There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that communism leads to tyranny. Mention the countries North Korea, Cuba, the Soviet Union, Mao Tse Tung’s China, East Germany, and Venezuela, and most people immediately think of an oppressed population with almost no economic opportunity and no political freedom. The words communist dictatorship roll off the tongue like the two words have gone together forever. In fact, in an extreme irony, communism, ostensibly the most egalitarian form of government, in two cases led to the least egalitarian form of government: royalty or the rule of one family over time. The Kim family in North Korea and the Castros in Cuba have been ruling their countries like the kings and queens of old for some time.
Sometimes it is argued that the personalities involved lead to tyranny, not communism or socialism. Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Erich Honecker, and Pol Pot are all bad people, but the personalities at the top matter little. Once a communist form of government is established, tyranny is the only result, regardless of which government official Game of Thrones’d their way to the top. Let’s examine the causal links that make communism a living hell for the people who have to live with it.
A Government That Is Giving You Things Can Take Them Away
The good news is you are entitled to housing, education, health care, and food. But that doesn’t mean people no longer have to work. The Soviet Constitution of 1936-Article 12 stated that “Labor in USSR is a duty and honorable obligation of each able citizen according to the principle: ‘Those who don’t work—don’t eat.’” A government that controls everything can quash dissent by changing the economic situation of anyone who is pointing out their defects.
If you persisted in demanding your right not to work, you wound up in the gulag, so thank God you live in a free enterprise, democratic society.
The real issue that needs to be addressed here is that a government that controls everything can quash dissent by changing the economic situation of anyone who is pointing out their defects or is involved with the opposition. In a communist society, all jobs, all levels of education, the national police, the medical system, the judicial system, the electoral system, the housing stock, the food distribution system, the military, the press, and all forms of transportation are controlled by the central government.
Write an insightful article about how a local government official is making a huge mistake (if you can find a computer to write it on), and you may find your apartment changed to the worst one available in a city where you don’t want to live. You could be reassigned from the job you trained years to get. For those of you who think the government using the medical system to advance its own interests is the fevered paranoia of a deranged libertarian, I would remind you that the Hong Kong protestors have developed a separate medical network rather than use public hospitals.
Socialism and Communism Are Bad Economics That Must be Implemented by Government Force
When most of us interface with the outside world, we expect the highest possible pay for the work we do, and when we buy things, we expect the highest quality at the lowest possible price. Economics adds up those personal tendencies over millions of people in large, complex societies and comes up with a few simple rules that describe economic behavior. Supply and demand, marginal revenue and marginal cost, the theory of money, and specialization and exchange are really just simple rules that take all people’s actions and abilities into account and arrive at a solution that balances the overall societal equation.
Communists and socialists don’t like these simple economic rules and come up with their own, such as “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (your needs are generally unlimited), which conflicts with human nature. When you implement policies that conflict with human nature, you have to use force to implement them.
Stalin privately admitted that 10 million people died, either from starvation or resistance to the forced farm collectivization.
A more serious example of communist economics is the Soviet farm collectivization of the 1930s. All the private, family-owned farms of the Soviet Union were converted to large collectivized farms. Stalin privately admitted to Churchill that 10 million people died, either from starvation or resistance to the forced farm collectivization. With a communist dictatorship, when a leader goes off the rails, there are no moderating forces that bring compromise or allow negotiation for alternative paths to lead a society toward its goals.
Every person who works in a communist society is paid by the government and knows they will be paid whether the organization they are working for provides goods or services to customers or not. This is very different than a society where most companies are private and employees know that if the company or the part of the company they work for doesn’t sell products that pay the companies expenses, they won’t be employed anymore. A communist society also has no private company competition to provide improved, cheaper, and higher quality goods and services.
A communist society’s productivity is a mere fraction of the productivity of an economy based on capitalism and free enterprise. The work ethic deteriorated so severely in the Soviet Union that a saying began circulating among the workers: “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” For a society to operate at an economic level much lower than its potential for generations is a loss that can never be regained.
Local versus National Police
One great defender of liberty in the United States that never gets much credit is your local police department. They enforce the laws we all care about—murder, assault, robbery—but they report no higher than the local mayor or county supervisor and are paid for by local taxes.
Decentralized power is a power that defends liberty.
Communist societies are very top-heavy. They all have national-level police departments with ominous-sounding names that enforce the one true ideology over the entire country. In many communist countries, these national-level police forces turn family members against each other by asking children to turn in their parents if they say or do something against the government. One phone call seals your fate if you are a dissenter or independent thinker who is questioning how the government is doing things.
To think about this concretely, imagine some high-level government official in the United States said another political party needed to be eradicated by force and/or locked up in prison. They’d have to get the law passed and then get thousands of local police departments to enforce it—a daunting task. Decentralized power is a power that defends liberty.
Socialism Can Lead to Communism
Socialism is communism-lite. They believe in nationalizing some industries and or important societal functions but not all. Socialists will usually nationalize utilities, transportation, and large industries that tend to have labor problems. Here, the personalities involved matter a lot. Socialist governments either respect the prior governmental rules of free elections, separation of powers, and individual choice, or they push for complete government control of everything by their political party and end up allowing no dissenting political parties or individuals.
The British economy performed poorly under socialism, and the British people elected politicians who believed in free enterprise and turned things around.
These post-war British socialists took it pretty seriously. They nationalized coal, electricity, steel, and the railways and set up the National Health Service to provide government-run health care. Farms and grocery stores were allowed to be private, and the British electoral system was left to allow free and fair elections. After a number of years, the British economy performed poorly under socialism, and the British people elected politicians who believed in free enterprise and turned things around. Socialism doesn’t always lead to communism, and Britain pulled back from the brink when they saw that the socialist promise led to everyone being worse off.
In Venezuela, the democratically elected Chavistas pushed for governmental control and brought in Cuban intelligence agents to assist them in quashing dissent and controlling the population. Venezuela had a special problem in that the government tried to force businesses into selling goods and services at a loss, implemented draconian currency controls, and were then surprised when the businesses stopped operating. The result in Venezuela was that stores had no goods on their shelves, hospitals had no medicines or machines that worked, and ordinary people took to looking through trash for food. Various political maneuvers were implemented by the Chavistas, the legislature was restructured, the judiciary was stacked, and the electoral system was compromised.
Now, any political avenue for changing the government in Venezuela is gone, and they have the very dictatorship that characterizes communist societies, along with a broken economy that works very poorly, even by communist standards. If you want to implement communism, you start up mass production of staples, implement rationing, and wink at the black markets that spring up. In Venezuela, the socialists pushed their way through to dictatorship and tyranny, and a complete economic breakdown was the result.
Most Politicians Will Use the Power at Their Disposal to Protect Their Interests
As I’ve said before, a communist society controls almost every personal, educational, political, and economic aspect of society. When faced with a government that has all those levers of control, you can be the toughest, meanest, smartest person and have people who agree with you—and your chance of changing the people in charge of the government is very low.
When a communist government moves on to a more open, pluralistic society, it is almost always because the people at the top decide communism is a bad idea.
Once the communist party in any given country has command over almost every control point, they all seem to have enough competence to use that authority to stay in power. Someone joked to me once that communism is the Hotel California of political systems—once you are in it, you can never leave. I can think of very few cases where “the people” overthrew a communist government. When a communist government moves on to a more open, pluralistic society, it is almost always because the people at the top decide communism is a bad idea and it is time to move on.
Gorbachev opened the door, and communism fell in the Soviet Union. When communism fell in the Soviet Union, the countries in Eastern Europe that had communism forced on them threw off that yoke. In China, the people at the top decided to allow some free enterprise and individual opportunity to spring up while not giving up political control.
What a Healthy Society Looks Like
A healthy society proactively avoids concentrating all power and resources in one party or person. This is more than just having multiple political parties and elections. It is the deliberate structure of society so that layers of local government, private companies, private or local educational institutions, civic organizations, judicial and police systems, individuals with personal wealth, non-profits, and religious organizations act as a brake on any party or person that goes off the rails and attempts to implement a dictatorship over society as a whole. A healthy society has private businesses that have to serve customers to stay in business.
The next time you vote, look past the siren song and vote for someone who understands where freedom and liberty really come from.
In a healthy society, politicians are given power relating only to their function: legislating, performing legal judgments, or managing a very specific, well-defined part of the government. Checks and balances with other offices of government are implemented to further reduce the power of government officials. The next time you get angry at the person your fellow voters put into office, remember that limited government is the tool that makes it so that leader can do fewer things that affect your life.
The siren song of socialism and communism is alluring. Perhaps it is human nature that we want to be taken care of in all circumstances and be assured that no other person has material circumstances much better than our own. But the record is crystal clear. Socialism and communism lead to underperforming economies, loss of individual opportunity for generations, equality implemented by everyone being poor except the party apparatchiks, lack of innovation and progress, and incredible political and religious oppression. The next time you vote, look past the siren song and vote for someone who understands where freedom and liberty really come from.
I spent the past weekend relaxing with old friends. While it was a busy weekend, we had plenty of time to catch up. Over the course of the weekend, we discovered how much we have changed in just a few years. We live very different lives and hold very different—I would even say opposing—views on religion, politics, and life in general.
But that didn’t stop us from having a great weekend. Nor should it have. Few friends agree on everything, but we can—and should—be willing to make friends with people who hold different beliefs and come from different backgrounds.
Maintaining these friendships is easier said than done, especially if we find the other person’s views disagreeable or offensive. But it is possible. The secret to staying friends with someone who disagrees with us lies in our attitudes towards each other. Here are three attitudes that are key to being able to maintain friendships with people you may disagree with:
(1) Intellectual Humility
We need intellectual humility—an awareness of our own intellectual limitations and fallibility and a willingness to consider new ideas—to have good friendships.
Every one of us has likely talked to someone who lacks intellectual humility. This sort of person is easy to sniff out. When confronted with an opposing view, they react in one of two ways: they bully their opponent into submission or retreat into a chilly, patronizing silence. Either way, a person lacking intellectual humility can’t handle anyone challenging their (often tenaciously held) beliefs.
The intellectually humble person, on the other hand, is a pleasure to be around. While they won’t compromise their beliefs to get along with other people, they will take other people’s beliefs seriously. They are passionate about finding the truth, and an intellectually humble person will readily change their mind if they can be proven wrong.
It’s easy to see why this virtue is necessary to a good friendship. Even the slightest disagreement will disrupt a friendship with someone lacking intellectual humility. And on the flip side, intellectually humble friends will listen to even the most eccentric theories and weigh them fairly, which allows friendship to thrive even among people with different beliefs.
(2) Respect for the Individual
If we would like to be friends with people that we disagree with, we must also recognize their individual character. It can be dreadfully easy to think we know all about a person just from knowing their race, political leanings, religion or orientation. But even if we know these details about a person, do we really know them?
Saying that we know a person just because we know a few demographic details is like saying that I know exactly what Argentina is like just because I can list off a few facts about the country. Obviously, I know nearly nothing about Argentina compared to someone who lives there.
But similarly, we can’t claim to know a person unless we spend time with them and get to know them. Even if we know their political leanings, do we know why they lean that way? And if they are from an ethnicity different than ours, do we know how growing up with that background has affected them?
Properly speaking, friendship is between two people. If we look at people as if they were just the sum of a few general details, we aren’t looking at them as people, and we will never be able to be friends with them. But by learning more about their thoughts, motivations, questions, and stories, we start to see them as they are. Getting to know a person in this way is the foundation of a good friendship.
(3) Brotherly Love
I use brotherly love to describe the general goodwill between friends, but it could also be referred to as humanity or benevolence. It consists in seeing and loving the good in another person.
Brotherly love plays a critical role in preserving a friendship between two people who disagree. For instance, if two people disagree about hot button issues, it’s frighteningly easy for one friend to get in a fit of anger, accuse the other of injustice, and storm off. But brotherly love prevents this sort of reaction among friends. Instead of getting angry, the friends give each other the benefit of the doubt because of their mutual goodwill. They strive to see the good in their friend’s beliefs. And even if they find their friend’s views wrong or offensive, they take the time to investigate why they hold these views.
While there are some things that friends may never agree on, the brotherly love they share, coupled with intellectual humility and care for the individual person allows them to remain friends despite profound differences. Could developing these attitudes help preserve our friendships with the people that we both love and disagree with most?
In just a couple of weeks, 50 boys with learning disabilities will take to a stage in Vermont, one after the other, to recite the Gettysburg Address from memory. It’s a daring experiment undertaken each February at the Greenwood School and its population of boys who’ve struggled in public schools. Diagnosed with ADD, dyslexia, and executive function impairments, Greenwood’s boys stand before an auditorium full of people (and once even a Ken Burns documentary crew) to recite powerful words many adults would struggle to retain.
Many of these young men are residents of Vermont’s “tuition towns.” Too small and sparsely populated to support a traditional public school, these towns distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. If the school doesn’t perform up to parents’ expectations, they can take their children, and the tuition dollars they control, elsewhere.
The Greenwood School is one of more than 100 independent schools in the tiny state of Vermont (population: 626,000). The whole state has just 90,000 students in K-12 schools (the city school districts of Denver and Albuquerque have more students, and some county districts are twice as large). How can Vermont sustain such a rich network of educational options?
Tuition Towns and the Families They Serve
Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. If there were enough kids, the pot of public money earmarked for education would be used to buy a building and hire teachers. In these towns, the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children.
This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. Kids aren’t assigned to public schools by zip code—instead, parents have the ability to put their kids in school anywhere, to buy the educational experience best suited to each child. If that decision doesn’t work out, they can change it the following year and try a school that might better fit their child’s needs.
Better Outcomes, Similar Costs
So how much money are we talking about? As far as income distribution, Vermont looks a lot like the national average. The per-student expenditure of $18,290 is high by national standards (only New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and DC spent more). But independent, tuition-driven schools spend $5,000 less, on average, than public schools in the area, which is near the national average.
A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. A spectrum from centuries-old academies to innovative, adaptive, and experimental programs competes for students from tuition towns, just as for the children of independently wealthy families.
Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas, and the closure of public schools actually made at least some people already living nearby significantly wealthier as their home values rose, according to real estate assessments.
Because parents, not bureaucrats or federal formulas, determine how funds are allocated, schools are under high economic pressure to impress parents—that is, to serve students best in their parents’ eyes.
Educational Alternatives = Comparative Advantages
The Compass School, nestled on the New Hampshire border, enrolls 80-100 high school students from three states and a mix of demographics. Forty percent of students qualify for subsidized lunch (the school system’s proxy for poverty), and 30 percent have special learning needs.
Compass achieves these results with $5,500 less funding-per-pupil than the average Vermont government-run public high school.
Nearly any public school in the country with Compass’ student population (considered mid-poverty) would be aspiring to a 75 percent graduation rate and a 60 percent college-readiness rate. Compass has a virtually 100 percent graduation rate, and 90 percent of graduates are accepted to college. And still, Compass achieves these results with $5,500 less funding-per-pupil than the average Vermont government-run public high school.
Emergent programming for children with physical, intellectual, or behavioral challenges provides a 22-school menu of accountable, adaptive alternatives to public school remediation. Increasingly, “mainstreaming” students with these challenges has become a priority at larger high schools, which compete to serve special-needs students as fiercely as any other.
Room to Grow? Watch for More Tuition Towns
Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead. The local public elementary and high schools there closed and reopened as independent competitors in an increasingly rich marketplace of education options. We eagerly wait to see what the innovative combination of private control and public investment can bring to students in those areas.
…an expansion of Vermont’s publicly funded tuition model can be an effective way to lower costs, improve student outcomes, achieve greater diversity in the classroom, and increase parental satisfaction with and participation in their children’s education.
Wealthy parents will always have school choice. They have the power to choose the best opportunity and the best fit for their individual child. Tuition towns—where all parents direct their child’s share of public education spending—give that power to every family.
Vermont’s empowered parents feed a rich landscape of educational choices, not just one or two. In such fertile soil, smaller, tailored programs pop up and grow to meet children where they are instead of where a one-size-fits-most default curriculum says they should be. If the family’s needs change, their choices can, too.
We pour plenty of public money into educational potential. Only parents’ power of choice can unleash it.
“Modern educators love to talk about ‘critical thinking skills,’ but not one in a hundred even knows what he means by the term.
In fact, the next time you hear an educator use the term ‘critical thinking skills,’ ask him what he means and see what happens. You get the same reaction you would get if you were to politely interrupt a cheerleader in the middle of her routine and ask, ‘When you say ‘rah-rah, sis-boom-bah,’ exactly what do you mean?’ You would get a blank stare. The words have no substance in themselves; they are meant merely to elicit positive emotions. It is the same with the term ‘critical thinking skills.’ It is the educational equivalent of shaking pom-poms.”
“Pitting the learning of basic knowledge against the development of creative thinking is a false choice. Both need to be cultivated. The stronger one’s knowledge about the subject at hand, the more nuanced one’s creativity can be in addressing a new problem. Just as knowledge amounts to little without the exercise of ingenuity and imagination, creativity absent a sturdy foundation of knowledge builds a shaky house.”
In other words, a student simply can’t think critically about science unless he knows and can define certain terms; he can’t think critically about a foreign language unless he memorizes the vocabulary; and he can’t think critically about history unless he remembers important dates and figures.
When participating in a recent debate, Cothran was pressed to provide his definition of critical thinking skills. His answer? “Logic.” He explains:
“It is an interesting fact that the people who say they want to improve our schools spend so much time talking about ‘critical thinking skills’ and so little about logic. One of the reasons is undoubtedly that the word ‘logic’ is much more concrete. It implies learning and being able to use a specific system of rational rules that can be taught—what the ancients called an ‘art.’ Logic has an actual history of having been taught, and taught in a certain way. It is not nearly so amorphous as the term ‘critical thinking skills.’”
If this is the case, can we simply discard the amorphous term “critical thinking” and start teaching students the principles of logic once again?
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