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Teach the Children Well: Six Thinkers for a New Generation

“Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue … the prospects of freedom are indeed dark.”

- F. A. Hayek (1949), Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967).

MasterResource is a free market energy blog covering green jobs, climate-change policies, mineral-resource availability, and other political economy issues. Much of our analysis gets back to a realistic view of consumer-driven markets versus  government intervention (and business cronyism behind much government intervention). And that gets to critical thinkers whose timeless contributions have shaped modern arguments about freedom versus coercion.

World views and critical thinking skills are formed early. Thus it is incumbent upon our high schools–public and private–to fairly present competing ideas so that students can appreciate contrast and better understand the “middle” of the debate.

Once students get the fundamentals of major societal issues and policy debates, they can go off to college and see through the tenured professors who too often are not scholars but closed-minded, arrogant intellectuals. (Guaranteed jobs for life can do that, but educational reform is coming….)

Intellectual Diversity

I had the good fortune to guest-teach at Houston’s Kinkaid School where I graduated (class of ’73) from. My three-week Interim Term course (2006–2010) introduced a group of students each year to the science of liberty, in distinction to the Progressive view that slants their curriculum in U.S. History, Government, and Economics.

Elite high schools, like colleges, have a diversity problem–but not in the area that one might think. The wise George Will said it well:

American campuses have more insistently proclaimed their commitment to diversity as they have become more intellectually monochrome. They do indeed cultivate diversity — in race, skin color, ethnicity, sexual preference. In everything but thought.

But how can the students be reached with a viewpoint that they want to hear–but one that their teachers might not be sufficiently interested in to teach them? One solution in the information age is a website where

    • Inquiring students can visit and learn what they are missing;
    • Parents can visit to share with/educate their children-students;
    • Teachers will study knowing that students, parents, alumni, and even administration are studying.

Such a site, www.freekinkaid.org, was started by a group of Kinkaidians five weeks ago today. By link dissemination (no advertising), approximately six thousand Kinkaid parents, alumni, students, and teachers have viewed the site, as well as those in other Houston private schools. Outside attention might follow given that the site could be a template for similar efforts in other schools around the country.

The Big Six (Intellectuals)

A particularly popular attraction on the homepage has been the “Kinkaid Six” where each scholar presents a message to school students.

James Buchanan: realistic, not romantic, government

Milton Friedman: free to choose

F. A. Hayek: undesigned market order

Ludwig von Mises: real-world economics

Ayn Rand: rational self-interest

Julian Simon: the ultimate resource

Your Turn

Is this site helpful to present a worldview that is currently missing or underrepresented on the faculty of your high school or university?

What thinkers might you add to these six?

How might the freedom message be best presented to the next generation for better thinking for a better society? Nominations are now open!

14 comments

1 justintempler { 10.05.12 at 1:48 am }

I nominate George Reisman as a great thinker who has managed to marry the economics of Austrian economics with the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

His book: CAPITALISM. A Treatise on Economics. George Reisman. is available in pdf form on the internet without cost.
http://www.capitalism.net/
http://www.capitalism.net/Capitalism/CAPITALISM_Internet.pdf

He also maintains a blog:
georgereismansblog.blogspot.com/

2 Banatu { 10.05.12 at 2:07 am }
3 rbradley { 10.05.12 at 7:27 am }

Reisman’s Capitalism is problematic, one reason being that he decided he was the Great Man and did not put himself through peer review with libertarian scholars. His section on energy contained some factual errors that a specialist would have caught, for example.

Israel Kirzner in very polite terms goes through other problems with the book: http://www.gmu.edu/depts/rae/archives/VOL12_1_1999/kirzner.pdf

On Nietzsche, save him for a philosophy class. Not exactly a bleeding heart libertarian.

4 ThomasL { 10.05.12 at 11:05 am }

To your economics list, I’d add Smith, Hulsmann, and Pennington; but there is more to life than economics. There is also good and evil and existence:

Plato
Aristotle
Cicero
St. Augustine
St. Thomas Aquinas
C.S. Lewis

It seems quite wrong not to have Epictetus, Boethius, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus, Dostoevsky, St. Anselm, and Pascal on there at the least, maybe Marcel too, but economics is about tradeoffs…

5 ThomasL { 10.05.12 at 11:16 am }

@banatu

By all means, read Nietzsche… or don’t… but how sure are you that Nietzsche is really the one thinker missing to lead to “better thinking for a better society”?

If you truly believe that, I’d wonder if you have read Nietzsche.

@world
PS, On my other comment, somehow or other I neglected to mention Kant. I would not bump anyone off the “six” to fit him in, but he needs at least a mention. Plutarch and Tacitus also deserve spots, Thucydides, and perhaps Grotius.

6 Marlo Lewis { 10.05.12 at 4:29 pm }

Rob,

I just perused Kirzner’s critique of Reisman. The concluding section on Reisman’s defense of capitalism puzzles me. Kirzner writes:

“While Reisman’s economics certainly embraces (as of course the economics of Ricardo and of the Mills embraced) insights based on supply-and-demand economics, Reisman would himself surely maintain that the arguments against capitalism with which he grapples have not, for the greater part, been answered except by virtue of his aggregate-wealth argumentation. To cite Reisman’s work as constituting a definitive defense of capitalism, as a continuation of the Austrian work of Ludwig von Mises, must be to accept that aggregative-wealth argumentation (and to accept the belief that this argumentation is basically compatible with Mises’s understanding and defense of capitalism). Intellectual honesty must prevent one from sharing such acceptance.”

What exactly is the issue here? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If socialism created wealth and capitalism poverty, wouldn’t that be a problem for Austrians as well as classical economists? One could conceivably defend an economic system that fosters poverty on philosophical or theological grounds (“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”). But could one defend it on economic grounds?

Wealth is to economics what health is to medicine — the end for the sake of which the discipline exists. Economics does not establish the goodness of wealth any more than medicine establishes the goodness of health. Rather, the goodness of health is a presupposition of medicine. It’s why people are willing to pay for medical services. It’s why medical schools and hospitals exist. It’s why we might say of a surgeon who used his knowledge to maim and kill rather than to heal, “He’s not a doctor, he’s a butcher.”

So although economics as a science can neither validate nor refute the goodness of wealth, most human beings prefer wealth to poverty, and those who retain the services of economists never do so for advice on how to lose money!

By the same token, if an economic system inexorably decreased aggregate wealth, that would be a big strike against it. And, of course, Marx argued that capitalism immizerates the proletariat, Keynes argued that capitalism causes depressions, and radical greens argue that capitalism unsustainably destroys eco-systems, biodiversity, and climate stability. Central to any rebuttal of those critiques, it seems to me, must be a discussion of “aggregate wealth augmention” with due emphasis (these days) on how wealthier is healthier and richer is cleaner.

I understand Kirzner’s methodological point that wealth is subjective and can’t be measured by how much stuff is produced, because in theory an economic system could produce lots of stuff that nobody wants, and what does not satisfy consumers is not wealth. But in practice, when people have property rights and freedom to exchange, what gets produced reflects consumer preferences, and the more the better.

What do you — and others who may be reading this — make of Kirzner’s critique of Reisman’s defense of capitalism?

7 rbradley { 10.05.12 at 6:27 pm }

Adam Smith and certainly John Locke are tops, but both are taught by the mainstream to check off the box. Of course more of each’s work could be studied …. The 6 mentioned above are giants of the 20th century advances in the case for market capitalism.

8 ThomasL { 10.06.12 at 12:38 pm }

@Marlo Lewis

I think it is simpler than that. Noticing that capitalistic countries are wealthier /on the whole/ than socialistic ones is to “accept that aggregative-wealth argumentation” which is being questioned.

That is, he seems to complaining about possible disparities in the distribution of wealth which aggregation does not capture, ie, inequality.

But you are right that whether one /ought/ to have more equality with less wealth or less equality with more wealth, would not be a question within the discipline of economics the way Mises’ understood it.

9 Jon Boone { 10.07.12 at 11:51 am }

I think ThomasL’s reply to Marlo’s question is a good one, or one that’s on the right track. Statistical “aggregation” that averages outcomes is not fine grained enough to reveal problematic inequality. Inequality of itself is not the issue, as MR readers surely understand. The question is whether inequalities lead to inequity, whether perceived or real. It’s the injustices that flow from economic transactions that make the pot boil, as Adam Smith well knew.

Further, it is this sense of injustice that typically brings government into the fray–first as a means of damage control, leading to a role as conflict resolver through legislative action, and ultimately as regulatory enforcer of its legislation. All of which can then lead to a sense of more injustice, perceived or real.

Beyond this, Marlo’s assertion that economics represents a science raises yet other concerns. Economics, at its best, is a systematic means of describing market transactions, eventuating into organized informational categories using well defined and widely recognized terms and processes. As a descriptive system, it lends itself to both tactical and strategic analytics.

However, it doesn’t appear to be a useful prescriptive tool for political policy applications–beyond what simple algorithmic mathematics can project (e.g., 2+2=4…). As accounting, economics, done transparently, is superb. As prophet, economics is indeed the dismal science. And, like philosophy, economics as ideology is one scary proposition….

Science itself is basically empirical method, blending descriptive analysis to achieve testable hypotheses (if/then conditionals) that can manifest prescriptive results. Given the quantum nature of our physical universe, everything is probabilistic–even the prospect that our sun will shine tomorrow. Nonetheless, there is a huge difference, quantitatively and qualitatively, between the ability to predict the existence of the Higgs Boson and the ability to predict something as prosaic as a “housing bubble.”

Dynamically interconnected macro developments like politics and economics are at root moved and enabled by values, and the whole is made even more dicey by the nuanced ways those values are frequently in conflict with one another. The world doesn’t really work as a polarized dialectic between such ideological platforms as Capitalism and Socialism, for example. Rather, it’s often a quotidian dilemma between perceived wants and needs played out in a traditional social context–even at the family level.

10 Marlo Lewis { 10.09.12 at 9:15 am }

Thanks, Thomas L. and Jon for your thoughtful comments on my question. Perhaps I did not read Kirzner’s essay carefully enough, but he does not seem to make your point about unequal distribution of wealth. I would assume that’s because, for him as for his mentor Ludwig von Mises, distribution in a market economy is inherently equitable. Distribution, Mises argued, reflects each actor’s success in satisfying the wants of others. Moreover, competition and entrepreneurship (Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”) continually rearranges the distribution of wealth as consumer preferences and other economic conditions change, thereby precluding the stratification of society into fixed classes or castes.

I would restate my question as follows. Kirzner argues on impeccable Austrian methodological grounds that wealth is “subjective” (dependent on consumer preferences, which differ from person to person and vary for the same person at different times). But in the political arena, economic arguments that do not point to measurable results do not persuade. Therefore, when addressing economic policy choices, the defender of capitalism, to be effective, must deal with quantities, and not just the tautology that voluntary exchange makes both parties better off, else the exchange would not occur.

Would Kirzner disagree? Or am I missing the point of his criticism?

11 rbradley { 10.09.12 at 9:37 am }

Kirzner would say, I believe, that economics has nothing to say about the ‘justness’ of income distribution. That is a normative question. Economics explains the process of income distribution and offers insights such as the economic ‘pie” being not fixed but expansive (wealth not being a zero-sum game, as some politicians believe) in a market economy.

12 Al Fin { 10.11.12 at 5:58 pm }

I would like to see the works of Henry Hazlitt and Frederic Bastiat promoted more in late primary and early secondary education.

And we should not only teach the ideas of these men, but also some of the things in their lives which made them willing and able stand out from the crowd without wilting under mass disapproval.

As one of the foremost promoters of “The Dangerous Child” school of childhood and adolescent education, it seems to me that we need to inculcate a greater sense of toughness and resiliency into our children.

Intellectual training is not enough, and your list should be expanded to include thought leaders who promote training in the executive functions, and emotional resiliency in a potentially hostile environment.

If we raise even one more generation of psychological neotenates and lifelong adolescents, all the libertarian training in the world is unlikely to save them.

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