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September 15, 2008

Quote for the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

In a comment on a posting at The Art of the Possible, Kevin Carson writes:

Both the liberal and conservative establishments have a vested interest in pretending that the great trusts emerged from “laissez-faire,” that the economy was largely a “free market” until the turn of the 20th century, and that only state action can prevent the natural tendency of a free market to give rise to domination by big business. The conservative establishment has an interest in fostering this myth because it justifies the present wealth and power of the giant corporations as the result of superior competitive virtue in our marvelous “free enterprise system.” The liberal establishment has in interest in fostering it, as well, because it implies that a regulatory/welfare state (run by them, of course) is the only thing protecting us from domination by big business.

The central fact of American history since the late 19th century has been the mutual support and coalescence of big government with big business, rather than mutual hostility. And the central function of the publik skools is to churn out docile and obedient human resources with sufficient skills to do their jobs but lacking in the historical perspective or critical thinking ability to undermine their loyalty to the corporate state.

I have no problems with any of this. Do you?



posted by Michael at September 15, 2008


Hey, you can always find problems. I think the first one is "what does he mean by 'free market'?" If the intention is to imply that the incredible growth of regulation and control of business by government in the last 50 years has not changed the freedom of the marketplace, then I think some evidence needs to be presented. But it may have been the case that before the regulatory state, there was control of business by government by other means. I have some problems with the idea that a 'conservative' establishment would want to protect all big corporations simply because they are big.

I don't know if it is the 'central fact' but I do agree that government and business tend to act like a complementary symbiosis to our detriment. Rent-seeking and political contributions are just part of it. However, you also have to consider that corporations do indeed compete with one another. And so do different ideologies in government.

The comment about public schools is also over-stated: certainly part of their function is as depicted, but a lot of this can also be seen as the normal transference of the cultural capital of civilization to the next generation: arithmetic, literacy and even the ability to show up on time.

But I have no problem with the idea that historical and critical skills are often left by the wayside.

Posted by: Bryan on September 15, 2008 1:35 PM

And the central function of the publik skools is to churn out docile and obedient human resources with sufficient skills to do their jobs but lacking in the historical perspective or critical thinking ability to undermine their loyalty to the corporate state.

This sounds like something written by someone who didn't go to public school. Um. "Sufficient skills?" Not really. Sometimes yes, but mostly no -- in terms of "value added," the schools where we would most like them to train people up to be able to do the kinds of jobs we want them to do -- i.e. poor areas -- they tend to be miserable failures. And in middle class neighbourhoods, certainly in upper-middle class neighbourhoods, the public educational infrastructure is practically irrelevant to the training and socialisation of the children.

Maybe some bureaucrat somewhere thought that was the central function of the "publik skools." But if so, the poor fool was hopelessly naive. The schools simply don't work well enough to socialise anyone into anything. At least, not to do it intentionally.

I mean -- look at the incandescent failure of public school sex-ed programs. People sometimes complain that abstinence programs don't work -- and they don't! But they work about as well as normal sex-ed, which is to say, not at all. Schools, at least in their pedagogical aspect, just aren't the all-pervasive force people seem to think they are. In theory, sure, you've managed to box up a bunch of children in a room with an authority figure for 7, 8 hours out of the day. So in theory, you ought to be able to indoctrinate them effectively. More likely, the children will indoctrinate each other, Lord of the Flies style, and what they'll indoctrinate each other with is gobsmackingly idiotic pap, more ludicrous than anything the most malign government could ever come up with.

Posted by: Taeyoung on September 15, 2008 2:33 PM

Carson is right, unfortunately.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on September 15, 2008 3:15 PM

No. I'm inclined to believe it, along with the Austrian story that the Fed and fiat money are the causes of the business cycle, not the cure. But I'm just a layman - not a Lehman - so what do I know?

If anybody has a link proving that Ben Bernanke has a better handle on the business cycle than Murray Rothbard, by all means lay it on me.

Posted by: robert61 on September 15, 2008 3:25 PM

I'm in.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on September 15, 2008 3:26 PM

I'm always amazed by the anti-corporate raving that has become the rallying cry of the left? Don't they know that PC is the official doctrine of corporate America?

The second part, about the schools... what else would you expect? Why should a society pay for education for any other reason than to prepare people for jobs?

To the extent that schools have tried this "critical thinking" bullshit, they've just turned into propaganda mills for the left.

You seem, Michael, to regard personal freedom and individuality as always good, without limitation. I don't. I've seen so much self-destruction in my lifetime from this obsession with freedom and individuality. Most people have no idea how or what to do with either. Certainly, people have the right to freedom and individuality.

What exactly do you think people might do with their time besides prepare for a career in existing institutions and work for those institutions? This seems like a remarkably good plan to me. How long can people just hang out before them become a nuisance to themselves and others?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 15, 2008 4:51 PM

One thing that's become clear from the present financial debacle — if it wasn't already — is that government and globalist capitalism take in each other's washing.

In the aftermath of the 1930s depression, there was a period where the government wasn't afraid to tackle big business where it gave labor or the public a raw deal, but those days are gone.

Regulators like the SEC have taken a permanent vacation, allowing abuses like "liar loans" and collateralized debt obligations. The political class and the capitalist elite wanted a subservient workforce of credit-opium addicts and imported Third World peasants in place of a middle class, and that's what it brought about.

As usual, there were unintended consequences. The economy is on the edge of collapsing, precariously held up by government intervention and sweet talk. Welcome to free enterprise socialism.

Posted by: Rick Darby on September 15, 2008 5:14 PM

I agree with it 100% and have been saying this to many of my friends over the years. The fact is that big institutions, whether they be private or public, have a lot in common with each other in that they are dysfunctional bureaucracies. It is a law of nature that bureaucracy does not work and that smaller, more nimble institutions and entities will outrun them if given a chance. Thus both the left and the right, dominated by their respective institutions, want to prevent true competition from ever occurring.

The test of this collusion will be next year when the congressional democrats and republicans want to use public finance to bail out many of these institutions such as the Wall Street Banks or the Big 3 automakers.

In order for a truely free, prosperous society to emerge, all of the large scale institutions must be allowed to pop so that people can move on to do new things.

Posted by: kurt9 on September 15, 2008 5:29 PM

Regarding the public schools, he attributes to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by incompetence. John Taylor Gatto commits the same error here:

The "corporate state" can't fashion public schools to generate students in the form of their choice. However, parents can be prevented from using their tax dollars at the school of their choice. Students can be prevented from making any meaningful decisions because it would make them hard for the administration to control. They can be given meaningless work, because that's easier to grade. They can be herded from place to place and task to task because that is easier than monitoring individuals making decisions for themselves.

The error is "That which is so, is so because powerful people wish it." Many things happen that aren't wished by anybody in particular. I don't think it's in the interests of the Corporate State served to have an incompetent postal service. I rather think it's the interest of voters in big square states to have their first class mail subsidized by members of densely populated states, and in the interests of postal workers to have their laziness indulged. Postal crapitude comes out of the intersection of those two things.

Likewise with the public schools. Teachers and administrators want undemanding jobs from which they cannot be fired. Parents want subsidized day care, and to be absolved from any responsibilities for their children's educations other than voting one way or another. Voters value the public mission of educating "our" children more than the quality of the educations of individual children. Suburbanites want the children of the urban poor to be housed for a while until they graduate to prison.

Posted by: Alex J. on September 15, 2008 5:39 PM

I actually agree with ST on this one. Before public schools, a huge percentage of the population was illiterate. Most people, myself included, aren't exactly churning dynamos who would move mountains if only public schools didn't crush their spirits. Most people, if left alone, are pretty fucking aimless. Again, I include myself in that group. Public schools provide a huge service in getting most people who attend prepared to make their own way in the world. The dynamos will do so regardless, the rest of us need a bit of a push.

Of course public schools could improve a lot, but in general, do a pretty damn good job, in my opinon.

Posted by: JV on September 15, 2008 7:11 PM

"The "corporate state" can't fashion public schools to generate students in the form of their choice."

Bullshit. The United States used to have the best public schools of any nation in the world. The standards were quite high. Control of the schools has been systematically taken out of local hands. This is done intentionally. In addition, charter schools don't have any local involvement at all. This is done by design, or are you too ignorant to figure that out?

Who lowered the standards? Who is letting the borders remain wide open? Who is encouraging the corporations to ship whatever jobs they can out and import whatever H1-b's in that they can get their hands on? I see, that change is deliberate, but the highly controlled public school system is not. Yes, that makes a great deal of sense.

Of course teachers want easy jobs. Too bad for your dumb theory that the easiest teaching job is one where the students are eager to learn, intelligent, well-disciplined, and the standards are high to keep the kids busy. That's the real easy job. You've probably never taught anybody anything for one day in your entire life.

Of course, in your mind, the so-called "easy jobs" are the ones where kids don't learn, and there are low standards, right? You wanna teach in those schools where the low standards reign--the inner city schools with tons of violence, apathy, poor discipline, and shitty pay? You want classrooms full of kids with nothing to do? Are you stupid?

Hey if that's easy street, then why do all the teachers head out to the burbs for jobs, where the standards are higher, where more is taught to the kids, and where there are involved parents to run the teacher up and down the flagpole if there's a problem at shcool?

Bullshit. Lots of teachers care, and so do parents, and more kids than you think. This dumbing down is by design. Maybe that's the IQ test--if you can't see that the dumbing down is deliberate, you are probably dumbed down as well. From what I've read above, I can see that the program is working very well indeed.

Posted by: BIOH on September 15, 2008 7:39 PM

Yeah, it's all just a big plot. The only question is, how long is it going to take before someone here blames the Jews...

For what it's worth, I have big problems with this, and the fact Michael believes this mullarky just shows that you can take the boy out of the 60's, but you can't take the 60's out of the boy. AmeriKKKan Empire, anyone? "Che" t-shirt? Personally, I'm with ST.

Posted by: Tschafer on September 15, 2008 7:57 PM

Yeah, quite a few problems with this. Agree that politicians of all stripes have a vested interest in pushing the government > markets line, for the same reason managers at rival car companies would both prefer you drive than take the bus. They may disagree on whether you should buy a Mustang or an Impala, but the difference is minuscule.

Anyways, on to the problems:

Since the late 19th century, the proportion of the economy owned and operated by central government has increased 5ish-fold. Certainly there has been coalescence between governments and business for as long as they have existed side by side, there was a lot less government to collude with back then.

Second, it is idiotic to blame businesses for accepting subsidies, state-granted monopolies, bailouts etc. People will act to further their self-interest; expecting otherwise is Disneyland stupidity. It is the idiot voters that are to blame, for electing politicians who create shitty incentives for businesses.

And none of this bullshit about the "mission" of public schools. They exist at the dysfunctional and corrupt intersection of teaching unions, D of E bureaucrats and 1960's-style blank-slate anti-science.

This post is the kind of thing that sounds very deep and insightful to the 105-115 IQ crowd, but on more careful examination turns out not to contain anything of substance. How it slipped past Michael B's usually great judgment I don't know.

Posted by: Zdeno on September 16, 2008 12:47 AM

Great point by ST that "critical thinking skills" = socialist propaganda. I am nearing the end of about 18 years of public school/University and I promise, the takeover of our educational institutions by those who would see the West burned to the ground and the earth salted is complete.

Disclaimer: I am Canadian. Maybe there are still a few chapters of the Young Republicans floating around down south.

But while I'm on education: The overwhelming focus of government education programs is on boosting the achievement of those at the bottom of the pack, i.e. "No Child Left Behind." But the reality is that 95% of the innovation and wealth in our society is going to be created by the 5% brightest people. THEY are the ones we should be pouring resources into, giving those 140+ IQ kids the tools to create the world-changing innovations. Who cares if Johnny-80-IQ is a slightly better bricklayer? Or if he can read at an 8th instead of a 9th grade level by the time he's 18 and never reads anything longer than a stop sign for the rest of his life?

Nothing against Johnny. Good, honest work, laying bricks. But let's accept that it is OK to leave some kids behind.

Posted by: Zdeno on September 16, 2008 1:01 AM

The only real problem I have with the quote is the snarky tone. You can re-write the passage without the snarky tone and come to a more reasonable conclusion: that while the right fetishizes markets and the left fetishizes collective action, the truth of the matter is that we have been operating for years with a kind-of mixed system, and operating succesfully. Success brings legitimacy and permits other institutions (such as schools) to connect and participate, with a general increase in human happiness resulting. The alternative being . . . ?

The passage reminds me of why I don't like Chomsky. What he calls 'manufacturing consent' I call the workings of culture in a large, mass society. You want to call it evil, fine--but keep your anarchism to yourself, please. Methinks it would not do a very good job manufacturing consent, or producing the goods that produce legitimacy.

Posted by: fenster moop on September 16, 2008 8:04 AM

"Before public schools, a huge percentage of the population was illiterate." Could be; but then again trainee schoolteachers are indoctrinated with this belief in Britain where it is certainly untrue.

Posted by: dearieme on September 16, 2008 9:43 AM

No, the public education system is utter claptrap.

The problem is that they indoctrinate the kids with the belief in the efficacy of bureaucracy. They teach reverence for large scale institutions. Preferably big government. If not, then big business. The schools promote the idea that going with the flow and going through the motions constitutes economic productivity when it is anything but.

This is all very damaging to the economy because the kids come out of the schools believing that big government/big business solutions can work and should be applied to "solve social and economic problems" This, of course, results in more and more domination of the economy by big government and big business, thus reducing economic growth which is badly needed by people such as myself who are working on their own.

None of the big government programs has ever worked. None of the big science programs has developed anything of value. The problem with these is that they are an "attractive nuisance" that get in the way of private efforts to develop such technologies (e.g. the Bureaucracy of NASA which has impeded the development of commercial space industry, the Tokamak program which has failed to produce commercial fusion despite the billions of dollars poured into it, etc.).

The fact is that all large scale human institutions are bureaucracies and it is a law of nature that bureaucracy, by definition, is dysfunctional. Thus, a public education system that teaches the belief in and the efficacy of large scale human institutions (either public or private) is not only worthless, but is damaging to progress and prosperity, in general.

It should be terminated.

Also, any philosophy or ideology that is also based on the premise of the efficacy of large scale social institutions (bureaucracy) is also utterly flawed as well. Anyone who believes in this junk is either brain-damaged (probably by the public schools), evil, or a parasite (lives off of the productivity of others).

Take your pick.

Posted by: kurt9 on September 16, 2008 12:44 PM

During schooling, the thought, "the whole point of this seems to be to turn us into cannon fodder" never occurred to some of you?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 16, 2008 12:59 PM

"But the reality is that 95% of the innovation and wealth in our society is going to be created by the 5% brightest people. THEY are the ones we should be pouring resources into, giving those 140+ IQ kids the tools to create the world-changing innovations."

Dynamic people will succeed regardless of almost any situation. Well-raised, fortunate kids will respond to even the most average teacher. The hardest jobs in teaching, as someone else here mentioned, are in low-income areas and/or teaching low-performing/special needs kids. Teaching, for better or worse, is around 30% imparting knowledge in your area of expertise and 70% keeping the kids focused and interested. Now, you can say that for that reason, just forget it, why force these kids to be stuck in classrooms when it's obviously boring them. I'll go out on a limb and guess that the people saying this are also the first to complain about unskilled youth committing crimes and generally fucking up.

Is schooling a guaranteed stopgap for this behavior? Of course not, but it does mitigate it to an extent and increase the probability that your average kid from a troubled background isn't going to wind up in prison.

I'd like to hear some alternative plans from those who believe public schooling is a waste of time. And don't say vouchers and/or charter schools unless you're willing to put taxpayer money behind those as well, thereby making then a true alternative available to all.

Posted by: JV on September 16, 2008 1:33 PM

I believe the original point was to homogenize all of the recent immigrants. I think the modern purpose is to be a part of what Dan Klein calls "The People's Romance."

"It isn’t for any economic reason; all the economic reasons favor school vouchers. It is because what made me an American is the United States Army and the public school system.” -- Robert Solow

Also, I read somewhere that the literacy rate in the US's first public school district (somewhere in Massachusetts) is now lower than it was when the district was first formed. The Last of the Mohicans was a best seller in its day, though modern readers find it difficult going.

BIOH, you might want to clean the spit off of your monitor.

Posted by: Alex J. on September 16, 2008 1:52 PM

I'd like to hear some alternative plans from those who believe public schooling is a waste of time.

me hom skoold. Din doo me no badly.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 16, 2008 2:20 PM

Michael, I was just thinking that your views on the bohemian lifestyle (namely that it should be practiced by a relatively small number of people naturally predisposed to it, and that its creep into the mainstream is a problem) also applies to public schooling. For the relatively few who feel creatively restrained by schooling, they will get by and eventually come into their own. For the rest of us, it's probably a good idea that we're in school while we figure out just what it is we both like and are good at. For the majority to take on a rebellious attitude with nothing to offer society to back it up is not a good scenario, in my opinion.

Posted by: JV on September 16, 2008 2:24 PM

"During schooling, the thought, 'the whole point of this seems to be to turn us into cannon fodder' never occurred to some of you?"

This thought occurred to all of us, and it occurred far too often.

Becoming cannon fodder, also known as doing one's duty, is one of the tragic realities of life. It is part of our karma. The rejection of that part of our fate also leads to very bad things... like the devaluation and dishonor of males.

Remember when I said that we Boomers have been reacting all our lives against our fathers, who sacrificed themselves by the tens of thousands on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima? There are times when we must be cannon fodder.

Michael, do you ever survey the outrageous social destruction of hippiedom, feminism etc., and link it back to our refusal to become cannon fodder... our refusal to obey the will of the fathers? I do. The way we dishonored our fathers has had an incredible cost. In some ways, that cost equals taking your chances as cannon fodder.

We've sucked the cult of the individual dry. I have little doubt that the wheel of karma is about to spin in the other direction... and that we will be called on once again to perform our duty as cannon fodder. This time, let's hope that men do better.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 16, 2008 2:44 PM

Re: "And the central function of the publik skools is to churn out docile and obedient human resources with sufficient skills to do their jobs but lacking in the historical perspective or critical thinking ability to undermine their loyalty to the corporate state."

I second ST's emotion on propaganda mills.

And I felt anything but docile when I finally graduated.

However, I think public schools do a fair job at doing what they're supposed to: make us literate and able to do basic math, and at the same time attempt to give us some context. It certainly provides a good start to those who want to get more education down the road. For those who don't thrive and/or don't give a crap about learning, at least they can fill out a W2, get a driver's license, and read the warning stickers on their children's equipment, even if they choose to ignore those, too.

A "free" public education is quite a gift and a privilege, even if a lot of folks don't realize it or take advantage of it.

Posted by: yahmdallah on September 16, 2008 3:18 PM

I think most of what I could said has already been said by Shouting Thomas and especially Taeyoung. The idea that 95% of the population is even capable of "critical thinking" on a level deeper than "school sux" or mouthing one faction or another's slogans is almost touchingly naive.

"During schooling, the thought, "the whole point of this seems to be to turn us into cannon fodder" never occurred to some of you?"

If I wanted to turn children into cannon fodder, I would try to inculcate reflexive and unthinking patriotism and hatred of foreigners. I would also engage in real regimentation: uniforms, marching, brutal discipline, weapons training. The sort of thing China did on a massive scale in the 1950s and 1960s. Whatever else our schools may be guilty of, at least they don't do that.

Posted by: keypusher on September 16, 2008 4:42 PM

Most people can't think, most of the remainder won't think, the small fraction who do think mostly can't do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly, accurately, creatively, and without self-delusion – in the long run, these are the only people who count.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on September 16, 2008 8:13 PM

Two comments:

When did the U.S. have the best public schools in the world? In, say, the 1920s, when the U.S. was still 40% rural, and areas like Appalachia and the Deep South were dirt poor? And when blacks were relegated to segregated schools with minimal funding? One data point: during WW II, the Army found that only about 1% of recruits with four years of schooling were illiterate. During the Korean War, the same group was about 15% illiterate.

Yes, the smartest and most creative 5% produces far more than 5% of social capital. On the other hand, the dumbest and most ignorant 5% generates far more than 5% of social costs.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on September 17, 2008 5:08 AM

to tame esp. by generations of breeding, to live in close association with human beings as a pet or work animal and usually creating a dependency so that the animal loses its ability to live in the wild.

Posted by: Alex J. on September 17, 2008 7:16 AM

We don't know how to raise IQ. IQ operates as a kind of governor on how long you grow mentally: 100 IQs stop developing new kinds of congnitive capacities at around 13 or so. So while they learn new facts in high school, they don't learn new ways of thinking. Including "critical thinking".

Critical thinking is not a set of facts, and that means "leftist pap" facts, or rightist "manufactured consent" facts. It is a set of cognitive capacities with their associated mental structures. Critical thinking in this sense is required to engage in hypothesis testing, to entertain counterfactuals, and other kinds of things the 100 IQs can never really learn how to do. They're not smart enough.

Since 100s and below are kept in school past their ability to develop new ways of thinking, including "critical thinking", any attempt to teach them CT is bound to devolve into pap-pushing. The argument degenerates into "which pap do we push"? It must degenerate in this way, because the kids just don't have what it takes to think critically. They're not growing any more mentally by the time they hit high school, and there's no way we know to make them do so.

Once IQs are higher than somewhere around 100-115, mental growth continues well into high school (I'm aware mental age isn't used much for IQ estimation; I don't care). It is these kids who can benefit from training in critical thinking because they can understand hypothesis testing, they're not flummoxed by counterfactuals, they can grasp statistical inference and probabilities. These things are the heart of critical thinking. And only kids smart to get them can be expected to learn critical thinking.

It's no accident that 110-115 is about the IQ level needed to survive university. Which is where most kids learn critical thinking.

All of this is to say that much of the criticisms of the public school system seem implicitly to focus on high schools. If I'm right, high school is an inevitable disaster: a holding tank for the bright, who should be exposed to university-level education from age 14-15 on; and the not-so-bright, who are being asked to develop thinking patterns they'll never have or use.

Elementary schools don't seem to be anywhere near as problematic. I learned a great deal in elementary school that I would not have at home: addition, multiplication, yuck! But high school was an ordeal of boredom. It still is: too academic, too abstract, too 110-115 IQ-y for most, and not 115+ IQ-y enough for the 10-25% of kids who can learn at that level.

High school is the problem. Solution: Ecrasez l'infame! Drastic, but doable.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 17, 2008 9:28 AM

By "cannon fodder" I meant "eager, naive participants in the multicultural, feminized, globalizing, sprawl-lovin' , packaged-food-gobbling workplace." Seems to me that there's zero conflict between the brainwashing that leftie educationalists deal out and today's corporate workplace. They serve each other well -- but do they serve us well, not to mention life more generally? Didn't think I'd need to spell that out to a smart crowd like this one.

And sure, an education ought to be in large part an introduction to the culture in which you're going to spend your life and to skills that'll enable you to take part in it in a worthwhile and rewarding way. Hmmm ... Have y'all found that that's what "an education" is in the U.S. today? In my own case: my education was something I had to shake off before I could really engage in life.

FWIW, I'm all for greater variety of any sort in education than we have today: vocational schools, letting kids quit at 14 and get to work, on the job training, vouchers, charter schools, home schooling, night schools, online learning ... Let a thousand flowers bloom. The standard thing? That too. But why fixate on it? Why favor it? And why require it of everyone? Bust it up.

Y'all do realize that public schooling as we know it today was largely the creation of Otto von Bismarck, right? And that his centralizing, top-down Prussian approach (which wasn't starry-eyed and altruistic but was instead motivated by a desire to make the populace dependent on the Prussian state) was adopted by American "progressives," who found it suited their purposes too? The state would set the curriculum ... Parents would be forced to send their kids to government schools whether they wanted to or not ... Taxes would be levied on everyone to support this system ... Etc. Nothing pretty in this picture, as far as I'm concerned. Centralizers (and wannabe-dictators) all.

As for corporations, you don't have to be a '60s burnout to be as wary of them as of governments (not that they're automatically evil, of course). Hey, a couple of nice quotes:

"The market, left to itself, puts everything on sale; hence the problem of pornography. We don’t allow children to be sold – not yet: but we do allow them to be treated as market commodities when they are in the womb. It is very obvious, when you look at these facts, that the market is a good only when controlled by moral sentiment – as Adam Smith recognized. The market should be limited by laws reflecting the needs of the moral life. Certain things should be withdrawn from the market, in the way that religion has always tried to withdraw the aspects of human life on which the reproduction of society depends."

"Big business is ideologically neutral. Big business always moves where the money is. If the money is in left-wing propaganda, that’s where big business will be."

Those quotes aren't from a wild-eyed hippie still peddling '60s nonsense, they're from the conservative Roger Scruton.

I don't have any problem with a lot of lefty criticisms of the U.S., do you? I think lefties are often perceptive and eloquent. Marx was a complainer of genius, it seems to me. It's with their proposed solutions that I have a quarrel. And has anyone else noticed that some of Adam Smith's descriptions of capitalism and industry and what they do to people and life are almost exactly the same as Marx's? Maybe they're both onto something.

Being wary of Maureen Dowd doesn't automatically mean embracing Rush Limbaugh.

FWIW, I agree that Kevin Carson's choice of the term "critical thinking" was unfortunate. Teachers love the idea of "critical thinking" and have turned it into a package and a program that (strangely enough) always steers participants to the same conclusions. In their hands "critical thinking" becomes "mind control." But I seriously doubt that Kevin (who's anything but a leftie, let alone an educational-establishment one) meant critical thinking in that kooky and limited sense. I'm pretty sure he meant "independence of mind" and "ability to think and see independently and clearly."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 17, 2008 11:54 AM

Patrick, those are some mighty sweeping generalizations. My experience teaching high-school English is that kids at all IQ levels had milestones when suddenly, something clicked in their brain and they jumped to the next level. "Critical thinking" is a rather vague term, but my emphasis is my classroom was to get kids thinking in new ways. For some, it would mean deep analysis of a certain text; for others, it would mean simply grasping what was going on in the story and what motivated the characters; and for others, it would mean getting them to just read and write a fucking paragraph.

My point is that almost all my students made progress throughout the year. That progress was relative to two things: their innate intelligence (and that is amazingly difficult to measure) and their upbringing (how much importance did the parents put on education, was their a father around, etc.). My most difficult student by FAR was a white kid who fancied himself a little Nazi skinhead who carved swastikas in his desk, whose homelife was a horror show, and who wrote one of the most unexpectedly profound and challenging essay about racial themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. The kid was intelligent as hell, but a total disaster.

The easiest kids were of average intelligence from decent homes. Easy-going, playful, willing to stick it out.

So Patrick, I wholeheartedly disagree with your position that some people just stop developing a capacity to learn at 13 (a nice arbitrary number). Hell, I've continued to have epiphanies into ways of thinking my whole life, and I'm no genius.

Also, it's amazing how smart all us commenters are. Seriously, we must have the highest mean IQ level in all the internets, which allows us to posit how those "below 100 IQ" people should be treated. Thank God were not one of those, huh? Nasty little creatures, they.

Posted by: JV on September 17, 2008 12:02 PM

I also disagree with the conventional wisdom about the "Greatest" generation and the boomers. The greatest generation is not really that great. They just got lucky. They came out of two decades of suppressed economic growth due to flawed government policy (FDR's depression and the war). They were able to occupy the key management slots of companies by virtue of their existence and the fact that the rest of the world's factories had been mashed flat by the war and that, therefor, the U.S. companies had no international competition.

The Keynesian economic policies that their policy makers practiced for 25 years bequeathed the stageflation of the 70's to their baby boomer kids, just when they were entering the job market. The boomers got screwed royally by LBJ, the dick president, and the resultant stagflation that lasted for an entire decade. Is it no wonder why they choose to smoke pot and get laid for a decade? Its not like they had the economic opportunities that their parents had.

I am right at the top of Gen-X. However, my parents had us quite late (compared to their cohorts). So, I remember the boomer kids of my parent's friends as well as the boomer baby sitters. I think the current portrayal of the boomers as slackers is quite wrong. I remember the boomers when I was a kid in the 70's worked and studied damn hard to create whatever life they wanted to create for themselves. Sure, they partied in high school and college. But they also studied and worked hard too. They got good grades (back when you actually had to study in H.S.) and went on to good universities.

I think the boomers did remarkably well considering the stagflation P.O.S. economy they were handed by the so-called "greatest" generation.

Posted by: kurt9 on September 17, 2008 12:30 PM

Great comment, Michael. And good for you for being intellectually independent enough to recognize Marx's genius as a critic of capitalism (though not, as you point out, as any kind of analyst of an alternative).

You might want to check out Michael Perelman (, a Marx-influenced economist who wrote a book on Marx's theories of capitalist crisis. Some of Marx's ideas about the periodic macro instability of capitalism were quite prescient, anticipating Keynes although in a less systematic and worked-out way. Particularly relevant today is the idea of "fictitious capital", which Marx was working on toward the end of his life. Here is Perelman on that:

Karl Marx’s concept of fictitious capital is very useful in understanding modern crises. I have explored this in an earlier book, entitled Marx’s Crises Theory: Scarcity, Labor, and Finance.

For Marx, capitalism uses markets to distribute labor into productive activities, but it does so very imperfectly. Part of the problem is that lack of knowledge about the future causes imperfect investments. These imperfections magnify as the economy seems to prosper making people become giddy about their chances of success.

Crises are a way of eliminating unproductive investments, which eventually makes the economy stronger, unless the crisis becomes so severe that it shatters the foundation of capitalism.

The crises will become more violent if the distribution of income becomes too lopsided, leaving investors flush with money, while consumers are relatively strapped. Massive amounts of money will flow into speculative ventures, creating bubbles. In effect, a market which is supposed to be a wonderful feedback system to inform capitalists about the needs of society, takes on a logic of its own.

Posted by: MQ on September 17, 2008 2:40 PM

Marx's ideology of communism is parasitical to the core and Marx was fully aware of this. Marx said straight out in the Communist Manifesto that it was the capitalists who actually created value and that communism never created value itself. So, by his own admission communism was parasitism.

It is a waste of internet bandwidth to discuss parasitical ideologies and those who promulgate them.

Posted by: kurt9 on September 17, 2008 7:59 PM

JV: So Patrick, I wholeheartedly disagree with your position that some people just stop developing a capacity to learn at 13...

So no-one stops developing new cognitive abilities at 13? If some do, then my "assertion" , which I admit seems pretty close to obvious common sense to me, is valid. JV, I appreciate your stories about the kids in your classes, but none of them, even as anecdotes are relevant to the point I was making. Except to support it. To wit:

my emphasis is my classroom was to get kids thinking in new ways. For some, it would mean deep analysis of a certain text; for others, it would mean simply grasping what was going on in the story and what motivated the characters; and for others, it would mean getting them to just read and write a fucking paragraph.

And it's quotes like this that seem to make my point for me. There are different intellectual capacities in students, we don't know how to raise them much, and by high school not at all. There's lots of literature out there to support this claim...and there are stories like yours that illustrate it very well.

we must have the highest mean IQ level in all the internets, which allows us to posit how those "below 100 IQ" people should be treated. Thank God were not one of those, huh? Nasty little creatures, they.

JV, it is my experience in psychometrics that leads me to my position that intelligence is a) important; b) very difficult to raise by educational measures; and c) utterly irrelevant as a measure of personal worth. It is, unfortunately, people like you and Chris White who give the game away, always being the first and only people to assert that the low intelligent are somehow inferior. Oh, you claim to hate that assertion. But it's always you making it.

There's no one more obsessed with intelligence and more of an intelligence snob than a white liberal of the SWPL type. Listen to them go on about how stupid George Bush is. Intelligence differences are real and important. They are relevant to discussing the problems of public schools.

They're relevant to this discussion.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 17, 2008 9:51 PM

Of course there are intelligence differences and of course they matter. Your point was that people of a certain intelligence level stop developing the capacity to think in new ways at 13 and my point was that that is not the case at all in my experience.

Posted by: JV on September 18, 2008 12:16 AM


Just to get a little controversy started for today:

Aren't you engaging in classic SWPL nonsense here? Small is not beautiful. The giganticism of American institutions is great. And, in practice, you agree.

After all, didn't you spend your life working for a gigantic corporation? How else could you have indulged your "I don't give a shit about my job" attitude? You can't do that working for a small, intimate company.

I've also spent my life working for gigantic, global organizations. They are far better to work for than start-ups or boutique companies. They pay better and don't demand as much. Those companies will tolerate a worker who's just along for the ride and doesn't give a shit about enthusiasm and engagement.

American schools largely do prepare students to work within our gigantic institutions. You like working for those institutions. So do I.

So, what is all this crap about letting a thousand flowers bloom? You don't really believe it, at least in its practical application in your life. As I said, this is classic SWPL nonsense. Why pretend to aspire to something you don't really want?

It appears that the boutique economy only appeals to you as a consumer. You've spent your life taking your income earned from working for the gigantic corporation and spent it on your boutique tastes. So be it. Why advocate this boutique approach to life for others, when you didn't really care for it as your own means of employment?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 18, 2008 10:26 AM

"After all, didn't you spend your life working for a gigantic corporation? How else could you have indulged your "I don't give a shit about my job" attitude? You can't do that working for a small, intimate company.

I've also spent my life working for gigantic, global organizations. They are far better to work for than start-ups or boutique companies. They pay better and don't demand as much. Those companies will tolerate a worker who's just along for the ride and doesn't give a shit about enthusiasm and engagement."

These comment prove my point perfectly that large companies and large organizations of any kind are dysfunctional bureaucracies and, therefor, deserve to be pounded into oblivion by true free market competition.

Out of my 20 year work history, I spent 2 1/2 years working for a large corporation. Even thought they paid well, the work was completely meaningless and my engineering skill gradually slipped away. I despised working in this environment. I believe that bureaucracies are soul destroying institutions, because you are not able to accomplish anything meaningful.

Since then, I have worked for exclusively small companies. Yes, I have worked a lot more and a lot harder. However, it has been far, far more fulfilling and the fact that I am directly involved (and responsible for) the wealth creating process, I feel far more secure because I feel more empowered. Self-empowerment is the the only true form of security. Any other concept of security is a fraud and any institution or belief system that promulgates any concept of security not based on self-empowerment deserves to be completely irradiated.

The idea that security and the ability to create one's own future can be found in anything other than self-empowerment is the massive fraud that the public school system is based on. This is the single greatest reason why the public school system in its current form should be abolished and the people involved with it should be imprisoned for life.

Posted by: kurt9 on September 18, 2008 7:07 PM

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