In the last century a minority of great economists, led by Ludwig von Mises, clearly and forcefully pointed out the impossibility of calculation and planning under a socialist economy.  History bore them out, and the Soviet Union collapsed under the crushing weight of its own absurdly uncoordinated production patterns.  Absent a price system, planners grasped for anything they could measure in order to get the right mix of goods.  They judged the success of the nail factory by the total weight of all the nails it produced, which naturally led to factories producing giant nails of no use to anyone.  Then they switched to the number of nails produced, which led to tiny nails, equally useless.  It may seem like a silly case of some rascally producers, but regardless of the intentions or skills of the workers or planners, how were they to know what type, size, quantity and quality of nail to make?  They had no connection or effective communication channel to the consumer.

The insights about the impossibility of planning under total socialism apply equally to so-called “mixed” economies, except that whatever remnants of a market are in operation will stave off total collapse at least for a time, acting as a kind of safety valve.  In other words, the same top-down disorder that resulted in a surplus of mustard and a shortage of bread can be expected in the “planned” segments of any economy.

Education is “mixed” in the US, but more top-down than market based in almost every case.  There is almost no relationship between the end users of education – students and their parents – and the producers and planners in the system.  It is no wonder the education system focuses on compliance, obedience, respect for authority, behaving exactly like other people your age, memorizing things whether or not they’re valuable, and a lot of other characteristics inimical to a free society and entrepreneurship, production, and innovation.  They focus on these things because they can be measured absent a market.  Something like student satisfaction is far more important, but only the nuanced, complex, adaptive market order can cater to such individualized, subjective vagaries.  Top-down orders don’t know what to do with it so they endlessly tweak and argue over Common Core and other arbitrary outputs that can be measured.

Are teachers paid too much?  Too little?  Are facilities too big and costly?  Too small and dated?  Are class sizes too big or too small?  Do students need more tech, or less?  Longer school days and years, or shorter?  More extra-curriculars or fewer?  More or less homework?  More STEM or more arts?  No one knows, and no one ever can know absent a market.

Imagine markets for other goods and services if they were managed in this way.  Does your local grocery store need more of fewer types of refried beans?  Do you think a town hall meeting and a few bean board elections would come to a better solution than the market process?  Does “society” need more trucks and fewer sedans?  The absurdity of these questions ought to give pause before we enter ridiculous debates about whether schools or universities need more of this, or less of that.  Good intentions and good people can’t make sense out of the chaos.  Only markets can.

The more managed a system, the more it relies on what can be easily measured, and will therefore tend to produce those things rather than what is of value to consumers.  If this goes on long enough, consumers may forget that they even have an opinion, or that they could even value things other than the low-quality product they’re given.  If you’d never lived in a world with a flourishing, diverse market, you may not even know that you wanted low-sodium extra smooth refried beans, because you didn’t even know canned beans existed.

The solution in socialist countries was private property.  Even at its peak, those who went outside the system and operated in black markets kept some semblance of quality of life possible.  Once people were formally allowed to take ownership over their own lives and resources, markets and a functioning price system emerged and quickly began the ongoing coordination and creative destruction of a beautiful spontaneous order.  Consumers were once again king, and their wants and needs (sometimes unknown until entrepreneurs offered it to them) were the ultimate driving force.  Production patterns became flexible yet highly efficient at moving resources from lower value to higher value uses, as determined by the preferences of the end user, not some board or commission.

Unless private property (the ownership of ones own learning) in education reigns, educators will continue to grasp in the dark for what to produce.  They’ll tend toward uniformity, authoritarianism, and clumsy, blunt approaches that lend themselves to easy measurement.  Once consumers seize ownership of their own learning and seek products and services outside the grip of the state, the education market will reach full bloom and a cornucopia of methods and means will emerge.  Until then, the question, “What should education look like?” is as unanswerable as, “What should an economy produce?”.

As soon as you say, “Everyone should believe X, and if you don’t, you’re a crazy”, you make X look both less desirable, and more likely to be mistaken.

If X really is obvious, you needn’t pressure everyone to accept it. Anyone who denies the irrefutable is not going to be pressured anyway. An appeal to authority or consensus is not going to win over doubters, nor should it. If X is untrue or even a little bit off in some way, your anger at non-believers will harden your perceptions and form an intellectual arrogance that blinds you to new developments. It also makes you look like an ass who’s afraid of a world where people believe things differently than you.

Believers in far-fetched, fringe ideas rarely suffer from this kind of angry, shaming proclamation, because they’re used to their ideas being considered fringe. Those who believe generally accepted ideas, or who oppose fringe theories, are most in danger of this mindset. They may be entirely correct that the fringe ideas are silly, but the angry demand that everyone agree with generally accepted ideas is at least as anti-intellectual as the fringe ideas themselves, and revealing of a deep insecurity.

From the Praxis Blog

Ultimately, what people believe determines the kind of world they live in. When the bulk of society is willing to tolerate some kind of annoyance, or oppression, or shortcoming, or injustice, or unfairness, it is likely to emerge in that society. Everyone weighs the costs and benefits of resisting undesirable features of social and political institutions, and when the costs are too high, they find ways to cope rather than push back.

Sometimes the coping includes creating belief systems that label the undesirable features good, or at least inevitable or necessary. These status quo justifying belief systems keep the status quo safe from pressure to improve. You see this in business, politics, and all manner of social settings.

If the beliefs of members of society are the binding constraint on the social order, how do those beliefs change, as they sometimes do, and often quickly and radically? (Think about the complete reversal of the common beliefs about slavery in the early 19th century, and the worldwide institutional changes that rippled outward from it).

There are two primary ways to change beliefs. You can give people new ideas and new experiences. Creating new ideas is to directly confront those that form someone’s belief system, and ask them to make room for new ones. It is to conceptually challenge, confront, question, or inspire. Think of the people who challenge the status quo with books, songs, sermons, speeches, essays, and conversation. Think of the times your mind has been opened or changed by a teacher or author or friend.

It’s easy to assume this direct educational approach is the only way to change beliefs, but there is another way more subtle and just as powerful. It may be less glamorous because it often lacks the decisive light-bulb moment or a clear hero, but it’s effect is no less profound. It is to give people new experiences.

This approach to changing the world does not require an intellectual turnabout, or any arguing over theories. When you create new experiences and offer them to the world, they are either valuable or not. If they make lives better, they succeed and overtake or fundamentally alter people’s beliefs about the status quo, sometimes before anyone consciously notices. Those who create new experiences are entrepreneurs, and they are world changers just as the influential intellectuals.

While people endlessly debate the merits of immigration law, and whether individuals from other countries should be allowed to work in the US and on what terms, entrepreneurs keep improving technology and creating jobs for foreign workers where they can create value for US firms and consumers without having to hazard immigration red tape. Innovators find ways to integrate the world economy even when political institutions and public belief make little room for it. Experts long debated the correct way to determine long distance telephone rates, who should own the valuable telephone lines, and how they should be managed. While they were wrangling, cell phones were created, and now the debate seems meaningless. While defenders of the status quo say taxi service must be regulated and restricted to work, Uber comes along and awakens us to the reality that it doesn’t.

People form beliefs with the best information available. Often, it is assumed some particular societal deficiency is inevitable simply because we lack the imagination to envision a different solution. You can open imaginations by thoughtfully articulating why the experts are wrong and computers can be small enough and useful in the home. You can also open imaginations by creating the microchip, and making, marketing, and delivering products that use it to better peoples lives.

When you see something unsatisfactory in the world around you, know that the beliefs which sustain it are subject to change. If you want to help humanity forge ahead, create new ideas and new experiences.

I am appalled by the fact that some people live in homes that cost less than $100,000.  It is truly tragic, and something my conscience can hardly bear.  That is why I support laws that require all homes sold to sell for no less than $100,000.

That is the same argument made by those who support minimum wages, “Sweatshop” bans, and other workplace and compensation regulations.

Every exchange has two sides.  Both parties give something to get something.  When acquiring a home, you give money to get whatever value the home will provide you.  When acquiring a job, you give your productive capacity for money.  If a home costs more money than you have, you simply can’t buy it.  If a wage costs more productive capacity than you have, you simply cannot “buy” it, or exchange your labor for that wage.

Demanding that all homes be sold for at least $100,000 does not magically put money in the pockets of those who have less than that with which to purchase a home.  Demanding work be compensated at a certain price (whether by wage floors, forced offering of benefits, work hour restrictions, etc.) does not magically enhance the productive capacity of the worker.  In both cases, the least well off have simply been priced out of the market.

You may feel sad in your quarter million dollar home when you realize many people have $60,000 houses, but only a fool would respond by demanding homes be sold at a higher price to ease the plight of the less well off.  When you feel bad about people only earning a few dollars an hour, it would be just as foolish to demand that the jobs they wish to purchase only be sold for a higher price than they can afford.

Some thoughts on the movie Jobs, recorded while driving to the office this morning.  Summary: institutions matter…a lot.  A guy like Steve Jobs in a political system is going to be either ineffective or destructive.  In the market, he was both effective and productive.  (Sorry about the noise from the McDonald’s drive thru.  I had to get some oatmeal and coffee!)

WordPress sent me a year in review infographic for this blog (linked below), and it got me reflecting on the year.  There was more on my mind than I suspected.

We’re living in a beautiful place just like we dreamed.  I’m working from home and travelling, which has always been a goal.  We’ve got family and friends close.  I launched Praxis and have never been more thrilled with the work I’m doing.  Yet I can unreservedly say 2013 was the hardest year of my life.

The year began with a horrible flu and cold that took the whole family out of commission for a ridiculous amount of time and put a damper on the holidays back in Michigan.  I knew even then, and told my wife Heather more than once, that this would be a hard yet amazing year.  I was ready to take it on, though I had no idea at the time what that meant.

I left a job that I absolutely loved to go after my entrepreneurial dream, based almost entirely on a single walk on the beach.  I know, cliche.  The photo on the masthead of this blog was taken the very day the inspiration struck.  It was early in 2013, and I was restless for no known reason.  I went to Isle of Palms to walk and think.  The word “Praxis” popped into my head, and it was like the floodgates opened and the entire program was born in my mind.  I raced back to my car, drove to my laptop to get it all down, and immediately began building.

Shortly before that beach walk, I had committed to myself to start blogging every single day, seven days a week.  I was in a creative drought.  I knew I had to force myself to create something, and if I didn’t know what, blogging would do.  I did it for a full six months.  It was incredibly challenging at times, but also very freeing and very rewarding.  It helped me carve out the space I needed to think outside the milieu I was in.  I can’t give any concrete causality, but I can confidently say that Praxis never would have been launched had I not been changed by the process of daily blogging.  Creating begets creating.

Travel and trying to start a business while putting my heart and soul into another job I was passionate about and my family started to take a toll midway through the year, but all seemed largely to be humming along.  I was on my way home from a trip to New York when I finalized arrangements to go full time with the Praxis launch.  I was ecstatic, and all my flights were (unusually) on time, so I even got home to put the kids to bed.  Then it came.  A text I’ll never forget.  I was sitting on my son’s bed and we read it together.  My 4 year old nephew Ryland fell in the pool and was in the ER in critical condition.

The next several days, then weeks, were a blur.  We rallied together as a family, but despite everything all of us could do, my sister’s beautiful little boy passed away.  The day of the funeral, Heather had to leave early to fly to Michigan due to unexpected news that her father was in Hospice.  He had been declared cancer free on Christmas day 2012.  In the spring, it came back, but he was fighting it and he was young and healthy.  Things turned quickly, and before we had a moment to process the loss of Ryland, we were packing the kids in the car to head up to Michigan for their grandfather’s funeral.

In between time putting pieces together with family, I spent the fall speaking to students about Praxis.  Giving inspirational talks on innovation and entrepreneurship was not easy while dealing with the stunning loss of two close family members.  What should have been the most exciting fall of my life was the saddest, and I had to push myself just to keep at it.

It’s been a bit more than three months since the death of my nephew Ryland and my father in law Mike.  So much has happened, and so much good, but we’re still trying to process it.  Parenting is hard enough as it is, but it’s been especially challenging trying to help a brooding 8 year old, a quietly perceptive 4 year old, and a loquacious 2 year old understand and deal with death.  They randomly recall memories that make holding back tears impossible.  I’m thankful for that.

I did not plan on writing any kind of year-end reflection, and I have not been doing daily blogging here since I launched Praxis, but this cool little blog year in review stirred up a lot.  I was especially moved to see that the most popular post on the site by a mile was an interview with my sister in the summer, which was reposted by several people while Ryland was in the hospital and after he moved on from this life.  I’m glad to have been able to lend something to the literally thousands of people who took compassion on her family and wanted to know more.

Considering the year and imagining 2014 leaves me speechless.  (If you know me, you know that’s a rarity).  I can’t say I’m full of a lot of joy, or anger, or even sadness.  I’m waiting for the inertia of life to slow down again so I can get back in the driver’s seat…or at least the useful illusion of being there.

I will say this: never have I had such a deep appreciation for the kindness of strangers than in 2013.  Friends and family have been amazing, but that’s not a surprise to me.  Scores of random people and internet acquaintances have truly and unexpectedly made the joys so much greater, and the grief so much less lonely.  Thank you.

Below is what WordPress sent me to summarize this year of blogging.  Thanks for being a part of it.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


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