Friday, February 25, 2005

FLOW Ideals and the Poor

If FLOW is to remain true to its first principles, then it is not consistent with a welfare state vision. Insofar as a welfare state vision is the key to the ideals of most on the Left and, indeed, most in the Democratic Party, FLOW faces an uphill battle insofar as de-spirited Democrats are a potential market for FLOW ideals. FDR’s attempt to create a welfare state mark him as the greatest Democratic hero in history; polls of historians place him among the most highly respected of presidents.

Indeed, most political idealists find it difficult or impossible to imagine a political idealism that isn’t based on some type of socialism.

Common Political Ideals

The old dominant political ideal: A society that takes care of its poor, a society that leaves no one behind.

This was the communist ideal and the welfare state ideal. It proved very inspiring for many people in much of the world, though less universally so in the U.S.

Environmentalist ideals: Back to a pristine state of nature; the wilderness as sacred, to be protected at all cost, violating nature is wrong. These ideals are currently very motivating to those who identify as “Green” and, to a lesser extent, they are motivating for well-intentioned people who are seeking some way to make the world a better place. These ideals do not help the poor and often imply policies that are harmful to the poor.

Libertarian ideals: Freedom for freedom’s sake, freedom to let “the market” do whatever it will. This has not proven to be an inspiring set of ideals for most people. Indeed, they strike many as a stupid and immoral set of ideals.

Voluntaristic Caring Communities as an Ideal

The welfare state is a violation of the first FLOW principle, “Voluntary, freely-chosen, rule-based solutions rather than coercive, government-imposed, command-and-control solutions.”

For me, the Golden Rule clearly obliges us to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. I also think that only each of us individually can best know how to do this. For some people, the noblest way for them to help those who are less fortunate would be to engage in capitalist behavior that results in the creation of a great enterprise. It is clear to me that Michael Milken, strictly in his role as junk-bond king (i.e. excluding his subsequent philanthropic work), did more to make the world a better place than did Mother Theresa throughout her lifetime. Trying to force or even convince Milken to be a Mother Theresa would have been counterproductive. We need to let Milken be Milken and Mother Theresa be Mother Theresa.

Tribal social norms, our evolutionary heritage, insist that we conform to the norms of our tribe, that we support our tribe. The “good” people in the tribe help to enforce the norms of the tribe. In some tribes, helping the poor and the weak of the tribe, leaving no one behind, is the norm (in other tribes, the weak and infirm are left to die). It is from this atavistic perspective that Mother Theresa is a “good person” and Michael Milken (at least prior to his philanthropic stage) was a “bad person.”

Some of us, who may think of ourselves as “good people,” may wish to belong to a political entity in which everyone is committed to, and contributes to, the common good. Fair enough. Is it necessary for these entities to be coercive entities? Why can’t we voluntarily choose which “good” entities to which we belong?

FLOW will allow for, and encourage, voluntaristic societies that take care of their own. Private welfare associations are to be encouraged. It is simply that we do not believe that the coercive apparatus of the state should be used to force people to help others. People are more willing to support caring communities when they feel some bond or commonality with those whom they are helping.

When eco-leftists fantasize about breaking California, Oregon, and Washington off from the U.S. to create an Ecotopia, or to join Canada, as they did after the recent elections, they aspire to re-align their nationalistic caring community with a different nationalistic community (see They want the right to voluntarily choose which caring community to which they belong: An imagined Ecotopia or Canada. They thereby implicitly endorse voluntarism as the basis for membership in a particular caring community.

It is important to realize that there are non-nationalistic norms of caring. All indigenous tribes are non-nationalistic units for caring. Religious communities, which may be geographically-dispersed, are non-nationalistic caring communities: Mormons helping Mormons, Catholics helping Catholics, etc. Ethnic and immigrant communities, again sometimes widely dispersed, are non-nationalistic caring communities.

FLOW idealism is passionately committed to the creation of non-nationalistic, voluntary caring communities. Insofar as FLOW appeals particularly to cultural creatives, we will encourage the cultural creatives to think in terms of creating their own caring communities rather than enforce welfare state policies (and taxes) on everyone.

The Nationalistic Welfare State as Gated Community

Welfare states that are defined by national boundaries are the moral equivalent of gated communities. Gated communities, like Denmark, provide wonderful benefits to those within the boundaries of those communities but they fence off outsiders to prevent those outsiders from taking advantage of the community benefits. Gated communities in the U.S. and nation-state welfare states are morally equivalent. Those on the Left who are interested in FLOW must learn to give up the notion that European (and Canadian) welfare states are somehow “morally superior” to the United States.

From a moral perspective, the single biggest problem with the creation of a welfare state is that it increases the incentives that a nation has to exclude foreigners. As is, limits on immigration are one of the greatest moral crimes that a nation can commit against the poor of the world. Access to the legal and economic systems of developed nations, by means of free immigration, may be the most effective means of “distributing” wealth in existence. The foreign aid that is provided even by the most generous Scandinavian nations is a small fraction of the wealth that would be “distributed” to those in the developing world if the developed world had more liberal immigration laws.

“Distributing” is in scare quotes because immigration is not a matter of distributing wealth: It is, in fact, a matter of creating dramatically larger quantities of wealth. Our legal/economic system is a fantastic cash cow with the marvelous characteristic that the more it is milked the more it produces. This is why immigrants repeatedly risk death by trying to enter our nations. The comparison of people dying to enter our country should always be contrasted with that of people dying to leave East Germany; both species of sealed borders are immoral. By allowing immigrants into our country, we increase the wealth of existing citizens while also vastly increasing the wealth of the immigrants (and their families to whom they send remittances).

Populist politicians have always appealed to nationalistic sentiment to limit immigration. The creation of costly welfare states creates an additional reason to limit immigration: each additional citizen is more likely to be costly to the state. And, indeed, resentment towards immigrants is often justified by the claims that “they are costing us money, they are straining our social service systems.” As proud as most Europeans are of their social welfare systems, they rarely acknowledge that those systems create an incentive to limit immigration. The European welfare states are gated communities that have managed to obtain a patina of moral credibility because they are generous to those within the gates.

The last few years have seen a steady increase in racist nationalism among many European peoples. I predict that, to the extent that Europe becomes as multi-racial and multi-cultural as is the U.S., Europe will experience racism that will be as pervasive and ugly as was racism in the U.S. forty years ago. European welfare states were founded on cultural homogeneity: Norwegians wanted to help Norwegians, Fins wanted to help Fins. (Note that this is really no different from Mormons wanting to help Mormons or Catholics wanting to help Catholics). As members of the European dominant cultures increasingly feel threatened by “the other,” racism in Europe will continue to increase and support for the welfare states in Europe is likely to evaporate.

We can wish that it were otherwise, but this is not an issue in which exhortation is adequate as long as there is an economic foundation to the resentments. And despite the overall benefits of immigration and free trade, low-skill, low-wage workers in every nation are those who are most threatened by immigrants and free trade.

As we approach a global situation in which 6 billion people are competing with each other to produce goods and services for other people, the grinding poverty currently being experienced by the 4 billion or so in the developing world will gradually be re-distributed to the 1 billion or so lowest skilled workers on earth. Many of those will reside in developed countries. In a world of economic freedom, in another forty years most people on earth would no longer be in poverty: This would be a glorious achievement, worth celebrating. But an increasing percentage of those who remain poor would include those in developed countries who can’t compete adequately with the more capable and motivated from the developing world.

From a global perspective, the moral course of action would clearly be to relieve the 4 billion destitute through globalization and open borders in exchange for a mere 1 billion of those who would be “poor” by the much wealthier first-world standard. What is to be done with the 1 billion or so losers in the global competition?

A Different Education for the Benefit of the “Working Poor”

Once again, for this reason educational freedom is our most urgent cause. An educational market will develop thousands of different ways to help people add value to their abilities, to invest in their own human capital. Again, our existing K-12 education system is designed to reward those who enter with habits and attitudes compatible with those of the upper-middle class who designed the system. It is harmful and impoverishing for those who happen to come from sub-cultures that are not compatible with the upper-middle class designers of the system.

By forcing young people with the wrong cultural pre-requisites to compete in a dull, meaningless system which they intuitively know does not enhance their lifetime learning prospects, government education steals tens of thousands of dollars in opportunity costs from the children of the working poor. The six years of useless secondary school represents thousands of hours of valuable time that could be used to earn income and invest in valuable additions to their human capital. Government-managed secondary education combines the experience of prison with the reality of publicly-sanctioned theft from the children of the poor. We need to quit stealing their time while teaching them bad habits.

I come from a working class family, some of whom have succeeded in the world and others of whom remain stuck in low-wage tracks. Everyone that I know who is stuck in a low-wage track is intellectually capable of earning a lot more money. The difference between the winners and losers is usually a matter of habits rather than academic skills. Beyond the basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills that should be learned by 6th grade, secondary school as we know it is a harmful waste of time for most students. Just as the former communist regimes devastated the human capital of those regimes by training people to be shirkers and clock-watchers, so too does public education devastate the human capital of those students for whom the system is not appropriate.

Instead of learning self-discipline, initiative, civility, salesmanship, teamwork, optimism, and other crucial life skills, they passively go through the motions of memorizing material that they will soon forget while developing habits and attitudes from school-as-prison that will damage their lifetime earning opportunities. As an educator, I know that these lifes kills cannot be taught by means of a traditional content-based curriculum; they must be taught by means of habituation, and we have no system in place for creating schools that consistently transmit good habits. (see my essay “Why We Don’t Have a Silicon Valley in Education” for more on this).

If people have good work habits, are frugal and avoid addictive behaviors, and if they have positive social skills, they do well in life, regardless of academic ability. See “The Millionaire Next Door,”:

“What are the top five factors most often mentioned by millionaires as being very important in explaining their economic success? . . .

Integrity – being honest with all people
Discipline – applying self control
Social skills – getting along with people
A supportive spouse
Hard work – more than most people”

Anyone who saves $3 per day from their teens onwards and invests it in an index fund will be a multi-millionaire when they retire. Almost anyone with a bit of self-discipline can become rich and create a legacy to pass on to their children.

If people have bad work habits, are spendthrifts, are engaged in addictive and destructive behaviors, and lack social skills, then they usually do poorly, regardless of academic ability. Credentialism masks this truism to some extent by legally preventing those who lack academic training from entering most high-income fields. Schools that focused on the real pre-requisites to success, rather than trying to force students to master meaningless academics, would disproportionately benefit the children of the working poor. (See Deperle’s recent book, “The American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare” for detail on how terrible life skills doom women to ongoing poverty).

In the absence of such schools, life for those with weak skills and poor habits will become increasingly grim over time due to global competition. Global market competition will be blamed for the distortions in life caused by a government education system designed by the elites for the elites. In a competitive education market, entrepreneurs would create niche schools for the working class that would provide them with superb preparation for life.

With the right preparation, everyone can be valuable (very nearly). The best personal trainers, hair dressers, masseuses, personal assistants, gardeners, auto mechanics, etc. earn good incomes. Providing high-end personal services to those with high incomes is a rapidly growing niche. No academic aptitude is required at all. Even those at the bottom of the IQ spectrum, if they are capable of, say, excellent therapeutic bodywork, can earn decent incomes (as long as the credential-demons don’t use government force to require years of education for entry).

Housing for the Working Poor

In the meantime, until we have educational freedom, we need to simultaneously work on other ways to help the poor.

FLOW needs to advocate for low-cost housing options. Slow-growth policies, zoning laws, building codes, and union labor costs in construction are the primary factors resulting in high housing costs. Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels, which used to provide low-cost housing options in the inner-city, have mostly been zoned out of existence across the U.S. We need to promote brilliant design solutions that result in low-cost housing options combined with the legal changes required to make those low-cost housing options widely available.

The Japanese have sleeping closets that can be rented cheaply over night. They are as small and tight as a coffin. At present American society would resist such options. But is it better to be homeless or better to sleep in a warm, safe, quiet, tiny, sleeping closet? There have been numerous points in my life at which I would have happily saved hundreds (or thousands) of dollars per month in rent in order to sleep in a sleeping closet had such an option been available. I have slept in a homeless shelter; while not awful, I would have preferred a sleeping closet.

I recently considered renting an apartment in inner-city D.C.; it was $400 per month. The space could easily have fit 20 sleeping closets, which works out to a per-closet cost of $20 per month. Sleeping closets would require an investment and perhaps a supervisor, which would add cost. That said, the economics of the situation appear to provide for the possibility of an entrepreneurial opportunity whereby housing was available for well under $5 per night.

Although cheap sleeping closets would not be appropriate for women with children, this is an example of the kind of creative thinking that ought to be happening regarding housing issues. There is an entire movement among designers to solve human problems by means of design. See Bruce Mau’s “Massive Change project” for a FLOW-like initiative by a designer to make the world a better place, Creative designers are working on a variety of living solutions for those in the developing world; with appropriate legal changes, they could work on creative design solutions for 1st world poor.

Inculcating Good Habits Among the Poor

Behavioral issues (including drunkenness, mental illness, and a lack of adequate frugality and industry) are an integral problem with many of the chronic poor (while the issues are complex, I think that Thomas Szasz’s “The Myth of Mental Illness” is worth considering regarding the relationship between bad emotional habits and some “mental illness”). Instead of supporting bad habits, we need an entrepreneurial system that provides cheap, innovative solutions to behavioral changes. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of support for the welfare state in the U.S. is the fact that responsible Americans don’t want to support those whom they consider to be irresponsible and improvident.

The various free 12 step programs and existing church (yes, “faith-based”) programs are one option. For the cultural creatives among us, instead of reflexively rejecting “faith-based” programs as Bush-speak, consider the notion that in our voluntaristic Cultural Creative caring communities we may want to require certain courses or behavioral requirements for those who are not capable of managing their own lives. If the cultural creatives had to pay voluntarily for welfare service for those within their community (instead of voting for welfare programs that forced all Americans to pay for the poor), they would face a serious incentive to cultivate and enforce improved behavioral norms among the poor. Just as many traditional religious organizations supply welfare services to the poor in exchange for behavioral changes, so too would the cultural creatives supply welfare services in exchange for behavioral changes.

There are at present ten-day Vipassana meditation courses available across the country; participants only pay what they can after the course. I took one this summer; they are terrific training in self-discipline. One wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning and meditates, with a few short breaks, until 9:30 p.m. each night. There are two vegetarian meals per day before noon and only fruit is allowed in the evening. One is not allowed to leave the premises during the training. No books or writing, music or musical instruments, computers, games, televisions, radios, or electronic devices are allowed. Only simple, baggy clothing is allowed. One does not speak for ten days nor does one look another human being in the eye or gesture toward another human being. One is forced to strictly to be with oneself in a very demanding regimen of personal change for ten straight days. Educated people flock to this type of experience. It is a wonderful opportunity to change one’s mental and emotional habits in profound ways. The meditation training itself is not mere “reflection;” it is systematic training designed to help one break one’s previous programming and to learn to control one’s consciousness in a manner that develops greater focus and happiness.

It seems obvious to me that people whose lives are out of control should be required to take such a course prior to being allowed into certain housing opportunities. Perhaps they should be required to take such a course several times per year while our Cultural Creative housing community is providing low-cost housing for them. Those who were willing to commit themselves to such discipline would be better neighbors for their impoverished compatriots who also had committed themselves to such discipline. Those who were not willing to commit themselves to such discipline might be required to live in much less desirable free housing. It is unfair for those working poor who do have self-discipline to be forced to live amongst the poor who lack self-discipline. Those who had developed a regular commitment to Vipassana self-discipline would belong to a caring community who would support them in building better lives.

Part of our entrepreneurial effort needs to be to create entire communities that provide effective ways of living for those who are currently capable of earning only a few dollars per hour. The housing suggestions and Vipassana self-discipline sketch above are the beginning of such a vision. By means of such a vision, I can imagine steady improvements in the well-being of the poorest among us. It is hard for me to get excited by more welfare programs simply because, while they help some deserving poor, in other cases they sustain and feed deplorable ways of living that only increase human misery in the long run. Jo Anne Baird’s comment about students who pee on the floor if they don’t like a teacher is all too real; for an extended grim account, read “How I Joined Teach for American and Got Sued for $20 million”,

FLOW ideals and the Poor vs. the Welfare State “Ideal”

Our current policies towards the urban poor cannot and should not inspire anyone, and the expansion of proposed welfare state policies, in the absence of any effective means of transforming dysfunctional cultural patterns, is horribly, horribly wrong.

The combination of:

-Voluntaristic caring communities based on particular cultural principles and beliefs.
-A market in education that allowed the children of the poor to pursue better lives.
-Creative, low-cost housing design solutions.
-Systematic approaches to changing habits, such as the Vipassana self-discipline training described above.

form the beginning of practical, effective, ever-improving possibilities for the poorest among us.

By the means sketched out above, I can see a steadily more beautiful, noble, and wonderful world coming into existence. By contrast, even though I feel badly about the poor in the U.S. at present, I can’t manage to get excited or inspired by the thought of expanding the welfare state.

Sometimes when one is climbing a peak, one discovers that the route that one is on will not allow one to reach the top. One may have to go back down for a while before one can begin climbing back up. I feel as if this is the situation in which we are in regarding our approach to helping the poor. The welfare state approach, despite whatever positive effects it may have had, will no longer allow us to move towards the top. We must change course and discover a new route. In order to do so, it may appear at times as if we must go back downhill. But that is the only way to begin again on a route that will allow us to reach the top.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Entrepreneurial Heuristic

If people cannot be persuaded to do something voluntarily, we should not force them.

If institutions are designed correctly, then voluntaristic activity results in the betterment of the human condition.

Thus if we have any complaints about the world, we have an obligation either to solve the problem entrepreneurially or we must specify how institutions must be changed so that we can solve the problem entrepreneurially.

If someone thinks that our current media are failing, then he or she needs to propose an entrepreneurial solution or to specify how current institutions must be changed so that he can solve the problem entrepreneurially.

If someone thinks that people are not respecting the environment adequately, he or she needs to propose an entrepreneurial solution or to specify how current institutions must be changed so that he can solve the problem entrepreneurially.

If someone thinks that teachers are not being paid adequately, he or she must propose an entrepreneurial solution or specify how current institutions must be changed so that he can solve the problem entrepreneurially.

This is the sort of ethos that our movement ought to cultivate and respect. No whining, just do it. Or at least explain intelligently what legislation would need to change so that you (or someone) can do it.

I describe this approach as an “entrepreneurial heuristic” because I see it as a discovery process: This is how we need to think about how to solve social problems. We might not be able to come up with a solution immediately, and I can’t guarantee that we can solve all problems this way. But I do think that a commitment to this approach to solving social problems will help us to break new ground constantly, both in theory and practice.

For instance, I do think that women are, to some extent, undervalued in the marketplace. According to Kirzner’s theory of entrepreneurial alertness, anytime that something is undervalued in the marketplace, there is therefore a profit opportunity available to be made. I think that there are profit opportunities available for someone to create more female-friendly organizations that more constructively manage and utilize female characteristics. I do think that there are numerous organizations that are very much in the process of creating more female-friendly workplaces, and are thereby taking advantage of this profit opportunity; every organization that is a better place for women to work, which successfully attracts and retains disproportionately talented women, is taking advantage of the extent to which women are undervalued in the marketplace. That said, as long as there are women who would work harder, more effectively, and more happily under different managerial circumstances, there will continue to be unexploited entrepreneurial opportunities for those who aspire to create more female-friendly workplaces.

This approach is more honorable, respectful, and effective that is “fighting” for legislation that forces organizations to pay women the same as men. If an organization does not value a woman as much as a man, and is forced to pay her the same, resentment and evasion will take place in the organization and a destructive, controlling bureaucracy will undermine the work of all organizations, even if they had previously been treating women well.

Moreover this is not merely a matter of women. Insofar as some of us believe that human beings in general could be significantly happier and more fulfilled at work, we have an obligation to create such enterprises. Insofar as some of us believe that people could be significantly happier and more fulfilled in their entertainment and consumption habits, we have an obligation to create enterprises that offer more fulfilling entertainment and consumption options. Insofar as some of us believe that young people could be significantly happier and more fulfilled during their school years, we have an obligation to create schools at which students are happier and more fulfilled.

I have created such schools and have discovered that doing so is mostly against the law to do so. I now am working to change the laws so that it will become legal to provide young people with happy, fulfilling educational opportunities.

In the past, we have allowed ourselves to whine and complain about the state of the world. The claim of intellectuals that they are providing useful work by providing a “critique” of society is absurd. Every “social critique” by intellectuals should be transformed into an entrepreneurial obligation. We need to quit the habit of whining and complaining. We need to get busy and do something about it.

If we believe that low-wage workers are “underpaid,” then we need to create a business that pays them “what they are worth.” When we try to do this, I’m afraid that in many cases we will discover that their labor is not worth very much. I have been in the situation of eagerly seeking an office manager and being able to pay this person $45,000. And I have gone through dozens of applicants who were simply inadequate: Their labor was not worth $45,000. If I hired a less than competent person for the job, I would be failing the students, parents, and teachers. I have hired great office managers who have been high school dropouts; higher education is not necessary. But they do need to be bright, motivated, organized, and responsible. As a manager, I can’t and shouldn’t pay an incompetent person more than he or she is worth in the labor market.

When we lose in the marketplace because someone else is providing a better product at a better price, or when we fail to sell our goods and services, we have to acknowledge that we have not done a good enough job. We have a responsibility to improve.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Creating New Ideals

There are legitimate and difficult tasks associated with re-directing people's ideals. I see it as a slow process, akin to turning an ocean liner around.

One of the keys is to balance a perspective that does acknowledge the virtues of spontaneous market forces with a perspective that includes the valid and desirable human aspiration to make the world a better place.

Thus with respect to a comment on our Yahoo group:

"There has to be something better than dusting off the old "markets will save the world if you just let them schtick"--they didn't and they haven't and they won't--and it's not just the fault of meddling bureaucracies and Chicken-Little activists,"

I very much agree that there has to be something better; that is indeed the aspiration of FLOW. That said, we somehow have to find a way to talk about problems that acknowledges that, to a very remarkable, unacknowledged extent, markets come close to saving the world.

A simple case in point: A commentator in the WSJ estimated that under the rates of growth typical under India's socialist governments, India would not reach U.S. standards of living until 2300, whereas under the rates of growth achieved by more recent liberal (i.e. free market liberal) governments in India, India could reach current U.S. standards of living by 2050. Say what you will about Wal-mart and the spiritual poverty of the U.S., but I can't see any standard of morality that can justify sentencing a billion people to brutal poverty and widespread child slavery and prostitution for an additional 250 years because we don't like the aesthetics of the U.S. marketplace.

Thus while validating the urgent human desire to do good in the world by means of social entrepreneurship, our very first priority must be "to do no harm."

That said, I agree that we should acknowledge problems with existing market outcomes and seek to improve upon the outcomes. In some cases we may need to change the rules of the marketplace; in other cases we may need to be entrepreneurs; and in other cases strategic philanthropy may be crucial.

I do think that a major area of influence for FLOW could be to develop and encourage cadres of market enthusiasts who, instead of simply defending existing markets, emphasize the changes in market rules that would be necessary for social improvements. For instance, U.S. corporations are excessively driven by short-term profits in part because of SEC regulations from the 1930s that force corporations to report results quarterly in a particular manner. Privately-held corporations, not subject to SEC regulation of the equities markets, are not driven by short-term profits to the same extent as U.S. public corporations. Corporations in Germany, Japan, and elsewhere are less driven by short-term considerations because those nations do not have the same regulatory structure that we have. FLOW advocates should support a repeal of these SEC regulations while simultaneously working on an entrepreneurial solution to fill any reasonable social void left by the elimination of the SEC regulations.

"And if Flow starts parroting the smugness so prevalent on Fox and elsewhere, marginalizing "enviros" and other well-intentioned but often off-the-mark groups of activists, while simulataneously blindly extolling the virtues of the existing market--then we will lose a tremendous opportunity to forge something new and different."

I do think that the comment on "smugness" is appropriate; what most alienates do-gooders from market advocates is the apparent tone of smug complacency. We must always substitute a sensible action agenda for those who want to devote their energies to idealistic courses of action. Insofar as many market advocates make it sound as if "everything is okay" when it is clearly not, those market advocates immediately lose credibility among those who want to make the world a better place.

The other rhetorical challenge is to change the connotation of "market." For most idealists, "market," "free market," "capitalism," etc. all have connotations of greed. And yet the system that we want to create is one in which idealistic entrepreneurs demand the freedom that they need to make the world a better place. From a denotative perspective, the schools that I want to create require a "free market" in education. Yet many people imagine that a "free market" in education will result in the crass commercialization of education while also imagining that "public education" somehow results in virtuous civic education. We have to change 100 years of misleading understandings concerning basic terms and institutions in our society.

"For FLOW to succeed, it seems that it must embrace the path of authentic transformation, and resist at every turn the ease and temptation to engage in less meaningful translation--of dressing up old market apologia in new market language."

I would not so quickly repudiate "old market apologia." Mere economic growth has resulted in the most amazing standard of living for the average person that the world has ever seen. Although aesthetically I sympathize with an intellectual misanthrope I met who described Wal-mart as "hell," from a moral perspective I bow my head in gratitude every time I enter Wal-mart and see the amazing range of products available at amazingly low prices. If we had greater freedom in education, health care, and housing markets, it would then be possible to obtain decent education, decent health care, and decent housing at affordable prices. And then the people who work at such low wages at Wal-mart could afford decent lives. Instead, we have created a world in which vast volumes of trivial items are available cheaply, but those items that are most crucial to well-being are unreasonably expensive and inavailable.

One of our challenges is to validate the aspirational goals of cultural creatives to create new forms of social entrepreneurship while also persuading them to be more respectful of the basic needs and aspirations of ordinary people.

This leads to a response to the comments on whether FLOW ideals are new or not: "The sorts of ideals you mention as examples are not new; they are rather typical and conventional."

A few brief thoughts concerning the ways in which FLOW ideals may be new:

I used to despise my grandmother because she bought "Collectible" plates from The Franklin Mint. The Franklin Mint does a tremendous business selling highly-priced plates, statues, figures, etc. and marketing them aggressively as "limited-edition" collectibles. It is a case study of profits by means of deceptive hype. The objects are only "valuable collectibles" because The Franklin Mint hypes them so. The objects are priced far above the price of similar bric-a-brac available at tourist shops. The Franklin Mint would appear to be a case of capitalism at its most wasteful, deceitful, and profit-grubbing worst.

And yet it is undeniable that it makes my grandmother happy to buy these stupid plates. If I were a czar of economic virtue who could close down The (despicable) Franklin Mint, my grandmother would be less happy.

At the same time, I would feel as if I had failed as a father if my children grew up to desire this type of crap. I am pleased that my children prefer books and wilderness activity to kitsch from the mall.

So one sense in which it seems to me that FLOW ideals are new is for us to:

1. Celebrate the fact that ordinary people want and are made happy by Wal-mart, Mcdonald's, The Franklin Mint, and barbecues on 3000 sq. ft. decks. These things really do make most people happier than they would be without them. That's why those who sell them succeed in the marketplace.

While simultaneously

2. Aspiring to change tastes, culture, and preferences by means of voluntaristic choices offered in the marketplace by our culturally creative social entrepreneurs.

Another aspect of ideal #2 is that it forces us to create goods and services that people really want. If we are virtue-mongers, the way most idealists are, then we must take responsibility for making virtuous ways of life more enjoyable and rewarding than are competing alternatives.
If we open a church and people still go to the bar across the street, we have to acknowledge that we have failed to fully provide substitutes for what people get from going to the bar. If we open a meditation center and people still go to the mall, we have to acknowledge that we have failed to fully provide substitutes for what people get from going to the mall. We need to create ways of life that are so valuable that people actually pursue them as actively as they currently pursue existing consumption patterns. Or we need to acknowledge that people actually get something of value from the bar and the mall.

When I was in college, I sold solar energy collectors door-to-door. A friend, who was an ardent environmentalist, worked with me briefly but then quit because he hated door-to-door sales. And yet he would most certainly have supported a law that forced people to buy solar energy collectors. This strikes me as a morally bankrupt position. It is very easy to have opinions and to proudly and righteously support laws that force our opinions on other people. It is much, much more difficult to create an enterprise and make it a success by means of persuading people to give us their hard-earned money in exchange for the valuable goods and services that we provide.

For idealists to take responsibility in this manner also strikes me as a new ideal. Previous idealists have been content to announce that they believe in the right thing - one is reminded of Hollywood celebs arriving in their limos or SUVs to talk about how we are consuming too much oil. A public commitment on our behalf to create new goods and services, and new ways of living, that are so desirable that we can sell them in a marketplace, is a radical departure from previous types of idealism. If we combine a commitment to walk our talk in our personal lives with a commitment only to use voluntarism to bring people along, we will have set dramatically new standards for idealism.

Moreover, this type of responsibility is a bridge to ordinary voters. I think that the Democrats have been losing in large part because the elites who represent them despise ordinary people: they are people like me who despise the decorative plates put out by The Franklin Mint, they are people like my friend the environmentalist who is too good to sell door-to-door but who would happily force people to buy solar energy collectors. It is difficult to win support from those whom one despises.

Ordinary voters in America have a profound respect for personal responsibility. And they want to be liked and respected. If FLOW can balance a commitment to aspirations by means of voluntaristic social entrepreneurship by cultural creatives with an authentic celebration of ordinary Americans, we will be able to gain a following.