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Whilst reading 'Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal', I found that throughout the course of one particular essay, one question kept recurring frequently in my mind. The essay in question is titled 'Common Fallacies About Capitalism' by Nathaniel Branden, sub section 'Concerning Public Education'. Please note that I do not pose this question with the intention of casting a moral (in a mainstream/altruistic sense) judgement upon the answer, I simply wish to gain an understanding of the case he is making.

Branden makes an argument in favour of a private market orientated education system free from compulsory public taxation and state control of the content taught. His argument seems to rest upon the premise that through a competitive market orientated approach, standards will rise and the content taught will improve through the freedom thus granted. He also places the benefit of the producer in a sense (the teacher whom is the producer or provider of knowledge to the buyer, i.e the student) inside his argument for the market system, citing prospective greater wage returns for their labour.

However in the course of this section of the essay, I could not find any case addressing the party buying the product of education. In particular it seemed that a discussion addressing the issues or exact effects this would have on the buyer, was totally absent.

Therefore my question is, if the market view espoused by Branden is taken as the Objectivist view on education, then what are the implications for families and students in the face of this system. Specifically the following-

If a market system is in place, each establishment naturally wishes to increase their reputation in order to attract buyers, and will set prices according to quality and of course theoretically in competition to those closest to them in terms of quality/reputation, if these prices are therefore higher, and the price of lower ranking schools is therefore lower then it would stand to reason that families of lower financial capacity will be limited in the places they may afford to send their child, this would mean that an inherent disadvantage in regards to opportunity is present that is linked directly to the financial good fortune of the individual in need of education.

Is this inherent inequity of opportunity seen as a problem, if so then how would it be compensated?

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An inequality of opportunity, for education in this case, is not a problem in the sense that it's not an injustice, and therefore there's nothing to be compensated. There is no right to an education. (See Miss Rand's "Man's Rights") There is however a right to trade.

Of course, it is a problem in the sense that if parents cannot afford to send their children to the very best of schools, they simply cannot do so, not unless they can find other, voluntary, means of making it possible. But that doesn't mean they cannot afford to educate their children or that their children will be poorly educated.

If there were a free market in education, the quality of education would rise even for those with the least ability to pay for an education. (By way of analogy, look at the computer industry. It has not been so long ago that computers were not so affordable or capable as they are today, yet with the relatively free market in computers, the prices have come down even as the quality has gone up, making more and more affordable to more and more people.)

With education, with competition (including competing theories of education) in education, better and better ideas on education would win out and come to influence even schools at the low end.

Wealth is certainly a value (why else pursue it), and wealth brings advantages. Wealthy people can afford better things, including better schools for their children. But again, there's no injustice in that. Having the opportunity to the best of education itself does not guarantee that the students of such schools will excel in life more than those who attend lower-end schools.

Edited by Trebor
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If there were a free market in education, the quality of education would rise even for those with the least ability to pay for an education. (By way of analogy, look at the computer industry. It has not been so long ago that computers were not so affordable or capable as they are today, yet with the relatively free market in computers, the prices have come down even as the quality has gone up, making more and more affordable to more and more people.)

With education, with competition (including competing theories of education) in education, better and better ideas on education would win out and come to influence even schools at the low end.

So essentially the thinking involved is that there would be a trickle down effect that improves the general level education, much like how workers wages are said to improve through producer competition in obtaining their labour power. The end result being a higher standard that cannot be achieved through other none competition based systems?

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I've actually had this discussion several times with my English professor. He feels as if education ought to be a primary right given to all children. His argument is the same as your question: given the capitalist system, particular families will not be able to afford sending their children to elementary, middle, and high schools at all, and others would only be able to afford low quality schools. Moreover, children whose parents cannot afford to send them to school will resort to crime.

Given the capitalist system, competition among the school systems will tend to:

  • drive poor quality and/or costly schools out of operation altogether,
  • increase the quality of education,
  • decrease the cost of attendance across the board.

You must ask yourself "Poor quality, by what standard?".

Surely, these schools would be of higher quality than public education today because 1) the prestige would be returned to the position of teacher (and competition amongst teachers, too), 2) resources would be more readily available (and not wastingly allocated), and 3) motivation would return to students and parents. Part of the crucial point here is that right now, it is commonplace to say that 'those who can't learn, teach' with regard to the state of teaching on a pre-collegiate level. Moreover, students generally become dedicated when the money is coming from their family and pressure is applied from parents. Right now, some students are unteachable because they have zero motivation. I do not believe the crime rate would be affected whatsoever -- there is no way to motivate the unwilling. But do notice the difference in seriousness of public high schools and college. I would argue that this is due to several factors, but the monetary side is most important. Most families would pay out of pocket for education, parents would encourage students to do well because otherwise they'd be wasting money. Poor families could arrange loans or negotiate with specialized businesses which provide money to families on the basis of academic merit, say, contractual and conditional scholarships. Schools would likewise have massive endowments and would collect donations from alumni. There is even enough money left over to spend on technology and supplies!

The bottom line with public education is this: parents, teachers, and students have zero external motivation to do their best. Students tend to slack off, teachers tend to take short-cuts, and parents tend to become absent from the picture entirely. Motivation is the key, and capitalism is one of the strongest motivational factors out there

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First, it does not at all follow that only poor quality education will be available to the poor. The same reasoning you employed to suggest that it would could be said of any other good or service. Cell phones, televisions, cars, shoes, food. And yet the poor can afford all of these things because production of these things has increased in efficiency over time. On an unhampered market there prevails a tendency (called "growth deflation") for luxuries for the rich to become in the future commonplace for everyone. This is already seen in education as it currently is, and many other goods and services. The idea that the rich will be educated only in posh and advanced institutions whilst the poor rot in underfunded and forgotten institutions is partly based on Marxist dogma about the tendency of the masses towards bare subsistence (a cursory look at history from the Industrial Revolution on should be enough to refute this theory), and partly because that's what currently happens under the status quo system of state schooling.

As economist Peter Schiff has explains, given that the cost of education services are heavily state subsidized, they are highly inflated. Schiff recounts the story of his father who worked as a waiter and put himself through college, graduating with no debt. A market in competition would force producers of education services to drop prices dramatically. It is a myth that only the rich will ever get an education, as producers are eager to make profits and thus are subject to consumer demands. They can't sell something to you that you can't afford to buy.

But let us proceed to your question, which seems to be a very general one. If something is brought into the market, what indeed happens to people who can't afford said thing? It is a fact though, whatever the current level of standard of living and therefore the availability of certain goods and services towards different income groups, that poor people can afford less things. If they want to afford more things than they are presently able, either they can find a way to increase their productive output, or pool together a larger number of people, or find a way to get someone with a higher productive output to help them.

As far as education goes, there are plenty of ways to do this. There is charity first off. There is financial aid and student loans (not every expense has to be paid up front in one lump sum), there are hardship deferments, etc. There are scholarships and awards given to promising students who need help. If you think of it, the problem is rather simple. There is a group of people A who need money or resources. There is a group of people B who want to give money or resources to A. Do we really have to sit around and go “How would this happen without government? Oh me, oh my!” The answer is: it will happen however those individuals involved who care about the issue decide to make it happen, which can be any number of imaginable ways. It is a complete non sequitur to assume the only way to give education to the poor is through the coercive apparatus of the state.

Edited by 2046
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So essentially the thinking involved is that there would be a trickle down effect that improves the general level education, much like how workers wages are said to improve through producer competition in obtaining their labour power. The end result being a higher standard that cannot be achieved through other none competition based systems?

Yes, but it may well be that there's a trickle up effect as well - better theories on education coming from those on the low-end financially. (Marva Collins and Maria Montesori, for example.)

As well, are there not incentives for the best schools to be on the lookout for exceptional, motivated students, offering such students scholarships or some other voluntary means of helping them in getting into the better schools?

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If you have the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend listening to Dr. Leonard Peikoff's mini-course on the "Philosophy of Education."

One school which has implemented the principles Dr. Peikoff discusses in his lecture is the VanDamme Acadamy, owned and operated by Lisa VanDamme and her husband.

Check out the Van Damme Academy's YouTube channel.

To get some idea of the results, for the students, listen to "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tY1Q3fckm-Q," especially, at least, parts 1 & 2. Miss VanDamme reads some examples of things written by her young students.

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I'll just make a more general comment about the equality of opportunity question. There is no justification for focusing on equality of opportunity rather than the absolute level of opportunity available, at least in a free society. The idea that equality of opportunity is important stems from the false premise that we all come into this world competing to get some amount of a fixed pie, and if my neighbor starts out with better opportunities, he'll get more and consequently I'll get less. However, this is simply untrue.

If my neighbor makes a million dollars honestly, say by inventing some new super-useful piece of software, and uses it to send his kid to a great school, has that made me worse off in any concrete way? Did he take something from me and give it to his kid? Obviously not. Furthermore, I benefit in an absolute sense when he gives his kid a better education. Having more smart, well-educated people out there in the world is good for everybody; in a free society, successful people are a boon to those around them, not a burden. The idea that when we grow up we'll be competing for a fixed amount of jobs is yet another economic fallacy that fails to take into account how a market economy works. In short, there's no real reason (besides envy) that I should care if my neighbor gets a better education than me.

Of course, the core of the issue is this: my neighbor's money belongs to him, and he should be able to use it in any way he sees fit. It would be perverse for me to say that he's allowed to blow it on mansions and Jet-skis, but not allowed to invest it in his son's education because that 'disadvantages' everyone else's kids. Fundamentally, it's an issue of rights. Some people are going to be more successful in a marketplace, and those people may well choose to spend that money helping their children. It's their money, and they have the right to do that. This will naturally result in different kids having different levels of opportunity; that's a natural feature of respecting property rights. However, it also helps to see that this isn't a negative for the rest of us, but rather an unqualified positive. In a society where rights are upheld, everyone is the better for it, and this particular example is no different.

Edited by Dante
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Therefore my question is, if the market view espoused by Branden is taken as the Objectivist view on education, then what are the implications for families and students in the face of this system. Specifically the following-

If a market system is in place, each establishment naturally wishes to increase their reputation in order to attract buyers, and will set prices according to quality and of course theoretically in competition to those closest to them in terms of quality/reputation, if these prices are therefore higher, and the price of lower ranking schools is therefore lower then it would stand to reason that families of lower financial capacity will be limited in the places they may afford to send their child, this would mean that an inherent disadvantage in regards to opportunity is present that is linked directly to the financial good fortune of the individual in need of education.

Is this inherent inequity of opportunity seen as a problem, if so then how would it be compensated?

Damie,

The very serious problem of Public Education is maybe the gravest (along with probably Health) of the state's abuses of its vested power. In America it would seem that it is less grave than elsewhere since State enforced program is only forced towards those of lower incomes and/or "bad parents" (according to Child Protective Services' guidelines and agents) allowing many (but not sufficient) private schools and homeschooling for the richer and/or more principled (unfortunately usually religious) parents. Of course the child has no say in the whole process,

Education as a homogeneous "system" that can only be evaluated by one standard of quality (nationwide tests), is only a product of Institutionalized Education which is itself a product of Public Education, something indeed quiet recent and more political in nature than didactic. Consider public or state education's prime goals: the children can leave school without knowing some physics or proper writing, but they can't leave without knowing how to use a condom or condemn a racist. They can leave without exploring what interest each the most, but they certainly can't leave in good shape unless they feign learning how to coexist in society.

Again in America I'm not sure how compulsory education is for minors, but I can assure you elsewhere, from Russia to Britain to South America to obviously China, state education is the draft for minors. If you want to know Ayn Rand's stance on "Civil Service" replacing Military Service, just read her righteously infuriated essay which I believe is in the same book you cited. In any case this is coercion by the Welfare State to the parents to either "educate" (according to a Nationwide criteria which might destroy rather than cultivate the young minds) their children or have them taken away by armed authorities or/and being scoffed by neighbors, shunned in labor despite of skill, or a lot worse.

So, as many have pointed out and you probably might have witnessed all around you in this colorful World, there exists an "inherent inequity of opportunity" not just in skills and subsistence money but also in every aspect of life fulfillment. Compensation occurs just as naturally, for instance, a really poor child from the tropics might enjoy a childhood of outdoor explorations, skill-enhancing hard work, and a healthy body and disciplined mind as a consequence of both, while a rich (we call it midclass) urban child from an industrialized country might have a very expensive yet poor childhood. And everything else might also happen, good + good, bad + bad, and all possible combinations. It is impossible to perceive, and more so to control> We are not omniscient nor omnipotent. Thousands of years ago humans developed storytelling and created fiction characters (gods, and then God) that are indeed omniscient and omnipotent, however inexistent.

200 years ago when machines became more vivid automatons and these gods began to be dethroned along with the Kings vested in their power, a new replacement was constructed to ease the pain of withdrawal of "The Opium of the People". Socialism, in every manifestation from right-wing Welfare Statism (Bismarck, Bush) to the more cinematographic extremist forms, tries to fulfill that role of compensating the universe's inequities, and maybe even "restoring the balance".

This seems inherent to collective human behaviour: while the examples I just gave apply quiet well to Western History, it is interesting to note that the figure and role of the Emperor of China, was that of "restoring the balance between heaven and earth" or something of the like that in practice meant assuring good crops (much like further back, and in the West, the role of Pharaoh).

So in answer to your question: no these inequities are not seen as a problem. It's a booby trap. Whoever claims to be able to solve those inequities and is demanding something in advance for it is scamming you or abusing his power, much like Pharaoh.

In the context of education, what the state is asking you in return for fake peace of mind is nothing else but the mind of your child!

How expensive is to keep two to eight neighbor kids in one room or backyard for some flexible hours a day, learning under the guidance of rotating parents? How expensive would it be if they had a well trained tutor instead of a parent? And from there to a range of private academies with only those offering social connections instead of or in addition to training, reflecting that in the tuition fee.

"I had to interrupt my education to go to school" Jorge Luis Borges

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