We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Higher education debates

Who do you reckon wrote this?

But the truth is that a university degree is not the best educational attainment for the majority of people. Most jobs do not require such a level of education, although I firmly believe that education should not just be about what job you get. But for many, a university education provides little in terms of other personal development. Joining the job market earlier, or learning vocational skills, could be much more beneficial to the individual and society as a whole. Becoming a plumber or a butcher, rather than a teacher, is now a job with real security.

Some ghastly Conservative, talking sense of a sort, but doing it in that voice that we all hate and the memory of which still keeps the Conservatives in the bucket market unelectable, the one that goes: “Thanks to my hard-work and all-round merit I have reached the pinnacle of human achievement and am now a smarmy back-bench Conservative MP with ministerial ambitions.” Right? Certainly right as in not left.

Let us read on:

I know this is a case that many may find unpalatable, but we must recognise that the striving for equality should not blind us to the fact that we are different. We cannot all be a concert pianist, or a David Beckham. In the same way, a university education does not suit everyone.

Well, you ghastly little creep, you may be right, but could you please be just a little less patronising about it? How good are you at playing the piano? (Don’t answer that.)

If the Government could just recognise this simple point, then it could return to its job of improving the standards of university education to those who go there. …

Quack quack quack.

… It could also, just as importantly, make sure that those who should go to university, regardless of their backgrounds, actually get there, and are not penalised for their efforts by having a large level of debt hanging round their necks.

Ah, maybe this is an older sort of Conservative, the sort that has university age children and is feeling the pinch, now that those ministerial ambitions have collapsed in a New Labour heap.

… The present policy is ripping the Labour Party apart, and not helping our young people or the country.

The Labour Party? Ripping the Labour Party apart is good, surely.

… We are victims of woolly thought from both sides of the argument. We need to spend more public money on each individual student. But the point is, we don’t need so many going to university.

We are victims … We need to spend more public money … we don’t need so many going to university … It’s confusing isn’t it.

And that’s the end of the piece, at which point it says:

The author was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, 1997-9

Yes it’s … Mo Mowlam, in yesterday’s Independent. Adding fire to the flames of a Labour back-bench revolt on the subject of top-up fees for university students. Better to cut university education and keep it free, says Mo, than expand it and make it worse and charge for it.

The parliamentary debate about financing higher education has divided into those who say that the winner class should damn well have to pay for it, and those who say that the loser class shouldn’t. Neither policy is the complete answer.

Here’s my complete answer: denationalise the entire thing, and get the government right out of it. Then let the rich and concerned give scholarships to all those who they think deserve them, and let the poor who are left out work their way through university, if they are that desperate for a university education. It wouldn’t be perfect, and certainly not perfectly fair, but what would? University education, because denationalised, would be a lot better, and in particular, for those who most need that, a lot cheaper.

And here’s another argument for total denationalisation. If university education boosts your future income and productivity, then surely those who get the income should pay for the education which yields it, not everybody else. If university education does not boost your future income and productivity, then why the hell would everybody else want to pay for it? What use is it to all of them?

If those arguments fail because of being too intellectual and logical and everything, try this, which just says that students are disgusting parasites and to hell with them. (Except for the foreigners, who are paying for what they are getting and are quite nice.)

48 comments to Higher education debates

  • Charles Copeland

    I reckon that after a few years at the University of Durham, Mo Mowlam eventually learnt a few things at — groan, groan — the University of Life.

    Yep, she cottoned on to the fact that some kids are more educable than others.

    But the fact remains that it’s basically not the government’s fault –it’s the people’s fault. Almost every parent wants to delude himself that his own children are, somehow, ‘university material’, even if the ‘university’ the child eventually goes to has about as much academic prestige as a dog kennel. No parent wants to be told that their child is destined to work with its hands rather than with its brain. Especially if it’s blindingly obvious.

    Just try advocating a reduction of student numbers to a sensible 10% of the youth population and see what percentage of the votes you’ll get – probably 10%.

    Mo Mowlam tweely chirrups:

    “Becoming a plumber or a butcher, rather than a teacher, is now a job with real security.”

    Yeah, sure.

    And don’t forget the high social status of plumbers, butchers and bakers.

    Remember Plumber Weintraub? Butcher De Havilland? Baker Aranovich?

    Jaysus, the neighbourhood is full of them.

  • Chris

    You also would need to distinguish between subject area because not all have the same relative value, e.g. a BEng degree has more “value” than a BA in a soft subject.

  • Charles Copeland

    Chris, don’t forget ‘Media Studies’.

    It’s basically an expensive and time-consuming way of ending up as an unskilled or semi-skilled labourer. A nephew of mine qualified in MS last year after first getting an Arts degree from the University of Cork.

    After the graduation ceremony he and his mates went along to a celebration dinner at a local hotel. They were approached by a wine-waiter who somewhat wanly quipped to them “Two years ago, I was celebrating my Media Studies degree here too.” Jesus wept.

    Try the great Irish site ‘Global Idiot’ for a fantastic skit on MS:


  • Charles Copeland

    Sorry, just learning how to add links:

    Try this great site

  • Rob Read

    My idea is this…

    Add 1 to 2% Employer NI tax contribs onto graduates.

    Students get equivalent of unemployment benefit subject to attendance, and passing courses. But students have to borrow the ENTIRE course cost.

    The NI tax increases are used to subsidise the course costs for the most qualified UK students. Each business can choose which courses to subsidise.

    Comments please.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    Rob Read

    You won’t get much help here with any plan to increase a tax.

  • S. Weasel

    Don’t Brits tell jokes about doctors encouraging their sons to go into plumbing for the money? Some of those blue collar professions are no-joke lucrative these days.

    Anyhow, the trend to make the minimum required schooling longer and longer, while the schooling itself becomes less and less meaningful, is downright wicked. In the US, thousands of kids emerge from the experience deeply in debt, with their ignorance untouched and their job prospects nil.

  • Rob Read

    It’s a bit more sneaky than that…

    Firstly you get people settled into the idea of ringfencing tax for certain uses.

    Then you get people used to the idea of the markets in formerly “public” areas.

    Thirdly you push people into thinking about should they study or not i.e. can they pay the loan interest on a media studies course…

    All of these will over time put pressure on the other taxes from various angles. When your dealing with Teflon Bliar you have to serve something thats hard to resist to the av joe, but is really a trojan horse.

  • Chris

    Another way they could attempt to solve the problem is to go back to having apprenticeships as alot of the courses they currently have at Universities would be better served that way. The other problem is also the “you must have a degree” mentality amongst business and industry. E.g. a friend of mine spent three years doing an Ecology degree because the Wildlife trust , which he now works for, insisted he had to have one even though it was of absolutely no relevence to the fiield.

  • Zathras

    I don’t know if there are too many people in college in the UK, but there certainly are in the US. No one in public life is willing to say this, however.

    Basically there are two groups of people who do not belong in college: those who cannot handle the demands of a rigorous course of study, and those who are not ready to handle it when convention tells them they should, in the four years following high school. One of the reasons that old GI bill was so successful was that in addition to making college an option for people who had never had it before it encouraged older students — ex-servicemen — to attend. Nowadays a lot of students are after a credential and a good time (not necessarily in that order) rather than an education, because at 17 and 18 that is as far ahead as many people think.

  • veryretired

    The happiest guy I ever knew was a fellow I worked with who was an expert auto mechanic on the side. That’s how he put himself through school. When he retired a few years before me, he moved to Hawaii and got a job repairing the small engines on golf carts, lawn mowers, etc., at a big golf resort. Got it made in the shade.

    The endless adolescence of “being in school” is not doing any of the younger generations any good. The idea that this should all be provided free of charge makes it even worse. The mindset that results is that major personal benefits should be provided by society, and that if you try hard you should get a good grade for the effort, regardless of what crap is actually produced.

    The concept of working for something very desirable in order to obtain it disappears, to be replaced by that plaintive cry “But we need this (fill in the blank), so you must provide it.” Then the demands of the real working world dispell any remaining illusions, when the graduate, after 5-6 years now, finds out that job assignments must be done properly and on time or you’re out.

  • In Australia you have the option of paying a “higher education contribution” up front (for which you get a “discount”) or you can defer this and then pay the money back through the tax system later. (Once you have paid off the whole amount, you don’t pay any more). Now what this obviously is is a system of fees and student loans. However, this has been sold by the government as a “tax”, because increasing a tax is politically more acceptable (particularly for the leftist minor parties who have a lot of senate votes) than is actually coming out and stating that university education is not “free” any more. Similarly, having a “discount” for paying in advance is a way of pretending that interest is somehow not being charged on the loan if you choose to pay it back later, when in reality it obviously is.

    The system of fees and loans actually works quite well, but the system of pretending that it is not what it obviously is is all very silly, particularly if you personally believe that fees for voluntary education are fine and taxes are not, as I assume is the case for most people here.

  • Bill

    ” If university education boosts your future income and productivity, then surely those who get the income should pay for the education which yields it, not everybody else.”

    Those who get the income would be the government, right? A modest investment now, and a big cash cow later, if that person can be kept from emmigrating.

  • Abby

    The problem of education is one of the most pressing issues faced by the develped world today. The advent of increasingly free trade (which I strongly support) is stripping modern economies of low-skill jobs.

    The remaining low-skill jobs need to be set aside for empovrished immigrants who can’t do anything else. So we must focus on providing either university or trade education to all children. Our citizens must have skills.

    The first step is to improve the moribund public secondary education institutions. Prep school cost my parents about $100,000 for four years (room and board included) for each of us, but the market incentives that drive private schools made the outlay more than worth while. If market forces are applied to public schools via vouchers and school choice, the result should be similar.

    Some secondary schools should be geared toward trades, with an emphasis on tech skills. They could also offer post-graduate training programs and internships for the more involved trades.

    But the real problem is university tuition: How do we provide an affordable, quality undergraduate/graduate education?

    The problem with American universities is not quality, but affordability. Tuition hikes have outstripped inflation by at least a factor of ten in the last ten years. The cost is generally about $80,000 for four years of tuition alone (much less room and board).

    I just finished law school, for which I paid about $80,000 of tuition for three years. Taken together, my education since age 13 has cost more than a quarter of a million dollars in tuition alone. I am one of three children.

    I think this is far too much–it would cost $1,000,000 to send 4 children to prep school, university and grad school. It would cost even more tomorrow.

    The vast majority of the tuition hikes go to fund scolarships for minority students–regardless of their wealth. This is hard luck for poor white kids, who are expected to borrow the entire cost of their education. If I had to take out a $250,000 loan to get an education, I don’t think I’d bother.

    So clearly, there should be some happy compromise between the British, American and Australian models whereby quality university education can be maintained, at a cost every deserving student can afford without selling his/her first-born.

    Any ideas?

  • erp

    Hint to the waiter referred to in an earlier comment:

    Media studies like communication, sociology, teacher education, hair dressing, truck driver training, etc. ad nauseum is not an academic discipline. Higher education has been dumbed down right along with the students that it is attracting.

    If the primary and secondary schools weren’t wasting the kids’ time with leftist propaganda and celebrating their diversity, they could be taught all those old time subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic along with history and geography, science and language courses, civics and government as well as practical courses like electronics, mechanics, the domestic arts, etc.

    High school graduates could go on to entry level jobs and find out what they’re good at because they would have the basic skills to build upon. Those students with a liking for scholarship could go on to the next level, college and university where they would study actual academic disciplines like mathematics, literature, physics, economics, history. From there those who are especially desirous of pursuing scholarship would go on to graduate level studies and earn doctorates. You get the idea.

    As it is today, at least in the U.S., the vast majority of public high school graduates at 18 have no skills — that is nada, nothing. Their reading and writing levels are primitive. Their knowledge of the other subjects listed above is in the negative zone.

    They are unemployable. Hamburger flipping emporia cash registers have pictures on them because their workers cannot handle cash registers with numbers.

    The beat goes on. Gazillions of books and articles on this subject all going nowhere. Until we wrest control of the public school from the teachers unions and return control of public schools (again I speak of the U.S.) to the local communities nothing will change.

    The teachers unions have no interest in education. Their interest is gaining more power, tax payer money, and control for themselves.

  • Toulson Caffrey

    I can just hear the Victor Kyam of denationalised higher education now:

    “I enjoyed college so much I bought the university!”

    “Land a top job with your degree or your money back!”

    A University of Lifer myself, by the way.

  • Ron

    We could save a lot of money and weed out a lot of timewasters by making (UK) students do the first year (or even two) of their course through the Open University.

    (This is the distance learning college set up by the UK Government in the late 1960’s, which is responsible for the “Beagle 2” Mars Lander.)

  • Charles,

    How are you. You raise the issue of media studies. But there are distinct varieties. Before it was revamped recently, Stuart Hall’s little outfit at Birmingham had an intro website that specifically said OK, you will study the media here but don’t expect the course to provide you with employment in that field. That is not it’s purpose. From here you will be qualified to enter … and then out popped all the marxically-correct diversity industries, NGO’s etc, government agencies etc. Birmingham has sent forth a stream of enemies within, Guardian Society fodder, to heave at the Lilleputian ropes around our freeborn English selves.

    As for Mo Mowlam, well I don’t know where David is coming from. Any reference to difference, even in the cause of healing a Labour rift, is an advance on the environmental, blank sheet claptrap we’ve had to suffer so far. Good luck to her.

  • Charles Copeland


    Thank you for the lowdown on Media Studies. I admit my judgment is largely based on an extrapolation of MS as taught at University College, Galway… apparently a number of the MS graduates from that prestigious seat of learning do actually get a month or two’s apprenticeship at some provincial newspaper before they end up as wine waiters, taxi drivers, etc.

    On the other hand, wine waiters and taxi drivers are fulfilling a socially positive function, unlike those Birmingham graduates you refer to– whose added value is nada or, rather, negative. But who am I telling — just preaching to the choir, for once, I suppose.

    BTW, you a ‘Culture of Critique’ fan? Just asking because I came across your recent posting on the contribution of the disciples of Boas and the Frankfurt School to the pathologisation of Western culture and the balkanisation the United States (source: Brian’s education blog, 1 July 2003). Mah brotha, you could be in real trouble if the Thought Police track you down. If I were you, I’d remain anonymous.

    You might also be interested in this recent article by my good friend Chris Brand in ‘The Occidental Quarterly’ (though I guess you’re familiar with the substance anyhow):


    Sounds you could be mad, bad and dangerous to know…


  • Verity

    Abby – I think the issue, more and more, will focus on: why does everyone need to go to university? (I realise it’s to keep the unemployables off the unemployment figures for at least four more years, but we must fight this.)

    The law, engineering, medical and the whole range of science are disciplines for which higher education is obviously necessary. Just about everything else can be learned on the job, without three years of theory. Universities are criminally expensive, as you correctly note, because of all the professors and lecturers teaching totally pointless subjects which do not contribute to the wealth of the nation. Plus, as you note, subsidising minorities to enable them to take these worthless courses to enable them to slide into toy public sector jobs advertised in The Guardian. Hone back universities to the core disciplines and let the rest of the professors and departments make their own way in the world.

    Poor but talented mathematicians, physicists and so on, whatever their ethnicity, including white, could get a partial subsidy and an interest-free loan because they will one day contribute to the common weal. In other words, these are people worth investing in. Those who want to do media studies or the history of Madonna, whatever their ethnicity, including white, could take night classes at their own expense and get a little certificate of attendance to hang on their wall.

    The whole education thing has ballooned out of control. There’s a university in Wales dishing out degrees in surfing.

  • Charles Copeland

    Verity writes:

    “The whole education thing has ballooned out of control. There’s a university in Wales dishing out degrees in surfing. ”

    I have a dream: award every child, on reaching its 20th birthday, a Ph.D Degree in Self-Esteem. Dress them up in gowns, hoods, and mortarboards. Take cute pictures of them with their mommas and (if they have any) poppas. Also take group pics, ensuring at least one African, one Indian, one Asian, in each photo and ensuring of course that at least 50% are female. Publish photos in local papers. Their 15 nanoseconds of fame.

    Oh, and don’t forget to include a Physically Disabled Person (i.e. a person using a wheelchair)

    Don’t forget to include a Down Syndrome case (and NEVER use the term Down’s Syndrome).

    Lewis Carroll foresaw it all in Alice in Wonderland. Remember the Dodo’s Caucus race?

    “First [the Dodo] marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle (“the exact shape doesn’t matter,” it said), and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no “One, two, three, and away,” but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, […] the Dodo suddenly called out “The race is over!” and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, “But who has won?”
    This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead […] while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, “EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.””

    Ghastly, ghastly .. democracy, the God that failed.

  • Verity

    Tangential to the thread, The Telegraph reports today that a large tranche of British parents have simply abdicated their child raising responsibilities. Primary school teachers report that some children arrive on the first day never having sat at a table. Their parents feed them on the floor in front of the telly. Many have never used a knife and fork and teachers have to get them started out by teaching them to use spoons. Many are unable to talk in any five-year old meaningful sense because their parents have never held conversations with them. They think they are going to learn talking and thinking skills from the telly. Obviously, this is directly attributable to the dependency culture fostered by the far left. Charles Copeland, I share your despair.

  • Jonathan


    I think the issue, more and more, will focus on: why does everyone need to go to university? (I realise it’s to keep the unemployables off the unemployment figures for at least four more years, but we must fight this.)

    That may be the British view, and I can’t speak for all Americans, but the libertarians among us believe that if the market is demanding workers with a particular skill set, the educational system must be tailored to deliver graduates with precisely that skill set and no others (e.g. Media Sciences above).

    Believing that large swathes of the population are simply not suited to a university education (assuming that a university education is necessary for potential New Economy employees to competently discharge their duties) is tantamount to saying that large swathes of the population is not suited to continue eating.

    Once you understand that involuntary redistribution of income is theft, and that any system which fosters parasitism on the part of an uneducated class encouraged to feed off the achievements of an educated class will breed individual self-hatred and societal instability, you may realize (as I have) that the way forward is to force the educational establishment to undergo the same kinds of radical efficiency improvements which the private sector has recently had wrung from itself as a consequence of growing Global competition.

    Please assume that nearly all students are educable and that it’s the system of teaching that needs radical restructure. Eventually, medical science will advance to the point that genius will be programmed into all newborns with less effort than we now take to program our VCRs, and people will wander around routinely making earth-shattering breakthroughs as a way to combat boredom during TV commercials. But until all brains become thirstier, we can and should focus on raising the efficiency of the firehose.

  • Jonathan

    Oops, that’s “are not suited to continue eating.”

  • Abby


    I think you have it exactly right. Market incentives should be applied to channel students into worthy subject areas while still allowing other students to major in underwater basket-weaving if they so desire.

    However, the most urgent issue remains cost. There are so many students–armed with government loans–beating down the doors of every higher education institution in the free world, that school officials have little incentive to cut costs.

    The loans distort the marketplace: creeping decimal syndrome takes hold and students figure that they have already borrowed so much–why not more?

    The end result is that students are still paying off government loans well into their 40’s, and tuition keeps going up. Schools are non-profit, so there is little incentive to introduce price competition.

    I have a radical idea: Why don’t we make schools profit making entities? I know, it is unseemly, but otherwise how are we ever going to introduce real competition? Shareholers would demand a competitive produce produced at the lowest consumer cost.

    This way there would be no more flagrant inefficencies like the Dean of a law school making $500,000/year plus a free house, car and club membership, when all he knows how to do is raise the tuition $3,000 every year.

  • Tony H

    <> writes Verity.
    A bit OT, for which I apologise, but Verity’s comment is significant. During my teaching career (got out early) I very rarely used videotapes in class, unlike many of my colleagues, because I found it almost impossible to get the majority of my (academically low level) students to engage with a tape’s content in any positive way: watching a TV screen was a passive experiience for them, and I’d see them slide into that glazed mode, knowing that even with prior instruction most would not be able to extract much information. Making notes of anything they watched was painfully difficult for them too. They were practically comatose. Depressing spectacle. I’m glad I saw hardly any TV before I was 10 (lived in Far East, no TV) and very little after that.

  • Tony H

    “They think they are going to learn talking & thinking skills from the telly” is the quote from Verity I meant to include in that post – sorry for the slip-up.

  • Charles Copeland

    Commenting on Verity’s posting, Jonathan writes:

    “Believing that large swathes of the population are simply not suited to a university education […] is tantamount to saying that large swathes of the population are not suited to continue eating.”

    No, it’s not. The sad fact of life is that some people are more ‘educable’ than others — some of us will ‘end up’ as Nobelists, some as dustmen, and most of us in will ‘end up’ somewhere between.

    Of course, it all depends on what you mean by ‘university’. You can take a dog kennel and call it an Ivy League school, if you like. That’s the Humpty Dumpty or ‘wishful thinking’ approach. But for those who prefer to call a spade a spade, that kind of dumbing down is a non-starter.

    Depending on the country in question, the percentage of the youth population that is truly ‘educable’ to university level may be as low as 1% (guesstimate: South Africa) or as high as 20% (guesstimate: Singapore, Taiwan, Japan).

    Jonathan is of course right to lambaste the shortcomings of the state education system — but, alas, even the most excellent private schools won’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. And the irony is that it is partly BECAUSE — just like Jonathan — the Left has assumed that ‘nearly all students are educable’ that state schools are the disaster they are. Look at the insanity of insisting that mentally retarded children attend the same schools as everybody else!

    Indeed, one of the reasons private schools are so much better than public ones is that their managers are far more aware of the differential educability of their pupils and thus far more inclined to ‘stream’ kids on the basis of their aptitudes.

    Get real, Jonathan.

  • Verity

    I think the word “degree” is losing its meaning and this has come about, in Britain, because giving everyone a pass in exams and everyone a degree is somehow a step forward for “society”. As always with socialist thinking, it has no connection to reality, which is that the market and the economy need educated, disciplined people who have managed to incorporate a large body of complicated knowledge and have learned how to apply it. Rather than target resources at these people, who are a good investment, they’re littering the job landscape with toy degrees for toy jobs and devaluing the whole process.

    My point is that the core disciplines should be supported with no-interest loans or bursaries or whatever. The rest, who wish to invest in studying the music of the Beatles without investigating how this will further their earning capability should make their own way.

    Abby makes an interesting proposal: make schools/universities into profit making entities. Does anyone have any further thoughts on this idea? Also, a commentator above suggested, tongue in cheek but interesting nevertheless, that a college might offer money-back degrees. In other words, they guarantee that there is a market for the knowledge you will take away with you. I can just hear the dead wood crashing down all around!

    Along the same lines, why not have colleges invest in themselves – as in, you take out your loan from them, not a lending institution. Unless they make certain you’ve learned enough to land a good job, they won’t get their money back.

  • Verity has an inexhaustible supply of crass and fatuous ideas about education funding that she likes to talk about. Perhaps she should educate herself about how the free market really operates before she says something else ridiculous.

  • Abby


    I find your remarks and gratuitous insults regarding to Verity’s post to be shockingly and unnecessary.

    We are merely brainstorming, and trying to come up with a workable model for higher education in free countries.

    If you believe you have a better idea, you had best share it with us.

    If, as I suspect, you do not; then go away and think about it, and come back when you have something.

    In any case, “crass” does not begin to describe your last post.

    An apology is in order, but I fear you are too “crass” to provide one.

  • Abby,

    Your ‘brianstorming’ is entirely futile as both you and Verity fail to understand the operations of a free market. Directing state funds towards the subsidy of the learning of certain privileged subjects, such as mathematics, is just as destructive of wealth as all the PC ideas of the socialistic left that you criticise. Your fondness for mathematics and physics over media studies and underwater basket weaving just reflects your own educational prejudices. There is no objective way of knowing what subjects, if any, are most in demand by the market except by observing the demonstrated preferences of actors in the free market. These of course may change from instant to instant. A free society will have absolutely no state involvement in education whatever and any education that is needed will arise spontaneously as a result of the free choices made by individuals and firms. Your mistake has been to confuse your own subjective prejudices with actual demand on the free market, a classic error made by socialists since time immemorial. You declare ‘Why not make schools profit making’ as though you had any right or power to determine the outcome in this respect. In the free market some schools may be profit making, some may be offered free on a charitable basis, some may be parent co-operatives, there is a multiplicity of possible outcomes on the market which none of us can predict in advance, ‘why not make schools ice-cream making’ would be just as useless a cry. You and Verity need to stop pointlessly invoking the rhetoric of free enterprise without even a vague understanding of the concept. Instead of moaning about your hurt feelings why don’t you take my advice and learn how free markets really work.

  • Charles Copeland

    Paul Coulham writes:

    “Verity has an inexhaustible supply of crass and fatuous ideas about education funding that she likes to talk about. Perhaps she should educate herself about how the free market really operates before she says something else ridiculous.”

    Why didn’t he specify any of these ‘crass and fatuous’ ideas? Generalisations like this are just a form of intellectual intimidation and don’t move the ball up the field. Instead of the cut and thrust of debate all we get is carpet bombing. In future, just give Paul Coulham the silent treatment until he mends his ways.

    BTW, Verity’s term ‘toy degrees for toy jobs’ is of ‘quote of the year’ class.

    P. S. Suggesting reading on the UK education system:
    Melanie Phillips ‘All Must Have Prizes’.

  • Charles Copeland

    Oops, Paul Coulham has actually mended his ways pretty fast. So silent treatment no longer deserved.

    PC pellucidly states:

    “In the free market some schools may be profit making, some may be offered free on a charitable basis, some may be parent co-operatives, there is a multiplicity of possible outcomes on the market which none of us can predict in advance …”

    Spot on.

    But upstream of that he argues:
    “A free society will have absolutely no state involvement in education whatever and any education that is needed will arise spontaneously as a result of the free choices made by individuals and firms.”

    ABSOLUTELY no state involvement WHATEVER?

    As far as I know not even Hayek goes that far. What about the children of disadvantaged groups such as Roma or Travellers whose parents refuse to educate them? Like, one does not have to be more Randian than Rand herself no more than one has to be more papist than the Pope.

    No vouchers WHATEVER? What if such parents refuse even charitable assistance? Do we let their kids grow up illiterate? What about highly gifted kids of such families?

    This thorny question is addressed in a fascinating essay by Leszek Kolakowski entitled “On the practicability of liberalism: What about the children?” published in Critical Review, Vol. 7, Number 1. By liberalism LK means, of course, classical liberalism (‘libertarianism’), not the soft totalitarian liberalism a la United States.

    In particular, LK argues (convincingly in my view) that “education is just as compulsory as vaccinations against contagious diseases”, i.e. that there is also a ‘collective good’ dimension in respect of education.

    An educated community is in everybody’s interest — there are enough barbarians around as things stand. I think even aficionados of the minimal state (I’m one of them) can reach agreement on that.

  • Charles,

    I am glad that you have decided to stop not talking to me as you say many very good things on many issues. My concern is that you are not (yet?) a consistent, extreme anarcho-libertarian. You allow yourself to be distracted from the true, pristine doctrine by your pet obessions about IQ and demographics. What you do not appreciate at the moment is that anarcho-libertarianism is a complete solution to all the problems of political philosophy. It identifies the practice of _politics_ as the only significant social evil. Everything else such as juvenile delinquency, private crime etc. are trivial issues by comparison. Time spent concerned about such things is a distraction from the one major overriding issue, the elimination of political action in society. So no, vouchers cannot be a solution to any problem as they are still a way of transfering wealth by force from productive parts of society to less productive uses. As for what will become of the poor and feckless, well they will reap the colossal benefit of living in a society where everyone’s productive skill is maximally expolited for the greatest practically possible social benefit. In such a free society every skill, no matter how mean or feeble, will be utilised to best effect. The poor need no longer fear being unwaged. Cast from your mind also any mistaken concepts of desert, the market rewards in proportion to one’s marginal productivity, this may clash with some intuitions about who deserves what but there is no practical solution to this emotional dilemma and any attempt at one will make matters much worse.

  • Verity

    Paul Coulam – Interesting post and I agree with most of it, but the reality is, Britain is currently plagued by dirigisme which is diluting the education system and wasting resources. How do we get from here, reality, to the position you describe as most desirable and efficacious?

    The American experience, as described by Abby, is different again. It is a free market and is geared to the consumer of education and its cost is currently too high. In a free market, as I know you know from your peerless grasp of the subject, the consumer can force the price down, so perhaps the American problem is only temporary. The British system is currently geared to manipulation of statistics, a la the USSR and tractor production, in the name of the glorious, paternal leader. This is somewhat tougher.

  • Verity,

    Thank you for posting a reply which was much politer than I could possibly have deserved. I do not claim to be an expert on education, nor indeed any other sector of the economy, so I have little in the way of brilliantly effective strategies for getting from here to there although I am lead to believe that Prof. James Tooley has done much excellent work on pure free market solutions in education. Where I thought you had made an error was in privileging your subjective assumptions in favour of a ‘core curriculum’. Of course I share your general prejudice that many of the degree subjects taught at colleges are rubbish and things like maths and science will most likely be more practically useful but one cannot be sure that this is what the judgement of the market will be and we must leave that judgement to the market and not make it ourselves. As for the situation in the USA, I am again not an expert on what actually goes on in American education but I suspect that it is very far from being a genuine free market. I would guess that there are all sorts of barriers to entry and regulations clogging the system up, let alone the ever present distortions of tax and inflation. Often what people mistakenly take to be a free market is, upon examination, nothing of the kind. It is a prime task of libertarians to expose the destructive effects of state intervention no matter how cunningly disguised. This is way more important than dreaming up plausible sounding but ineffective schemes.

  • Paul Coulam,

    The purpose of a human life is inscrutable to the market. That is the reason why abolutists such as yourself are wrong. An education that teaches the best minds the very best of academics, science and aesthetics is more in tune with human purpose than are businesses. Ultimately, you see, fulfillment is advanced by the content of the individual, not by the the ease, comfort and security that the market may deliver.


    Re: the C o C, that one’s been just too hazardous to proseltyse. It will not always be so, of course, and even now there are signs in Germany that differences of opinion about the holocaust could soon become discussable without the need to lock anyone up. That’s what’s needed really to open the way for McDonald’s thesis into temples of dissent such as Samzidata.

    I do read the Occidental but don’t remember CB’s article. Thanks for that. He’s also pretty strong meat and though Boas’s religion gets a couple of mentions in this piece, McDonald is something else.

    Paul Coulam again,

    Charles is right to concentrate on IQ. The science of difference IS the language of freedom. Rothbard and Rand want trun the tide of PC and identity politics. Difference, however, is utterly destructive of cultural egalitarianism. It is the precurser to your vision, Paul, becoming a reality. Do please try to understand its political and social value because it we all need its truths to enter public discourse.

  • Guessedworker seems to think that he knows what the best of science, academics and aesthetics are and how to identify the best minds worthy of being taught them. How he knows this is not made clear but nor is it relevant, it would only be a problem if he thought that people should be forced to pay for this scheme via the extortion of taxation. Nothing in the free market prevents people from reading as much Blake, admiring as many Leonardo’s or translating as much Greek poetry as they like. I’m not opposed to such cultural excellence, indeed I see its value, but it’s not necessarily for everyone and some will always prefer pop music and skateboarding.

    Also in the free society Guessedworker, you and Charles and anyone else will be free to indulge in as much discrimination on grounds of IQ, race, sex, sexual orientation or anything else to your heart’s content. Where you err is in assuming that there is some social advantage to be had in the state lending support to any of this. All state intervention is ultimately destructive of liberty and welfare and calls for state action is merely lobbying for your own pleasures to be privileged at others expense.

  • Abby


    What you fail to understand about the opperation of free markets is that they are premised on the notion of a level playing field, where the most competitive product rules the day. Capitalism is not about equal results (that is socialism), but equal oppertunity.

    One of the few functions of the government should be to remove arbitrary barriers that prevent the cream rising to the top.

    One of the reasons that American free enterprise has been so successful is that its society is generally very fluid. Arbitrary distinctions like birth and family wealth, which distort the market and allow rich idiots to advance at the expense of brilliant children born in poverty, prevent the achievement of the best result. They are a milstone around the neck of the economy.

    That is why every child at least has access to a free education through secondary school. If parents had to pay for that, there would be a permenant underclass and the talents of many brilliant people would be wasted.

    My fear is that while it is of a high quality, the expense of undergraduate/graduate education in America has become too great–see my previous post. Government loans have removed the cost-cutting incentives and price competition one sees in a truly free market.

    Additionally, a university cannot be accredited in America if it is opperated for profit–this is a self-regulation on the part of universities that further distorts the market.

    A viable solution must address these problems.

  • Paul,

    I am sorry that I seem to have conflated two separate issues and precipitated a false response from you. The first issue is my personal belief that there is a good attached to the preservation of traditional European culture that the market may not reward. Cultural education as an outcome of market demand is not the same nor necessarily as beneficial as cultural education per se. The preservation of the latter will surely require on-going, top-down management long after your mighty Rothbardian revolution sweeps the world. We can debate that, of course, but actually it is of secondary importance to me.

    Of primary importance is sociobiology. You use the term “discrimination” which demonstrates – sorry about this – that your intellectual notions are essentially cultural-marxist. It is the freedom from such mental trash that I seek, and sociobiology happens to be the magic bullet in this regard.

    It works like this. We are fixed, we humans, by intelligence, by sexual mores, by our physical natures and emotional tempers. But this fixity is not the same in men as in women, or among the races. It is all a question of mean and of heritability. This isn’t controversial or difficult to accept unless you are a liberal-marxist environmentalist. For them difference disproves their century-old Boasian faith and, consequently, brings the cultural “re-education” of European and American societies to an end.

    We all know how astronishly successful in that re-education the academics, philosophers and identity politicos of the left have been. In government, the media, NGO’s and in our schools and universities (about which we are, after all, debating on this thread) their dictat is practically unchallengable. If, however, difference were to infiltrate public discourse their entire philosophy would be exposed as a time-espired falsehood. And that’s what this IQ business is really all about. It is political and domestic, Paul, and it is important that everyone – everyone – who prefers freedom to marxism understands that. It is as stark as that: freedom and difference or racio-cultural egalitarianism.

    Now, I do not believe that minarchism or anarcho-libertarianism has anything much to say about cultural marxism. But if you think they can do what sociobilogy certainly can, go ahead now and convince me.

  • Ken

    “As far as I know not even Hayek goes that far. What about the children of disadvantaged groups such as Roma or Travellers whose parents refuse to educate them?”

    They’re screwed no matter what. The public school system doesn’t even pretend to be able to rescue kids of parents who don’t give a damn, or who actively interfere with the education of their kids; that, to my mind, removes the last possible justification for its existence.

    The only way to rescue such kids is to take them away from their parents and reassign them to other parents who will see to their education. Good luck coming up with a way to do that that doesn’t break up perfectly good families in the process.

    “Like, one does not have to be more Randian than Rand herself no more than one has to be more papist than the Pope.

    “No vouchers WHATEVER? What if such parents refuse even charitable assistance? Do we let their kids grow up illiterate? What about highly gifted kids of such families? ”

    There probably aren’t going to be too many parents that refuse charitable assistance that wouldn’t refuse vouchers. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Again, if your parents don’t give a damn, you’re probably screwed no matter what the state does, short of separating you from your parents.

  • Abby


    Zealotry and rabid ideology get us no where. Your model of anarchy has been tried and while it produced fantastic wealth, it ultimately failed.

    When America was first settled, England provided absolutely nothing in the form of any sort of government. Americans enjoyed this, as they were basically religious refugees from what they viewed as an oppressive state.

    After independence the people drafted the skeleton of a government, but with little in the way of funding or influence, it basicly left the people to themselves. Complete freedom.

    There was no currency (banks printed their own paper), only sporadic security was provided (though war between the settlers and indians was endemic to the ever-expanding frontier) there were no schools, no police, no taxes, no birth certificates, no identification method, no government beauracracy: just town councils, churchs, and far away in Washington, a man who called himself President.

    This is why freedom, independence and individuality are so highly prized in our society. It is this part of our political culture that so offends Europeans (“the US is always doing as it pleases and it fails to get our permission”).

    Early America was your libertarian paradise. That it failed simply proves the point that some government is necessary to set the boundries within which the market can opperate relatively unmolested.

    Left alone, the market organized itself beautifully, and became unbelievably productive. But the problem of crime, and the need for a currency and central bank which could steady the boom-bust economy, rules to govern buisness and level the playing field, as well as the need to secure the nation, spurred the development of an ultra-minimalist government on the federal and state level.

    But when you are talking about humanity, you can not leave out the element of morality. The free market economy in the South produced an abomination: slavery. Half a million Americans died to force morality on the desires of the market.

    Massive fortunes were created, but while the demand for labor kept wages high by world standards, general poverty and ignorance abounded. Amid the vast wealth created by the lords of capitalism, the wreched state of the poor seemed profoundly immoral.

    Some government was necessary to make oppertunity more equal and to smooth out the rough edges of life for the sake of the general welfare. This is where we should have stopped.

    We didn’t get the welfare state until the 20th century when the Constitution was ammended to allow income tax.

    The lesson? The market can never be the complete answer: Humanity needs some form of collective organization. But the vast, pervasive government beloved of communists and socialists is counterproductive and goes way too far.

  • Abby,

    Your understanding of the free market is catastrophically flawed, which is why you make so many errors in your thinking. The free market is _not_ about a level playing field, nor about equality of opportunity, nor about letting the cream rise to the top, nor about eliminating allegedly arbitrary distinctions in birth and wealth. Probably your most egregious error is assuming that slavery had something to do with a free market. All of these points of view you have are socialistic slanders perpetrated over the decades which you have fallen for hook, line and sinker. If you are impressed by the benefits that a free economy will bring, as you say you are, then you owe it to yourself to understand it properly. Read a good introductory book on Austrian economics to begin with to see where you are going wrong.


    You also fail to understand how the free market operates. All that you say about sociobiology may well be true, (though I tend to think that most of its claims are bogus or excessively overstated but that is not the point) but you mistakenly assume that you can infer a political course of action from the conclusions of sociobiology. All _political_ action, whether well intentioned or ill, necessarily diminishes both liberty and welfare. The free market is the only system that makes the best practical use of everyone’s abilities whether they are high or lowly. As for cultural marxism, it seems that you are much more infected with that than I since you upbraided me for my use of the word discrimination. You immediately assumed that I was using discrimination in a pejorative way. Let me make myself clear, there is _nothing_ wrong or immoral in discrimination, on any basis. The word has a perfectly clear dictionary definition and that is how I used it. Your problem is that you assume that I am in the grip of some sinister marxoid mindset which seek to erase all differences betwen people. Of course there are differences between the races, sexes, cultures, religions etc only a marxoid zombie would seek to deny such a thing. Your mistake, Guessedworker, is in assuming that you, objectively, rather than the market, can sort out which traits are laudable and to be encouraged and which are undesirable and should be repressed. You think this because you have been lead astray in your thinking by sociobiology and false assumptions about epistemology and rationality. The upshot is that you latch on to the alleged merits of a conservative social policy and advocate it in the ignorance of the nature of politics. If your theories about sociobiology are true, then the market will bear this out. However I think that you have become over enamoured of this subject and its claims.

  • Verity

    Abby – Your summing up of the settling of America is very thought provoking.

    And I just read in the comments on Sins of the boomers thread above, a post from someone who has just graduated in engineering and is having trouble finding a job in Britain. Of all his friends, only one has found a job.

  • Paul,

    Argument is counter-productive with idealists and, by golly, you seem to be some idealist, Paul. You identify goverment, all government, as the enemy. I can concede that in principle though recognise that it is an extreme position. I think I am more practical in that I identify the liberal-left and its works as the more immediate enemy. I am not sure one can debate zero government with a censorious liberal-left or with a people who, largely, are under its intellectual sway. Ergo, one must defeat the liberal-left and eradicate its ideological reach into the community in order to debate any sort of alternative political system (or no system at all).

    Can anarcho-libertarianism somehow smite the liberal-left and usher in a new dawn of freedom and wonder? Not in the real world, pal. But the liberal-left philosophy can be undercut to great effect by notions of difference because it is its sacred, central notions of sameness that are in error. I commend sociobiology, therefore, as a storehouse of proven, gainsaying fact. Pretty much everything else, anarcho-capitalism included, is hot air.

    Paul, where do you get the idea from that I want to sort out what traits in man are laudable? You confuse social conservatism with authoriatianism. The former relies for its authority upon human nature – that is, what is real in us. Sociobiology, of course, has much to say about this. But for forty years a free market in personal behaviour and self expression has spat in the eye of our eternal nature. Hence, for example, the river of childhood pain that flows from broken homes.

    In the end, I suspect that none of the above, pain included, is in any way telling for you. Your version of Fred Reed’s “bull session in a sophomore’s dorm” is defensive of a lifestyle you have and want to hold. If so, that is a selfishness quite apart from the selfishness of the market and not to be confused with it.

  • Guessedworker,

    I am very far from being an idealist, I am however an ideologue in that I am a consistent advocate of the doctrine of pure anarcho-libertarianism.

    You are quite right that the dogmas of the liberal left are a menace and they need to be refuted, I spend much time doing that whenever I encounter such people, especially the marxoid greens who abound. However also a threat to liberty are the equally pernicious dogmas of the social conservatives, of which you are an advocate. I do not think that the state should be supporting or oppressing any groups at others expense. You may not want to sort out the laudable traits in people but I certainly do and the only way to do this meaningfully is to allow the market to work.

    There has been nothing like a free market in personal behaviour and self expression for the last 40 years. There has been instead a mixture of on the one hand repression and on the other hand state subsidy of fecklesness. This looks to you like a free market because you haven’t the first idea of what a free market actually is. It may well be that we have an ‘eternal nature’ as you say but your narrow and clumsy understanding of it is a useless guide to policy, it is the dumb interplay between the fools on the left and you fools on the socially conservative right over the last 40 years that have brought forth the ‘rivers of pain’.

    For my own lifestyle I seek no subsidy but I certainly will not tolerate any repression. I want not equality but freedom.

  • Hadrian Wise

    Too many assume that higher education is an economic question – that a degree is about getting a job. It’s not, or it shouldn’t be: it’s about becoming a civilised human being. Proper higher education should ensure that our most intelligent people, those who are most likely to succeed, are also our most civilised, & this in turn should help us to remain a civilised society, i.e., one that has some idea of what is important – truth, beauty, love – instead of being obsessed with money.

    So, practically speaking, we should scrap most of our so-called universities, selecting no more than 10% of the population to attend those remaining, & force that rump to offer as many degrees in “useless” subjects – classics, mathematics, history, philosophy – as they possibly can. This can be easily paid for by the tax-payer, while the supposed “training” that goes on in universities, if it really is as useful to business as the powers-that-be pretend, can be happily paid for by dear old business itself.

    So everybody’s happy.