Arnold Kling  

Thinking Outside the Beltway

Paradox of Thrift... Waldman on Financial Intermedi...

I'm reading Be the Solution, by Michael Strong. I'm about 50 pages into it.

The book combines a passion for capitalism, a passion for solving social problems, and some New Age spirituality. Think Ayn Rand meets Stephen Covey.

I see the book as a manifesto for what I once called civil societarianism. The implicit message to young idealists is to solve problems through entrepreneurial innovation, not through political coercion. The implicit message to libertarians is that creating new enterprises is more important than arguing fine points of theory.

I would be interested to hear how other people react.

From the preface:

The last school I created, a charter school in Angel Fire, New Mexico, was located in a region without any serious academic ambitions...I nonetheless implemented an AP program at Moreno Valley High School (MVHS)...The second year that MVHS was open, it was ranked in the top 150 schools in the Ul.S....The third year MVHS ranked number 36, with a passing rate for AP exams that was more than double the national average...Our students had taken more AP exams and done better on them than possibly any comparable school in the United States, starting from scratch in just three years.

But in the meantime I had been forced out of the school because I did not have an administrator's license...when I started the school, it had not been required either. I was a victim of a change in New Mexico charter school law, and despite our school's performance, the State Department of Education would not relent on the certification issue.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Arare Litus writes:

The implicit message to young idealists is to solve problems through entrepreneurial innovation, not through political coercion.

Creation of value is much harder than taking. It is also much more effective.

But due to the difficulty of creating, and the challenge to idealists priors required in taking this route over governmental "solutions", there is a large barrier for many idealists (i.e. many are quite socialist) in taking this route.

I'll be taking a peek at the book. A framing of market ideas in a digestible format for young driven idealists (i.e. socialists who do things) would be a good way to present the ideas to be weighed on their merit, without as much baggage. It sounds like this book may be such a book.

Caliban Darklock writes:

This would address my central concern about libertarianism.

Currently, my internal "big red flag" goes up whenever libertarians say that thus-and-such a federal agency should be disbanded. Does the job need to be done? Yes. Does the agency do it? Yes. But, they argue, the agency is not doing a good enough job - and the subsidies that agency enjoys as part of the government are stifling competition in the free market. Were the agency disbanded, the free market would provide a better substitute that survived on its merits, not on a government subsidy.

In the long run, I believe they are right. But the scary part - the part that raises my big red flag - is that in the short run, nobody does the job. Once you disband the agency, the job has no private entity performing that function, and everyone who depends on it scrambles to keep everything from falling apart.

To replace a federal agency with something spawned by the free market, we must first create the replacement in the marketplace; then the agency can be disbanded, and the replacement can pick up where it left off. Employees of the agency could acquire jobs with the replacement, which (now that its largest competitor is gone) is undoubtedly hiring a botaload of people.

Alternately - and a solution I support - you could convert the agency to a profit-motivated entity, retaining the government backing on a temporary basis while it becomes self-sufficient. Once it enters the free market as a private enterprise, competition can take over, and an agency which isn't doing its job can be replaced through market forces.

But when you're on the outside looking in, you can't accomplish the latter solution. Only the former is available. So any encouragement to do this sort of pre-emptive market readiness has my full support. I don't have much interest in it myself, but it's much closer to the Right Thing than simply yanking out federal agencies and letting the chips fall.

Brad Hutchings writes:

I need to read this book. Thanks for the pointer. My reaction to the top half of your post can be captured precisely by the preface you quoted below the fold. Yes, it's far better to go do something great than play politics. But the lesson of Microsoft scales down. If you don't have feet on the ground in the political world, the politicians and bureaucrats will be coming after you when you succeed. Your established competition probably plays the political game, and they'll be more than happy to use that against you.

Devil's Advocate writes:

Thanks for the pointer Arnold. I will have to check out the book. I guess I could also be categorized as a civil societarian and a libertarian.

I believe that there are a lot of things that private markets can do better than the government, and I agree with Caliban that it is a far more compelling argument to show *how* markets would improve things than to just advocate for the abolition of certain government operations. As he pointed out, private solutions are not competing with government programs on a level playing field. Private entities have find a way to pay for their operations or they will cease to exist. On the other hand, it seems that the more dramtic the government failure, the more enthusiastic politicians are about funding the failure.

I think that there are some real opportunities for private markets to make significant advances in areas like education. Unfortunately, the push to label education (just like health care) as a "right" tends to remove market solutions from the debate. When dealing with rights, cost/benefit analysis is seen as crass and irrelevant. If everybody has a right to an affordable college education (as some people, including the President, seem to believe) then there is a presumption that anything short of universal college education is a violation of the rights of young people. Because a market-based solution would (rightfully) prevent some people from attending college (or at least from having college paid for them), people would clamor for the government to step in to remedy the "failure" of the free market.

Market solutions can work, but because markets operate on the basis of utility, they may not provide the simplistic and universal solutions favored by those statists that believe that the possession of certain goods are such fundamental rights that they *must* be provided by the government.

Richard writes:

You know the old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Teachers unions and any other entrenched interests don't like solutions of this sort that undermine claims of the necessity of their existence. I think their version of the slogan must be "if it's fixed (by someone else), break it."

The Snob writes:

As the quote above shows, one of the largest obstacles to increasing "social entrepreneurship" is that the social-services sector is far more regulated. It is like trying to be a for-profit entrepreneur in a socialist country.

Zac writes:

I admire entrepreneurs, but I don't have an entrepreneurial bone in my body. I have a comparative advantage in arguing the "finer points of theory." I've not read the book, but from the flap:

a positive win-win-win world based on love rather than fear.
-this kind of language, and the idea of "new age spirituality," doesn't work for me. Arnold, when you're done, maybe you can distill the good parts of the book for us? The idea that people should "solve problems through entrepreneurial innovation, not through political coercion" is a very good message, I admit.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top