liberal arts education.
Technology is a valuable tool, and a person who has paid the price to know true principles and understand the world from a depth and breadth of knowledge and wisdom, and then applies his or her wisdom through technology is much more likely to achieve statesmanlike impact.
His 6-second sound bites will not be opinions, but rather ideas that have been fully considered, weighed and chosen.
Indeed, and this is my most important point, in the electronic age your attention span is even more important than it was at other times in history.
The future of freedom may well hinge on one thing—our attention spans. And certainly your future success as a leader and statesman depends on your attention span.
One thing is certain: there will be no Lincolns, Washingtons, Churchills, Gandhis, or the mothers and fathers who taught them, without adequate attention span.
But there is only one that I know of: discipline and hard work, hours and hours and hours studying, with hopefully some prayer and meditation in the mix.
There will be leaders of the next 50 years; I believe you will be among them. But only if you increase attention span.
Otherwise, you will be one of the masses, going along with whatever those in power do to society, led along by your “betters”—not because they are better morally, but because they have a longer attention span.
Too many leaders in history have been people without virtue, who ruled because they had the knowledge. Knowledge truly is power. In this day, it is time for people of virtue to also become people of wisdom.
I challenge each of you to be one of them.
Don’t let your habits of entertainment, your attachment to fun and slave entertainment stop you from becoming who you were meant to be. Become the leader you were born to be—spend the hours in the library. Let nothing get in your way.
Many things will arise to distract you; study will often seem the least attractive alternative for the evening. But you know better. You were born to be the leaders of the future.
Now do it—not in 30-second sound bites of opinion, but in seven to ten hour daily stretches of building yourself into a leader, a statesman, a man or women capable of doing the mission God has for you.
- Postman, Neil. 1985. Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Penguin Books. p.44
- Thucydides, The Pelopponesian War, 1,1.84.4. For a fuller treatment of this subject, see Josiah Bunting III. 1998. An Education for Our Time. Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc.
Does Anybody Understand This Stuff?: Part 8, Modern Economics – A Thumbnail Sketch of 4,000 Years of Economics
Key Points For Modern Economics
Our brief look at modern economics covers key concepts only to provide you with a starting point regarding prominent economic ideas of the modern age. We have divided this last post into three sections:
A – Interventionists
B – Neo Liberals
C - Austrian Economics
One of the first Interventionist economists is Alfred Marshall.
He is best known for his work leading to the development of the Demand and Supply curves and the concept of Elasticity.
He introduced a more extensive use of mathematics in economics than anyone before him.
He promoted the idea of Public Goods, or that things too costly for individuals should be paid for by the government including such things as the military, schools, roads, hospitals, parks, etc.
The “godfather” of modern economics is John Maynard Keynes. His influence on economics has been compared to that of Adam Smith and Karl Marx.
The essence of his economic philosophy incorporated these basic concepts:
1. The goal of the modern economy was to use economics to support the welfare state.
2. Develop macroeconomics into a primary course of study, morphed economics into Econometrics in order to preserve the field, and developed the language of economics for the experts only, effectively excluding the lay reader.
3. Lead the movement to use government to intervene in the economy.
4. Convince national leadership that government should keep income and employment stable. This of course, is Marxist in content and philosophy, and is basically the way economics in the US has worked since 1932.
5. Promoted the Fiscal Policy that government was responsible to spend money to “prime the pump” during economic downturns. This was to be accomplished by running up a budget deficit during economic downturn and as needed reduce taxes and enlarge the deficit even more.
Keynes goes on to say that when all of this stimulus creates the desired economic upturn, the previously incurred debt must be paid off.
I guess the experts didn’t read that far.
Anyway, Keynes achieved his goal.
He made economics unfathomable to all but mathematicians and “experts”, and put the government in charge of the entire economy.
In spite of the fact that much of the free market was destroyed, it continues to attempt to right itself, with no help from a meddlesome and interventionist government that seems hell-bent on destroying itself.
The next economist of renown is Gunnar Myrdal. He advocated the continuation of all of Keynes’ methods, emphasizing more redistribution of wealth and increased the popularity of the economic trend.
John Galbraith was a strong Keynesian who believed that government should control everything. He advanced big government by working for:
- Nationalization of transportation, health care, housing, etc.
- Government prices controls
- Government guaranteed income for all the unemployed
- Government support for the arts
- Government agency to oversee all private business
It is amazing to realize that all of these things, and many more, were not that long ago, enjoyed private management or were managed at the state level. What would life be like without all of this government intervention?
Paul Samuelson had huge impact in mainstreaming Keynesian economics into the American economy and government application. He had significant influence on President Kennedy and government in general during the 1960′s and 1970′s.
Neo-Liberal Economics (the Chicago school)
Key Economic Points
Milton Friedman almost single-handedly fought the battle to counter the Interventionists. He invented the monetarist school of economics, which taught that:
- Keynesianism is false; the free market must be allowed to work
- Government must remain limited and small
- Economic freedom is necessary for political freedom
- Emphasized the Quality Theory of Money (money acts like any other commodity. The more there is of it, the less each unit is worth.)
- Stable Prices are the key to a free enterprise system (stable money supply makes stable prices)
- Instead of the federal government adjusting the money supply, they should have a set level of increase in the money supply, proportionate to the increase of production (gold found, donuts made, fruit picket, etc…)
Key Economic Points
The Austrian School of economics picked up where the liberals left off. (the neo-liberals were tainted by pragmatism and the Austrians were able to focus more on the “pure” science of it.)
After Bastiat, Mill began the break that lead mainstream economists toward Keynes. Carl Menger took off right where Bastiat ended and continued the progression of those economic ideas. His work led directly to Austrian economics.
The genealogy of the Great Austrian economists is:
Ten main points of Austrian Economics are:
1. Economics is really centered around the role of entrepreneurs (enterprisers) and risk, personal investment, individual choice, consumer actions, producer actions and savings.
2. Economics is based on Human Nature and Human Action.
If human action always aims at a purpose, which by definition it does, then human action must be rational, that is, consistent with reason or guided by one’s will and intellect. It can never be termed irrational.
In making this point, Mises in Human Action (p. 19) writes “Human action is necessarily always rational. The term ‘rational action’ is therefore pleonastic and must be rejected as such. When applied to the ultimate ends of action, the terms rational and irrational are inappropriate and meaningless. The ultimate end of action is always the satisfaction of some desires of the acting man.”
Seemingly irrational action is rational, that is, has an aim. To appraise it as irrational, the appraiser merely imposes some other external source of value. Mises writes (p. 104): “However one twists things, one will never succeed in formulating the notion of ‘irrational’ action whose ‘irrationality’ is not founded upon an arbitrary judgment of value.”
Nor does irrationality characterize the means selected to achieve ends. Erroneous judgments that involve badly chosen means are not irrational in Mises’ analysis: “When applied to the means chosen for the attainment of ends, the terms rational and irrational imply a judgment about the expediency and adequacy of the procedure employed … It is a fact that human reason is not infallible and that man very often errs in selecting and applying means. An action unsuited to the end sought falls short of expectation. It is contrary to purpose, but it is rational, i.e., the outcome of a reasonable — although faulty — deliberation and an attempt — although an ineffectual attempt — to attain a definite goal.”
What then is irrationality? According to Mises, irrationality is not the opposite of action or purposeful behavior, that is, it is not willed behavior without a purpose. All willed behavior has a purpose. Irrational behavior is behavior induced by response to stimuli, behavior that lies beyond the control of a person’s will or volition. Furthermore, Mises uses the term “irrational” to describe facts or situations that lie beyond reason (p. 21): “The ultimate given may be called an irrational fact.”
3. Praxeology as methodology.
4. Totally Free Market with government in proper role.
5. Economics is a social science first and only a mathematical science second.
6. A free market maximized the quantity, quality, and variety of goods and services
7. People make choices based on utility and value (What they think will give them satisfaction)
8. Commodity money is best
9. Each individual is different…
10. The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a successful economy and a civilized society. To the extent that force is required, the society is either more or less civilized. The most civilized societies would allow the invisible hand and cooperation to run the bulk of the political economy of the society; and because of a proper mix of incentive, initiative, drive, profit motive, charity, love, education, voluntarism and brotherly kindness class conflict, crime, apathy and other factors of the kind would not be recurring problems.
This ends our very brief overview of the last 4,000 years of economics. For more, visit Monticello College.
II. Attention Span and Freedom
Of course, attention span by itself is not enough to guarantee education or freedom, but a person lacking attention span must either develop it or he will not become educated, and a nation without attention span must either gain it or lose its freedoms.
If I were speaking of making money, the point would be obvious. If you don’t go to work and stay a few hours, your paycheck will be small.
In fact, figure out what your paycheck would be if you tried to cram your whole work week into one day, and you’ll have a pretty good indication of how much that same amount of study is really worth.
Or, figure out how much money you’d make if you spent four years putting in an hour or two a day between fun activities—you certainly wouldn’t make enough to live on.
If you put in that same kind of study, you won’t have much of an education to show for it either. The diploma on the wall may look the same, but it will be empty of meaning.
Without attention span—specific, dedicated time spent at work or managing one’s resources—income and wealth will dry up. The same is true of education, where the currency is study instead of labor, and the commodities are virtue, wisdom and freedom.
But how does a person or nation without attention span develop it, increase it, or improve it? There is only one way: discipline yourself to put in the time.
Slow down and put in the time reading, writing, discussing, listening, pondering, thinking, praying.
Spend hours and hours in the classics, and you will acquire a superb education. A nation of superbly educated individuals will maintain its freedom.
In Lincoln’s day the culture of learning was based around books. Today, as Neil Postman points out in his excellent book Amusing Ourselves to Death, the culture of learning is based on television and internet technology.
All of our forms of public discourse are based less and less on books and more and more on electronic media.
Most of the major decisions of society are made in five places—families, churches, schools, businesses and governments—and four of the five are moving consistently away from books toward electronic media.
Politics is now almost exclusively an electronic event, more and more people attend church in front of their television set, businesses survive through electronic marketing, and schools are “computerizing” as quickly as possible—the wave of the future, we are told, is virtual education, virtual politics, e-business and electronic evangelizing.
Even the family is increasingly virtual—parents and children communicate with fax and email, and family time is increasingly spent in front of the television set, except for those off in their own rooms surfing the net.
Now don’t get me wrong: I like the latest hit movie or website as much as anyone, and I believe that television and internet technology are of great benefit to society—they significantly empower business and greatly enhance entertainment.
But they have also displaced books as the source of cultural learning, and this is a very discouraging development because of the impact of society’s morals; but that is not my chief point here.
My point is that it is bad to replace books with television and internet because of the consequences to education and freedom.
Specifically, the medium of the electronic screen teaches at least five deadly fallacies about education, and consequently freedom:
Fallacy Number 1: Learning should be fun.
To be continued……
Does Anybody Understand This Stuff?: Part 7, Radical Economics – A Thumbnail Sketch of 4,000 Years of Economics
Key Economic Points
The beginning of the 20th century saw an explosion of violent and radical application of various economic principles.
First let’s lay out a couple of economic theories. Then we will visit their application.
Plato contributed the concept of “The ideal State” to the Western world. The problem with his contribution is two fold:
1. Plato couldn’t have been totally serious in his ruminations of the “Ideal State.”
2. Even if Plato was serious, he said that Philosopher Kings would rule his imagined society. In other words, you had to have Philosopher Kings for Plato’s Ideal State to work, and the people who adopted his rationale were far from that pious and honorable stature.
Hegel contributed the concept of the Dialectic:
The Dialectic is nothing more than a means to describe human progression. In a nutshell, Hegel’s Dialectic suggests that “reality” is a matter of mind and through the individual process of ideas and acting on those ideas, we eventually come to the perfect state of existence. He is attributed to explaining this process in these terms: your current understanding of life, “your reality” today he describes as “Thesis.”
No sooner does one become comfortable in that reality when it is challenged by a counter-reality called “Anti-thesis.”
These two struggle, and finally merge into a new reality called “Synthesis.” This synthesis now becomes the new thesis and the process begins anew.
Hegel said that this process continues for a lifetime, a continual process of refining, or perhaps until the synthesis becomes so pure that no antithesis appears to challenge it.
As a number of authors have suggested, Marx took Hegel’s Dialectic and turned it on its head, or in other words, corrupted it. Hegel’s whole point was that we don’t know where the Dialectic will take us, hopefully continual improvement. But Marx hijacked the Dialectic and contributed these several points:
1. The end goal is Plato’s Ideal State
2. The means of getting there is Hegel’s Dialectic (highly modified)
3. History is driven by a variety of economic factors (especially class conflict/warfare). The control of the means of production* by the state is vital.
4. The way to speed up history is to promote the antithesis of the current thesis (In Hegel’s world, the antithesis is natural and comes about on its own, but Marx believed that he could actually analyze the current thesis and then create and direct the antithesis as a way to speed up the progression to a more ideal state.)
5. The ideal state could be achieved by revolutionary communism as a way to move toward democratic socialism.
6. This Ideal State must be global. It cannot be nationalistic.
7. The Proletariat (working class) must revolt against the bourgeois (middle class or merchant/landed gentry), because it is the middle class that exploits the working class. He doesn’t say much about the rich or upper class.
8. The vanguard of the proletariat (a small, highly-organized band of intellectual revolutionaries) will carry out the revolt for the proletariat, and then see that they are taken care of (AKA – the rich and upper class).
9. Morality is nothing more than bourgeois prejudice.
10. There is no God, and religion is just an opiate of the masses.
Radical Economics Since Marx (since about 1890 or 1900)
Key Economic Points
1. Lenin- Sped up the dialectic with violent revolutions and military might.
2. Stalin- Socialism in one country can work. National socialism is better than none.
3. Mao- Return to Marxism, not Leninism or Stalinism.
4. Hitler- Biological Marxism.
5. Gorbachev- Return to Leninism.
6. European Socialism (ie, Sweden & Britain)- Fabian Socialism. Gradually increase in governmental power. Government provides more and more and government takes away more and more.
7. United States Socialism- Changed the name to welfare and programs for the less fortunate, but does the same as European. In fact, from 1890-1920 the Brits were very big in propagandizing socialism to American universities and circles of power.
All of these systems have been implemented since about 1900 or so, under the argument that it had to be tried before we knew whether or not it would work. In some cases they have taken on new faces but are still promoted under the argument that it has never really been tried. All failures are blamed on the fact that implementation has been “half-done” instead of fully executed.
Today, Marxists are taking on a whole new philosophy:
- No longer class conflict, but race conflict and cultural strife
- Not economic but biological
- Multiculturalism is, in some ways, the “New Marxism”
- Herbert Marcuse, an influential 20th century philosopher known as the “Father of the New Left,” promoted the concept that Western culture was the great evil. The non-western or anti-colonial cultures must be liberated from the great exploiters (American and European powers). A vanguard of the oppressed cultures must revolt and set up the social democracy where the liberated can thrive. He suggested that the most likely groups to lead this revolution are:
-nonconformist youth (disenfranchised high school age students)
-young middle class intelligentsia (college students)
-ghetto populations (disenfranchised young men and women who seem to have not future, nothing to lose)
In light of the direction American education has taken over the past 50 years, this quote from Lincoln is chilling, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
With the next two posts I will finish up the “Attention Span” article and then come back and finish economics.
Don’t forget that there are now 45 posts or mini lectures available on this blog. These of course, are designed for 2 purposes:
1. to share my thoughts and feelings on the topics.
2. to give you a taste of what your children will experience as students at Monticello College on campus or online. www.monticellocollege.org.
Does Anybody Understand This Stuff?: Part 6, Classical Liberal Economics – A Thumbnail Sketch of 4,000 Years of Economics
Sourcing Wikipedia, originally, political economy meant the study of the conditions under which production or consumption within limited parameters was organized in the nation-states.
In this way, political economy expanded the emphasis of economics, which comes from the Greek oikos (meaning “home”) and nomos (meaning “law” or “order”); thus political economy was meant to express the laws of production of wealth at the state level, just as economics was the ordering of the home.
The phrase économie politique (translated in English aspolitical economy) first appeared in France in 1615 with the well-known book by Antoine de Montchrétien: Traité de l’economie politique.
Today, political economy most commonly refers to interdisciplinary studies drawing upon economics, law, and political science in explaining how political institutions, the political environment, and the economic system—capitalist, socialist, mixed—influence each other.
In a larger sense, political economy really encompasses the interrelationship of the fields of:
- Political Science
- Human Geography
- International Relations
- Cultural Studies
In our highly “division of labor and thought” world, I think it is important to stress the “connective-ness” of things in nature, meaning, how things really work, instead of the nice tidy little boxes where we put everything. Political economy is one such reminder.
Liberal (classical) Economics
This would naturally lead to the general populace having almost unlimited control of their own lives and being free to make their own mistakes, or in other words, individuals and families being responsible for themselves.
It is an economic philosophy that supports and promotes individual liberty and choice in economic matters and private property in the means of production (see recent post – The Servile State). As there are a number of contributors to the philosophic underpinnings of this economic philosophy, it is safe to say that classical economic liberalism marginally supports government economic regulation regarding monopolies and corruption, but it tends to oppose government intervention in the free market.
Today, the adherents of economic liberalism promote and oppose the following:
- Private property
- Limited social welfare programs to compensate for the market inequalities that are inevitable in a free market
- Equality of opportunity
- Individual contracts motivated by self-interest
- Patents and copyrights to encourage innovation
Classical Liberalism developed roughly through the following phases:
Phase I – Rise of Measurement
Descartes, Hobbes, Bacon and others applied mathematical and statistical functions to measure economic facts. The goal was not to predict, but only to measure.
Phase II – Locke
Locke’s contributions were plentiful:
1. He was the First person since Aristotle to vigorously promote private property as a natural and inalienable right.
2. Promoted the use of interest on market value and a strong metallic money.
3. Only demand and supply, in the free market, can adequately determine prices (because prices are determined by buyer’s perception of utility and/or value in the matrix of supply and demand).
4. The Labor theory of Value: if a person works on a piece of unimproved land (or other commodity or natural resource), and his labor makes it more valuable than if he hadn’t touched it, then it is his property. A person may also contract with an owner and labor on the same parcel of land but can only receive compensation in the form of cash or commodity or equity.
Phase III – Adam Smith
Smith added to Locke with these concepts:
1. Man is commanded by God to care for self and family, then to care for others.
2. Men naturally seek wealth because of the desire to emulate those above them.
3. Man had a natural right to property (God-given + personal labor).
4. Government must protect private property; it must do nothing else. (This idea from laissez faire school of economics).
5. The Invisible Hand. The free market harmonizes competition into cooperation. Government is needed to curb man’s desire to find “an easier way” for self at the forced expense of others (monopoly, corruption, etc).
6. The Labor theory of value (same as locke).
7. A good economy is based on self-reliance and competition.
8. By pursuing their own interests, men generally promote the interest of society.
9. Division of Labor is natural, automatic, and good.
10. The Natural Price comes automatically in a free market where demand and supply coincide.
11. Wages are simply prices paid for labor; they follow the same rules for prices of goods.
12. Interest is simply the price paid for capital. It follows the same rule as those of prices for goods.
13. The invisible hand applies to foreign trade as well as domestic.
14. If the government is fulfilling its role and doing nothing more, taxes are reasonable and right.
15. The government’s role is to protect the rights to try, buy, fail and sell. It’s role is to protect property and man’s attempt to (rightfully and justly) obtain it.
Phase IV – Say, Malthus, and Ricardo
Say’s Law is “Production creates demand.”
Malthus’ Law is “Gains in property made by this generation will be nullified by the increase in population.”
Ricardo made economics it’s own branch, separate from political science and philosophy. He also contributed the principle of comparative advantage.
Phase V – Bastiat
There is too much to cover regarding Bastiat here, I recommend a great read entitled, Essays on Political Economy.
Phase VI – Mill
John Stuart Mill had the same basic views as other liberal economists, plus these contributions:
1. Actions are right to the extent that they promote happiness. They are wrong to the extent that they promote misery, sadness or unhappiness.
2. Moral convictions, not material interests, must govern societies (This is because when men govern [choose] based on material interests, they will often choose immediate rewards and advantages that are detrimental to happiness in the long run. The temptation to pragmatism is so great when material is pilot and moral convictions are co-pilot that future happiness is in real jeopardy. Moral convictions are usually aligned with the most enduring happiness—more so than material.
3. Freedom is paramount. And true freedom must have some restrictions, obligations, duties, and boundaries that maintain a proper level of order so that freedom can survive, otherwise a brief period of anarchy will be followed by a power vacuum and then a dominant leader who is apt to lay moral convictions aside for material wants.
4. Government’s role is to protect the individual from others.
5. Governments may do whatever is necessary to help the most people be happy.
Number 5 got Mill off track a bit. Although the concept may be theoretically solid, the application invites interventionist policies.
The next post will discuss the great fractionalization of economics. Economic laws make sense to most people, it is the application of the laws and the interpretation of the laws that split the debates so widely.