The Solution to Education

I was just thinking about schooling and I had a most brilliant idea. The problem with the current model is that students are required to work for no pay. Sure, they acquire education and that is a kind of pay. But the benefits of education are remote and this clearly provides only a marginal incentive to most. The low incentive is reflected in low levels of effort. If students were paid in cash for performance they would exert more effort, just like every other economic agent.

There are a bunch of ways this could be enacted. A simple design would be to pay students according to their rank in the class: The top student receives $1000, the bottom student receives $0, with a linear graduation between. Or the top student could receive a “prize” of $5000. The problem with prizes for exceptional performance is that they do little for the incentives of weaker students, who will rationally anticipate that they have no chance at the prize and so exert no effort. This is the problem with scholarships and other prize based incentive schemes.

The scheme could also be run in a revenue neutral fashion for private schools. Instead of having a fixed fee for each student, the fees would depend on the rank or absolute performance. This would be incentive compatible for parents, who could make substantial savings, or even a profit, if little Jimmy or Jenny put in a little more effort on their maths homework.

Children are generally quite poor. They have low productivity and a low opportunity cost for their time evidenced by their low wages. An additional dollar given to a child will induce more effort than an additional dollar given to a teacher or administrator. Why are we spending money on the most expensive inputs to education? Why has nobody thought of this before?

77 thoughts on “The Solution to Education

  1. I’m told some schemes of this type run in the US and maybe elsewhere. All the better. Bring it over here. Allocate 10% of the education budget to student salaries.

  2. It’s not my website – just for kicks. What a freak eh? I guess you libertarians wouldn’t want to interfere with her personal life though.

    Anyway, back on topic,

    Does money really motivate children ? Most middle class Australian children get most of what they want anyway – computers, mobiles, video games, clothes, food, shelter – from their parents. Australian parents primarily provide for their children based on what they believe to be good parenting. For example, most parents would hesitate to purchase an xbox because they would not want their child to play computer games all day, not because of the price tag which is relatively affordable for most families.

    So would the $1000 student income be subject to parental approval? If so, then this seems to be little incentive for the child to work harder, knowing that the money could only be spent on things Mum and Dad would allow them to get anyway.
    The incentive for the child would only arise when they may do what they want with the money (permittable by law) without parental restraint. So would you allow a 13 year old to eat Mcdonalds everyday? I suppose you would actually need some enforcement mechanism to prevent the parent from controlling the child’s actions as a result of their purchases (otherwise this would remove the incentive of the scheme) eg stopping a parent who doesn’t want their kid eating candy and playing computer games 12 hours a day.

  3. Interesting questions.

    In my experience children are well motivated by money after about 5 years, though I’m sure it varies a bit.

    Cash payments would be given to parents or to kids. A parental veto over spending would decrease the incentive, but there would still be *an* incentive. Alternatively the payment could be decreased fees, in which case parents would be incentivised to incentivise their children — still a good outcome in my view.

    I don’t have kids but I would be happy for a child of mine be rewarded for hard work with extra discretionary spending. Others would probably want some constraints but that’s completely workable under the scheme too.

  4. Why be so focused on output based education anyway?

    As someone that excelled in k-12 education I think the entire thing was an entire sham.

    Instead of paying kids for school why not pay them for work? Literacy is overrated.

  5. I don’t agree with this approach at all. Extrinsic motivators are useful motivators over the short term but with kids and education (adults to) what you want to foster is an intrinsic set of motivators. My kids read books (can’t get them to stop) because I tricked them into loving books. Extrinsic motivators are not merely ineffective in this regard they can be positively counter productive.

    If you are paid to perform then ultimately you become motivated by a fear that the payments will stop. This is why so many people learn to hate their job. People motivated by a love of performing do a better job than those motivated by a fear of not performing.

    There is a reason that the job market has evolved the fixed income salary as an employment strategy. Most people are much more productive when they are focused on their work and not distracted by the ebb and flow of an extrinsic motivator. Sure we all want a bigger salary but if our pay each day was linked to how impressed our boss was with us on that day then most of us would be less productive. To be sure commission based remuneration works for some categories of jobs but not most. Humans simply don’t function that way.

    This isn’t just my thinking either. There is an extensive body of literature on this in both the rhelm of child education and human resources.

    I ran a business for ten years in which 90% of the employees were paid a large proportion of their income on a commission style basis. I would not do it again. It does not bring out the best in people. It makes them selfish rather than generous which is somewhat fatal in terms of customer service, sharing of knowledge and all the other things that make employees useful. I suspect the only reason we survived that experiment for ten years was because we recruited good people fairly consistently and the competition was quite ordinary. The competition survived because they didn’t use our crazy commission structure.

    The pay for performance idea is not new. It is as old as the hills. Luckily culture and corporate evolution has mostly culled the idea down to a workable model of fixed income salary style employment with infrequent salary adjustments. Occasionally some young thing (like me in my business) gets it in their head to try it again, but thankfully it dies and withers.

  6. Literacy is overrated.

    Whether it is literacy with reading, finance, economics, math, relationships, you name it, literacy is seriously under rated. Some people will labour hard their entire life for minuscule results simply because of a lack of literacy. Literacy opens up the wisdom of the ages and is our passport to the good life.

  7. Paying kids is a bad motivator – the point of education is to learn and want to learn more because you improve yourself, not to earn money in the process. That comes afterwards when you have the knowledge and skills to get a good job. If you want price motivators then don’t push it on all students – let the parents do it, as they have done so for many years! Is that not more libertarian?

    What we should be focusing on is getting greater independence for public sector schools and introducing greater competition at the same time. Parents and students should have a greater choice over school selection.
    I would say that a school voucher system with the public school system converting to something much more like a charter-school layout would be better.

  8. Have there been any trials done? I don’t think it’s obvious either way whether this would work. Maybe youth allowance should work this way? (i.e. you get the full payment only if you get a GPA of 7…)

  9. One possible problem I see with this proposal, especially if money is paid to the parents, is that there would be an incentive to use a proportion of the money on improving a student’s ranking through coaching, maybe quite a large proportion. So it would effectively be a transfer from the public to private tutors.

  10. If those private tutors are actually successful in improving the students that come into their care then that’s not a problem, it’s simply the people that are giving the children an education money.

  11. It’s a problem if the parents wouldn’t have spent that money on tutors in the first place, meaning it’s a diversion of public resources that would have been spent on something else.

  12. The *solution* is to stop dumbing down the curriculum.

    As academic research has progressed, the objectives of school education have aimed ever lower.

  13. Where would this incentive money come from? Taxes? So ‘free’ education costs would double?
    It’s an interesting idea, and it might help motivate some students- though you might want to change the incentive to a chocolate bar! An ex-teacher at one school promised such a prize to her students, and they all showed up early, and worked hard for the prize! An immediate reward, which the student could use straight away, seemed ideal to them!

  14. There might be some crowding out but I think it would be easily offset.

    Do you think scholarships, which are a simpler version of this, create all these bad incentives you worry about?

  15. Vouchers are not inconsistent with this.

    What do you mean by a ‘bad motivator’? Are you concerned that it won’t work or that it will make kids not love learning because they’re being paid?

  16. Great idea with youth allowance. I think there have been some schemes like this in the US. There is also a scheme paying kids to read books.

  17. I quite like this idea, although if money went to the kids it would obviously only work on those enough to appreciate it. Might have to offer lollies to the littlies.

    If it went to the parents it might motivate some to give school work a higher priority. There are plenty of families where that is pretty low.

    Maybe it could be a voucher top-up.

  18. “Social literacy” if you want to call it that is underrated.

    But I was more interested in academic/ reading based literacy.

    I think there’s actually a lot of kids that would benefit from starting work at a younger age rather than being stuck in free, compulsory, full-time education.

    I think the hierarchically structured education system undermines the autonomy of kids and retards their growth in a lot of ways.

  19. I don’t know if it would actually encourage a lot of kids- I think under-performers would give up and be bitter rather than put in any more of an effort.

    I still wonder whether getting straight As is something a kid should be rewarded for, anyway.

    You’re giving kids financial incentives for academic performance across the board, something that isn’t going to happen when they’re older.

    What about teaching kids proper market behaviour by rewarding them for specialising (they pick a subject they are interested in and are rewarded if they do well in that one subject rather than having to excel at the whole curriculum). Or by getting kids to focus on making projects that could actually raise profit itself. Kids in primary school often cook for “school fairs”- why not let the kids keep the profits themselves?

    I’m just not sure the incentives are properly aligned if you pay the kids that get straight As the most. It’ll encourage gaming the system, but not necessarily learning. Kids will become great at gaming systems, but not at actually being productive.

  20. A different possible incentive would be to have a test every Monday on what’s going to be covered in the rest of the week. If you pass the test you don’t have to attend classes for the rest of the week. Warn the kids a few weeks in advance what each test will be on so they can study in advance. Maybe the kids prefer to learn by sitting down and reading the text books for a couple of hours, maybe they prefer to learn by watching a bunch of Youtube videos on the subject, or maybe they prefer to sit in class for hours.

    This allows the smart kids to skip ahead and not get slowed down by the less able students, and also allows the teachers to focus their effort on the students that most need help. The big disadvantage of it is that to some extent the purpose of school isn’t education, but rather child-care.

  21. I agree with most of your comments.

    I do think that with High School education it becomes somewhat problematic, though. What happens to the kid that passes the maths, science and english sections of the test but not the history section? Do they only need to show up for history classes or do they need to show up for the whole week?

    You’re right that school is as much about child-care as it is education, especially in the lower years. I can’t see many parents getting on board- especially given we live in a society where most parents think their kids walking home instead of getting picked up is dangerous.

  22. Maybe the solution to the problem of education is large amounts of general ignorance? If we ignore the problem, maybe it will go away!

  23. Problem with this theory is that for any exercise involving thought, associating monetary return with outcome or output leads to lower performance.

    Good thought, but counter-productive outcome.

  24. Intuitivereason- that can’t be right. People respond to rewards. They work towards goals. Monetary goals or personal goals- they respond to rewards. Students are the same. I do not accept your bald statement that rewards lead to lower performance. If you have proof, please supply it! A load of prizes await you in the world of economics!

  25. Go back to Maslows needs.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs?wasRedirected=true

    Self actualisation, or learning, is a reward in it’s own right. The art of teaching is to create a virtuous cycle in which the child (or adult) becomes a learning person. If learning becomes a goal in it’s own right then the teachers job is all but done. Extrinsic motivators may play some role in that process but there is no way they should be forced to the centre.

    If we have vouchers and choice, and Australia is closer to this than almost anywhere else, then some schools can trial the pay for performance model. If it’s a roaring success then others will copy. However my bet is that it will fail and that it will not ultimately prove popular with parents. It is a fad.

  26. A for effort, but not great. Deregulating the school curriculum, creating competition between schools, would be far better. If I had got paid in school, even if I did better, I still would have hated most of it, not remembered most of it and not needed most of it, ever.

    I might imagine that english and maths should be boosted, but taught in better ways. Scrap most everything else. Education should consist of what students want to learn and what would be most useful for them after school.

    Another thing; allow for-profit private schools. It is perverse that entrepreneurs are not allowed to provide quality, profit-driven service in such a vital area. And let schools compete with employment; make it voluntary.

  27. Mark Latham was pretty on the money when he advocated that parents read to their kids. If you read to kids from age 2 to 5 one book per day such that they get 1000 books before school then they will be readers and learners.

    Howard was also pretty spot on with incentivising parents (by threatening to cut welfare) to get their kids immunised and get them to turn up to school.

    Gillard is on the right track with publishing school performance data, although the metrics need to get more comprehensive in what they measure.

    We have vouchers to an extent because funding follows the student. We could improve here but it’s not a major issue.

    The key reform we need now is for principals to have a mechanism by which they can hire and fire teachers (without the teachers union clobbering them). And some mechanism by which principals can be held to account, either via parent bodies or some review process.

  28. As a libertarian, I look forward to the possibility of home-schooling through the internet to supply all educational needs. We Australians already have The School Of The Air, which is a radio school broadcast into Stations’ homes, with a set of books mailed to them. So why not total schooling by such methods? Perhaps Universities will then become just final testing places, to prove you’ve learned the lessons?
    And, contradicting some people here, everyone works for some reward! It can be money, or to fill the memory cells, but there is always some reason that maximises satisfaction- or no-one would do it! (I’m talking here about activities you choose, not ones your parents tell you to do, which usually involve the avoidance of pain.)

  29. “the possibility of home-schooling through the internet to supply all educational needs”
    Good luck training surgeons.

  30. They could send you live, or dead, puppies and kittens to practice on, Tinos! Or you could practice at home!

  31. Yes people respond to rewards. However, tying reward to results improves performance works when the tasks being conducted for reward are menial.

    It’s not new – I’m not going to be winning any awards for this.

    Some of the original work on the effects of reward on motivation was done by Edward Deci back in 1969, building on earlier work by Harry Harlow who looked at similar issues but with monkeys back in 1949.

    As soon as you get paid for something, you lose interest in the something.

    I.e if you want a child to be interested in learning, don’t pay them to do it.

  32. Yes, we work for reward. But tying that reward directly to our level of production is counter productive.

    I want to know that I’m being fairly compensated for my labour.

    I also don’t want to be distracted by that fact.

  33. In my ideal version, citizenship would not be compulsory or automatic; in fact, you would need to opt in. One of the conditions for being a citizen would be that you train in one of the branches of government- ie, firefighting, or rescue services. To make this easier for all, the local government could offer training services (schools) for those who wanted to learn, or to brush up on, their skills. These services would be practiced intermittently for 11 months (like civil defence), and then, for one month, your block of 1/12th of all citizens would be the local government. (I think of this as ‘Time-share Government’.) So we might still have schools, with teachers being the winners of various competitions.

  34. Not a bad idea Nuke, I especially like the opt-in part. If genuinely opt-in, the result would not be government (at least in the general meaning of the word), but a consenting group of voluntarily acting individuals. Awesome.

    Though, with the advantageous effects of division of labour, it would be more productive to have professionals work as specialists in their best vocation. An electrician or engineer can produce more in a month doing what they practice best, than in a month of part-time civil service.

    However, since wealth is subjective, the potential enhanced neighbourliness, patriotism, sense of community etc which might result, could well be valued higher than the reduced outcome of material goods and services.

  35. “It would be more productive to have professionals work as specialists in their best vocation.”

    This assumes that people do the jobs they are best at anyway!

    While doing a job you’re good at and trained for is ONE consideration, there are plenty of other motivating factors that lead people to work doing jobs they aren’t actually very productive at.

    The market works well, but it doesn’t work perfectly. If people have opt-in civil service available to them that doesn’t necessarily follow that society will be less productive.

  36. Buddy, I simply wanted to show that it is possible to have a freer society than we now have, AND show how we could do away with professional politicians.
    As a further extension of that thought, we could have local councils literally composed of the 12, or so, longest-membership citizens- so persistence would have a reward. This could also be linked to crimes and misdemeanours- if a citizen had injured another person, their membership could be reset to zero, to start again, as well as whatever other penalties had been imposed. If we thought we needed something like a council, this could be another way of getting it.

  37. That is true Shem, but when people act in self-interest, they do have a great tendency to achieve a high level of production and efficiency, since material goods are an important consideration to most people. Certainly, one would expect engineers, lawyers, physicians, trade-persons, entrepreneurs, and many others, to produce more in their field than in civil service. Perhaps, more productive people won’t actually join the group? You would seem to lose the point of it then. It also works the other way. Defence, education, fire fighting services etc, would be more efficiently produced by dedicated producers.

    Sure Nuke, I do like it, and it would be an amazing alternative to our current system. I love how your proposition sounds deceptively non-radical. If it is truly opt-in, what you have put forth is not just a freer society but the freest society possible.

  38. I think it would be the freest minarchic society, as council staff could visit other councils in conferences (which could rotate regularly around all the counties). And the staff might be composed only of champions and coaches from the various volunteer divisions.
    Of course, an anarchocapitalist might want to go even further, and do away with all counties, but I think they would regenerate naturally, because someone or some company would end up owning the roads and other once-public spaces. So my idea to limit government is for us all to have an equal share, instead of foisting it on elected others. If you choose to be a local citizen, and have the right to vote directly on local laws that would only affect local public properties, then you would need to share in all the burdens of government to take care of public spaces. Otherwise, it will become a separate entity, with its’ own agenda.
    And, as you’ve noted, this would be a great way to include everyone in a community, if they wanted to befriend their neighbours! My libertarian instincts are political and individualistic, but that’s not being unsociable- I am opposed to law-imposed sociability. I like my neighbours, and would be happy to help them, but I don’t want to be compelled to help them by anyone else.

  39. Cool Nuke. Though I think you are confusing language here.

    As I understand you, what you describe IS anarchism. Voluntary ‘government’ where individuals consent to it or can freely secede from it is not minarchism or any other form of government at all. Individualist anarchism never disallows consented authority, and so government-like institutions are allowable so long as they are voluntarily consented to.

    Anarcho-capitalists are anarchists who predict that a voluntary society would result in a very capitalist one. They would never advocate the destruction of government-like institutions which were voluntary.

  40. Yes, but anarchists don’t seem to like roads, either. And they would not want to pay any licence fees to the owners of the roads, which I am keeping as the local council. I do think that the local government, as the owner of PUBLIC property, would have the right to insist on licenses and usage fees for its’ properties. This is not a traditional anarchist posture.

  41. Yes, but anarchists don’t seem to like roads, either.

    Is that why they’re always depicted as people who set cars on fire?

  42. There certainly is a massive distinction between libertarian anarchists and anti-authority anarchists. The latter do not recognise the freedom of individuals to engage in, at least some, voluntary contracts with others. Such as working for an employer or voluntarily accepting the rules of a social community.

    I don’t know what anarchists you are referring to when you claim they do not like roads. Libertarian anarchists would not mind paying for road tolls and/or membership fees, provided it is through voluntary contracts. They see privately owned roads as more efficient than socially owned roads and might argue that they would be more likely in an anarchist society. They would not though, object to a system of collective road ownership that was voluntary.

  43. To my thinking, publicly owned roads would be similar to the arrangement now, except that if you join your local county as a citizen, you would have a direct vote on the rules of the road, and any licences for vehicles to use the roads, etc. Everything that is not private would be called public.
    In a way, our current governments are road-building and road-owning entities which have grown overly-large. We should just cut them back to their original function, and force them to stay away from private property.

  44. The only thing wrong with the existing system of roads, is that it is involuntary. If a similar system can exist without the use of coercion, then there is no problem.

    Reduced division of labour and tragedy of commons, would involve significantly higher material costs for voluntary social communities such as yours. Socialness could be achieved in less expensive ways or could naturally result without contractual obligations.

    What if a system of opt-in resulted in a very low, or non-existent, take up of membership in social communities? Would you still support opt-in?

  45. Yes, because I believe we should always support free choice! The proponents of opt-in would need to make a strong case so that people chose to join. And plenty of people opt-in to our volunteer fire-fighters, after all!

  46. This is why we need a ‘Discussion’ page! I want to comment on something I heard about the Victorian election, and I can’t find the right forum!
    One person was interviewed, and he said that he was voting for the Sex Party, because they were the most libertarian! There are libertarians out there, if we could only reach them!

  47. Too right nuke, discussion page needed.

    Sex party is not even that libertarian. Forced equality, forced non-discrimination, PBS for sex drugs, stripping away tax-exempt status for religious non-profit organisations. Their scope of libertarianism is quite narrow. Sex freedom, porn freedom and escort freedom (barely).

    Impressed with their drug policy though; decriminalisation of ALL drugs, and actively campaigned for it. They’ve outdone the LDP there. LDP calls for the legalisation of marijuana, but only a ‘review’ of other drugs, and doesn’t make this very public. For pragmatic reasons probably, but pretty soft really.

    Drug legalisation is good issue to counter the conservative image that libertarians can get stuck with.

  48. Buddy- if we have a PBS what is non-libertarian about adding sexual dysfunction drugs to it?

    It’s well and good to say “well the PBS shouldn’t exist” but while we’re under the current paradigm we should work towards ensuring it at least works better than it does now.

    Ideally every business would be tax-exempt, but failing that I think non-profit organisations that receive a tax exempt status should probably need to meet certain criteria. I don’t think “furthering religion” is a sufficient criteria for tax exempt status! There should be a need to perform charitable work or something similar in order to obtain tax-exempt status.

    The force equality and non-discrimination aren’t quite as bad as you might think if you look more at the specifics. A lot of it is talking about the importance of government not discriminating and government treating people equally. That’s something crucially important to the libertarian tradition going all the way back. Without men being seen as equal in the eyes of the law there is no scope for protection of basic liberty.

    Some of the policies are a bit off-base from a libertarian point of view but they are sensible within the current framework. The current framework is just wrong!

  49. If we must have a PBS we should cover as few drugs with it as we can not as many as we can.

    Also the reason Churches are normally tax exempt are that they are not profit making enterprises. Other non-profits have tax exemptions as well I believe (if they don’t they definitely should). The tax is supposed to be borne by the share holders (I know that the statistics indicate it’s mostly borne by the employees, but that’s not how it’s supposed to work), non-profits are never supposed to pay any profits to share holders, so the tax will never be borne by the [non-existent] share holders.

    This is the same reason as schools (unless we get the laws changed to allow for-profit schools), political parties, think tanks, or the local book club shouldn’t pay company tax.

    The equality and non-discrimination stuff might be OK depending on who it is that they are trying to force to not discriminate here. (the government: OK; that jerk who runs the corner store and doesn’t want to hire “christ-loving freaks”: not OK no matter how much we think he’s a jerk)

  50. Improvements to the equality of the existing system should only be supported if it furthers the goals of freedom and property rights. It would certainly be more equitable to tax everyone’s income at 45% or to extend aboriginal welfare to all poor people, or to make alcohol and tobacco illegal. But any of these things would be absolutely disastrous.

    I think to achieve tax-exempt status is fairly difficult, a lack of profit-making owners is not enough. You must demonstrate ‘benefits to society’, whatever that means. It is much easier for religions to bypass this, after all Scientology is tax-exempt in Australia. This is an inequity, but removing this would simply be a further infringement on property rights. If someone escapes robbery, but others are unable to, it is not better to have that person be robbed as well.

    Some people are shamefully discriminated against, by both government and individuals and businesses. Ending coercive government discrimination is paramount, but forcing individuals to comply as well, kind of defeats the purpose. The Sex Party’s scheme for equal gender representation in parliament, is not really something libertarians should be concerned about, but it does highlight their irresponsible views on equality.

    All in all, as you say, they are doing a pretty good job concerning the current system and good for them. Though they should only be considered a civil liberties party at most, and not a libertarian one.

  51. Checked out your blog. pretty good. though it seems very difficult to view any of your previous postings, past the five on the page. Seems like you have to go into each month, day and post separately.

  52. Buddy, if a piece of legislation were to be passed that would removed medicine for people with epilepsy from the PBS but not medicine for AIDS you’d support that?

    I don’t think withdrawing PBS for select groups is a libertarian idea! Working within a corrupt system for marginal gains in freedom (in my opinion) totally undermines the libertarian cause.

    It’s like cheering tax cuts for select industries. Taxes should be as flat and as broad as possible. Welfare should be as flat and broad as possible. I WOULD support extending aboriginal rates of welfare universally if there was no option to decrease rates universally.

    For some reason libertarians see the world “equality” and get scared. Equality in a libertarian context means “government being blind to the differences between people”. I think that’s more important than the marginal gains in utility we could get by letting government discriminate between sexual dysfunction and visual dysfunction. Or letting government entrench religion as a special status within society.

    The Sex Party has backtracked on gender quotas in parliament now, btw. Instead they believe that the Sex Discrimination Act should be able to apply to political parties as much as it does to other organisations. There is no reason political parties should be granted an exemption. And the Sex Discrimination Act is only applied in the minority of cases where it’s easily provable that it IS gender discrimination that’s the cause rather than other things. I don’t necessarily agree with the Sex Discrimination Act, but applying it to political parties isn’t a huge deal.

    Also a “civil liberty party” doesn’t make grammatical sense. “Liberty” is a noun. “Libertarian” is the adjective form of “liberty”. “Civil libertarian party” is most accurate, but it doesn’t surprise me that someone uses the term “libertarian” instead.

  53. Shem, I see what you mean, but I still have to disagree with you for two reasons:

    1. I do think that religious organisations promote a social benefit, or more accurately they are just as likely to promote a social benefit as many of the other types that qualify there. (Imagine the Marx book club, because that would qualify)

    2. What room there is for reform there is better going the other way; either making more exemptions for other organisations that also provide a social benefit, or by applying the exemption to all non-profits (better to my mind).

    Buddy, yeah, I’m thinking of switching to a different blogging system.

  54. “I WOULD support extending aboriginal rates of welfare universally if there was no option to decrease rates universally.”

    So a party that proposes a multi-billion dollar increase in welfare spending would be more “libertarian” than one that proposes no change instead? I can see the argument that it’s a “better statism”; in fact I agree with the welfare issue that it would be less bad, but is still doesn’t seem very libertarian to me.

    “Buddy, if a piece of legislation were to be passed that would removed medicine for people with epilepsy from the PBS but not medicine for AIDS you’d support that?”

    I also said earlier that I thought the PBS should cover the least possible drugs, so I’ll respond to this as well. I’d guess I’d have to say no I wouldn’t support this, though I’m still generally against adding sexual dysfunction drugs to the PBS mostly because untreated epilepsy (or visual dysfunction) is dangerous and can cause a major loss of life quality, while untreated sexual dysfunction is embarassing and causes a minor loss of quality of life.

    “I don’t necessarily agree with the Sex Discrimination Act, but applying it to political parties isn’t a huge deal.”

    So the What Women Want Party has to allow men to run? I disagree very strongly about that; in that I definitely don’t agree with the Sex Discrimination Act, and I definitely don’t want it to apply to political parties (or religious groups, or anyone other than government agencies actually). Ideological organisations need to freedom to hire or not based on their ideology (even if I think the ideology is wrong) rather than who has the better resume.

  55. It is practically impossible for a government to be equitable. Corporations are treated differently to individuals, large businesses to small, the poor to the rich, different groups to other groups etc. Government most often moves towards increasing their power and control. Therefore, if you support all notions of a more equitable system regardless of their libertarian nature, you could end up supporting totalitarian statism.

    I would support tax cuts for specific businesses and removal of any drug from the PBS, if it were not possible to have a more equitable change to freedom. This follows from an understanding in the moral principle of non-aggression. Utile arguments for such incremental changes are more complex, but do generally follow from libertarian morals.

  56. I think that it’s necessary for government to recognise “all men are created equal” because liberty is possible.

    When men aren’t equal in the eyes of government slavery is permissible under the guise of “property rights”.

    That’s why I believe government being difference-blind is the first condition of liberty.

    As much as libertarians deride democracy I believe it’s only democracy that gives libertarianism a moral foundation. If we lived under feudalism and had inequal application of law liberty would be contingent on the whim of those in power.

    Anarchism (if it could find a way to be sustainable without government forming in the power vacuum) could avoid this- otherwise libertarianism relies on some form of democracy. Difference-blind government that recognises the equal moral worth of human life is a necessity that comes prior to the recognition of diverse moral interests.

  57. ‘Created’ equal means GOD made them. Incidentally, those framers of the American constitution put out fine-sounding rhetoric, but didn’t mean it. Lots of them, like Washington and Jefferson, had slaves. They didn’t think their slaves were equal.
    Perhaps we need a better declaration. Born Equal would be acceptable to deists and atheists and agnostics, but we’d better mean it!

  58. I think it is necessary for *people* to recognise that first. If the people aren’t interested in upholding liberty, there will be no liberty.

    “If we lived under feudalism and had inequal application of law liberty would be contingent on the whim of those in power.”

    And this is different to democracy how?

    A constitutional democracy with individual rights at its centre has merits, but democracy alone certainly wouldn’t be the moral foundation of libertarianism. The opinion of 51% of a group doesn’t add any moral justification to anything.

    The morality of libertarianism, or indeed anything, would need a foundation far outside a system of government.

  59. Nuke, I think the founders were serious about the constitution. When they wrote that “all men are created equal”, at that time the founders didn’t believe that black Africans were defined as actual “men”. So they did believe in the constitution and equality, but only for white people.

    Shem, in a capitalist libertarian society, polycentric law and competing defence agencies would fill the perceptual power vacuum. Other possibilities might be similar to Nuke’s idea of opt-in local authorities.

    Popularly defined democracy, is not really democracy at all. True democracy would be an anarchist society. Democracy, as it is defined, is majority rule – a term like majoritocracy would be more accurate. 51% of people own the other 49%. Since there are numerous majorities and minorities, it the ownership of all by all. Mutual slavery. Monarchy is better than democracy or majoritocracy. A monarch has an interest in long-term prosperity, is much less affected by populism and special interests and must always contend with the fact that s/he can be easily overthrown. A monarch also has a great interest in keeping government small and abstaining from wealth-destroying activities. This is because the lower the cost of government and more prosperous a society, the more s/he can collect in wealth and prestige.

  60. Democracy in Australia is never about 51% owning the other 49%. Such a theoretical possibility isn’t a reality.

    The moral foundation of democracy is that everyone should have a share in governance because everyone has a stake in governance.

    Just because representative democracy doesn’t always do the best job of taking into account myriad interests that doesn’t mean democracy as a theory has the same problems.

    Democracy as a theory would tend towards consensus building, unanimity and direct democratic methods. Party-based representative democracy isn’t the only form. And while you may see monarchism as more practically effective it is theoretically flawed.

    In democracy, even representative democracy every individual has a right to cede a portion of their self-governance to a larger governing body. In a monarchy there is no such choice. Democracy falls down when there is no “opt-out” and that the governing body chosen is able to legitimately use coercive force, but its moral foundation is a hell of a lot closer to liberty.

    Libertarianism would have been inconceivable if people first didn’t recognise that individuals have a stake in governance and therefore should have the right to express their own interests and have them taken into account by the governing body.

  61. Democracy necessarily boils down to majorities being able to subvert the freedom of minorities. The 51/49 ratio is just an example, but this ratio does indeed occur at many elections in Australia. Not to say that 49% of people wanted all the policies of Party X, but that they are denied even the choice to operate under the party that they voted for.

    Instead of having a meaningless stake in government, I’d prefer not to be under the illusion that I have control over my own slavery.

    The theory of democracy is exactly what is wrong with it. That it is good to have individuals force other individuals to do things they don’t want to do.

    I’d like to know about any democracy which started non-coercively. Government is almost always initially established through conquest, not mutual cooperation. Non-coercive or government-less societies are usually very stable from within. Government is imposed by outsiders.

    It is just silly to think that to understand libertarian philosophy, a special form of government is required.

    It seems that you would seriously consider supporting a totalitarian state that was equally oppressive rather than a very libertarian society which had a handful of inequities. At what line in the sand is it better to support freedom first instead of equality first? And what is so damn good about equality, that it trumps freedom so decisively?

  62. There is no such thing as a ‘right to life’. Such a concept gets very confusing when you’re considering abortion and coercive vegetarianism. Human life is an abstract concept, and it is impossible to prove that human life is somehow morally superior to animal life, or even microbial and plant life.

    The only right individuals can ever have is a right to property. All other ‘rights’ take their roots from this and is the basis for a libertarian society. Property rights are established through homesteading.

    Homesteading is a conscious and deliberate action to control a previously unowned scarce resource. Human beings are not unique to this and so can therefore be homesteaded. Humans are always the first to homestead themselves, by taking conscious control over their own life and body. This is how humans become self-owning individuals. As self-owners, they own their life and body. Any trespass of this is criminal. Not because human life is morally right, but because individual property is morally right. “Right to life and property” is just a redundancy, human life IS property.

    Equality (of law) is a product of a consistent application of individual property, but it is not the aim. The moral foundation of libertarianism is to prevent the crime of trespass of individual property. Individuals are self-owners, and equality follows if this if it is not infringed. This is always true, and equality never needs to be established for it to be true. Any additional trespass of the individual is a crime only, any resulting equality cannot justify it.

  63. Ignore “right to life” then since you’re a Rothbardian.

    But on what basis do you assign a right to property to everyone?

    Why is the right to property universal if you haven’t first established equal moral status?

    You can’t act as if equal moral status is somehow an innate intuitive position to take. For most of the world’s history moral status has definitely not been universal.

    Property rights have been respected, but only for people that fit certain categories.

    If you don’t believe in equality why are property rights universal?

  64. Pingback: Club Troppo » Missing Link Friday – 3 December 2010

  65. “Ignore “right to life” then since you’re a Rothbardian.”

    Is that a slur? I recognise ‘right to life’ through property rights. If you have a better principled argument, provide.

    You do not have to establish equality, you have to establish self-ownership, which is always a universal concept.

    “You can’t act as if equal moral status is somehow an innate intuitive position”

    What’s your point? Freedom has rarely been an intuitive position.

    It is naive to think that government can ever achieve equality. And even worse to think that equality of criminal behaviour will result in freedom.

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