Thursday, March 09, 2006

Legalizing Markets in Happiness and Well-being

"What do you mean by "marketing happiness", and why
do you think it is now illegal? What specific
practices are against the law which would enable
happiness to be freely bought and sold?"

There is a distinction between "decriminalized"
markets in, say, prostitution and drugs, as compared
to full legalization. In Holland, for instance, while
it is legal to sell small quantities of cannabis
products, it is not legal for these retailers to buy
wholesale quantities nor to advertise. A commercial
market in cannabis remains illegal; the cannabis
industry does not benefit from the investment capital,
economies of scale, professional agricultural and
manufacturing, public relations and marketing, etc.
that are characteristic of alcohol, tobacco, computer,
or toilet paper industries.

Similarly, while we are free to teach or heal or
advise friends on many issues pertaining to happiness
and well-being, and sell many products and services
which are likely to increase the happiness and
well-being of others, there are severe restrictions on
the type and scale of well-being products and services
that are sold. Thus one might say that while
interactions pertaining to happiness and well-being
are largely decriminalized, full blown markets in such
services are not yet legal.

Education: Private education is highly regulated in
many states; in Pennsylvania private academic schools
must be staffed with certified teachers, in Maryland a
private school must operate on at least an acre of
land, etc. A friend of mine who opened a private
school committed to humane education in PA had to hire
certified personnel rather than her first choice of
staff, another humane educator in Maryland who tutors
homeschoolers in art and music and consults on
curriculum in core academic subjects is very careful
not to "teach" core academics lest he be shut down for
operating a school illegally.

In Oregon, there are bounty hunters for turning in
students who don't attend school
though they might be doing something better for them.
In New Jersey, there are bounty hunters who try to
catch students who sneak across district lines in
order to get a better education,

In principle, it is legal for me in Florida, Texas,
and California to open up a private school and offer
almost any kind of educational program. That said, I
have had public school officials actively discourage
parents from sending their kids to the excellent
Montessori schools with which I've worked on the
grounds that "they may have a hard time adapting to
the public school when they return because they will
probably miss some curriculum." I am well educated
enough to not to be intimidated by this, but there are
many good-hearted parents listening to the authority
of such government officials who, in their eyes, speaks
with authority regarding their child's well-being. Who wants to
risk their child's future prospects on an education that the
authorities tell you will damage the child in the official system?
When I ran a school that taught middle
school students to pass Advanced Placement science
tests, parents would sometimes say in fear "But won't
my son miss 7th grade science?," having been
well-trained to believe that the "official" curriculum
has some critical status. Is intimidation by public
officials equivalent to illegality? Well, no, but . .

Meanwhile, collectively we are forced to pay about
half a trillion dollars each year for
government-managed institutions which are actively
damaging to the intellects and spiritual vitality of
about two-thirds of our children (generously I'll
assume that one-third are ok in these institutions).
In addition to this amount, people who aspire to be
educators face very strong incentives to obtain a
"teaching license" in order to get a job teaching;
even if they teach at a private school in Texas they
might move to a state like Pennsylvania at some point
where they will need a credential even in private
schools. Support for these education departments and
student loans and grants to support aspiring educators
who are forced to take these programs which do very
little towards increasing authentic well-being
probably costs us another $100 billion or so while
taking four years of life from people who could be
learning something valuable or contributing to

An idealistic educator who wishes to work outside the
system, in private Montessori or Waldorf schools, must
get a different credential, usually not offered at
universities, for which they are not eligible for
student loans and grants. Thus our young idealist
pays $5000-10,000 out of her own pocket and foregoes a
year's income before embarking on a career at mostly
small, poorly funded schools where they will earn
lower salary and benefits, work longer hours, have
less job security, and have fewer opportunities for
relocation or promotion. The foregone earnings over a
forty year teaching career could be on the order of a
million dollars, while paying taxes out of her
inadequate salary to support a system that she
believes is less effective in supporting well-being.

Thus someone who cares first and foremost about the
well-being of children and decides to commit her life
to doing what is right for children may well have a
successful career; the option she has chosen has not
been criminalized; but cumulatively numerous obstacles
are preventing such people and their love for children
from flourishing.

But with a separation of school and state, educational
tax credits, or minimally regulated education
vouchers, we would no longer be forced to support a
system of control and intimidation that damages
children while forcing many of our most caring
educators to live in the margins of our society.
Large educational enterprises would be launched which
could devote these enormous sums directly towards
human beings and activities that would be focused
keenly on that which is in the best interest of

While the "winners" in an educational market would not
immediately be purveyors of well-being, over time
educational consumers would become more discerning,
just as a refinement exists in all markets.
Skateboards today are vastly more sophisticated than
were the early skateboards of the 1970s, sneakers are
more sophisticated, toothbrushes have become ever-more
elegant and nuanced. People need to learn to
understand the dynamism of market processes and not
look at the schools, public or private, that we see at

Opportunities for gambling and pornography have
proliferated and are flush with capital because there
are active, dynamic markets in these activites. It
is, at present, easier to create a dynamic, innovative
enterprise offering gambling or pornography than it is
to devote oneself to humane education. The legal
environment has very substantially contributed to this

I believe that people passionately whan to do what is
good, want to provide services to others that
represent quality, want to seek out that which is best
for themselves and for their children. If we who want
to supply that which is better and healthier are
constantly crippled and harassed, then it might
appear, as it does to some, that people don't desire
that which is good. And my reply is: Well, before
coming to that conclusion, let's look at the asymmetry
of power between the kind of education that is
supported by law vs. the kind of education that is
marginalized by law.

A similar version of the foregoing could be done for
health care, broadly construed. A woman who has a national
following as a therapist wanted to try her new therapeutic
techniques on drug addicts and had a "cease and desist" order
served against her in the midst of a drug rehab retreat because
she did not specifically have a credential that allowed her to
provide drug rehab programs. The illegality, or
quasi-illegality, of many alternative treatments, the
restrictions on who can provide what kinds of
counseling services or medications, etc. all contrain
the full-blown development of professional enterprises
devoted to well-being.

See also Joel Salatin, "Everything I want to do is

I close with the conclusion of my "The Creation of
Conscious Culture Through Educational Innovation,":

The argument of this book may be summarized by means
of twenty propositions on education and wellness:

1. Culture, habits, and attitudes are the most
important prerequisites to education.

2. Historically traditional cultures have varied
widely; human variability due to culture is
extraordinary. That variability is currently being
lost through the force of those technology-based
monocultures that are sweeping the world.

3. Over the course of 13 years of formal education,
the average high school graduate is exposed to 14,000
hours of K-12 schooling. It is possible to have a
considerable impact on the habits, attitudes, ideals,
aesthetics, aspirations, and culture of the students
over that time if that were to become the primary
focus of educational institutions.

4. Habituation in new cultural norms may be
successfully cultivated in the young only when they
are educated by adults who consistently,
moment-by-moment, support and enforce the new forms of
habituation and personally exemplify the new virtues.
In order to do this, the adults themselves must
exhibit a consistent form of habituation. New
cultures can not be created by innovations in
textbooks or software.

5. Except for those few educational approaches that
have distinctive teacher training programs
(Montessori, Waldorf, and some religious school
systems) combined with schools that actively support
those pedagogies, existing teacher training does not
even begin to ensure consistent habituation. The most
consistent habituation faced by K-12 students in
government schools today is habituation in passivity
and dependence.

6. Cumulatively, deliberately inculcated habits and
attitudes may provide a foundation for new cultures.
The Jesuits deliberately created a more disciplined
and intellectual European culture out of the chaos of
medieval education. Montessori and Waldorf education
are nascent examples of new cultures being formed

7. The existing government-controlled education
system acts as a monopolistic standard with a market
share far greater than that held by Microsoft's
Windows standard. Unlike the Microsoft dominant
standard, the government schooling standard is
enforced legislatively and financed coercively.

8. Only when this dominant standard collapses will
great educational innovations begin to be launched.

9. Freedom has been necessary for innovation in the
world of ideas, the world of technology, and the world
of entrepreneurship. If Galileo had more effectively
been censored, Newton and modern physics might not
exist. If government had regulated the invention of
electrical devices in the 19th century, Thomas
Edison's "invention of invention" would never have
come into being. If tech entrepreneurs had needed
government licenses to do their work, Silicon Valley,
the microcomputer and the internet, would be a pale
ghost of their present selves, if they existed at all.
Likewise, educational freedom will be necessary for
educational innovation.

10. Only visionary organizations, designed and built
by a commitment to a distinctive vision, can
consistently create distinctive cultures that are
powerful enough to compete with the teen culture
defined by the media. A distinctive, long-term vision
can only be implemented institutionally in a
voluntaristic institution. Visionary leaders must be
able to hire, fire, and promote faculty based strictly
on their own perception of quality.

11. Markets will supply those goods desired by

12. Parents want their children to be healthy, well,
productive, and happy.

13. Therefore in a free educational market there will
be a demand for schools that can supply a healthier

14. Innovative educators employed by private,
visionary organizations will gradually develop
increasingly healthier and more positive versions of
teen culture.

15. Peer culture is a more powerful influence on
teens than are parents. Currently teen culture is the
biggest obstacle to parental ability to raise their
children well. Conversely, a positive teen culture
could compensate for many of the weaknesses of poor

16. Culture by its very nature produces "neighborhood
effects," or externalities; once we have created more
sources of positive teen culture it will spread to
those who don't originally pay for it or even choose

17. Many of us develop critical habits as teens; a
healthier teen culture will result in a healthier
adult culture.

18. "Healthier" may be construed widely; the
foregoing analysis applies to any positive cultural

19. Cumulatively, the long-term effects of an
innovative, competitive market for adolescent
well-being may produce cultural consequences as
profound as, or more profound than, the long-term
effects of technological innovation.

20. Cumulatively then, just as technological
innovation has had a dramatic impact on the economic
standard of well-being, so too cultural innovation
will have a dramatic positive impact on our social,
emotional, and moral standard of well-being.

It has been said that the greatest invention of the
19th century was the invention of the invention. While
there had certainly been inventions prior to the 19th
century, only gradually did tinkerers and
experimentalists begin to become conscious and
deliberate about the act of invention. A magnificent
turning point was Thomas Edison's creation of a
laboratory specifically for the sake of creating

The worlds of martial arts and eastern spiritual
practices contain innumerable lineages, each with a
revered founder. The founders of new branches of
lineages are rarely described using the rhetoric of
innovation, yet that is precisely what they are. They
are individuals who have achieved a new advance on a
particular discipline or practice, resulting in new
techniques that are then passed on to subsequent
practitioners of the lineage. Similarly, the founders
of monastic orders, such as St. Francis, St. Benedict,
etc., are not usually perceived as "cultural
innovators," despite the fact that they launched new
cultural institutions that have survived for

In western education, individual educators are
recognized as leaving a legacy from time to time.
Thomas Arnold is renowned for creating a distinctive
culture at Rugby School in England in the 19th
century. Maria Montessori is well known for founding
Montessori education, as is Rudolf Steiner for
founding Waldorf education. Older alumni to this day
feel a powerful attachment to the "Hutchins' College,"
the program at the University of Chicago during the
tenure of Robert M. Hutchins as college president,
1930-1950. As with the saints, gurus, and martial
artists, with the exceptions of Montessori and Steiner
these educators are not usually conceptualized as

The haphazard cultural inventions that have taken
place hitherto, in eastern and western cultures, are
analogous to the occasional inventions that
characterized western society prior to the 19th
century. By means of radical school choice combined
with a conscious recognition of the power and
importance of creating new school cultures, the
greatest invention of the 21st century may be the
invention of new cultural models that continually
allow human beings to adapt ever more effectively to a
world of ongoing creative destruction while allowing
for ever deeper levels of happiness and well-being for
people of all races, cultures, classes, and abilities.