Haidt on Identity Politics: The Problem Is Collectivism

A sort of identity politics is a major force tearing at the seams of America’s liberal democratic order (broadly understood), argues Jonathan Haidt in his recent and important essay (originally a talk), “The Age of Outrage.” My aim here is to amplify and comment on his piece. Continue reading “Haidt on Identity Politics: The Problem Is Collectivism”

Will Low-Cost College Degrees Be a Game-Changer?

Image: Shai Reshef
Image: Shai Reshef

The University of the People’s model for low cost, online higher education could be a game-changer for high school graduates throughout the developing world, as well as for financially strapped students in wealthier nations. Students who enroll at this university don’t acquire useless humanities degrees in leftist studies; they study one of two things, business administration or computer science.

(That said, the university “is based on the [false] belief that education at a minimum cost is a basic right for all suitable applicants”—there is no “right” to other people’s resources—and I wouldn’t be surprised if students have to sit through some politically charged material despite the classes’ practical orientation.)

To date, more than 2,000 students from over 140 countries have been admitted,” the school reports. I first heard of the university today, when Ted released the video of a talk by Shai Reshef (shown in the photo), the institution’s founder.

Americans had better get real about education: Students with worthless degrees, huge student loans, and an entitlement mentality may soon face considerably stiffer competition. Over the coming decades we could witness some spectacular advances in various regions of the world, wherever people can establish governments stable enough to protect property rights and not pillage what people earn.

In related news, Michael A. LaFerrara discusses Lumni, a program that pays for students to attend traditional colleges when those students agree to repay the program a set portion of their income for a set period.

The Student Loan Bailout

The Objective Standard has published my latest article, “Student Loan Scheme Just Another Rights-Violating Bailout.”

I review the basics of President Obama’s plans for student loans and point out they would put taxpayers on the hook for part of the debt. I also found some interesting statistics about the skyrocketing costs of higher education — caused predominantly by federal meddling.

I write, “[A]t issue is not the size of the bailout, but the fact that it forcibly transfers wealth from some people to others, violating the rights of the first group and turning the second into parasites. The more government acts on the notion that it is acceptable to bail out some at the expense of others, the more we will see injustices enacted into law.”

Check out the entire article!

Government Property

Yesterday FaceTheState.com, which sends out a useful list of Colorado news articles every day, linked to two stories that caught my eye. FaceTheState.com described the stories this way: CU students and faculty no fan of freedom – most favor ban on smoking, outside, and Mesa libraries take heat for atheist display.

Here’s some of the language from those articles, published by the Rocky Mountain News (originally by Boulder’s Daily Camera) and Grand Junction’s Daily Sentinel, respectively:

According to the results of an unscientific survey conducted across CU’s campuses and administrative offices, a narrow majority – 51.5 percent – of respondents said they think the school should ban all tobacco use on the campuses. Smoking indoors already is prohibited.

The survey was in response to CU Regent Michael Carrigan’s proposal to ban smoking altogether. Results were released Thursday.


State of disbelief
Atheists say display shows different concept; library patron upset at having to wait to present rebuttal

The Daily Sentinel
Saturday, December 01, 2007

“We imagine a world without religion,” declares a display posted by Western Colorado Atheists on Saturday in the back stairwell of the Mesa County Public Library. …

The atheists’ display is simple, composed of mostly letter-sized sheets of paper answering questions about atheism, quoting dead presidents about the virtues of questioning faith and outlining what the group views as the pitfalls of religion: hate, corruption, scandal and violence. …

The atheists’ display was approved by the library earlier this year and assigned the entire month of December for posting. …

Anderson, who posted a display in the same space last February criticizing gay people, same-sex families and others as hell-bound if they don’t make right with God, said the library is getting itself into trouble by not allowing her to post her poster-sized Christian display the same day the atheists posted theirs.

My position on these issues, given the existence of tax-funded colleges and libraries, is that smoking ought not be banned outside and that all comers should have the same opportunity to display their message at the library.

However, my deeper position is that neither colleges nor libraries should be funded with taxes — that is, funded with money forcibly taken by those who may not wish to fund those institutions or their particular projects.

Whether smoking is banned on a property, either inside or outside, should be entirely up to the property owners. But who are the property owners at a state-funded college? Everyone and no one. Banning smoking violates the rights of people who want to smoke, while allowing smoking violates the rights of those who find the smoke irritating. FaceTheState.com is wrong to claim that the issue is about “freedom.” Don’t the writers of FaceTheState.com believe they have the right to ban smoking in their own back yards? The problem is that freedom has already been violated. Specifically, people’s freedom to control their own income is violated when they are forced to fund the college. The violation of rights has already occurred. An outdoor smoking ban would not constitute an additional violation of rights. If the owners of a private school wish to ban smoking outside on their property, that is their right.

Should a tax-funded library open up display areas to Islamists who praise the bombing of the World Trade Center? Should Satanists also get a turn? If a tax-funded institution forcibly takes money from Islamists and Satanists, then those groups (arguably) should be granted equal footing with Christians and atheists. Absurd? If so, then the absurdity is created by the nature of tax funding, which inherently violates people’s rights. In a library that obtained all it’s money from voluntary contributions, this problem would not arise. People would give their money on the understanding that some person or board makes the decisions as the legitimate property holder. If the library offends people, then they are free to withdraw their funding. Such a library might decide to allow no religious displays or only religious displays within certain boundaries. For example, a library might allow Christian, atheist, and peace-promoting Muslim displays, but ban America-hating Islamist and Satanic displays. The point is that the property owner, whether an individual, a corporation, or a non-profit entity, has the right to control the property. When “the public” funds an enterprise through political force, that means that “the public” owns it, which means that rights can never be clearly decided.

CU’s Brown Offends with “Ghetto” Remark

Republicans support more tax spending. Republicans support political control of education. They brag about it.

We begin with a very strange article from the Associated Press (dated October 19):

CU President Hank Brown warned today that the way the state allocates college and university funding could “ghettoize” some programs, upsetting the only black member of the Higher Education Commission.

Brown said inadequate funding for expensive research institutions like CU could mean that only rich families and low-income students who qualify for grants and scholarships can afford them.

“You ghettoize them in effect, because you make it impossible for middle-income kids to make it,” Brown told the commission. …

Brown’s spokesman, Ken McConnellogue, said Brown was referring to the middle class students who were left out and not the low-income students who were left in the programs.

Offensive indeed!

Unfortunately, the AP article never explains why Brown’s remark might be offensive. The article intimates that Jim Stewart, “the only black member” of the Commission, took offense because the term “ghettoize” is somehow offensive to blacks. But that’s ridiculous.

The word “ghetto” was around long before it was used to describe poor black neighborhoods. The top definition from Oxford’s dictionary says, “The quarter in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which the Jews were restricted.” Maybe we can check to see whether there were any Jews on the Commission who also took offense. The second definition includes the generic meaning, “an area, etc., occupied by an isolated group; an isolated or segregated group, community, or area.” As a verb, “ghetto” means, “To put or keep (people) in a ghetto.” Obviously, Brown meant that he doesn’t want to see middle-income students kept out of better schools. It has nothing to do with race.

Brown’s comment is actually offensive because it’s not true that “you make it impossible for middle-income kids to make it” by failing to increase tax subsidies. Middle-income students, and not only poor students, can qualify for grants and scholarships. They can also save their own money, work part time and attend school part time, ask their parents for money, and/or take out loans.

The people who should be offended are those of middle incomes who believe they can make it without government handouts. (It would help, of course, if such large portions of their paychecks weren’t forcibly taken from them in order to subsidize still others.)

In theory, a college education is valuable to the student. If that’s not the case, then there’s no point in attending college. If it is the case, then there’s no reason why the student shouldn’t pay for it. Indeed, there’s no reason why the government should play any role whatsoever.

It is possible, of course, that uneven tax subsidies make some programs artificially appealing to some students. But then the proper solution is not to increase select subsidies, it is to eliminate all the subsidies.

But it is no surprise that Brown, a former Republican Senator (and my one-time boss) endorses tax subsidies for education; i.e., forcing some people to pay for the education of other people.

Seriously, Republicans love spending taxes. It’s like they’re in their own little tax-spending ghetto. Consider an October 23 release from Colorado Republicans, titled, “GOP to bolster higher ed with more funding, greater accountability.” Republicans wish to “establish a reliable funding stream for higher ed by drawing on surging revenue from oil and gas development.” The money comes from leasing fees, “mineral royalties and state and local energy taxes.” Because Republicans see that money as theirs to spend by right, never mind what the people who produce the wealth might think about it.

Republican Mike May says, “We are using a carrot-and-stick approach” toward colleges. The carrot is other people’s money, taken from them by force. The stick is legislative control.

Yet how many students simultaneously bitch about “academic freedom” and too little state funding? What politicians fund, politicians control. Real academic freedom means getting politicians out of the education business. And that means getting politicians out of the business of funding education with other people’s money.