Saturday, March 12, 2005

FLOW Priorities

Offline a FLOW member asked about FLOW priorities for world betterment. Although he was thinking of aLomborg-like list (e.g. “Should potable water come before or after global warming?”), I have found it useful to approach the problems from a higher level of generality. For instance, if we open the world in the manner suggested below, the people themselves will solve their potable water problems rather quickly. The following list was selected based on the dramatic leveraging effect of each item.

FLOW Priorities:

In order to most rapidly create a world characterized by peace, prosperity, happiness, and sustainability, our most urgent focus should be to:

1. Open the world.
2. Free education.
3. Recreate the academies.
4. Create institutions to prevent “tragedy of thecommons” problems.

I will explain each in turn and why each will lead to dramatic improvements in human well-being.

1. Open the world: Free institutions based on the rule of law have allowed individuals to create truly staggering gains in human well-being while creating ever-growing spheres of stable peace. Our top priority must be to increase the rate at which these institutions are developed around the world.

While various top-down forces, including multi-national corporations, the U.N., the U.S. government, IMF and World Bank, and others have attempted to impose institutions on nations, a bottom-up approach is likely to be more powerful and more sensitive to local conditions. The best way to release the powers of a widespread bottom-up approach is to reduce or eliminate restrictions on the global flow of goods, services, capital, and people across borders. Restrictions not only limit the growth of wealth, they also favor vested interests within wealthy nations and favor large multi-nationals in the developing world (unlike individuals, large corporations have the ability to get around restrictions).

Opening borders would allow billions of individuals to sell their services on an open market more easily. By participation in a global market, these individuals will begin creating significantly more wealth than they create at present which will provide immediate benefits to their locales. They will also create a related market in human capital development as people around the world discover which capacities lead to dramatic increases income. And finally, they will create a bottom-up initiative that supports stable government.

Mass participation in the market-dimensions of the civil society of the developed world will seed an understanding of and demand for the kinds of institutions that have allowed for the creation of wealth in the developed world. This mass demand for rule of law, education, and civil society, in combination with massive mutual dependence on global trade, will create a steadily thickening culture of peace around the world. This bottom-upapproach, with the implied gradual irrelevance of national borders, is the fastest and surest approach to lasting peace on earth.

FLOW idealist action items:

A. Support massive entrepreneurial creation through microfinance, De Soto property rights reforms, cyber off-shoring and cyber education, and ever-expanding free enterprise zones around the world.

B. Greatly increase immigration into all developingnations, with the eventual goal of open borders around the world.

C. Reduce or eliminate all tariffs and subsidies in the developed world.

D. Support structural changes as outlined in theFraser Institute’s “Economic Freedom of the World” report.

2. Free Education: Just as government control of the“commanding heights” of the Soviet economy left theSoviet economy in a shambles, government control of education is leaving human life in a shambles. It has been abundantly shown that governments lack the capacity to make millions (or billions) of individual decisions wisely. Institutions, including educational institutions, which are the spontaneous outcome of billions of individual human decisions will be vastly more responsive to real human needs than are collectivist educational institutions.

Existing educational institutions egregiously fail to educate many young people; do a mediocre job of educating many more; and provide a limited, one-dimensional, and often soul-destroying job of educating even those who appear to succeed within the system. As billions of human beings become exposed to global market forces, they have a right to the best possible education. And only by means of billions of individual decisions, each reflecting specialized local circumstances, can adequately responsive educational institutions come into being. In order to reduce the inevitable backlash against global competition, it is crucial to allow everyone an opportunity to obtain an education that will allow them to earn a decent income. As long as governments remain the dominant player in the educational marketplace, most people will be handicapped by a sub-optimal educational experience.

FLOW Idealist Action Items:

A. Reduce or eliminate government involvement ineducation at all levels.

B. Reduce or eliminate all government restrictions tooccupational entry.

C. Support entrepreneurial initiatives in education at all levels.

3. Recreate the academies: Although the allied institutions of rule of law, property rights, and an entrepreneurial civil society remain the core foundations for the creation of ever-increasing levels of human well-being, the production and dissemination of new knowledge through formal institutions has at times resulted in truly remarkable advances in human well-being, especially in the realms of science and technology.

Unfortunately, outside of the realms of science and technology, the academies have largely had a negative influence on human well-being, at least in the 20th century. By means of the support and dissemination of truly dreadful Marxist thought, through the support and dissemination of less dreadful but still misguided paternalistic and infantilizing social policies, and through the ongoing support and dissemination of attitudes of impotence and anger, on balance academic humanities and social science fields in the 20thcentury have led to few gains in human well-being and remarkable harms.

This need not have been the case. It is possible to re-imagine academies that were useful and responsive to human life, and that contributed in a positive way to human development. By making the academies more responsive to the needs of those who want to learn and improve themselves, the academies could once again play a positive role in human life. Changing the academies may be, however, the most difficult and intractable of the problems that we face today.

FLOW idealist action items:

A. Reduce or eliminate all government financial and legislative support for universities (including, again, university-monopolized occupational licensing).

B. Encourage new entrepreneurial entrants into the post-secondary education and intellectual research markets.

C. Encourage private philanthropists to be far more judicious concerning their gifts to existing universities.

4. Create institutions to prevent “tragedy of the commons” problems: If the world is opened up in the manner recommended above, global wealth and economic growth will increase at a truly remarkable rate. In any circumstance in which there are resources that are not owned by private entities, those resources are likely to be destroyed due to the “tragedy of the commons” problem.

Our oceans and our atmosphere are probably the two most significant unallocated resources at present, though there may be others. In order to ensure that ongoing economic growth does not result in widespread environmental degradation, it is important that we develop a system for assigning property rights to unallocated resources. In addition, unallocated resources may trigger old-fashioned wars even as peace is spreading around the world through commerce. Therefore it is important to begin a process of creating institutions that will allocate those resources that are currently unallocated.

FLOW idealist action items:

A. Investigate proposals to allocate global resources to prevent tragedy of the commons problems.

B. Support entrepreneurial efforts to create institutions that support the best of those proposals.


By means of focusing our energies on achieving these four goals, we can rapidly create a better world. The first one will result in dramatic increases in global prosperity while spreading peace around the world. The second one will distribute the benefits of prosperity to those who would otherwise be trampled in the global competition while simultaneously allowing people to re-create lives based on meaning and community. The third one will reduce the rate at which academies prevent good things from happening and, over time, will give us universities that actually add value in realms other than science and technology. And the fourth one will ensure that the dramatic rate of global growth does not result in serious environmental degradation or resource wars.


1. Open the world, and let goods, services, capital, and people flow across all borders.
2. Free education, and let authentic learning and well-being flow into the human community.
3. Recreate the academies, and let authentic knowledge flow into minds around the world.
4. Create institutions to prevent “tragedy of the commons” problems, to ensure that ever-increasing global flows are peaceful and positive for humanity.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Replacing Failed Ideals with Realistic Strategies

"you younger libertarians would be well advised to focus your intellectual energies on the problem of uneven outcomes. What gave socialism much appeal to educated people was its promise that no one would be left desperately poor and neglected."

The "problem of uneven outcomes" is distinct from the "promise that no one would be left desparately poor and neglected."

Thomas Jefferson was beloved by the great 20th century liberal intellectuals because he affected democratic manners; John Adams was despised because he longed for the trappings of royalty. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, are beloved billionaires because they forced Wall Street to conduct a more democratic IPO. Larry Ellison of Oracle is despised because he flies his private jets into San Jose in the middle of the night, laughing at the $10,000 fines as if they were parking tickets.

As long as people are respectful of other people (which they often are not), inequality of wealth and status is much less of a problem than when they are high-handed about their wealth and status. I do think that it is important that FLOW entrepreneurs practice respect towards all.

And in the voluntaristic communities to which I would belong, I would enthusiastically support minimal welfare vouchers that would ensure that poor citizens (who followed behavioral guidelines) had adequate food and lodging.

But neither of those responses are likely to address the more visceral craving for ideals that sustained communism through 70 years and 100 million murders.

I would invest the aspiration to transcend existing social flaws in the entrepreneurial creation of new and better cultures, starting with new schools. I share most of the moral frustrations of the Left: It is offensive to me that those born from some families are less likely to succeed, that many men treat women badly, and that lying and deception are so often rewarded. There are many, many morally offensive aspects of society as it stands today.

And I don't think that government action can do very much to improve those aspects of society that are morally offensive.

Each of us can, of course, work on ourselves first; always a good rule of thumb. But I will also encourage idealistic young people to work as educators and thereby work on the young. Do you think that the poor are not given adequate opportunities? Create a school to solve that problem. Do you think that women are not treated well enough? Create a school to solve that problem. Do you despise the lying and deception that are prevalent? Create a school to solve that problem.

I have spent fifteen years working on these and other problems, and I am deeply familiar with the concrete difficulties involved in creating a better classroom culture (and subsequently a better school culture).

The communists aspired to change human nature to eradicate selfishness. I have tried to change classroom culture to increase niceness. Their task was a horrible failure. With a great deal of effort, educators such as myself have been able to make some progress: It is possible to create school cultures in which students treat each other more decently than they do at mainstream public schools. But it is very slow going at present, three steps forward and two steps back.

Marxists believed that their theory and their passion could change society. They were deluded. I believe that my classroom practice and school structure can change the micro-societies of the schools that I create. And students and parents have chosen these schools because I was able to deliver, however partially, on these ambitions.

Changing classroom or school cultures is a very, very difficult problem; and yet it is possible to make progress even now by means of entrepreneurial educational projects. At present these tasks are inordinately difficult to solve, but when we have educational freedom and are allowed to create larger corporations, with large research and development budgets with which to approach these problems we will make more substantial progress.

While it may be a lot more fun to be an "activist" and feel good about oneself while partying, I hope to inspire young entrepreneurs to commit themselves to the long, hard, gratifying work of creating great institutions. Some of those institutions will be businesses such as Google and Whole Foods at which the work culture is considerably more positive and less hierarchical than is the work culture at old style corporations. Some of those institutions will be schools or health networks, in which fundamental social norms need to be changed.

But unlike the idealism of activists and the idealism of government action, the idealism of entrepreneurs can result in very specific, definite progress. And, when the venture fails, one is held directly responsible for the failure. I consider this type of idealism to be a great deal more satisfying than was the old idealism.

There will also be an element of storming the barricades, especially in encouraging the destruction of the existing educational and credentialling system. It is perfectly clear to me that the existing system of education, that rewards a particular set of social norms and a particular species of cognitive competence, was designed by the upper-middle class to favor the upper-middle class. It will be relatively easy to show how "public schools" and professional licensing requirements harm the poor. With practice, one can learn to see an expansive world of opportunity ready for the creating. Once young people understand that they can be the creators of a more humane, just, and beautiful society, if only the teacher's guild and their academic cheerleaders get out of the way, then we will see a real rage against the machine.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Depoliticizing Friedman, Mises, and Hayek

From an article on the death of Robert Heilbroner, a lifelong socialist economist who acknowledged that his side had been wrong (

"Capitalism has been as unmistakable a success as socialism has been a failure. Here is the part that's hard to swallow. It has been the Friedmans, Hayeks, and von Miseses who have maintained that capitalism would flourish and that socialism would develop incurable ailments. All three have regarded capitalism as the 'natural' system of free men; all have maintained that left to its own devices capitalism would achieve material growth more successfully than any other system. From [my samplings] I draw the following discomforting generalization: The farther to the right one looks, the more prescient has been the historical foresight; the farther to the left, the less so."

Robert Heilbroner's history of economics, The Worldly Philosophers, is one of the most widely published books on economics. For decades it was required reading in thousands of economics courses across the country. The economic world-views of literally millions of educated adults who are in power today were defined by Heilbroner's socialist spin on the history of economics. His recantation is especially important and should be more widely known.

Part of the task of FLOW, and everyone who cares about human well-being, is to transcend the notion that there is anything "right-wing" about Friedman, Hayek, and Von Mises. They were, and are, simply correct. One hundred years of "left-wing" economics and political theory were simply wrong. The continued hostility to the ideas of "free market" economists results in persistent poverty and misery around the world.

For many years, Chicago economists have denied that there is anything distinctive about "the Chicago school of economics." From their perspective, there is good economics and bad economics, and they have been practicing good economics for a very long time - which is why they have won so many Nobel prizes (according to wikipedia they have won almost half of all the prizes, .

Friedman, Hayek, and Mises should be regarded as heroes of intellectual courage across the political spectrum, the Galileos of the 20th century, who withstood tremendous abuse and ridicule for the sake of intellectual integrity - and who were proven correct in the end. The PBS documentary "Commanding Heights" does an excellent job of this with respect to Hayek. I believe it was just last year that Harvard finally added Hayek to the required reading list of its introductory social science survey course.

From this more rational foundation we can build a coherent idealism that is apolitical. We can now begin working from a solid intellectual foundation to help the poorest of the poor, to spread happiness and well-being, and to create a world in which people are valued more for their humanity and authentic virtues rather than for arbitrary characteristics such as race, gender, and place of birth.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Mario Vargas Llosa's "Confessions of a Liberal"

A wonderful speech: