The Socialist Dream Will Never Die

w704 (2)Steven Hayward over at Powerline recently wrote something very interesting.

Not long ago I was listening to one of Russ Roberts’s archived “EconTalk” podcasts with the great Thomas Sowell (and if you don’t listen to EconTalk you’re missing one of the top podcast artists of our time—subscribe for free here), and was completely stunned by something Sowell said. When he was assigned Friedrich Hayek’s seminal essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” as a graduate student, he didn’t get it. Sowell found it too abstract and dense. Russ Roberts, another fine Chicago-school economist, said he had the same reaction to it the first time he read it, and, moreover, that Vernon Smith (a Nobel Prize winner) also found the essay opaque at first reading.

Source: The Socialist Dream Will Never Die | Power Line

Like Steven, I’ver never found this anything but clear as a plate glass window, so I’m a bit dumbfounded. Still the examples he gives worked through it, extraordinarily well, and as sometimes happens, maybe they understand it better for not seeing immediately the point.

He then proceeds to comment on an article in The New Republic, entitled “What If Stalin Had Computers?” What his point is that it is simply the old socialist saw that communism merely needed more time, as if a few more generations of misery would have made it work, violates another thing. Name one thing that Stalin’s Soviet union invented or developed from scratch. Can’t think of one myself, everything they had, somebody in the west, mostly Britain or America developed. So, Stalin having computers is simply a fantasy, that would have never happened in a millennium without the west. But, in truth, communism, or socialism, can never work, because people will always act in their own rational self-interest. And if you attempt to force it, they will simply pretend to work, and lie.

And the real reason it makes no difference is this. Sometime, long ago, I read a quote from Sir Winston Churchill, which I can no longer find, that said roughly, “We gather all the statistics in the world, and analyze and plan things on them, and reorder national priorities and all that. But it all come down to that grubby little man, with a clipboard and a pencil, who wrote down whatever he felt like.” And that is what always kills command economies–they lie to themselves, whether they are the Soviet Union, Venezuela, or increasingly, the United States. The real reason that we didn’t forsee the downfall of the USSR was that we believed the BS given to the Politburo.

Let’s finish with Steve and how he finished his article:

I recall reading one of the last interviews Hayek ever gave shortly before his death in 1992 in Forbes (sadly I can’t seem to find it now), where he was asked whether the information revolution and supercomputing didn’t change things, and make possible more effective centralized economic planning. Hayek said no—no matter how big and fast computers get, and how complete the data gathering, no centralized process can ever hope to match the uncoordinated actions of the constantly changing marketplace. Go re-read “The Use of Knowledge in Society” slowly and repeatedly until you get it.

At the end of the day, of course, the socialist impulse is not really rooted in reason or epistemology, but in envy and the desire for authoritarian control. That’s why we’ll never be rid of these people, no matter how many Venezeulas and Cubas you pile up.


Education, Students Loans, and John Adams

quote-education-makes-a-greater-difference-between-man-and-man-than-nature-has-made-between-man-and-brute-john-adams-314611John Adams once wrote this to Abigail:

“The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

Personally, I think higher education in this country has lost its way. Easy money has converted it from what Adams thought his grandsons should study to what he had studied. It has become little more than a trade school, a factory for diplomas, and often a very expensive one.

Now mind, there is nothing at all wrong with trade schools, we must, if we are to live even moderately well, know how to govern ourselves, and defend ourselves, not to mention fix the roads and plumbing. That is all very honorable, but it does not require, although it often benefits from, an education in the classic liberal arts, and the practitioners always do. But it does not require it.

To me, Adam’s second tier, that his sons should study, is represented these days mostly by the so-called STEM courses: science, technology, engineering, math. They are the middle way, more abstract thinking, and vision but rooted in the practical, adding to that an ability to communicate clearly and effectively, and you create the world of tomorrow. This is the realm of the inventor/entrepreneur: the Edisons, the Bells, but also the Thomas Crappers, the Commodore Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, and also Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, not to mention Dr. Jonas Salk,  those who take ideas, and make them practical, and bring them to market.

But that third tier, has little direct connection with the practical. this is where we learn about ourselves, and learn to make men better. It is the highest expression of civilization, if it is not, something has gone wrong. There is an upper limit, and it is quite low, on the number of people who can be supported adequately to study this. In large measure, the prosperity of Britain and America in the last four hundred, or so, years, has allowed us to lead civilization, because we could afford to think, to question, and to discuss, these matters.

And so, if you are a high school senior, you likely want to go to college. Why? To be a better barista? Well, no doubt you will be, but enough better to justify the cost? Or to be an engineer? That will justify much more education than being a barista will, but not an infinite cost. Always, always, as you enter the job market, your value is based on what you know that is relative to the job on offer. If I’m hiring an apprentice, I don’t expect you to know much about electricity (and most of that will be wrong) as I expect you to have a strong back, and a willingness to learn. Frankly a know-it-all with a degree is less attractive than a high school drop-out who desperately wants to earn a living. And that is the trap, my young friend, when you come out of college, with that expensive degree, in whatever irrelevant (to me) subject, bought with borrowed money, you are worth no more in the market that drop-out working for his next meal, and that’s what I’ll pay you. Will you advance further and/or faster? Perhaps, that’s up to you, your application of your knowledge (and ability to learn) and your attitude in a number of ways.

Hard words? Perhaps, but they’re also true ones won in the school of hard knocks provided by experience. Here are some more

And always remember that you do not go to college to learns stuff. You go to college to learn how to think, and learn.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
John Adams, The Portable John Adams

The Great Unlearning

I’m playing with some video-based series, but they’re not in shape yet. But, sadly, I have little to disagree with Bill Whittle here.

Sad and disheartening stuff isn’t it?

Left and Right May Not Be Happy with the New AP Standards. Here’s Why You Should Be.

160264-apushaYou remember the furor (yes, mostly on the right) over the 2014 APUSH? Apparently the College Board has done the much harder right, and done a class job of fixing them. YAY, for them, That’s unusual these dys, usually we all just get tigid and defensive and nothing is accomplished.

Jeremy Stern holds a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University; an independent historian and history education consultant. I think he might be an endangered creature, as well, a fair man. here’s his take

The AP US History framework (APUSH) that took effect in 2014 aroused a firestorm of controversy and criticism, chiefly from the right – quickly mounting to accusations of conspiracies to impose an unpatriotic, anti-American mindset in students; denunciations by state legislatures and the Republican National Committee; even Ben Carson’s declaration that the APUSH course would leave students ready to join ISIS.

Many such critics failed to grasp the actual purpose of the document: it is not a comprehensive curriculum for APUSH classrooms (let alone an imposed mandate for all high school students), but rather a guide to the content that would appear on the redesigned APUSH exam.1 Thus, accusations that X figure or Y event had been “erased” are nonsensical: AP teachers choose their own substantive details to illustrate the framework’s broader concepts.

Nonetheless, there were legitimate concerns. While the concept and many parts of the content were sound, the framework too often took a tendentious and judgmental approach to history, appearing to urge condemnation of the past for its failure to live up to present-day moral standards. Such an approach – ignoring historical context in favor of current ideological and political priorities – is presentism, not history.2

Most organizations respond to criticism by circling the wagons and preparing for battle. Instead, to its lasting credit, the College Board took substantive criticism seriously, both from analysts with an explicitly conservative outlook (such as Chester Finn and Rick Hess) and historians such as myself. Teacher feedback would normally lead to minor revisions, but the Board instead announced an open comment period, soliciting input from all interested parties.3 The result was an extensively revised 2015 version, which has commendably sought to strike an ideologically balanced middle ground, presenting the realities of the past – good, bad and ugly – in historical context and without presentistic judgment.

The 2014 version, for example, repeatedly singled out the British North American colonies as uniquely intolerant, violent and oppressive (unfavorably comparing them with the frequently brutal Spanish empire). In the 2015 version, slavery and violence against Native Americans are not “whitewashed,” but are put into wider historical context. The Atlantic slave trade, discussed in 2014 almost uniquely in terms of British North America, in fact predated those colonies by a century, and the vast majority of slaves actually went to the Caribbean and Brazil; also, powerful African states captured and sold virtually all the slaves bought by European traders on the African coast – all points the revision correctly notes, while still emphasizing the colonies’ extensive reliance on slavery. The complexities of inter-Indian warfare and native-colonial alliances are also acknowledged, without downplaying the tragic costs of European colonization for native peoples.

The historically crucial rise of relatively egalitarian societies and representative political institutions in the colonies – all but ignored in the 2014 version – is now given due weight. What was egalitarian by 17th century standards is of course absurdly limited to modern eyes, denying even basic rights to women and non-whites – but one must understand why and how such societies and institutions were exceptional for their time to understand the foundation on which later expansions of freedom were laboriously built. Likewise, the Jacksonian rise of near-universal white male suffrage, an extraordinarily radical concept in its day (barely mentioned in the 2014 version) is now properly described in the revision.

And this

Critics who sought a balanced document (such as Finn, Hess, myself and others) have celebrated the revisions (despite inevitable remaining quibbles) as a triumph for non-ideological history education. But some on the right are not satisfied. Stanley Kurtz, insisting the College Board remains “under the influence of leftist historians,” dismisses the changes as “superficial,” arguing that a new reference to the concept of American exceptionalism “isn’t enough” without “powerful examples.”

Yet, ironically, many critics on the left have branded the revision (often without reading it, let alone comparing the two versions) a right-wing paean to… American exceptionalism5 (as well as a shameful “cave” to right-wing pressure, and a tissue of white-male-only history suppressing the realities of slavery, oppression, and prejudice). Professor Williamjames Hull Hoffer, appearing opposite me on a CBS Evening News segment about the revisions, denounced any suggestion that western settlers displayed a “pioneering spirit” seeking “economic opportunity” as “not just a change in emphasis” but “a lie,” and any mention of liberty, citizenship, self-government and free enterprise as American ideals to be “Donald Trump talking points.”

Read more at History News Network | Left and Right May Not Be Happy with the New AP Standards. Here’s Why You Should Be..

Understand this: I agree with him. No matter how good the 2015 version is, this is the first I’ve read about it, and I’m unqualified anyway, every time anything is changed, somebody’s ox will get gored, and anything approximating history is going to displease the radicals on either side. And that’s the thing, none of us can use history if it’s too biased, or out of its time context.

So we’ll see, but I’m encouraged.

Welcome to a New Subscriber

uk-us-shooping-0211We don’t often recognize new subscribers here, but occasionally we do. And one joined us the other day that is about as rare around here as hen’s teeth, but still has ticked some boxes that I like (a lot).

Our new subscriber is a blogger, a new one, I think, although quite good, and works in-depth as well, a young Brit female (three of my favorite categories right there), from Basildon, in Essex, and rarest of all a Labourite. I suspect she’ll disagree with much of what is written here, but perhaps we can learn from her, and her from us. Many of us know that while we have become curmudgeonly conservative types, we started out much more liberal, until life taught us some lessons. Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” Actually he didn’t, according to the Churchill Centre:

There is no record of anyone hearing Churchill say this. Paul Addison of Edinburgh University makes this comment: “Surely Churchill can’t have used the words attributed to him. He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35!  And would he have talked so disrespectfully of Clemmie, who is generally thought to have been a lifelong Liberal?”

But still there is a ground truth there.

In any case, she is Melissa D’lima, who blogs at Historyxpolitics. She also says she likes modern British history a lot, and so I can’t help but give a plug to a friend of mine, Professor John Charmley at the University of East Anglia because he has done an extraordinary amount to increase my understanding of that subject, especially with his Chamberlain and the Lost Peace and his History of the Conservative Party both of which are available at Amazon. He’s a bit of a maverick in British history, and we’re much the better for his insight, I think. I should also likely say that following him on Twitter at @ProfJCharmley has opened an entire world of British historians to me and I’m much better for it. If I were younger (well, much younger) I would be looking for a way to study under him.

Interestingly, he also epitomizes one of the paradoxes of British political life. like so many of the great Tories, he is a self-made man, who came up from the working class, all the way through an Oxford doctorate.

One of the people whose work he (and Jess) introduced me to is Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb. From her website, “In October 2011, she took up her post as Head of the Faculty of History and Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at New College of the Humanities (NCH), where she lectures and tutors on British History 1450-1649 and European history 1500-1800. As Head of the Faculty of History, she is a member of the Academic Board, responsible for the academic governance of NCH.” As that indicates, she is far more than a pretty face on TV, and part of why I value her is that I’m convinced one can not understand modern British History (or American, for that matter) without understanding the Tudors, who started modern history for us, and later the world.

If anybody cares, what I’m reading at the moment is Adam Smith: both Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, David Hume: The Understanding, and John Locke’s First and Second Treatises of Government, as well as some lighter stuff.

Something else Suzi did that I really like, and something the American left often has trouble with, is realizing that we must not look at the past through our twenty-first-century eyes. It truly is a foreign land.

So welcome, Melissa. I hope you enjoy it here, and I’m quite sure I’ll enjoy your blog as well, and watching as you, dare I say, continue to grow up. I’m impressed now, who knows what the future holds, so ‘Good Luck and a fair breeze”.

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