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Why Free Speech on Campus Is Under Attack: Blame Marcuse – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Why Free Speech on Campus Is Under Attack: Blame Marcuse – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey A. Tucker
July 27, 2017

This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education on April 22, 2017.

It’s become routine. An outside lecturer like Charles Murray or FEE’s own Lawrence Reed is invited to lecture on campus, just to give a different perspective than students might be hearing in the classroom. It seems like the way academia is supposed to work: many ideas are presented as a contribution to a rich education and the student is given the tools to make up his or her own mind.

But instead of a fair hearing, the invited lecturer is met with protests and gets shouted down. Aggressive and belligerent students accuse the speaker of every manner of evil. It’s not even about providing an intellectual challenge. No one minds that. The protesters want to stop the speaker from saying anything. They intimidate, threaten, scream, shout, and drive the guest from campus. The victors claim that the campus has been made safe again.

Outsiders look at the attacks on visiting lecturers on campus and wonder why. What could be the harm in hearing an alternative point of view? Isn’t that the point of a university, and a higher education generally? Aren’t students supposed to be trusted with discernment enough to be exposed to a broad range of ideas?

None of it makes much sense, unless you understand a bizarre ideology that has exercised a massive influence in academia since the rise of the New Left in the late 1960s. In the old days, people associated the Left with an ethos akin to the ACLU today: the right to speak, publish, and associate. The turn that took place with the New Left actually flipped whatever remaining attachment that the Left had with freedom.

Blinded by Ideology

There was one major influence here: Herbert Marcuse, the father of the New Left and perhaps the most influential Marxist of the last half century, and his most famous essay from 1965: Repressive Toleration. It is here that you find the template for an upside-down view of freedom held by so many students today. In this essay, Marcuse explains that free speech and toleration are illusions so long as society has yet to conform to the Marxian ideal. So long as that is true, in fact, free speech must be suppressed and toleration itself must not be tolerated.

In some ways, this essay is a blueprint not only for an oppressive campus life dominated by left-wing hegemony; it also offers a rationale for the totalitarian state itself. But in order to understand where he is coming from, and why those under his influence can be so controlling and even terrifying toward basic standards of civility, you need to know the background of his thought.

Marcuse was born in 1898, one year before F.A. Hayek, whose life and ideas serve as a foil for the Frankfurt School that Marcuse represented. And like Mises, Marcuse was driven out of of his home by the Nazis and spent time in Geneva before coming to the United States as an emigre. Unlike Hayek and Mises, Marcuse was a dedicated Marxist, and a main influence in the extension of Marxist economic theory to cover a broader range of philosophical topics.

Both Marx and Marcuse were successors in the long tradition of left-Hegelian thought that opposed every aspect of the rise of laissez-faire commercial life in the 19th century. The Hegelian view was that what we call freedom for average people was a social mask for a meta-narrative of history that was grim and dreadful. Impersonal forces in history were at work creating struggles, clashes, and wars between large-scale social aggregates. The free market (and freedom generally) might look like harmony but it is an illusion to cover a terrible exploitation that the workers and peasants might not directly perceive but could be discerned by enlightened intellectuals.

The goal of history, in this view, is to realize some grand conclusive stage in which the social order ceases to be a messy place of marginal improvements in living standards and instead resembles some utopia as defined by intellectuals. The trick for this point of view is finding the necessary path from here to there.

Recall the strange way in which Marx’s view that the state must “wither away” became an ideological cover for the realization of the total state itself. It’s all about the transition. Yes, Marx said, the state will go away forever, but only once the new socialist man had been created and the reactionary forces keeping scientific socialism at bay were entirely expropriated (or exterminated).

Suppress Freedom to Gain It

As a dedicated Marxist (and left-Hegelian generally), Marcuse believed that the same was true for other bourgeois institutions like free speech, free press, and toleration. Yes, he shared the goal that we need all those things. “Tolerance is an end in itself,” he says with some promise that he could make some sense. “The elimination of violence, and the reduction of suppression to the extent required for protecting man and animals from cruelty and aggression are preconditions for the creation of a humane society.”

Right on! And yet, he says, “Such a society does not yet exist; progress toward it is perhaps more than before arrested by violence and suppression on a global scale.” Every exercise of freedom as it exists is loaded and dominated by existing elites, who skew the debate to favor their position. It’s not a level playing field because social inequities are so prevalent as to be decisive in all outcomes.

As with Marx, in other words, we’ve got a problem in the transition. The masses of people are being deluded by anti-Marxian practices by governments and power elites, practices which have unleashed every manner of horror: neo-colonial massacres, violence and suppression, racist exploitation, police state oppression, and the domination of society by forces of power.

You know the litany of evils, of course. But the more you read, the more you realize that the real problem according to Marcuse comes down to one word: capitalism. So long as that survives, the masses will be lacking in proper discernment to see and know what is true. In this case, toleration will only provide opportunities for the perpetuation of evil. “Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.”

If we allow free speech and give a platform to non-Marxist ideas, the great Hegelian moment when we reach the end of history will continue to elude us.

For this reason, we need to adopt full-scale repression – at least until the end of history arrives. As Marcuse wrote:

They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior – thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives.

And to the degree to which freedom of thought involves the struggle against inhumanity, restoration of such freedom would also imply intolerance toward scientific research in the interest of deadly ‘deterrents’, of abnormal human endurance under inhuman conditions, etc.

Wait just a minute here. Did you catch that? Marcuse says that if you oppose policies like social security or Obamacare, you should be denied the freedom of speech and assembly. You should be shut up and beat up. The path toward true freedom is through massive real-world oppression. If you have the wrong views, you have no rights.

The entire essay is born of frustration that the Marxists have not yet won, that they continue to have to make a case for their perspective in the face of tremendous opposition. Given that he and his friends are part of a priesthood of truth, shouldn’t they just be declared the winners and contrary views suppressed?

In other words, it is possible to define the direction in which prevailing institutions, policies, opinions would have to be changed in order to improve the chance of a peace which is not identical with cold war and a little hot war, and a satisfaction of needs which does not feed on poverty, oppression, and exploitation. Consequently, it is also possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those which would do the opposite. Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones.

What about freedom and stuff? We’ll get there, but first all opponents of how Marcuse defined freedom must be eliminated. In other words, this is not real freedom. It is a big excuse for suppression, despotism, and the total state.

Or as Marcuse said with characteristic bluntness, we must push the “cancellation of the liberal creed of free and equal discussion.” We must, he said, be “militantly intolerant.”

Who Rules?

Now, the question is: who should be in charge of deciding “the distinction between liberating and repressive, human and inhuman teachings and practices.” The answer is readily at hand: properly enlightened intellectuals like Marcuse and his friends, who must be put in charge of the regime managing the transition. As he puts it, a decider should be “in the maturity of his faculties as a human being.”

It is they who should speak and be charged with putting down contrary views. To Marcuse, it is no different from how society tries to control juvenile delinquents. They don’t have rights and freedoms. Neither should unenlightened adults persist in the failure to be Marxists like him.

Here we have a classic demonstration of the power of dogma. It can distort the world around you to the point that black becomes white, up is down, and slavery is freedom.

It reminds me of the time that Leon Trotsky visited the New York subway and noticed that there were machines dispensing gum. He concluded that gum was a capitalist plot to keep the jaws of the workers moving so that they would not perceive their status as slaves having their surplus value stolen by capitalist exploiters.

And yet: sometimes gum is just gum.

So you wonder: where are these attacks on free speech coming from? They are coming from the academy where this stuff is taught to students of sociology, politics, and literature, from day one. It doesn’t mean that people are literally reading Marcuse or even that their professors have done so. Philosophy works this way. Bad ideas are like termites: you can’t entirely see them, and suddenly the whole house falls in.

Astute readers will notice a strange parallel between the ideas of Marcuse and those of the alt-right that imagines that violating the rights of people who disagree is the way to make progress toward real freedom. The model for the alt-right is the world of Pinochet: dissidents must be thrown out of helicopters.

Indeed, there is not much substantial difference between the Nazi politics of Carl Schmitt and the Marxist politics of Herbert Marcuse. They both exist within the same Hegelian ideological bubble, operating as mirror images of each other. One gives rise to the other in alternating sequences of action and reaction. Two sides of the same coin.

Each wants to suppress the other, which is why the complaints of alt-rightists are so disingenuous. They complain about having their free-speech rights violated, but they aspire to do exactly the same to their own enemies.

And, incidentally, censorship is like socialism: it works in theory but not in practice. Suppressing ideas subsidizes the demand for the very idea being put down. You can’t control the human mind by controlling speech alone.

What about Real Freedom?

As you read through this material, the question keeps coming back to you. What about actual freedom right now? What about actual speech right now? Not freedom and speech toward a specific goal, a spelled-out end of history scenario, but rather just real freedom and speech, right now. And what about commercial freedom itself, which has done more to improve the lives of regular people more than any imagined end-state of history as cobbled together by intellectual elites.

Exploring this left and right Hegelian literature makes you appreciate the absolute genius of the old liberal creed, and the handful of great intellectuals who upheld it through the 20th century against these dangerous and illiberal ideologies. Only in this literature will you discover the great truth that freedom right now, right where we are in this stage of history, is the only social goal truly worth fighting for.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

When Academia Turns into Fight Club – Article by Steven Horwitz

When Academia Turns into Fight Club – Article by Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance Hat
Steven Horwitz
July 14, 2017

What do academics do for excitement over the summer, you ask? This summer many of us have been engaged in a furious debate over the new book Democracy in Chains by Duke historian Nancy MacLean.

Libertarian and conservative scholars from a variety of disciplines have raised a number of criticisms about MacLean’s sources and her accuracy about historical facts that call into question the “evidence” she has to show that economist James Buchanan and public choice theory, if not libertarianism more generally, are all tools of racist oligarchs like the Koch Brothers.

Rather than rehash all of the particular criticisms, I want to focus on the controversy that has developed over the criticisms themselves. It’s important to understand that the libertarian critics of MacLean have carefully compared passages in her book with her cited sources and showed how she has misread and quoted selectively from them, often leading her to attribute to people the exact opposite of the argument they actually held. These criticisms have been posted publicly on blogs and websites. These are not just vague accusations. They are detailed examples of poor scholarship.

But the fascinating part has been her response. And her lack thereof.

Everyone Is under Attack

MacLean has offered no substantive response to the detailed criticisms. She had one exchange with Russ Roberts over her treatment of Tyler Cowen, but even there she did not respond to the substance of Russ’s concerns. Other than that, nothing.

What she did do, however, was put up a long Facebook post that reads like a combination conspiracy theory tract and call to action for progressive activists. The short version is that she claimed she was under “attack” from a conspiracy of “Koch operatives” who were paid hacks out to destroy her book and her reputation and silence her. She claimed, then retracted when she found out it couldn’t be done, that the Kochs had bought Google results to put the critics at the top of searches. She encouraged her supporters to game the Amazon reviews by posting positive reviews and down-voting the “fake” Koch reviews.

She has continued this narrative of being “under attack” in various interviews, and most recently in a story in Inside Higher Ed, where fellow progressives echo this language.

This notion of being “attacked” is particularly fascinating to me. Let’s be clear what she means: people who know a lot about Buchanan, public choice theory, and libertarianism have taken issue with her scholarship and have patiently and carefully documented the places where she has made errors of fact or interpretation, or mangled and misused source materials and quotes. That is all that they have done.

None of this was coordinated nor was it part of a conspiracy from the Koch brothers. It was scholars doing what scholars do when they are confronted with bad scholarly work, especially when it touches on issues we know well.

None of these critics, and I am among them, have called for physical violence against her. None have contacted her employer. None have called her publisher or Amazon to have the book taken down. Contrary to her claim, the only silence in this whole episode is her own refusal to respond to legitimate scholarly criticism. We don’t want to silence her – we eagerly await her response.

So where is this language of “attack” coming from? Here is where I think the political right bears some responsibility for the current situation. And to the degree libertarians have cast their lot with “the right,” we are seen as guilty by association. Call it blowback if you will.

In the last year or two, progressive intellectuals and academics have been threatened with violence and had their employers contacted, not to mention threats made from politicians, on the basis of public statements they’ve made. Yes, some of those statements were deplorable, but that is no excuse for threatening people’s physical safety or their jobs. These are real attacks, not intellectual criticisms.

We should also not forget the anti-intellectual “Professor Watch List” put up by TurningPoint USA, which gave left-leaning faculty more reason to imagine coordinated and conspiratorial attacks.

And yes, all of this was not done by conservative or libertarian intellectuals, but they were done by activists associated with “the right,” and that is all that progressives need to find the intellectuals guilty by association.

It probably also matters, though less so, that many conservative and libertarian students have referred to themselves as “under attack” in college classrooms. In my 30 years of teaching experience, what they call “under attack” is far more often than not simply having their views strongly challenged and being expected to defend them. In other words, exactly what MacLean is experiencing.

This is not being “attacked.” It is what college classrooms and scholarly conversation are all about.

Unfortunately, the real attacks on left-wing faculty (and yes, there have been ones on right-wing ones too) have provided MacLean’s defenders with a convenient word to use to blur the difference between legitimate, but forceful, scholarly criticism, and threats of violence or silencing.

Always Take the High Road

Conservative critics of higher education should take this to heart. When you whip people into a frenzy over the crazy things that a small number of faculty say on Twitter, or because of legitimate concerns about the treatment of a small number of conservative speakers, the whipped up folks are going to do things you wish they wouldn’t. And that’s going to lead to blowback.

As a libertarian academic who frequently speaks at public events on other campuses, I do have low-level concerns about my safety. And if I were a progressive academic, I’d have similar fears given the way some of them have been treated, especially by politicians. Calling the intellectual criticisms of her book a coordinated conspiracy heads MacLean into Alex Jones territory, but given the current climate, it shouldn’t surprise us that she and her supporters feel “under attack.”

But notice the result: a book that smears libertarian and conservative ideas on the basis of shoddy scholarship gets attention because the author claims she’s under attack when she is called out in careful detail by other scholars. The real attacks on left-leaning faculty enable her to claim victimhood by association while using guilt by association to blame the conservative and libertarian intellectuals who are criticizing her work.

Once we head down the road, whether caused by the left, right, or libertarians, of turning intellectual disagreements into threats of violence, or threats to employment, or anything of that sort, the social losses are huge. Indeed, once both threats to people’s safety and employment and sharp intellectual disagreement become “attacks,” we will lose our ability to recognize the moral and intellectual difference between the two, and our disgust at the threats will weaken. And to the degree that the left largely dominates the intellectual world, conservatives and libertarians will be the biggest losers when academia turns into Fight Club.

So what to do? First, call off the dogs. Conservatives and libertarians need to consistently take the high road, as many of the intellectuals have tried to do in response to MacLean’s book. The hard part is getting right-wing media, both traditional and social media, to do the same. Those of us who care about intellectual standards have to publicly call out our own when they whip up anti-intellectual and anti-higher education frenzies.

Second, implore our left-wing friends of integrity to do the same. The most important thing that can happen to end this arms race is for scholars of integrity on the left to call out people like MacLean, both for their shoddy scholarship and their hyperbolic use of the language of conspiracy and attack. A strongly critical review of her book by a historian or economist of the center or left would go a long way to addressing the specific concerns it raises and could set a necessary example for others.

In the meantime, those of us critical of MacLean will continue to document her errors and press publicly for a response. And we’ll do so with the most proper of scholarly etiquette. I implore those sympathetic to our cause to be on their best behavior on social media as well. She and her supporters need no more ammunition.

Steven Horwitz is the Schnatter Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics at Ball State University, where he also is a Fellow at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. He is the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

The Radicalism of Reading – Article by Eileen L. Wittig

The Radicalism of Reading – Article by Eileen L. Wittig

The New Renaissance Hat
Eileen L. Wittig
July 13, 2017

It’s Peak Reading Season: too hot to go outside, too lethargic to do much inside, no holidays coming up for a while. Polls and anecdotes are probably telling you that reading is on the decline – people just don’t read like they used to! – but it turns out that depends on what demographic you’re looking at, and it’s a bit embarrassing for the old people shaking their heads over “kids these days.”

If you’re looking at people over the age of 65, your thought is right. Only 67 percent have read a book in the past year, regardless of format. But if you look at people age 18-29, a.k.a. the ones who supposedly do nothing but scroll through the internet all day, that number jumps up to 80 percent. Awkward.

Granted, that’s only talking about people who have read an actual book, and I’d argue that reading educational articles counts. If we include that, the reading statistic would jump even higher.

And that would’ve been horrible a century ago. And in the century before that. And all the way back to ancient Greece.

The modern obsession with reading is just that: a modern obsession, created by technology, new genres of literature, and advances in class, gender, and socioeconomic equality. It took about 2,500 years, but we made it.

Technological Advance, Copyrighted

You’d think the ancient Greeks would’ve been all about writing things down, but there was resistance from Socrates. He was a huge supporter of the previous technology: oral tradition, when knowledge was passed down through the generations by talking.

Thankfully Plato ignored him and recorded, for the millennia, that Socrates said writing would be terrible for society, causing “forgetfulness,” giving “not truth, but only the semblance of truth,” making everyone “appear to be omniscient, but knowing nothing,” creating nothing but “tiresome company.” Thus did literature have its first great irony.

For hundreds of years, we wrote things down. Most books were either religious or historical, regardless of country, culture, or religion of origin, and as the times changed, this general rule became alternately stricter and looser. Strict class structure, long work days, and the lack of publishing technology resulted in relatively low literacy rates.

The next big step forward was Gutenberg’s printing press. No more hand-writing everything! Suddenly books could be mass-produced, and with that ability came books in many different genres: poetry, technical knowledge, morality stories, and even sheet music. It took a while for people to realize they could start printing books in their own native languages and not only in the then-universal literary language of Latin, but it got there eventually.

Unfortunately, as happens now, with this new technology came new laws, particularly the Ordinance for the Regulation of Printing, issued in England in 1643. The Ordinance proclaimed that

Nor other Book, Pamphlet, paper, nor part of any such Book, Pamphlet, or paper shall from henceforth be printed, bound, stitched or put to sale by any person or persons whatsoever, unless the same be first approved of and licensed under the hands of such person or persons as both, or either of the said Houses shall appoint for the licensing of the same, and entred in the Register Book of the Company of Stationers, according to ancient custom, and the Printer thereof to put his name thereto.

In other words, you couldn’t print anything unless you had express permission from a government-appointed person. You couldn’t submit your book to the registry without government permission, either.

Needless to say, this didn’t help publishing progress. However, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 created the Declaration of Rights, which included the right to free speech, England’s society opened up, and the Ordinance was allowed to lapse in 1694. Free speech combined with less regulation resulted in many more printing presses and publication houses in both England and the American colonies, and publication of books, newspapers, and pamphlets started going up. With more things available, more people could start reading, and the literacy rate in the West went up.

And then a brand new literary genre was invented, and the literary world changed forever (not even hyperbolically).

But the Women!

Up to this point, “the literacy rate went up” has referred more to men than to women. Some women could read, of course, but it was a male-dominated sphere until the end of the 19th century. Women didn’t work outside the home as much, and they were still considered to be inferior to men, so they often did not have comparable educations. The rise of female literacy came when the novel was spreading across the world, but the genre was not welcomed like it is today.

There’s disagreement over what the first novel was – most people say it’s Don Quixote, published all the way back in 1605, but others say it’s Pamela, published in 1740 – no matter which author was responsible for it, there was a lot of antagonism, even from the medical world. Novels were considered to be evil, destroying not only the morality but also the physical health of their “susceptible” female readers. Even in 1899, people were still warning against the “evils of reading” for women.

The problem was that they couldn’t actually agree on the details. One doctor wrote that novels would detrimentally accelerate a girl’s physical maturity, while another wrote that reading, and education in general, would cause of the opposite problem by preventing women from being able to have children. Reading novels could even make a woman uppity and encourage her to disrupt the status quo – the horror! Some went even further, warning that reading novels would cause insanity and even death.

Other people were more subtle in their predictions, believing novels would merely blur the line between fact and fiction. Authors themselves were torn: Gustave Flaubert ironically wrote a novel about this idea in Madame Bovary, while Jane Austen sensibly wrote against it in Northanger Abbey.

As more and more novels were written, and as women themselves entered the writing world, the hostility and sexism eventually died away. Today, we’ve progressed far beyond the old sexism: women now read more books than men, and the best-selling book series in history is a set of novels written by a woman: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Lowering the Threshold

Even with the lapsing copyright laws and the increased demand for books thanks to women’s literacy, publication was expensive, so books were expensive too. Reading was generally reserved for the higher classes who were, first off, educated, but could actually afford the money and time to read. Even Benjamin Franklin’s library required a subscription only a few tradesmen could afford. But that trend started changing when Charles Dickens and New York entered the sphere, thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.

New York’s publishing houses – including Harper Bros. – were big enough to afford both large-scale publications, which made the books cheaper to publish and buy, and the vast expanse of the American West opened by the creation of the Erie Canal in 1825. The invention of the paperback book lowered the cost of books even further, giving people the “dime novel.” Publishers also took advantage of the lax international copyright laws and published whatever they wanted, including the works of one of the world’s first celebrity authors, Charles Dickens.

Over in England, Dickens was doing a strange thing and successfully writing about the poor. Taking from his own experiences growing up, Dickens used his talents and popularity to promote equality among the classes, greater education, and sympathy for people historically ignored. But he was also creating a new medium of publication: the magazine serialization, which ultimately became the standard form of novel-printing for the era all over the world. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Henry James, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, and Harriet Beecher Stowe all published serial works. Printing in magazines allowed a greater audience to enjoy literature that would otherwise be reserved only for the people who could afford the time and money to read them in book format.

Speaking of Stowe, the literacy gap in America between whites and all minorities was huge for the first 200 years of our history. Just after the Civil War, in 1870, 79.9 percent of blacks and minorities were illiterate. That rate dropped steadily until 1910, at which point the illiteracy rate among minorities was 30.5 percent. The literacy rate continued growing, albeit slower than before, until the race gap was finally closed in 1980.

21st-Century Reading

All the technological, social, and economic advances made during the explosive 18th and 19th centuries carried through into the modern era, spreading literacy and dispelling weird rumors until the world literacy rate went from 12% in 1800 to 85% in 2014. With the internet, e-readers, and all our smart devices, people are reading more now than ever; and the availability and variety of content is unlike anything even imagined just a century ago.

So when a relative or stranger tells you to put your phone down, ask them when they last read a book, and then quote something smart from the article you’re reading on your phone.

Eileen Wittig is an Associate Editor and author of the Lazy Millennial column at FEE. You can follow the Lazy Millennial Twitter here.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Critical Thinking Doesn’t Mean What Most People Think – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Critical Thinking Doesn’t Mean What Most People Think – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
July 4, 2017

Academics like to say that we teach “critical thinking” without thinking too critically about what it means to think critically.

Being Critical, Not Thinking Critically 

Too often in practice, people equate critical thinking with merely being skeptical of whatever they hear. Or they will interpret it to mean that, when confronted with someone who says something that they disagree with, they either:

a) stop listening (and perhaps then start shouting),

b) find a way to squeeze the statement into our pre-existing belief system (if we can’t we stop thinking about it), or

c) attempt to “educate” the speaker about why their statement or belief system is flawed. When this inevitably fails we stop speaking to them, at least about the subject in question.

Ultimately, each of these responses leaves us exactly where we started, and indeed stunts our intellectual growth. I confess that I do a, b, and c far too often (except I don’t really shout that much).

To me, critical thinking means, at a minimum, questioning a belief system (especially my own) by locating the premises underlying a statement or conclusion, whether we agree with it or not, and asking:

1) whether or not the thinker’s conclusions follow from those premises,

2) whether or not those premises are “reasonable,” or

3) whether or not what I consider reasonable is “reasonable” and so on.

This exercise ranges from hard to excruciatingly uncomfortable – at least when it comes to examining my own beliefs. (I’ve found that if I dislike a particular conclusion it’s hard to get myself to rigorously follow this procedure; but if I like a conclusion it’s often even harder.)

Teaching Critical Thinking

Fortunately, people have written articles and books that offer good criticisms of most of my current beliefs. Of course, it’s then up to me to read them, which I don’t do often enough. And so, unfortunately, I don’t think critically as much as I should…except when I teach economics.

It’s very important, for example, for a student to critically question her teacher, but that’s radically different from arguing merely to win. Critical thinking is argument for the sake of better understanding, and if you do it right, there are no losers, only winners.

Once in a while, a student speaks up in class and catches me in a contradiction – perhaps I’ve confused absolute advantage with comparative advantage – and that’s an excellent application of genuine critical thinking. As a result we’re both now thinking more clearly. But when a student or colleague begins a statement with something like “Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I believe…” that person may be trying to be critical (of me) but not in (or of) their thinking.

It may not be the best discipline for this, but I believe economics does a pretty good job of teaching critical thinking in the sense of #1 (logical thinking). Good teachers of economics will also strategically address #2 (evaluating assumptions), especially if they know something about the history of economic ideas.

Economics teachers with a philosophical bent will sometimes address #3 but only rarely (otherwise they’d be trading off too much economic content for epistemology). In any case, I don’t think it’s possible to “get to the bottom” of what is “reasonable reasonableness” and so on because what ultimately is reasonable may, for logical or practical reasons, always lie beyond our grasp.

I could be wrong about that or indeed any of this. But I do know that critical thinking is a pain in the neck. And that I hope is a step in the right direction.

Sanford (Sandy) Ikeda is a professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

What the Self-Esteem Movement Got Disastrously Wrong – Article by Dan Sanchez

What the Self-Esteem Movement Got Disastrously Wrong – Article by Dan Sanchez

The New Renaissance Hat
Dan Sanchez

One of Saturday Night Live’s most popular skits in the early 90s was a mock self-help show called “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley.” Smalley, played by now-Senator Al Franken, would begin each show by reciting into the mirror, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me.”

This was a spoof of the “self-esteem movement,” which in the 80s had been all the rage. In that decade, self-esteem became a hot topic for motivational speakers and almost a book genre unto itself. In 1986, California even established a self-esteem “State Task Force.” But by the next decade, the movement had degenerated into an easy late-night punchline. Even today, Smalley’s simpering smile is the kind of image that the term “self-esteem” evokes for many.

Generation Barney

The self-esteem movement is also widely blamed for its influence on American schools and families. In the name of building self-esteem, teachers and parents showered children with effusive, unconditional praise. In the name of protecting self-esteem, kids were sheltered from any criticism or adverse consequences. The sugary rot spread to children’s television as well. Many of today’s young adults were raised on Barney the Dinosaur, who gushed with “feel-good” affirmations just as sappy as Smalley’s.

I am reminded of a moment from my own education career in the early 2000s. I had designed a classroom game for preschoolers, and one of my colleagues, a veteran early childhood educator, objected that my game involved competition and winners. “Your game can’t have a winner, because that means other kids will be losers,” she explained.

According to critics, this kind of mollycoddling has yielded a millennial generation full of emotionally fragile young adults who, in the workplace, expect praise and affirmation simply for showing up, and who can’t cope with (much less adapt to) constructive criticism. It is also partially blamed for the rise of politically-correct university “snowflakes” (aka “crybullies”) and their petulant demands for “safe spaces” on campus.

An Unknown Ideal

Ironically, these criticisms would be heartily endorsed by the father of the self-esteem movement. The whole thing was kicked off by an influential 1969 book titled The Psychology of Self-Esteem, written by Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014), a psychotherapist and one-time colleague and lover of Ayn Rand. It was the first of a long series of books by Branden about self-esteem, which included The Disowned Self (1971), Honoring the Self (1983), How To Raise Your Self-Esteem (1987), and The Power of Self-Esteem (1992).

In The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994), his definitive book on the subject, Branden expressed deep dissatisfaction with prevailing discussions of the concept, especially after the movement became an explosive fad in the 80s. In that period, the concept of self-esteem was distorted by what Branden called “the oversimplifications and sugar-coatings of pop psychology.” Branden declared that:

“I do not share the belief that self-esteem is a gift we have only to claim (by reciting affirmations, perhaps). On the contrary, its possession over time represents an achievement.” [Emphasis added here and below.]

As Branden understood and explained it, self-esteem was an action-oriented, tough-minded concept. If Branden had been Stuart Smalley’s therapist, he would have advised him to stop mouthing empty self-compliments into the mirror and instead to start building real self-esteem through deep reflection and concrete action.

Branden especially deplored how badly education reformers were getting self-esteem wrong. He wrote:

“We do not serve the healthy development of young people when we convey that self-esteem may be achieved by reciting “I am special” every day, or by stroking one’s own face while saying ‘I love me’…”

He elaborated that:

“I have stressed that ‘feel good’ notions are harmful rather than helpful. Yet if one examines the proposals offered to teachers on how to raise students’ self-esteem, many are the kind of trivial nonsense that gives self-esteem a bad name, such as praising and applauding a child for virtually everything he or she does, dismissing the importance of objective accomplishments, handing out gold stars on every possible occasion, and propounding an ‘entitlement’ idea of self-esteem that leaves it divorced from both behavior and character. One of the consequences of this approach is to expose the whole self-esteem movement in the schools to ridicule.”

Branden further clarified:

“Therefore, let me stress once again that when I write of self-efficacy or self-respect, I do so in the context of reality, not of feelings generated out of wishes or affirmations or gold stars granted as a reward for showing up. When I talk to teachers, I talk about reality-based self-esteem. Let me say further that one of the characteristics of persons with healthy self-esteem is that they tend to assess their abilities and accomplishments realistically, neither denying nor exaggerating them.”


Branden also criticized those who:

“…preferred to focus only on how others might wound one’s feelings of worth, not how one might inflict the wound oneself. This attitude is typical of those who believe one’s self-esteem is primarily determined by other people.”

Indeed, what most “self-esteem” advocates fail to understand is that other-reliant “self-esteem” is a contradiction in terms. Far from building self-esteem, many of the counselors, teachers, and parents of yesteryear obstructed its growth by getting kids hooked on a spiritual I.V. drip of external validation. Instead of self-esteem, this created a dependence on “other-esteem.”

It is no wonder then that today we are faced with the (often exaggerated) phenomenon of young, entitled, high-maintenance validation-junkies in the classroom and the workplace. Their self-esteem has been crippled by being, on the one hand, atrophied by the psychic crutches of arbitrary authoritarian approval, and, on the other hand, repeatedly fractured by the psychic cudgels of arbitrary authoritarian disapproval.

Almost entirely neglected has been the stable middle ground of letting children learn to spiritually stand, walk, and run on their own: to build the strength of their self-esteem through the experience of self-directed pursuits, setting their own standards, and adapting to the natural consequences of the real world.

Branden also noted that self-esteem is not promoted by:

“…identifying self-worth with membership in a particular group (“ethnic pride”) rather than with personal character. Let us remember that self-esteem pertains to that which is open to our volitional choice. It cannot properly be a function of the family we were born into, or our race, or the color of our skin, or the achievements of our ancestors. These are values people sometimes cling to in order to avoid responsibility for achieving authentic self-esteem. They are sources of pseudo self-esteem. Can one ever take legitimate pleasure in any of these values? Of course. Can they ever provide temporary support for fragile, growing egos? Probably. But they are not substitutes for consciousness, responsibility, or integrity. They are not sources of self-efficacy and self-respect. They can, however, become sources of self-delusion.”

This helps to explain the emotional fragility of young people obsessed with “identity politics,” especially the perverse pride in group victimhood that pervades the campus left. It also speaks to the agitation and resentment of today’s crop of white nationalists and other right-wing “identitarians.” As Ayn Rand wrote:

“The overwhelming majority of racists are men who have earned no sense of personal identity, who can claim no individual achievement or distinction, and who seek the illusion of a “tribal self-esteem” by alleging the inferiority of some other tribe.”

Authentic self-esteem promotes, not codependency and fragility, but independence, enterprise, resilience, adaptability, and a growth mindset: exactly the character traits that individuals, young and old, need more of in today’s economy and political climate.

It is nothing short of tragic that the confusions of the so-called self-esteem movement have turned an indispensable concept into an object of ridicule and blame. Far from being the source of our problems, self-esteem is the missing solution.

dan-sanchezDan Sanchez

Dan Sanchez is Managing Editor of His writings are collected at

This article was originally published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

He Was a Middle-School Loan Shark – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

He Was a Middle-School Loan Shark – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker

It came out in passing last night, in discussions with a smart 17-year old, that he got in deep trouble in middle school. He was accused of loan sharking, and forced to do detention.

See if you think there is anything wrong with what he did.

The middle-school cafeteria had candy machines. Every candy cost a dollar. My friend carried extra ones with him. He would buy candy, and immediately people would ask if he could loan them money. He did. More and more people asked. He continued to loan people money, and only some would pay him back. His charity was losing him money.

So he had an idea. He would loan anyone a dollar. However, the next day they had to pay him two dollars. This was great because it weeded out people who were not serious about their candy needs, and got rid of those who had no intention of paying him back. His idea helped to ration his scarce resources. It had the additional advantage of making him some money, which incentivized him to make funds available.

Everyone was happy. He made money. They got their candy. Most everyone paid him back. If he began the week with $5, he ended the week with $10. This was nice. No one was hurt.

If a person was late in paying, he added an additional dollar for each day. Otherwise, why would people pay sooner rather than later? So if you borrowed one dollar on Monday, and didn’t pay until Friday, you would owe $5.

Of course he did have to start keeping books on who borrowed from him. He would sometimes have to hunt them down the next day. Sometimes people need gentle reminders, of course. Mostly people paid.

He was also rather merciful. Once a person got behind by three full weeks. She technically owed $15 on a $1 loan. He came to her and said, “let’s settle this debt today. I’ll take $10 and we can call it even.” She was relieved and happily paid.

My friend was making lots of money. And why? Because many students wanted candy and failed to make the proper financial preparations to purchase it. He was there to facilitate an exchange. They would get candy now, which is what they wanted, and he would be rewarded for anticipating their desires.

So far, I see nothing wrong with this at all.

However, you could express this in more severe terms. People often criticized payday loans for charging an annual percentage rate of 100-700%. Scandalous, right?

Well, think about the rate my friend was charging. It turns out to be 26,000%, based on $1 per weekday.

Keep in mind that we are talking about a 13-year old kid here. This is not exactly a member of the Medici banking family here. He was just trying to help people with a two-party win.

But as his financial holdings grew, and his practices became more formalized, his business became ever more lucrative. That’s when news of his empire began to leak to teachers and parents.

Predictably, there was mass outrage. He was hauled in and accused of “loan sharking.” There was a trial. He was declared guilty. He was put on detention and humiliated publicly.

Once he was out of the picture, kids no longer had any means of getting financing for their candy fixes. They just stood in front of the machines staring blankly. It’s hard to see how the overall middle-school economy was improved by this crackdown.

The response of the parents and teachers was a typical example of mob behavior against intelligent capitalist practices. It’s been going on for hundreds of years, particularly hurting people who make money with their minds through financial savvy.

This was the basis of anti-Semitism from the Middles Ages through the Nazi period, since, as Milton Friedman has explained, Jews have traditionally specialized in the enterprise of money-lending.

And it goes on today, with all the frenzy against usury, payday loans, pawn shops, and so on. Even the Occupy movement sampled some of this populist outrage against money-making.

Damnant quod non intellegunt. They condemn what they do not understand.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

My Childhood as a Renegade Entrepreneur – Article by Derek Magill

My Childhood as a Renegade Entrepreneur – Article by Derek Magill

The New Renaissance HatDerek Magill

For most of my life I wanted to be a businessman.

As early as preschool, I would insist on wearing only business attire to class every day. And by business attire, I mean I’d put on one of my father’s button-down shirts and tuck it in with a ridiculously oversized pair of slacks that my brother had worn.

When I got older this interest began to manifest itself in ways that caused conflict in class.

The Young Entrepreneur
In 4th grade, I made a little business out of reselling Livestrong wristbands after class. I made about $150 with this side business before the school told me I needed to stop. My classmates were disappointed because I was the only reliable source when it came to getting bands. Plus, I had recently started purchasing Freedom Bands, which were available in far more colors than the Livestrong yellow. Needless to say, my customers were always satisfied.

In 6th grade, I loaned a friend money for a cookie but insisted on there being a 25 cent interest fee tacked onto each day he failed to repay. It took him two weeks and he paid the amount he owed, plus interest, without complaint.

The school found out and my parents received a call home.

What I always found interesting was that there was never any sort of explanation offered as to why my behavior was “bad.” It was just simply against the rules.

My classmates loved my attempts at offering services, but there was always the ever-present, and often unseen, force of teachers and school administrators hovering nearby waiting to stop our transactions.

High School Antics
As the associated student body president, I was required to work in the student store. I developed a practice of accepting tips in the form of the spare change students didn’t want to carry around.

I had a jar on the counter, like any food establishment might, and I would casually suggest students leave their change after a purchase. This was an innocent, voluntary donation in which I’d make a little bit of money every day.

But of course, my teacher found out and her response was a swift write-up. Again, I was not told why my actions were wrong.

It’s Only Fair If Everyone Profits
One day, the administration decided to host a club fundraising festival where each club was allowed to sell one item purchased from a grocery store at lunch in order to raise funds for its club—the only time they ever broke the cafeteria monopoly.

I left campus to purchase 150 burgers from Wendy’s for $1 each. I then sold them for $5 per burger on campus, and gave away a free Arizona Iced tea with the burger, which undercut the two other vendors selling Arizona Iced tea.

We eclipsed the rest of the fundraising group that day by over 200 percent and the school accused us of cheating and being greedy.

They confiscated most of the funds and distributed it among the other students to make it more “fair.”

At last the truth had come out in full. It had taken almost eighteen years but I had the answer they had never given me before: my teachers hated the free market.

The administrators regarded commerce as dirty. They didn’t see the value I created for students who wanted something better than cafeteria food for lunch. They saw value that had been acquired at the expense of others.

As I look back now with more knowledge and experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that this experience was both beautiful and saddening.

As children, we are born capitalists. We have no deep philosophies or moralities but we organize ourselves naturally around mutual exchange because we recognize quickly that life gets better if we do.

We trade cards, toys, our lunches, and other things we value for the things our friends value and rarely do we have trouble working out disputes. We don’t do it because we care consciously about free markets — we don’t even know the concept. Nor do we need to. Markets don’t require everyone to know their importance consciously. They just require people to be left alone.

It takes a lot of schooling to kill these natural inclinations towards freedom. Teachers and administrators stop these interactions on the playground, and in the classroom they teach material that distorts and obfuscates the truth. The process of schooling is the process of taking our innate tendencies towards liberty and destroying them.

As my friend Isaac Morehouse wrote in a comment when I shared this story on Facebook:

Is it any wonder why Ayn Rand is making such a resurgence among high school students?

Derek Magill is a college dropout, marketer, business strategist and career expert. He is currently the Director of Marketing at Praxis and has consulted with companies such as Voice & Exit, the Foundation for Economic Education, Glockstore, Colliers International, Daily Caller, and Undertech.

Derek is the author of How to Get Any Job You Want.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker

I first encountered Ayn Rand through her nonfiction. This was when I was a junior in high school, and I’m pretty sure it was my first big encounter with big ideas. It changed me. Like millions of others who read her, I developed a consciousness that what I thought – the ideas I held in my mind – mattered for what kind of life I would live. And it mattered for everyone else too; the kind of world we live in is an extension of what we believe about what life can mean.

People today argue over her legacy and influence – taking apart the finer points of her ethics, metaphysics, epistemology. This is all fine but it can be a distraction from her larger message about the moral integrity and creative capacity of the individual human mind. In so many ways, it was this vision that gave the postwar freedom movement what it needed most: a driving moral passion to win. This, more than any technical achievements in economic theory or didactic rightness over public-policy solutions, is what gave the movement the will to overcome the odds.

Often I hear people offer a caveat about Rand. Her works are good. Her life, not so good. Probably this impression comes from public curiosity about various personal foibles and issues that became the subject of gossip, as well as the extreme factionalism that afflicted the movement she inspired.

This is far too narrow a view. In fact, she lived a remarkably heroic life. Had she acquiesced to the life fate seemed to have chosen for her, she would have died young, poor, and forgotten. Instead, she had the determination to live free. She left Russia, immigrated to the United States, made her way to Hollywood, and worked and worked until she built a real career. This one woman – with no advantages and plenty of disadvantages – on her own became one of the most influential minds of this twentieth century.

So, yes, her life deserves to be known and celebrated. Few of us today face anything like the barriers she faced. She overcame them and achieved greatness. Let her inspire you too.

Kudos to the Atlas Society for this video:

Remembering the Man Who Turned Numbers Into Hope – Article by Steven Horwitz and Sarah Skwire

Remembering the Man Who Turned Numbers Into Hope – Article by Steven Horwitz and Sarah Skwire

The New Renaissance HatSteven Horwitz and Sarah Skwire

After the spate of celebrities who died in 2016, the death of a Swedish professor of international health might not seem very newsworthy. However, Hans Rosling, who died of pancreatic cancer on February 7th, was no ordinary or obscure professor.

The story of his life and career can be found both at Wikipedia and in this marvelous Nature profile. What those sources cannot quite convey is Rosling’s importance as a role model for intellectual honesty, personal warmth and charisma, and a willingness to go where the facts took him, regardless of whether those facts adhered to any simplistic political narrative of humanity’s past and future. Both Rosling’s intellectual fearlessness and the substance of his work have importance for those who care about human freedom and progress.

Intellect and Humanity

But it isn’t just the content of Rosling’s work that matters. He was an amazing rhetorician. He had a unique ability to use and present data in easy to understand and visually appealing ways that were very effective at conveying an argument. He also was able to think creatively about the linkages among the various causes of wealth and the improvements they made in human well-being. His natural storytelling ability gave him the capacity to put those complex historical factors into narratives that not only got the history right, but did so in a way that appealed to our shared humanity.

All of these skills are on display in his two most famous videos, both of which impart lessons in presenting ideas and interpretations of data that classical liberals will find very useful.

Underlying much of Rosling’s work as a public intellectual was a concern with how we enable all of humanity to share in the health and wealth that has come to characterize the Western world.

With his background in health and demographics, Rosling was interested in the factors that led to the rising health and longevity of the West. First, of course, he had to document just how much better things had become in the West, then he had to explore the causes.

Presenting the raw data about the improvement of the West was the centerpiece of his BBC video “200 Years, 200 Countries, 4 Minutes.” Using real-time data visualization techniques, he shows how every country in the world was poor and sick 200 years ago and then showed the path by which so many countries became wealthy and healthy. There is no better visualization of the progress of humanity than this one.

For those of us who work with students, this video gives us the opportunity to talk about the factors that made that growth happen, including the role of liberal institutions and the rising moral status of the individual in that process. It is a great complement to the work of Deirdre McCloskey.

The video also provides a way to talk about global inequality. What is clear from the visualization of the data is that 200 years ago, countries were far more equal than now, but they were equally poor.

It’s true that the gap between rich and poor countries is greater now than back then, but everyone has improved their absolute position. And two of the countries that have improved the most are two of the most populous: China and India. Rosling’s presentation opens up countless useful discussions of the importance of economic growth for increases in life expectancy, as well as what exactly concerns us about growing inequality.

As he concludes, the task before us now is to figure out how to bring the rest of the world up to where the West is. Though he does not discuss it, the economic evidence is clear that those countries that have experienced the most growth, and therefore the biggest increases in longevity and other demographic measures of well-being, are those that have the freest economies. By giving us the data, Rosling enables classical liberals to engage the conversation about the “why” and “how” of human betterment.

Inspirational ‘Edutainer’

But our favorite video of Rosling’s is definitely “The Magic Washing Machine.” Here Rosling uses the example of the washing machine to talk about economic growth and its ability to transform human lives for the better.

Rosling’s focus is on the way the washing machine is an indicator of a population that has grown wealthy enough not only to buy such machines, but also to provide the electricity to power them. The washing machine is a particularly valuable machine since it relieves most of the physical burden of one of the most onerous tasks of the household, and one that has historically fallen entirely to women.

No one who has seen the video can forget the story of Rosling’s grandmother pulling up a chair in front of the new washing machine for the sheer joy of sitting and watching while the clothes spin. Her excitement becomes even more poignant when one considers that this must have been the first time in her life when she was able to sit while laundry was done, instead of standing over a tub of hot water and soap.

Rosling points out, in a moment of calling his fellow progressives to task, that while many of his students are proud of biking to class instead of driving, none of them do their wash by hand. That chore, though green, is simply too onerous for most moderns to take on. He then goes on to discuss how we have to find ways to create the energy needed as billions of people cross the “wash line” and start to demand washing machines.

The video ends with him reaching into the washing machine and pulling out the thing that the machine really made possible:  books. The washing machine gave his mother time to read and to develop herself, as well as to read to young Hans and boost his education as well.

The visual image of putting clothes into a washing machine and pulling out books in exchange captures all that is good about economic growth in a succinct and unforgettable way. Rosling concludes the video with a heart-felt roll call of gratitude to industrialization and development that has been known to reduce free market economists to tears.

What Rosling does in that video is to effectively communicate what classical liberals see as the real story of economic growth. He gets us to see how economic growth, driven by markets, has enabled women to live more liberated lives. Classical liberals can talk endlessly about the data, but until we talk effectively about the way in which industrialization and markets have made it possible for women (and others) to be freed from drudgery that was literally back-breaking, we cannot win the war on the market.

Thank You

Bastiat said that “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” Hans Rosling’s work is the best possible example of the best kind of defense of a good cause. He was a model and an inspiration.

Rosling ends “The Magic Washing Machine” by saying “Thank you industrialization. Thank you steel mill. Thank you power station. And thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books.”

We say, “Thank you, Dr. Rosling. Thank you, data visualization. Thank you TED talks. And thank you, Mrs. Rosling, for buying a washing machine and reading to your son.” We are richer for the work he did. We are poorer for his loss.

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions. He is spending the 2016-17 academic year as a Visiting Scholar at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State University.

He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

Sarah Skwire is the Literary Editor of and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network. Email

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Children Should be Encouraged to Read Fantasy Fiction – Article by Jon Miltimore

Children Should be Encouraged to Read Fantasy Fiction – Article by Jon Miltimore

The New Renaissance HatJon Miltimore

Recently I spoke with a friend who expressed some angst that his 12-year-old son was primarily interested in reading fantasy novels. Efforts to introduce the lad to higher forms of literature were proving more difficult than he’d expected.

Not to worry. Fantasy novels and science fiction yarns, I said, are often gateways to the higher forms of literature. This was not just my opinion, I added, it was my experience.

When I was 12, I was not yet much of a fan of reading. I had enjoyed some young adult fiction writers (S.E. Hinton, R.L. Stein, Christopher Pike, etc.) and enjoyed the histories of NFL football teams, but I didn’t have a passion for books. That changed when my father gave me J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

For years my father had tried to get me interested in the classics and his favorite histories to no avail. Then he tried a new tactic. Perhaps taking a tip from Montaigne, he gave me Tolken’s epic trilogy, which I devoured in a couple weeks. Terry Brooks’ Shannara books followed, and then the first few books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Then a new book came out with a cool title — A Game of Thrones — that blew them all away.

I bring all this up not to demonstrate how big of a fantasy dork I am. (I also occasionally played real-time strategy computer games. Sue me.) I share it to make a point: these books taught me to love reading.

Fantasy fiction is often pooh-poohed by academics and intellectuals, but it can whet the appetite learning. In my case, the great historical fictions of James Clavell, Gary Jennings, and Ken Follet followed Lord of the Rings. Tolstoy, Nabokov, and Dostoevsky came not long after; then the histories of Foote, Barzun, and Michener.

But the case for fantasy fiction goes beyond my personal experience. Scientific research shows there are clear positive neural affects to novel reading. For example, Emory University researchers found that students experienced heightened activity in the left temporal lobe of the brain, the area associated with semantics, for days after reading novels.

It should go without saying that reading nothing but fantasy fiction, even good fantasy fiction, is not a path to a well-rounded education or intellectual maturity. But fantasy novels can awaken imaginations, inspire creativity, and create a passion for story-telling.

So if you’re a little worried that your teenage daughter seems a little too obsessed with, say, Hunger Games, relax. She’ll likely be reading George Eliot and Byron in a year or two.

Jon Miltimore is the Senior Editor of Intellectual Takeout. Follow him on Facebook.

This article was originally published on Intellectual Takeout.