The Hayekian Book of Revelation

Gregory Alan Thornbury, the new president at The King’s College, recently gave a fascinating convocation address to begin the school year. In it, he made reference to Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, and encouraged students to think about philosophical ideas that have stood opposed to some of the philosophies that dominated much of the world during the last century: “totalitarianism, fascism, and a century of holocaust.”

Jerry Bowyer of Forbes magazine interviewed Dr. Thornbury on this and other matters—ranging from economics to Harry Potter to Dr. Who to Christian eschatology—and I thoroughly enjoyed it! For those who don’t want to listen to the entire interview, Bowyer has transcribed the portion of the interview devoted to Hayek and John’s Apocalypse. Here’s an excerpt:

I think that when you study the texts of particularly the New Testament, although it has its origins in the Mosaic Law, I think what you see there is the seedbed of freedom of conscience. You see democratic religion in the pages of the New Testament. So whereas some people in Acts chapter 5 see some kind of nascent socialism, actually what you’re seeing is free people electing to gather together in solidarity around key principles and ideals and goals, and the people who joined in that were people like Lydia. There was a mercantile aspect to the early Christian movement. When I read Hayek and I see his argument for the link between private property and freedom, I see a direct line going all the way back to those pages of the New Testament, because what the Apostle Paul and others were representing was an alternative to totalitarianism. When you look at the Apostle John – and whatever else you think the Book of Revelation says about the future—what it definitely was, was the greatest political protest letter ever penned in the history of the world, because he was saying, “The state has no business telling us how we should govern our own life together.” And when I say “society” or “culture”, here’s how I’m defining that, Jerry: I take a nineteenth century definition by Johann Herder, who many recognize as the founding father of modern sociology. He said, “Culture is the lifeblood of a civilization. It’s the flow of moral energy that keeps a society intact.” So, when I see Hayek talking about making sure that we stay free of tyranny, I see the entailments of that going all the way back to the emperor and Domitian and the Apostle John.

This article is definitely worth your while! Read the rest here.

[Image credit]

Bottom-Up Leadership

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Ron Paul’s latest book, The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System. Last night I particularly appreciated a passage where Dr. Paul wrote about the process of becoming a good leader:

Successful leadership begins with self-government. It is extended through successful followership. A person learns the basics of leadership by working closely with a competent leader who serves as a model. He gains access to the leader through his willingness to submit to leadership. This is the principle of bottom-up leadership. It begins at the bottom. Then, over a period of time, the follower advances in his level of responsibility. Maybe he attends a meeting on a regular basis; he shows up. This is basic and absolutely necessary to success in life, because a lot of people do not show up. Maybe he gets there early. He helps to set up the chairs. He learns how to make the coffee. He offers himself as a servant to whoever is running the meeting. He becomes useful to somebody else.

The themes of responsibility and servant leadership are recurring ones as Paul outlines his methodology for producing educated citizens who are ready to succeed in whatever course they choose to pursue, and to lead with humility:

So few people are faithful servants that those people inevitably rise in the chain of command, even if there is no official chain of command. So few people are reliable followers that leaders reach out to them, train them, disciple them, and put them in positions of leadership.

The discipleship model of servant leadership is prevalent in the Bible, so it should come as no surprise that Dr. Paul frequently credits his study of Scripture in forming his own style of leadership. Yet another reason to love the good Doctor!  I hope you’ll check out his book. You won’t regret it!

Only Bad People Send Their Kids to Private School?

Allison Benedikt’s recent Slate.com editorial about public vs. private schooling is a top candidate for “Worst Article of the Year”. The title alone is enough to give you the basic gist: “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person.”

Benedikt really, really wants you to give your children to the State. Because they’ll get a better education there? No. Because home and private schools fail to offer an excellent education? Nope. Because the State has their best interests in mind? Not a chance.

So why?

She freely admits that government education is often “crappy,” and that private schools are much more likely to provide a “superior education,” yet insists that it is in the best interests of future generations for everyone to be publicly indoctrinated. And even those inclined not to despise nationalized schooling ought to admit that her case is less than compelling. In fact, it is just the type of article I would write if I were tying to use satire to convince readers of the deficiencies of public education, though by all accounts she is actually serious. This quote should suffice to give you her basic argument, should you choose to spare yourself from further asininity:

I went K–12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn’t offer AP classes, and in four years, I only had to read one bookThere wasn’t even soccer. This is not a humblebrag! I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either. You know all those important novels that everyone’s read? I haven’t. I know nothing about poetry, very little about art, and please don’t quiz me on the dates of the Civil War. I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.

Forgive me if I aspire to more than for my children to “survive” school. And it’s certainly debatable whether she is, in fact, “doing fine.” Anyone who can compare the educational benefit of “getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house” with the merits of reading Walt Whitman is practically begging not to be taken seriously.

I can only hope that the thousands of people who have read and shared this article in the last 24 hours are doing it, like me, to point out how utterly ridiculous it is, though my cynicism leads me to suspect that there are probably many who actually believe that continuing to sacrifice generations of children on the altar of government schooling is “worth it, for the eventual common good.”

No, thank you. I, for one, will proudly wear my “bad person” badge with honor as I fulfill my God-given responsibility to do everything in my power to provide my children with the best education possible, starting with their discipleship as followers of Christ. And as more and more “bad people” are awakened to the dangers of things like the “common core,” we’ll be here to welcome them to the exodus from State schools, which is the only real hope for the education of future generations.

EDIT: Here’s someone else who’s also “Proud to Be a Bad Parent”, and more reasoned in his response to Benedikt’s article than I have been.

The Great American Taxing Game

The folks at Learn Liberty have put out another interesting video. This one is interactive! Here you have the opportunity to choose between three commodities lawmakers seem to be particularly fond of taxing (gas, cigarettes, and luxury items), and then see some of the consequences of such a tax. Check it out!

These videos are a good way to demonstrate once again the “one lesson” from Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson (my review), which is summed up in the following sentence:

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

Non Scholae, Sed Vitae Discimus

As another school year begins (yes, it’s still JULY; welcome to Cookeville), I’m reminded again of the extreme importance of conveying to our children a biblical worldview. From Nancy Pearcey’s excellent book Total Truth:

A school superintendent once told me that most educators define “a Christian teacher” strictly in terms of personal behavior: things like setting a good example and showing concern for students. Almost none define it in terms of conveying a biblical worldview on the subjects they teach, whether literature, science, social studies, or the arts. In other words, they are concerned about being a Christian in their work, but they don’t think in terms of having a biblical framework on the work itself.

In many Christian schools, the typical strategy is to inject a few narrowly defined “religious” elements into the classroom, like prayer and Bible memorization—and then teach exactly the same things as the secular schools. The curriculum merely spreads a layer of spiritual devotion over the subject matter like icing on a cake, while the content itself stays the same.

Thank God for Highland Rim Academy!

Lower Salaries for Tennessee Teachers?

Today the Tennessee State Board of Education will vote on a change to the State Minimum Salary Structure, which would result in lowering the minimum amount that public schools are required to pay their teachers. Predictably, many Tennessee teachers aren’t too happy about this. They claim that this will result in “decreased lifetime earnings” for all teachers, which has led to nearly 6,000 signatures on a petition to “protect fair and equitable pay” for teachers.

At the risk of making this my least popular blog post ever, I have a confession to make: I don’t get the outrage.

Don’t get me wrong. I love school teachers. My dad is a public school teacher, as are a great many of my friends, colleagues, and church family members. I have no desire to see any of them make a lower income. I just don’t see how the proposed changes would hurt any of them. In fact, this ought to be seen as a positive step toward improving Tennessee schools.

The purpose of the proposal is to give schools greater flexibility in their hiring. The changes are only to the minimum salary that a teacher can be offered; most school systems already pay more than the minimum, which will undoubtedly remain the case. Schools that are willing to pay higher salaries will still attract better teachers, which is why the Tennessee Education Association’s claim that teachers will have “no incentive” to seek advanced degrees is baloney.

Of course, one reality that many teachers do not want to have to face is that the laws of supply and demand are working against them. There are simply more people with education degrees than there are jobs for teachers. Ask an economics teacher what that would mean for salaries in any profession that wasn’t funded by tax dollars.

Here’s what a lower minimum salary will do for Tennessee schools and teachers:

  • Schools willing to pay competitive salaries will be more attractive to better teachers, which should in turn provide incentive for other school systems to pay more than the minimum.
  • Schools that cannot afford to pay above the minimum will be able to hire more teachers, resulting in fewer unemployed teachers.
  • Prospective college students concerned about the possibility of earning a lower salary will be less likely to major in education, reducing the surplus of qualified teachers, and increasing the relative value of those who are great teachers.
  • Under-performing* teachers will not receive automatic raises, becoming less of a burden on Tennessee tax payers.

The bottom line is this: These changes will make the market for good teachers more competitive, and competition is a good thing. The cream will still rise to the top, and the pressure on smaller, less-funded school districts will be eased. If you’re a great teacher, there will be schools willing to pay you for your talents. If you’re a newly certified teacher struggling to find a job, this will make you more employable. If you’re not a good teacher, it’s time to be willing to bring home a lower paycheck or consider another line of work. There are plenty of teachers willing to take your place.

I, for one, hope this proposal passes. Not because I don’t value teachers, but because I do.

* Note: By “under-performing” I am not referring to test scores. I agree with the TEA (and every teacher I’ve ever known) that test-based evaluation of teachers is a terrible idea. But let’s be honest. There are some teachers who are content to merely come to work and collect a pay check. There are also a great many excellent teachers who consistently go above-and-beyond. Save the pay raises for them!

On Doing Good for the Poor

In the mid-18th century, the British Parliament was tampering with the price of various commodities, imposing tariffs and duties on the importing and exporting of these commodities in the American colonies and elsewhere in the Empire. Then, as today, this type of government meddling was ostensibly meant to help the poor. Thankfully, many American patriots realized that these centralizing policies helped no one but the State, and only served to perpetuate the dependency of the poor on their masters.

Check out this scathing commentary from a letter penned by Benjamin Franklin, published in The London Chronicle in 1766, titled “On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor”:

I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.

There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor. Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavors to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burden? On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you passed that act, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness. In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty.

[Read the full letter here. It's great!]

Capitalists and libertarians are often accused of being apathetic toward the condition of the poor. In reality, capitalism remains the best and most effective means of alleviating poverty ever devised. For more on why Christians who are concerned for the poor (and, really, this ought to be a redundant phrase) should be capitalists, I highly recommend Jay Richards’ book Money, Greed, and God (my review).