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What is the state?

September 17, 2017 Leave a comment

“The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine. It can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.” – M.K. Gandhi

When looking at the US government today, one can barely fathom the tiny government it started with. The US became such a powerful and destructive government by constantly enlarging the scope of its action. Since the beginning of the federation it has expanded, from the westward march of federal government jurisdiction to the cause of the Civil War: the president’s war on secession. All told, 50 states were incorporated into the union. Now the government controlled resources on an entire continent, like China and Russia. Once the land was conquered, the US government expanded its ability to capture the wealth and challenge the sovereignty of other countries. Sometimes it used trade agreements; sometimes it used guns. There were many civil liberties, and a productive free market, but as the economy grew, the state grew. That is the state’s purpose: to expand the power of those who control it. Liberty quietly slipped away.

Max Weber defined the state as that organisation that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given (national) territory. “Legitimate” here merely means legal, as actual legitimacy is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. That is why Albert Jay Nock countered Weber by saying the state “claims and exercises a monopoly of crime” over its territory. Statism is the belief that this monopoly of crime is good or necessary. David S. D’Amato explains its effect: “the state’s principal manner of acting is to make peaceful interactions crimes while protecting the institutional crime of ruling class elites.”

After all, what does the state do? It steals, but it calls its theft taxation. It kidnaps, but calls kidnapping arrest. It counterfeits, but refers to state counterfeiting as monetary policy. It uses force and compulsion which it calls the rule of law. It commits murder on a wide scale, but prefers terms such as war and execution. The state claims to act to protect person and property, but in practice claims ownership of both (through, for instance, laws that tell you what you can and cannot put in your body). It claims to protect freedom while taking it away. It claims to aid the less fortunate when in fact it benefits the powerful at the expense of everyone else. If I go to another country to kill people I do not know, I am a murderer. When the military does it, it is fighting terrorism and promoting democracy. This sleight of hand and clouding of truth is how the state manufactures legitimacy.

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The state pursues petty criminals partly because they threaten the stability of the system the state has erected and the security of the wealthy, but also because it claims a monopoly of crime. Mafia organisations are even more dangerous, as they pose a more fundamental threat to the state as competitors for plunder and dominance.

I think it is fair to include any state-protected monopoly as part of the state. Monopolies are a large part of the problem. Monopolies tend to lead to abuse, and they destroy the wonderful benefits of spontaneous order. A monopoly is always held together by force, except in the rare case of companies like Standard Oil, which was so popular because it lowered the price of heating oil to a fraction of what it had been (and competitors—not customers—used the state to break it up). In a communist society or even just a freed market, monopolies cannot exist, at least, not for long.

Anarchy is, in fact, the destruction of monopoly. Nearly all monopolies are created by the state. Monopolies and oligopolies, whether on patented medicine, oil supplies or national security, are protected by law. The state thus gains a measure of control over the distorted market and the government works for those rich people it creates. The relationship is symbiotic. The Federal Reserve system is not technically part of the government but a cartel institutionalised by the state. By my definition, it is part of the state.

I also consider the people behind the scenes who pull the strings part of the state. For example, what might be called the US foreign-policy establishment is not merely members of the State and Defense Departments. It includes high-ranking businesspeople. Executives, directors and shareholders in large oil companies probably have far greater influence over the use of the US military than, say, a couple of senators taking stands against war. It includes the Council on Foreign Relations and other influential think tanks, academics and “consultants” (often retired officers) affiliated with those who craft US foreign policy. Intelligence agencies—and not only those in the US government—influence the process as well. Andrew J. Bacevich points out “‘Military-industrial complex’ no longer suffices to describe the congeries of interests profiting from and committed to preserving the national-security status quo.”

This is the world behind the curtain, detailed in the work of Bacevich, among others, that can be described as the permanent foreign-policy establishment. The faces of the state change, but the clear continuity of US foreign policy reflects the interests of those truly in power. The same is true, to one extent or another, for all areas the state attempts to control.

The state’s raison d’être has had different pretexts as times have changed. It was originally a tool for conquering and controlling territory around a kingdom. Social scientists studying the emergence of states note the state began with the divine right of kings: the sovereign, or totalitarian king, kept his subjects in awe of the wrath of gods. Franz Oppenheimer, in his sociological survey of the state, describes its origins.

The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner.

As European states grew in technological power, they spread outside Europe as overseas empires. The ambition of conquering and subjugating the weak had not ended. To demarcate their possessions, states drew lines on maps. Countries are only countries today because of the movements of empires. States are products of conquest. Borders are the geographic limits to the power of individual states. States owe their existence and their growth to war. That is why Randolph Bourne called war “the health of the state” and Charles Tilly said “war made the state and the state made war”.

An empire is simply the growth of a state beyond its previous borders. A look at the pre- and post-imperial world gives us no reason to believe that uninterrupted rule by indigenous elites would have been any better than by empires. The liberation of most of the world from the colonial yoke was heralded as a new era of freedom, but in most cases results were very disappointing. Government by locals and foreigners alike leaves the governed wide open to abuse.

Today, states are still about a monopoly of crime over a given territory, but the humanist direction of the moral evolution of society has demanded new functions of the state. Due in part to the pressure from anarcho-syndicalist unions and the supposed alternative to capitalism in the USSR, for example, Western states felt compelled to mitigate the worst aspects of capitalism and introduce the eight-hour work day, the five-day work week, breaks, vacation time, and so on. It is now expected that, since society is rich enough to afford education, housing, health care and so on for everyone, those things will be provided by the state, the organisation with the most resources. The only reason people believe the state is necessary for social programmes, scientific research, relations with other states and so on, is because it has taken on those functions. The state does not exist to provide social programmes; it provides social programmes so it can continue to exist.

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The state is not about social programmes and emergency rescue. It is about domination, power over others. People who believe otherwise do not know how to think like the state.

Thinking like the state

What does the state want? In a word: power. Power could be defined simply as the ability to enforce one’s will on another. A further definition is the ability to carry out violence on another if necessary to get one’s way. An abusive husband and father is violence on a family level. The state threatens and employs violence on a local, national and global level.

Its power to carry out violence everywhere exists in the form of local, national and international police; armies, navies, air forces, spy drones, national guards and special branches; intelligence services, surveillance cameras, wiretapping, reading mail, reading email, reading instant messages and collecting data on everyone; and spy satellites in case you try to escape Earth without authorisation. The state has evolved from the small confines of localities to go global. It has a measure of power over us everywhere we go. Such power over so many concentrated in the hands of a few is dangerous.

The state is a monopoly on force, but the constant expansion of the state has led it to take on other monopolies over time. Modern states came to control land, the money supply, infrastructure and the security of the streets. As it has grown, the state has created new monopolies and oligopolies. Having a monopoly on the provision of law, it has created corporations, which relieve their owners and operators of responsibility; granted patents, enabling some of the biggest corporations, from Disney to the pharmaceutical giants, to attain their current size; and used complicated and unnecessary regulations, tax codes and barriers to foreign trade to prevent competition for the big players in the market. The state creates monopolies. Monopolies promote abuse, because they grant power and power corrupts.

Thinking like the state means understanding it expands its power in every direction by every means. If it can close a loophole enabling a citizen’s freedom, it does; if it can write a new one for its friends, it does. But instead of thinking like the state, most of us think the way we are told.

Thinking like the state wants us to

“The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion.” – Edward Bernays

“They don’t want a population capable of critical thinking. They want obedient workers, people just smart enough to run the machines and just dumb enough to passively accept their condition.” – George Carlin

An even subtler power is the state’s ability to shape our thinking. Through its control of primary and secondary education, its influence over tertiary education and the media, the state sets the agenda for what we are to think and believe. The prevailing norms of any statist society are those that benefit the ruling class, until that brief interval of revolution which, so far, has inevitably led back to statism. What kind of person does the state want to create?

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The ideal citizen is one who believes he or she thinks for him or herself but does not. Our socialisation comes, to a great extent, from the state. The ruling class has certain ideas it benefits from: statism, nationalism, militarism, consumerism, fear, and to a lesser extent in today’s world, religion. We are surrounded by these ideas and bombarded with “evidence” they are correct. As such, we take so many things as given that we have considerable trouble thinking independently. But those who are told they are free believe it, while they fall in line with the orthodoxy of the ruling class without question. They come to love the symbols of the state: the flags, the uniforms, the songs, the slogans, the language of family, honour, duty and sacrifice. They come to think of them as representing the family of the nation, rather than the institutions of the state. They chastise those who go against the truth they have been given. How dare you question democracy? You are unpatriotic! As George Orwell said in 1984, “Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

On the other hand, people who do not follow conventions are bad citizens. H.L. Mencken described these people.

The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.

The state exists to establish a social order that benefits the ruling class, protect that class and its property, expand its power and wealth wherever possible, fool the people it rules into believing this is all for their own good, and subdue those who do anything counter to its interests. I think we need more bad citizens and less state.

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Strategy

August 6, 2017 2 comments

This post is (probably) the last of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist (ancap).

One major weakness with anarcho-capitalism is its lack of strategy. They have certain ideas I actually agree with, but they are not strategies but tactics. For instance, take agorism and counter-economics. Black markets, tax evasion and alternative currencies are fine, but alone they will not stop the state. Secession, too, while promising, will also not tear down power structures. These tactics are not strategies because we need more to have a revolution worthy of the name.

The true delusions of anarcho-capitalist tactics are the beliefs that you can somehow eliminate the state but keep the capitalist economy, that you do not have to or should not attack the rich themselves, and that violence is unnecessary for a revolution.

Black markets will not necessarily help the poor, disabled or persecuted. Tax evasion is very difficult for most working people. Bosses are not going to go along with not paying taxes. Their loyalties are not to employees who happen to hate the state. They are to their bosses and the stockholders, who will only use the corporation to break the law if there are millions in it for them.

Strikes

Ancaps tend to deride protests, condemn riots and property destruction and oppose unions. They see a few people destroying property and rush to the defense of corporations. They see riots and looting and instead of asking questions about the conditions that led to such behavior, they jump to condemn everyone who takes part. They say of protesters “they’re protesting so-and-so? where were they when…?” Who cares? They’re here now. They see unions fighting for better conditions and accuse them of stealing and breaking legitimate contracts. But workers and owners are in such unequal positions fairness simply does not enter into considerations of wages and working conditions. You sign a labor contract because you do not want to starve.

If you want to make a change through your job, organize your workplace and take it over from your bosses. I don’t recommend that for every business, but plenty can be said to treat their employees unfairly, taking a large percentage of the value of the product of their labor, firing them without warning just to improve the balance sheet, attacking strikers, and so on.

Some ancaps actually call unions thieves for demanding a greater share of production. If you believe market wages (ie. what employers have decided the minimum wage they can pay their employees is) are necessarily fair or what you deserve, naturally, anything more than that would be unfair. Ancaps believe in the homesteading principle. Haven’t the workers already homesteaded the means of production? (This post goes into a more detailed defense of seizing the means of production. Anarcho-syndicalism is not without its shortcomings, though.)

Strikes cripple production (or at least slow it down considerably), putting a dent in the wealth of those who control the state. If nothing else, a strike can grant workers a larger share of the product of their own labor. (Ideally, those same workers would quit and form cooperatives and communes, but those initiatives are difficult and often require more money or land than they have.)

Even better!

Protests

Protesting should not rule out the possibility of violence, depending on the circumstances, rather using what Peter Gelderloos in How Nonviolence Protects the State called a diversity of tactics. There are many possible forms of direct action. I would not discourage, say, blocking people from going to work at a factory producing cluster bombs to drop on Yemen. I see great potential value in attacking military recruiters, prisons, summit meetings, the offices and homes of people who profit from war or poisoning the environment, facilities where animals experience cruelty and rallies of people with inherently oppressive ideologies (eg. neo-Nazis).

How could such violence not be considered self defense? We are already living under such extreme conditions a lukewarm response will have little effect. Moreover, it is a sign of how privileged a person is that he or she would lecture those less fortunate on how they should behave, when it is right for them to fight back and when they should be quiet and remain oppressed. If not now, when? When ancaps say it’s ok?

Again, protests can lead to violence under the right circumstances. Why would it be wrong to intimidate or beat up those factory workers building cluster bombs when you know that person is going to do something that will lead to the deaths of innocent people? What is the problem? You would, in fact, be REDUCING the amount of violence by only beating someone. It is the same logic as stopping bullying by using force, or shooting someone so he or she could not commit murder. (I write more on the legitimacy of certain violence here.)

Actually, they both are

The problem with this meme is, while independence of a sort is probably necessary for anarchy, the state has, on innumerable occasions, shut down independent farms (see the documentary Farmaggeddon or read Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal for more). Who will protect them from the SWAT teams? They could certainly set up security arrangements with their neighbors, but at some point the police will overrun them. However, if large groups are fighting the police, tying them down and stretching their resources, the farmers will be of much lower priority.

Indeed, this meme typifies the ancap belief in the possibility of non-violent revolution. Whatever tactics they attempt, they will need to defend themselves in large groups. Secession could take place in some countries, such as the US or Canada, but if the nation states get too small, or if the elite from one place cannot extend their influence into the new place, violence will inevitably ensue. Secession on a large level (such as the possible secession of the state of California) leaves us with similar economic and political structures. Secession on a community or individual level, where people can truly govern themselves, leaves those people vulnerable to violent state reprisals. We would need mutual defense among free people to stay free.

Solidarity

Demonstrations could be accompanied with strikes if workers are on board (ie. if they are “woke”) and boycotts if consumers are. Protests, strikes and boycotts can be part of a push for solidarity. Solidarity means standing together, where we are stronger, instead of being disunited as employees, citizens or consumers.

From my perspective, the most effective way of reducing violence and promoting solidarity is through mutual aid. It leads to greater freedom for those who cannot care for themselves, and less inequality, with all the benefits therein. It reduces our reliance on big business and government, and thus their power. It eliminates the need for competition, for treating each other as crabs in a bucket, and for charity. Ancaps tend not to recognize the necessity for these things, which is why they are so lukewarm toward mutual aid. (Well, that and because it smacks of “communism”, which to an ancap is pure evil.)

I think solidarity and its attendant mutual aid are the ultimate weapons against those in power. Without them, eliminating the state will remain a pipe dream.

Why our world is so harsh for so many

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

The world is a complex place and any simple description of it will be incomplete, but I think it is fair to say we are the subjects of an artificial system of theft and oppression that continues to make the world harder to live in.

Look at the sources of power in the world. Look at government, corporations and the media. Laws written for rich people have created a system where it is necessary for us all to sell our labour to the owners of businesses. They own the land, the factories, the offices, the infrastructure. We need to earn money to survive and the best and sometimes only way to make money is to work for a large corporation. We make money for the people who own and run the corporation and they give us back some of it. Next, the government takes its share, claiming it needs it for roads, schools, hospitals, pensions and security, and gives as much as it can (for example through contracts) to corporations. It does not give people a choice to keep that money, decide what to do with it themselves and get what they need through mutual aid (helping each other) like they used to. Some people work their whole lives making others rich and still end up penniless. Why? Because they didn’t work hard enough? Because they were evil in a past life?

The media tell us to consume. The remaining money we have earned, the last bones we have been thrown, we are encouraged to spend on things that make us feel rich: nice houses, cars, furniture, decorations, restaurants, two-week vacations and fancy coffee. Consumers spend their lives working for corporations and giving most of their money back to them. Instead of pursuing their dreams, they work hard in order to spend hard.

I understand people who do not do anything about it. Politics can be pretty boring. I disagree with people who say you should pay attention to politics even if you are not interested in it. You should not be compelled to pay attention to the news and what it tells you the people in power are doing. If they do not have your consent, they should not spend your money or pass laws over you. Moreover, most of the people who expect you to follow politics pay attention to the wrong things. They watch party nominations and election results and contribute to political parties and candidates who never make any real changes. But the media tell us those are the important things. That is how we can make a difference. There are no alternatives, except competing warlords or some USSR/North Korea nightmare. The system works. Stop questioning the system.

Enormous power is thus concentrated in the hands of only a few thousand people, most of whose names you and I have never heard before. A few million or so more wield power on the national level in different parts of the world with some autonomy (think the generals in Egypt) but they have mutually beneficial relationships with members of the upper ranks of the global elite. Look at what the elite do with their power. In the old days, a king would send soldiers somewhere and thousands of people would die. They had power over small parts of the world. Nowadays, power has become global, and as such the crises it leads to have gone global as well. Look at all the (supposedly unintended) consequences of all the wars the US government has been leading, all the people who have been tortured and killed, or who lost their homes and their livelihoods, and continue to do so even after the foreign militaries have left. And yet, consider who has got rich from those wars. Look at the economic carnage from the last financial crisis. Look how many people lost their jobs, homes and all their money, all around the world. And yet, the people who caused it actually made more money from it. And they tell you not to worry, because there will be an economic recovery. Do you believe them? Where is the justice?

Finally, “education” tells us what to think. I’m sure you can think of reasons why the system we live under is the best possible system. You learned it in school, and if you learned it in university like I did (political science major), you have even more reasons why it works best. We need leaders because without people making our decisions for us, society would collapse. We need rich people because without them, who would start businesses for us to work in? We need police to protect us from all the bad people around us. We need hierarchy: all societies have hierarchy, right? All other ways of living go against human nature. Don’t think too much about it: watch TV instead.

As far as I can tell, most people are neither interested in understanding the system nor willing to take the risk of fighting it. Again, I understand and I don’t judge. I just think they should understand it better than they do. If they choose to do something to change it or to change their circumstances, that is their choice and I will support them. I warn you, however, if we do not fight back, one day it will be too late.

Second edition is published

July 9, 2013 Leave a comment

The second edition of the Rule of Freedom: the Manifesto of the Sovereign Community has been published. The full volume is now available for free here.

Egypt’s economy is collapsing. Don’t blame yourself.

February 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Egypt’s planning minister, Ashraf El Arabi, said this week Egypt only had enough foreign exchange reserves for another three months. Given how dependent Egypt is on imports, that means the economy will collapse soon if drastic changes are not made.

I hope Egyptians understand when the economy collapses whose fault it is. It’s not Egypt’s fault. It’s not your fault. It’s the state’s fault. It takes your money and spends it without asking. It borrows money and forces you to pay for it. You are the economy. When you pay for the state’s actions, which you do every day, it’s the economy that suffers.

The economy as a whole would not be on the point of collapse if not for all these ridiculous economic policies. Gas would cost more but there would not be shortages, except for individuals who could not afford it. Business would be free to operate and create wealth for everyone. And you would not have to worry if the central bank has enough money to cover what you want to buy. But that is not the way the “national economy” works. When the state screws up, the people suffer.

In this way, we can see the state is, among other things, a vehicle for eliminating responsibility from the powerful and passing costs on to the weak. They will never tell you that, of course. Look at how former finance minister Hazem El Beblawi put it. “[T]he real problem is that Egypt lacks the domestic resources that would allow the government to deal with anticipated shortfalls.” Egypt does not lack domestic resources. It is being strangled by economic policies. Why would we want the government to deal with “shortfalls”? When an individual makes a mistake, he or she pays the price. If the government takes control over something and it goes wrong, the entire country suffers.

But that is the system we live under. The state confiscates and destroys wealth, and you pay.

Egypt economy suffer collapse dieThe only hope for the economy is to secure more loans and raise taxes, which will simply suck more money out of the pockets of the people. But ideally, the economy will die and be replaced by freedom.  Let black markets and mutual aid reign. Secede from this system like the people in Mahalla El Kobra. End your dependency on the state and stop paying for the elites’ crisis.

The Rule of Freedom is published!

October 31, 2012 2 comments

The Rule of Freedom: The Manifesto of the Sovereign Community (the book) is now available as an ebook from Amazon here.

The book discusses all the subjects dealt with on this blog but in greater detail, with more examples and full references. Any feedback you have please write on this post or on the book’s Facebook page here. Enjoy!

Education

December 19, 2011 4 comments

“I’ve never let schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain

“The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all. It is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardised citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” – H. L. Mencken

“Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.” – Joseph Stalin

 One more: “We don’t need no education/we don’t need no thought control.” – Roger Waters

Well, we do need a lot of education, but we could do without the thought control. Instead, we are getting the latter while hoping for the former.

Public education systems everywhere in the world do a poor job of educating us. We are entering the 21st century, a time that proves to be full of unforseen risks, challenges and opportunities. We are getting schooled with a curriculum for the 20th century in a system created for the 19th century. A good education can bring out one’s true potential, but we are being held back by a lack of accountability to students and parents.

I was once asked, how would you organise education or health care without a government? I find it unfortunate that people think that I or a few people, whoever they are, are qualified to answer that question. A free market achieves the best outcomes precisely because there is not someone at the top organising and directing it, and everyone’s ideas can be put to the test. A free market for education would mean families and communities and schools working together to decide what is right for their children, learning from different schools and teachers what works and what does not, and letting education evolve with society. State education does not offer that freedom. Parents and teachers do not have those choices.

I also find it hard to understand why people believe others to be so disorganised or uncaring that they would not want to take a more active role in what government does. At the moment, they have no role. All they can do is vote for the politician who promises the kind of thing that they want. What if their politician does not win? What if he or she has some policies the person likes but some others that are bad? What if he or she does not implement any of the policies promised on the campaign trail? What if he or she tries to implement the policies but they get stymied by pressure groups or watered down by the bureaucracy? What is the voter’s recourse? And yet, we are talking about education, health care, security and where millions of dollars of a family’s money is going over the course of their lives. Do you really not think they want to be or should be involved?

The ironic tragedy of modern schooling is that the state does such a poor job of educating people that the people believe they need the state to educate them. And education is not getting any better. Accepting the New York Teacher of the Year Award in 1990, John Taylor Gatto said

The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.

He might as well have been talking about 99% of schools around the world. Totalitarian regimes knew that education was the key to teaching obedience, nationalism and state ideology. Today’s democracies may not teach children to run a cultural revolution, but they are not helping the children become wise, critical-thinking masters of themselves. When governments get their hands on education policy, it becomes a tool for indoctrinating obedience. And even in sciences or physical education, government schools are failing your children. In fact, things were better off before them. Now that we have the wealth and knowledge of the 21st century (including advances in teaching methods), many, many schools can help students understand the world around them and learn the skills for navigating that world. So why do we not have them yet? Like all problems the state causes, the root is a moral one. The initiation of force is the reason Johnny can’t read.

Everything the state does is subject to politics—force, as opposed to markets. Harry Browne explains. “Whenever you turn over to the government a financial, social, medical, military, or commercial matter, it’s automatically transformed into a political issue  to be decided by those with the most political influence. And that will never be you or I. Politicians don’t weigh their votes on the basis of ideology or social good. They think in terms of political power.” (Politics in this sense has little to with elections. Election campaigns rarely hinge on issues related to education and the election goes to the one who best exploits the far more important issues of gay marriage, gays in the military and gay terrorism.) Education policy is subject to all the same lobbying as other policies. Public sector unions and business associations spend millions to induce policymakers to shape education policy the way they think it should be. These are the people who have convinced everyone that we always need more money for schools. Schools that spend more do not necessarily teach better and more important things. Schools that spend less sometimes do better by the students. And why not? Any economist or private-sector manager could tell you that competition among firms and employees generally increases everyone’s performance and improves efficiency. Why would the education sector be different? In fact, it is not. The lack of incentive in highly-regulated public and private schools to do better makes improvement almost impossible. Of course, we could ask parents and even students what they think is right, but they do not have a lobby.

Good teachers have nothing to fear from a free market in education services. They may well get paid better. It is the poor teachers, the ones paid more than they are worth, and who cannot get fired, who benefit from the status quo. At present, there is no correlation between teacher performance and teacher pay. That means the good teachers are being treated the same as the bad, there is little incentive to be a great teacher (beyond the spiritual rewards) and teachers’ unions have an incentive to fight against merit-based pay. There is no market mechanism to offer consumers (in this case, students and parents) the choice to find new and better suppliers.

Teachers’ lobbies are also vehemently opposed to closing schools. But businesses close when they do not serve their customers (or cannot afford to comply with the tens of thousands of pages of government regulations). Let schools close when they do not serve their students. Let the students go to other schools that are actually performing. Or let neighbourhoods and communities start their own learning centres and teach their own children what they think is right. Let them have full control over hiring and firing of teachers. Or do you think some bureaucrat knows and will do what is best for your children?

Then there is the university. One argument often made in favour of subsidising higher education is that education has positive knock-on effects. If you are better educated, you will contribute more to society. Well, maybe. Engineers usually contribute more to society, which is why I would consider giving money to scholarship funds for engineers. (That said, I would like to have a contract stipulating that I get that money back if they end up working for a weapons manufacturer.) But how does society benefit from having someone with tens of thousands of dollars of education in gender studies or acting class? What if I feel that a particular business programme merely reproduces the elite and does not benefit society? Shouldn’t I be allowed to withhold my funding of that programme? But if there is demand for it, the classes will exist.

What happens when we subsidise something? Consumption of it goes up. Subsidise corn, and we find high-fructose corn syrup in many of the foods we eat. It means more corn fed to animals, making animals cheaper, making meat cheaper, when we should be eating more vegetables (not just corn). Subsidise universities and guarantee student loans, and more people will attend university. But not everyone needs to go to university. The more people have a degree, the lower the value of a degree becomes. Just ask thousands of Occupiers if their degrees and average $25,250 of student loan debts have helped them find meaningful careers. The unemployment rate for college graduates is higher than it has been since 1992, when records date back to. The alternative is to return people the millions they have paid in taxes to subsidise education and let them decide what to do with it.

“How will we educate the poor?” Are we educating them so well now? Are schools in poor neighbourhoods just as good as schools in rich neighbourhoods? But even in poor places, for-profit schools have educated people. (See here and here for examples.) The same people who worry about the poor tend to think we cannot afford schools that are not run by government. But as I do not tire of pointing out, if governments did not take your money and give it to schools (and keep some for their retirement funds, and give some to their friends), we would have that much more to spend on education. There is nothing efficient about the tax-and-spend system under which we live, so any claim that government does efficiently what the private sector can do is nonsense.

It also brings up the question of why people are poor to begin with. Sticking people in bad schools and taxing them for it will not help. Poverty is not inevitable. If schools taught financial literacy, we would almost certainly have less poverty. At present the poor, who are taxed on income, consumption and savings, just like everyone else, are paying for everyone’s education (and roads). If they would prefer to become an apprentice or go to a private school; in other words, if they do not want a university education, well, they still have to pay for one. Should they not be allowed to keep their money if they do not want to get a degree? No, says the socialised-education statist, they should not. I would wager that all the money even poor people pay in income taxes, sales taxes and central bank-induced inflation would easily pay for an education for their children. And what do they think they should learn? Should they be charged to learn Latin, algebra and European history? What if they would rather learn metal shop and mechanics? They can make a better living that way than in a career as, well, whatever one does with Latin, algebra and European history.

The state’s takeover of education was, like all state ventures, clothed in language of the public good. State education would improve access and improve quality of education. It hasn’t. And yet, the unions say they need more money. What do schools need more public money for? Where would it go? Is all we need more computers in the classroom? Do teachers need more money? Why can we not let the market decide? Surely, if parents like their kids’ teachers enough to want to keep them, they will pay them well; if they think their kids are not learning, let the parents stop paying for them. Or do I not understand education?

Competition works in education, just like it works in every other market. This is not some libertarian hypothesis; it is well-documented fact. End the monopoly and give the consumers (the parents and students) the power, and quality of education rises.

What do parents think should be taught in schools? Wait, never mind: they are not consulted. It does not matter what parents think. Government mandarins will decide what should be taught. Shouldn’t we teach students their legal rights, how to manage their money, the scientific method, how to think critically, how to start a business, how to defend themselves and maybe even how to be happy? Teachers exist for all those subjects. But the political will does not. The initiation of force, with its pressure group-written laws, fails us all.