Property Rights

July 27, 2011

by Armen A. Alchian
Library of Economics and Liberty

(Editor’s Note: Here’s a good basic lesson on property rights. One thing this author doesn’t talk about are the property rights inherent in a free-market hard money monetary system. That is, that a government is not stealing the value of your property…your money…through inflation by devaluing the money supply. That’s a deal-killer in secession. Either your money is your absolute property or it is not.)

One of the most fundamental requirements of a capitalist economic system—and one of the most misunderstood concepts—is a strong system of property rights. For decades social critics in the United States and throughout the Western world have complained that “property” rights too often take precedence over “human” rights, with the result that people are treated unequally and have unequal opportunities. Inequality exists in any society. But the purported conflict between property rights and human rights is a mirage. Property rights are human rights.

“The definition, allocation, and protection of property rights comprise one of the most complex and difficult sets of issues that any society has to resolve, but one that must be resolved in some fashion. For the most part, social critics of “property” rights do not want to abolish those rights. Rather, they want to transfer them from private ownership to government ownership. Some transfers to public ownership (or control, which is similar) make an economy more effective. Others make it less effective. The worst outcome by far occurs when property rights really are abolished.” (see tragedy of the commons).

A property right is the exclusive authority to determine how a resource is used, whether that resource is owned by government or by individuals. Society approves the uses selected by the holder of the property right with governmental administered force and with social ostracism. If the resource is owned by the government, the agent who determines its use has to operate under a set of rules determined, in the United States, by Congress or by executive agencies it has charged with that role.

Private property rights have two other attributes in addition to determining the use of a resource. One is the exclusive right to the services of the resource. Thus, for example, the owner of an apartment with complete property rights to the apartment has the right to determine whether to rent it out and, if so, which tenant to rent to; to live in it himself; or to use it in any other peaceful way. That is the right to determine the use. If the owner rents out the apartment, he also has the right to all the rental income from the property. That is the right to the services of the resources (the rent).

Finally, a private property right includes the right to delegate, rent, or sell any portion of the rights by exchange or gift at whatever price the owner determines (provided someone is willing to pay that price). If I am not allowed to buy some rights from you and you therefore are not allowed to sell rights to me, private property rights are reduced. Thus, the three basic elements of private property are (1) exclusivity of rights to choose the use of a resource, (2) exclusivity of rights to the services of a resource, and (3) rights to exchange the resource at mutually agreeable terms.

The U.S. Supreme Court has vacillated about this third aspect of property rights. But no matter what words the justices use to rationalize such decisions, the fact is that such limitations as price controls and restrictions on the right to sell at mutually agreeable terms are reductions of private property rights. Many economists (myself included) believe that most such restrictions on property rights are detrimental to society. Here are some of the reasons why.

Under a private property system the market values of property reflect the preferences and demands of the rest of society. No matter who the owner is, the use of the resource is influenced by what the rest of the public thinks is the most valuable use. The reason is that an owner who chooses some other use must forsake that highest-valued use—and the price others would pay him for the resource or for the use of it. This creates an interesting paradox: although property is called “private,” private decisions are based on public, or social, evaluation.

The fundamental purpose of property rights, and their fundamental accomplishment, is that they eliminate destructive competition for control of economic resources. Well-defined and well-protected property rights replace competition by violence with competition by peaceful means.

The extent and degree of private property rights fundamentally affect the ways people compete for control of resources. With more complete private property rights, market exchange values become more influential. The personal status and personal attributes of people competing for a resource matter less because their influence can be offset by adjusting the price. In other words, more complete property rights make discrimination more costly. Consider the case of a black woman who wants to rent an apartment from a white landlord. She is better able to do so when the landlord has the right to set the rent at whatever level he wants. Even if the landlord would prefer a white tenant, the black woman can offset her disadvantage by offering a higher rent. A landlord who takes the white tenant at a lower rent anyway pays for discriminating.

But if the government imposes rent controls that keep the rent below the free-market level, the price the landlord pays to discriminate falls, possibly to zero. The rent control does not magically reduce the demand for apartments. Instead, it reduces every potential tenant’s ability to compete by offering more money. The landlord, now unable to receive the full money price, will discriminate in favor of tenants whose personal characteristics—such as age, sex, ethnicity, and religion—he favors. Now the black woman seeking an apartment cannot offset the disadvantage of her skin color by offering to pay a higher rent.

Competition for apartments is not eliminated by rent controls. What changes is the “coinage” of competition. The restriction on private property rights reduces competition based on monetary exchanges for goods and services and increases competition based on personal characteristics. More generally, weakening private property rights increases the role of personal characteristics in inducing sellers to discriminate among competing buyers and buyers to discriminate among sellers.

The two extremes in weakened private property rights are socialism and “commonly owned” resources. Under socialism, government agents—those whom the government assigns—exercise control over resources. The rights of these agents to make decisions about the property they control are highly restricted. People who think they can put the resources to more valuable uses cannot do so by purchasing the rights because the rights are not for sale at any price. Because socialist managers do not gain when the values of the resources they manage increase, and do not lose when the values fall, they have little incentive to heed changes in market-revealed values. The uses of resources are therefore more influenced by the personal characteristics and features of the officials who control them. Consider the socialist manager of a collective farm under the old Soviet communist system. By working every night for one week, he could have made, say, one million rubles of additional profit for the farm by arranging to transport the farm’s wheat to Moscow before it rotted. But because neither the manager nor those who worked on the farm were entitled to keep even a portion of this additional profit, the manager was more likely than the manager of a capitalist farm to go home early and let the crops rot.

Similarly, common ownership of resources—whether in the former Soviet Union or in the United States—gives no one a strong incentive to preserve the resource. A fishery that no one owns, for example, will be overfished. The reason is that a fisherman who throws back small fish to wait until they grow is unlikely to get any benefit from his waiting. Instead, some other fisherman will catch the fish. The same holds true for other common resources whether they be herds of buffalo, oil in the ground, or clean air. All will be overused.

Indeed, a main reason for the spectacular failure of the 1980s and early 1990s economic reforms in the former Soviet Union is that resources were shifted from ownership by government to de facto common ownership. How? By making the Soviet government’s revenues de facto into a common resource. Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, who advised the Soviet government, once pointed out that when Soviet managers of socialist enterprises were allowed to open their own businesses but still were left as managers of the government’s businesses, they siphoned out the profits of the government’s business into their private corporations. Thousands of managers doing this caused a large budget deficit for the Soviet government. In this case the resource that no manager had an incentive to conserve was the Soviet government’s revenues. Similarly, improperly set premiums for U.S. deposit insurance gave banks and S&Ls (see savings and loan crisis) an incentive to make excessively risky loans and to treat the deposit insurance fund as a “common” resource.

Private property rights to a resource need not be held by a single person. They can be shared, with each person sharing in a specified fraction of the market value while decisions about uses are made in whatever process the sharing group deems desirable. A major example of such shared property rights is the corporation. In a limited liability corporation, shares are specified and the rights to decide how to use the corporation’s resources are delegated to its management. Each shareholder has the unrestrained right to sell his or her share. Limited liability insulates each shareholder’s wealth from the liabilities of other shareholders, and thereby facilitates anonymous sale and purchase of shares.

In other types of enterprises, especially where each member’s wealth will become uniquely dependent on each other member’s behavior, property rights in the group endeavor are usually salable only if existing members approve of the buyer. This is typical for what are often called joint ventures, “mutuals,” and partnerships.

While more complete property rights are preferable to less complete rights, any system of property rights entails considerable complexity and many issues that are difficult to resolve. If I operate a factory that emits smoke, foul smells, or airborne acids over your land, am I using your land without your permission? This is difficult to answer.

The cost of establishing private property rights—so that I could pay you a mutually agreeable price to pollute your air—may be too high. Air, underground water, and electromagnetic radiation, for example, are expensive to monitor and control. Therefore, a person does not effectively have enforceable private property rights to the quality and condition of some parcel of air. The inability to cost-effectively monitor and police uses of your resources means “your” property rights over “your” land are not as extensive and strong as they are over some other resources such as furniture, shoes, or automobiles. When private property rights are unavailable or too costly to establish and enforce, substitute means of control are sought. Government authority, expressed by government agents, is one very common such means. Hence the creation of environmental laws.

Depending on circumstances, certain actions may be considered invasions of privacy, trespass, or torts. If I seek refuge and safety for my boat at your dock during a sudden severe storm on a lake, have I invaded “your” property rights, or do your rights not include the right to prevent that use? The complexities and varieties of circumstances render impossible a bright-line definition of a person’s set of property rights with respect to resources.

Similarly, the set of resources over which property rights may be held is not well defined and demarcated. Ideas, melodies, and procedures, for example, are almost costless to replicate explicitly (near-zero cost of production) and implicitly (no forsaken other uses of the inputs). As a result, they typically are not protected as private property except for a fixed term of years under a patent or copyright.

Private property rights are not absolute. The rule against the “dead hand,” or perpetuities, is an example. I cannot specify how resources that I own will be used in the indefinitely distant future. Under our legal system, I can specify the use only for a limited number of years after my death or the deaths of currently living people. I cannot insulate a resource’s use from the influence of market values of all future generations. Society recognizes market prices as measures of the relative desirability of resource uses. Only to the extent that rights are salable are those values most fully revealed.

Accompanying and conflicting with the desire to secure private property rights for oneself is the desire to acquire more wealth by “taking” from others. This is done by military conquest and by forcible reallocation of rights to resources (also known as stealing). But such coercion is antithetical to—rather than characteristic of—a system of private property rights. Forcible reallocation means that the existing rights have not been adequately protected.

Private property rights do not conflict with human rights. They are human rights. Private property rights are the rights of humans to use specified goods and to exchange them. Any restraint on private property rights shifts the balance of power from impersonal attributes toward personal attributes and toward behavior that political authorities approve. That is a fundamental reason for preference of a system of strong private property rights: private property rights protect individual liberty.

Copyright ©2008 Liberty Fund, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

White Males

July 6, 2011

Cutting the Rope that Supports You

by Fred Reed

(Editor’s Note: Perhaps a newly seceded state will eschew affirmative action and throw wide open the door of opportunity for the best available talent. That would allow WEMs to stay in North America instead of relocating overseas to find gainful employment. It would also re-create the hotbed of innovation and creativity that once was the USA.)

One constantly hears tedious squalling by the affirmative-action classes—chiefly blacks, women, and to a limited extent Hispanics—about evil white males, whom they want to evict from practically everywhere. The crusade is always described as moral. The pattern is to discover that, say, an engineering department consists almost entirely of white European males (WEMs). This is taken by everyone, including those who don’t believe it but want to save their political hides, as prima facie evidence of discrimination.

Head-hunting lawyers pile on. The federal government threatens to cut off contracts. The firm hires whoever is thought to be suffering discrimination, and regards them as an operating cost.

The Chinese, Japanese, and Airbus hire the best available talent. Hmmm….

Now, while bashing WEMs is doubtless orgasmic for the vengeance-deficient, I suggest that it will be disastrous for the country. The bitter truth, obvious to Americans who read history—perhaps three Americans—is that WEMs have been responsible for practically everything that keeps us out of the Third World. Yes, I know. Those in the affirmative-action classes reading this will think I am engaging in obnoxious crowing, racism, male chauvinism, or something involving the word “deconstruction.” No. I am engaging in economic prediction.

Reflect on the sciences and technology, where they arose, and who arose them (I say it’s English, dammit). From sub-Saharan Africa: nothing. Latin America: almost nothing. India, China, Southeast Asia: very little. Women: almost nothing. Science and technology have been, and largely still are, a game of white European males.

Perhaps this will change. Many peoples—Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese among others—have the intelligence to play. Women may flower. India and China rise. Many Asians work in American labs. If one day they equal or surpass WEMs, the world will be a better place for it. To date, however, Japan is the only non-European nation to amount to anything technologically.

The magnitude of the disparity between WEMs and the rest is easy to overlook in a country ignorant both of history and, usually, technology. Go to Peru, Mexico, or the high cold altiplano of Bolivia. You will find late-model technology well used: cell phones, internet, computers. But all of it came from elsewhere, and from WEMs. It still does.

Consider mathematics, the basis of physics and therefore of chemistry, electronics, and, most importantly in the US, video games. The Greeks invented geometry: real, serious, theoretically aware math. They didn’t discover hyperbolic or elliptic geometry, which would have to await Lobachevsky and Riemann, but they smelled problems with Euclid’s Fifth.

Males, sort of Greek-Arab-Indian, invented algebra, a monumental achievement but pretty much their last, and Indian males apparently came up with 0, neither obvious nor trivial (try long division in Roman numerals).

After that, it was a WEM racket. Newton and Leibniz more or less simultaneously invented calculus, with different notations but the same idea. Afterwards dozens of scintillating WEMs followed, only a few of them well-known: Galois (group theory), Gauss (practically everything), Fermat (of the famous and mysterious theorem), Laplace, Lagrange, Hamilton, Cantor, Boole, on and on. Without them, there would be no cell phones to cause death on the highways.

Pick your field: Engineering, aerodynamics, abstruse theory for computers (von Neumann, Minsky), even wacko stuff (Rupert Sheldrake). The atomic bomb and nuclear power were all invented by WEMs, largely Jewish. (The staff list at Los Alamos read like a Yeshiva yearbook.)

White European males probably are no smarter than all manner of Indians, Asians, Brazilians. Yet they somehow produce the science. American WEMs are biologically indistinguishable from those in Europe, yet until recently at any rate have produced more in the sciences.

Why? The best answer I can give is “culture.” WEMs, certainly the American variety, have lived (this is changing fast) in a society that has allowed and cherished freedom, merit, adventurousness, merit, independence, merit, and competition. And merit. This sounds like ray-rah senior-civics propaganda, but is actually true.

It shows. The internet is an invention of American WEMs. The transistor, of William Shockley and his group. Microsoft, of Bill Gates. Intel, of Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce. Apple, of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Dell Computer, of Michael Dell. Public-key encryption, of James Ellis, Clifford Cookis, and Malcom Williamson at GCHQ in England and later of Rivest, Shamir, and Adelman of RSA Security. The World Wide Web, of Tim Berners-Lee, a Brit at CERN. Google, of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Yahoo, of Jerry Yang and David Filo. The list could go on for another yard or so. Can the US afford to discourage such men in the name of low-IQ, eighth-grade, Koom Bah Yah politics?

No. Yet a lot of choleric billingsgate goes into denouncing WEMs and trying, fairly successfully, to root them out of the universities. The public schools are hostile to boys, attend to the dull at the expense of the bright, view high intelligence as pregnant with elitism, and prefer form to substance. Science is said to be inherently racist. This does not augur well for the country’s future. The Chinese, I promise, do not strive for ever greater mediocrity.

I recently read an official of Siemens in America saying that it is hard to find American employees with the technical background to work in his company. In the United States? In like fashion, a woman who teaches in a major department of petro-geology complains that Nigerian—yes, Nigerian—students are better prepared mathematically than American.

This suggests, does it not, that America is living off the ghost of Christmas Past, and will shortly be using goods not just made in China, but designed in China, and then invented in China.

Things stir beyond the frontiers. If we are not to swirl down history’s drain while singing We Shall Overcome, perhaps we should begin again to pay attention to ability. It is one thing, and a good thing, to insist on equality of opportunity. Them as can cut the mustard should have access to mustard. But affirmative action, meaning the hiring of those who would not be hired on their merit, lowers competitiveness in a world that is not going to cut the US any slack. White European males have been far away and gone the world’s most bounteous fountains of the sciences. Maybe we should keep them, even encourage them. The deliberate enstupidation of the schools to favor the unable, to make those who can’t or won’t look as if they could or have, is auto-Kervorkian governance.

If those who detest white European males can do better, they should. Show me. I am waiting. Meanwhile, let them eat goose who do not like golden eggs.

©Fred Reed

The College Conspiracy

May 16, 2011

The National Inflation Association spent the last six months producing a documentary about the higher education debacle happening today. The college bubble we have today is destroying the lives of millions of Americans who deserve to be receiving a much higher quality of education for only a fraction of the cost.

As you watch this documentary, we hope that you notice and appreciate the quality of work that NAI put into it. They hired one of the best Hollywood animators and a famous Hollywood narrator to help make this movie our most impressive and professional documentary of all time. It took us three months just to write the script, which used many of the ideas that were submitted by NIA members.

The College Conspiracy is going to open up the minds of millions of students who have been brainwashed their entire lives by the propaganda in the mainstream media. We are a nation of sheep, where few think for themselves and most follow the same system. The system we have today turns everybody into debt slaves, while the Federal Reserve allows bankers on Wall Street to steal the wealth of middle-class Americans through inflation.

Now is the time for all young Americans to think outside of the box and become self-educated. Don’t rely on others to provide jobs for you. Go out there and make a job yourself! Entrepreneurism is the only chance for the economy and your only chance to have a life without massive college debt. Further, if you already find yourself with massive college debt, owning a business is the best way to earn enough money to pay off that life-changing debt.

But don’t be misled. Owning a business is not the guarantee to wealth. If you choose the wrong kind of business, you’ll just end up with big college debt AND a business failure. So it’s crucial to choose the RIGHT business.

When you’re looking for a business, you must:

1. Have a huge expanding market
2. Have a unique consumable product
3. Be on the leading edge of trends and timing
4. Duplicate your efforts through others
5. Essential products/services versus discretionary purchases

After you watch this video, we strongly recommend that you look above the article and click on the “Residual Income” button and click on it, so you can learn a way you can go into business for yourself in a recession-proof business.

Texas Takes A Major Position in Gold

April 21, 2011

Texas University Takes Cue From Kyle Bass to Hold $1 Billion in Gold Bars

by David Mildenberg and Pham-Duy Nguyen

(Editor’s Note: The Texas University System must surely be filled with people with more native intelligence than the Texas Legislature and the Governor’s office. At least the UOTIMC has the ability to look into the near future and hedge against disaster. DumpDC hails and congratulates them for taking a big position in gold. Now, if we can just convince them to move that gold onto Texas soil…)

The University of Texas Investment Management Co., the second-largest U.S. academic endowment, took delivery of almost $1 billion in gold bullion and is storing the bars in a New York vault, according to the fund’s board.

The fund, whose $19.9 billion in assets ranked it behind Harvard University’s endowment as of August, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, added about $500 million in gold investments to an existing stake last year, said Bruce Zimmerman, the endowment’s chief executive officer. The holdings are worth about $987 million, based on yesterday’s closing price of $1,486 an ounce for Comex futures.

The decision to turn the fund’s investment into gold bars was influenced by Kyle Bass, a Dallas hedge fund manager and member of the endowment’s board, Zimmerman said at its annual meeting on April 14. Bass made $500 million on the U.S. subprime-mortgage collapse.

“Central banks are printing more money than they ever have, so what’s the value of money in terms of purchases of goods and services,” Bass said yesterday in a telephone interview. “I look at gold as just another currency that they can’t print any more of.”

Gold reached an all-time high of $1,489.10 an ounce yesterday in New York as sovereign debt concerns boosted demand for the metal as a store of value. Gold has climbed 28 percent in the past year on Comex.

The endowment, which oversees funds held by the University of Texas System and Texas A&M University, has 6,643 bars of bullion, or 664,300 ounces, in a Comex-registered vault in New York owned by HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA), the London-based bank, according to a report distributed at the meeting in Austin.


Lunatics to the Left, Lunatics to the Right, and Not a Drop to Drink

September 21, 2010

Extremely Dangerous Boy Kid

by Fred Reed

God. Oh God. Oh God, God, God. It is getting worse. Maybe I’ll take cyanide.

Our Guilty Pleasure

I find this inspiriting headline polluting my inbox like rotting road-kill. It’s from Broward County, Florida:

“Child Still Expelled for Toy Gun – a Year Later Parents want their child back in school. School board says no way”

See? Florida collectively is out of its tiny little mind. What if this crepuscular pathology spreads to other countries? Or planets?

“School board officials said the rules are quite clear and that the toy gun constituted a weapon.”

Me, I figure the school-board officials constitute a pack of priggish low-Board simians who ought to be swinging in trees instead of trying to run a school. But then, I’m a curmudgeon.

Think about it. Kid—he’s eight—shows up with toy gun after watching 12,000 hours of shoot’em-ups on the lobotomy box, Luke Skywalker blasting funny-looking milkmen like a pretty little mollycoddle turned psychopath. Kid sees war coverage with heroic GIs in Afghanistan killing anybody they can see. He watches recruiting ads for the Marines, who carry guns and want A Few Good Persons. Why would he possibly be interested in a toy gun?

And why would nominal adults, even the barely educated variety characteristically found on school boards, want to wreck the kid’s life? Actually of course it is passive aggression, an attack on the tyke, said attack masquerading, or perhaps marauding is the better word, as high moral endeavor. See, they’re protecting Western Civilization.

The US these days rolls in passive aggression. The country grows daily more mean-spirited, more wrapped in a miasma of diffuse anger, but you still can’t just go up to a child and hit him with a ball bat, or throw acid in his face. No. Instead you find a smugly righteous way to set him back two years in school, thus making him into a guaranteed social misfit. How very…I don’t think “intelligent” is an adequate word. Perhaps “sublime” is better. Or “supernal.”

As tensions grow in America, as divisions flourish, and the nation leads up to something unseen but ugly, prissy vindictiveness and moral sadism become normal. We have become a gotcha culture, watchful for transgressions meaningless but forbidden, so that we can make the malfeasor squirm. How we enjoy the squirming, the writhing on camera, the heavy punishments inflected for nothing.

The other day I was watching television, which I do in the spirit of Margaret Meade investigating her primitives. It’s an electronic Petri dish. Anyway, a story aired of excruciating importance,.At any rate it was excruciating. A politician had been discovered to have forwarded an email containing a picture of a woman copulating with a horse. Delight erupted, disguised as horror: A chance to make him squirm! His election could depend on revelation of this vile perversion, this sickening transgression against, and so on. All waited expectantly for him to whine and beg and lick feet. This reaction by the public strikes me as kinkier than the horse and its tart.

Let us dive, or perhaps wade for reason of long drought, into Truth. We are all adults here. Let’s have a show of hands: How many readers have never looked at porn online?…Ah, I see that I am writing a blog for amputees. How many have never looked at anything more robustly exotic than Presbyterians in the missionary position? (Raise your stumps.) How many are genuinely shocked, appalled, disgusted etc. by the thought of the dread equestrian email, of whose contents most fourteen-year-olds have probably heard? Tijuana used to be internationally famous for such erotic vaudeville. If it is erotic.

The likelihood that the pol is amorously interested in horses is of course zero. Sheep, maybe. Horses, no.

Back to the eight-year-old. “He made a mistake, but why the severe punishment? I don’t understand that,” said Magdiel Burgos, Sam’s dad.”

What? The child did not make a mistake. He’s freaking eight. He brought a toy to school. Since eight is too young (at this writing) to be made to snivel on camera in delicious auto-humiliating, his parents per force do it for him.

The correct solution to the problem, if there were a problem, would be to tell the kid, “Hey, you aren’t supposed to bring stuff like this. Don’t, OK?” When he is a little older, he might be told that the entire scholarly (which it barely is) establishment constitutes a dry run by Darwin, which he judged a failure and meant to discard, but forgot.

There is something wrong, something fetid and cruel, about anyone who will so treat little boy. It gets stranger:

“The school board said they would admit Samuel into a correctional school for problem children who have been expelled located in Hallandale Beach.”

Oh joy! Reform school! What better way to turn him into a happy and stable boy? (Which he is anyway.) Why not Leavenworth? We could try him as an adult. I recommend solitary, to protect the other inmates. And don’t let him bring his teddy bear. He has to learn that actions have consequences.

I thrash about in search of understanding. It cometh not. Perhaps the explanation lies in physics: The stupidity of a closed system tends to remain the same or to increase. Usually, increase.

This sort of neurotic theater has gone on for years. I remember the boy expelled for pointing (so help me) a chicken finger and saying “Bang!” another for bringing plastic soldiers to school, another for drawing a picture of a soldier with a gun, another for swatting a girl on the butt on the playground. This last resulted in the calling of cops, a handcuffed kid, and compulsory psychiatric treatment instead of an admonitory, “Don’t do that again, Bobby. Do you understand me?” How does a society come to this?

I can make guesses that sound vaguely plausible. The United States is not a happy country. People waste their lives in meaningless jobs, trapped by the credit card, the mortgage, the student loan. They know they are wasting their lives. Racial anger runs high. Women resent men. Divorce screws up kids. There is the two-hour commute to the cubicle and back to the sterile box in the anonymous subdivision, the lack of influence over their lives, life from paycheck to paycheck. And anger at affirmative action, either because they suffer from it or because they need it. Life is just flat stressful.

People get spiteful, mean, like mistreated dogs. They want to make others as miserable as they secretly are themselves. So they torment a little boy. I’m going to change my phylum.

Want Spanish Lessons?

A Marketing Survey

My wife Violeta supported herself for years by teaching Spanish to foreigners in Guadalajara and its environs. A while back a friend, a computer security-and-data-base kind of guy, visited and decided that he wanted to learn Spanish. He checked with Berlitz in Washington, DC and, while not actually hospitalized for sticker shock, came close. We decided to make the experiment of having Vi teach him by telephone.

Administratively it seemed feasible. Textbooks from Amazon, payment by PayPal, homework by email. We had all-you-can-eat Vonage, so phone charges were zero. The only question was whether it would work.

It did. If you dropped Woody in Mexico City, he would have no trouble. Another friend, also studying with Vi, is less far along, but close.

She is contemplating making a regular job of it, and we would like to know whether there is interest. Again, this is just a marketing survey at this point.

If you have not studied a foreign language, a few thoughts:

Language instruction exists to make money for the instructors or school. To attract students, these often say things like “Learn the easy and fun way! Learn easily and naturally! A fun, conversational approach, avoids boring grammar!” and so on.

Good freaking luck. There is no easy way to learn a language, and if you don’t learn grammar, you have an illusion of rapid progress for a few weeks, and then stall utterly.

Vi teaches entirely in Spanish. From experience she knows that if she lets English creep in, the student will come to depend on it, and the lesson will turn into an English conversation about Spanish. You don’t learn Spanish by speaking English. The effect is to front-load the difficulty: You can’t discuss interesting things until you have learned a bit. Then one day you realize that you have just carried on an hour of conversation with a Mexican, and entirely in Spanish. It’s a good feeling.

She is friendly, personable, and merciless. She doesn’t do long silences, or short silences. She will keep you talking or listening during the whole lesson. It is work, but it works.

We’re looking at $20 an hour of phone time, checking of homework at no extra charge.

Educating The Masses

August 24, 2010

by Linda Brady Traynham

(Editor’s Note: This week is Linda Brady Traynham Week. Linda has been making comments here for a while. I like her writing style and her content is outstanding. She writes about Texas liberty issues and other stuff that engages her mind…just like your un-humble Editor. I am confident you’ll enjoy this week’s offerings.)

If you were in charge of the educational system, what would you do and why? Mull that one over while I tell you how I would go about it, and I’ll make it easier by stipulating grandly that price is no object.

Snicker. Will people never stop falling for my sucker bets? Very seldom does money expended on education equal excellence of outcome, as Washington, D. C., has been demonstrating for decades. No doubt you remember that Hillary Clinton had a free hand revamping the schools of Arkansas, resulting in a national rating of dead last, so we can conclude that lawyers aren’t necessary either.

Our computers have a wonderful feature that allows us to reconfigure to the last time at which they were running correctly. This strikes me as a good, high tech idea, so let’s figure out when we last had good schools that defined “educating the children” as something other than phoney self-esteem, rebellion against parental values, and submission to authority.

It is neither vain nor hyperbole to say that your children, if they finish four-year college degrees, are extraordinarily unlikely to know as much as my generation did after being graduated from high school about the time Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista. At that time many college diplomae did not guarantee the level of erudition possessed by HS graduates in the early thirties. In the Fifties the white illiteracy rate was 5%, but the graduates of all-black Kemp High School were only a point behind. This next story is like trying to explain that there was a time when there was no MacDonald’s or iPods, but there wasn’t any other ethnicity in a town of about 40,000. The school board nearly had a nervous breakdown when the first three Hispanic students showed up because they couldn’t decide what to do with them. (DO try to see this as funny because it IS.) You see their problem: you can’t build a highschool for three kids; you can’t send them to Kemp because they aren’t black, but they shouldn’t be in lily-white Stephen F. Austin, either…eventually, they put them over with us. The only girl spent her entire time with her head hunched low probably because she didn’t know what else to do. One of two brothers was very quiet, but Anastasio Hererra was a tall, handsome, outgoing, very bright young man and he made a place for himself easily. Stash was not only my lab partner in Chemistry but went on to become the first Hispanic elected to the “state” legislature! We’re proud of him, and I had dinner with “Andy,” as he is known now, and his wife not long ago.

That is merely an interesting anthropological sidenote. The important part is what we were taught at SFA. Every last student from my class of about 400 was graduated honestly (although three of the boys had to do summer school) and Nancy whatever-her-name-was who got pregnant in the 9th grade and had to drop out — and we’re still talking about it fifty years later. Back then the white illegitimacy rate was 5%; for blacks it was 25%. The current rates have gone to 25% and 80% respectively. I took 3 years of Latin, 4 of Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry and real biology, not keeping a small shark alive all year and then watching the teacher dissect it — an actual course in Houston two years ago. We had our hands in formaldehyde frequently from the very start. Every student was required to master typing and those not going to college had to take two years of bookkeeping and shorthand, and guess what? They had sufficient skills to get office jobs whether they had spent the morning on academic subjects and afternoons as apprentices or not. Speech was required, and I studied Physics, Spanish, Texas and US History. Driver’s Ed? I think there was such a course, but I learned at home, like most kids. Home Ec? Don’t be ridiculous. We were being educated, not baking cookies, something else I learned at home. Our books were full of facts, not political correctness and “diversity.”

One obvious way for our children to learn what we know is to teach them ourselves — if there is the interest and a parent who can remain at home, the latter being an increasingly rare luxury. The home-schooling movement has been growing for some years now and perusal of the top scores on the SAT yearly will reveal the efficacy of this method. Time and again those scores demonstrate that high achievement is found in two groups: those who are home-schooled and those who have a cultural heritage of valuing education. Clearly it is not possible to provide every child Chinese parents (although many of the methods tried by legislators and unions are about that impractical) but home schooling is within the reach of many.

Given no restrictions on cost virtually all of us would enroll our children in the best private schools available — and a major goal of the Republic of Texas is to reduce taxes to the point that you can afford to send your children to the Academy of the Sacred Heart or Harlingen Military Academy or any other school of your choice. It is a given of free market capitalism that where there is demand supply will be forthcoming because there is profit to be made. Our goal will be to provide true school choice over a very wide range without taxing those who do not have children enrolled in various institutions of learning. TANSTAFL, people. There is absolutely no reason why any of us should pay for the education of the children of others. We can anticipate that private schools will both expand and spring up to meet the need — and their standards will of necessity remain high because parents will demand what will be seen clearly as value for their money. Already Academies offering music, sports, and lab sciences have been established to round out the curricula of those being schooled at home. The tuition must be an excellent swap for safety and not having to put together home biology and chemistry laboratories.

You might ask, “What about traditional neighborhood schools?” By all means, if you and your neighbors want your children to walk to nearby Travis Elementary, pool the dollars you choose to spend on their education, hire your own teachers, buy your own books, pay your own utilities, and make your own repairs. You have no right to demand that from your neighbors. Remember, we are talking of a Republic where over a hundred taxes have disappeared, including income and property taxes, fuel, alcohol, and cigarette taxes. In such a nation individual families will be able to afford whatever means of education they prefer including hiring a governess or a tutor. Yes, some people earn more income than others — and guess what? Some of us hold that what you earn is yours to spend as you like.

However, we will suppose that there are those whose income is so small that at least one “public” option is deemed necessary. Here, too, there is a simple free-market solution. Subject matter appropriate to each grade level should be made available on public TV and run twenty-four/seven. Would that be for free? Of course not! Nothing is for free. Make the sacrifice and get cable TV. However, we do have a public fund from taxes on oil production which will be more than ample. This method would be very inexpensive to set up and quite economical to broadcast. Find the very best, most erudite, most interesting teachers, choose from old textbooks for the basics, and each lecture and other segment need be recorded only once. A particular advantage of having phonics-based reading taught constantly is that this is the best and only hope for those currently illiterate to learn to read quickly, easily, and well. The length of this article precludes regaling you with details of how I know such a reading program would work, having developed and copyrighted mine twenty-years ago. If enough of you want to know I will write a separate article on it. For now, just go with the concept that reading, arithmetic, geography, and history can be taught beautifully in the comfort of your own home. Chuckle…take it from someone who has been rescuing illiterate nine-year-old boys for a very, very long time: little boys cannot sit still and do anything else. If your bright, wiggly son is sprawled on the floor eating cheese and crackers, playing with his Vroom-Vroom cars, and patting the dog he can learn a great deal more quickly. I never require my remedial students to sit still and be quiet! Sitting inhibits their learning, strains their composure, and reminds them constantly of every bad classroom experience they have ever had. Test their beginning knowledge? Whatever for?! It is far easier and far less stressful to start with “B is the name of this letter but the work it does is making the sound ‘buh.’” The child feels good when he actually knows something, he sees reading as a system that makes sense, and, sure enough, if he pays even moderate attention he will learn. Gentle laughter…the first lesson starts, “It isn’t your fault that you can’t read, and it still won’t be your fault if I don’t teach you. That would be my fault for not explaining how correctly. However, no one has failed to learn in twenty years and you aren’t going to, either. It’s even going to be a lot of fun!” And it is. I make it fun. How long does it take? Usually a couple of hours twice a week for three to six weeks, depending upon how badly the kiddo has been abused and confused by being expected to learn to read English when it is taught as though it were Chinese ideographs and not a phonetic language.

In addition, such instruction can be made available easily and inexpensively through the home computer. This would be particularly useful as the students advance and allow for inter-active testing. Remember: we’re going to clean the reading mess up first. So far as I’m concerned — should I be named Secretary of Education anywhere — you may have your HS diplomas any time you are able to pass all the exams. I don’t care if you are nine or ninety, only that you can demonstrate mastery of reading, writing, arithmetic, history, algebra, civics, “keyboarding,” and such other subjects as I deem wise and necessary. (Hey, anyone else who wants to set up a course of study, have at it. For fun, ask Google to show you an 8th grade exam purported to have been given in Kansas about 1870. Bear in mind that eighth grade was as high as school went, then. I can pass it, but I doubt that I could cover myself in glory, and I have three degrees and have done graduate work in five fields! Why? For fun, of course! Other than contract work after the children were older — editing, writing instructional materials, and doing analytical project reports — I was a classic stay at home Donna Reed housewife. We all adored summers because I taught the kids daily…) Hey, I probably won’t demand more than 90%.

Now, I do not suppose that my plan will be popular with teachers’ unions because we won’t need nearly as many teachers, will we? The best will be employed privately, and it may be that those who school at home personally or through multimedia might like to hire a retired teacher once a month or once a week to do the icky things like give tests and soothe any anxious feelings that Mama isn’t doing a fine job. The rest of them can take up more productive work or move to some state that still thinks class size and money are important.

We don’t have classes that are too big or too few teachers; modern public schools teach the wrong things with the wrong methods. Well, sure, if you insist I’ll agree modestly to let you call me a genius but the simple truth is that all of the kids in my schools learned well, and all the kids over at Kemp did nearly as well. I wasn’t even Valedictorian or Salutatorian, despite being the class nerd! (BITTER subject! PE was a required subject, and I am and always have been an Olympic class klutz. It doesn’t matter if you make all A’s, that courtesy “C” you get for showing up, suiting out, showering, and trying not to have a nervous breakdown destroys your GPA. I assure you, if the game involves a ball, sooner or later I will get hit with it. In eight miserable years no teacher ever succeded in teaching me to play even one sport acceptably.)

That only leaves us one small problem: those whose native tongue is not English. Once again, the experience of many decades and having attended quite a few different schools suggests an answer: put all those who need it in special schools where English is taught and don’t let them out until they have learned. Spanish is as simple as phonetic languages get, and almost anyone can be taught to read it in about fifteen minutes. Teach the kids to read and carry on instruction in arithmetic in Spanish while focusing on English. English is the language of business and they must learn it, but understanding how to read Spanish will be a great help when they get to English because the basic principle is the same: see the letters, say the sounds, and run them together to get words you know that make sense where you find them. Any kiddo with an average American television addiction has at least an 8th grade working vocabulary. The “test” I just gave you develops enormous reading comprehension because the student is concentrating on whather or not what he said makes sense; if it doesn’t, he made a mistake. He isn’t trying to tell “cat” from “dog” by appearance, that being what “Look-Say” is all about. He already knows most of the words he needs to read a wealth of material, and once he has mastered my idea of the basics (ALL there is to know) he can use a dictionary. He already knows it isn’t “The princess sayed.” It ought to be, but we have an agreement to say “sed” when we see “said.” D’you know, there are only about two dozen of those little horrors and your preschool child knows all of them?! Yup. You won’t hear one say, “I loave you, Mot-her.” The only word Andrew, then 5, missed on an eighth-grade Reading Assessment Test was “carburetor.” He didn’t know that Americans say “CAR-buh-rayccb-tor,” so he read it as “car-bew-ret-or.” Which it should be. How long does it take to go through the ten rules of reading and about 250 sounds and letter combinations encompasing everything there is to know about what reading really is and how we really do it? About an hour and a half! After that the child masters one segment at a time. Takes about six weeks, working just a little every day, to teach a child who has not been exposed to “Look-Say.” Think of all we can teach in those endless hours they won’t spend for five years learning to read somewhere between third and eighth-grade level in most cases. Further, an extensive study done in Seattle showed the 90% (you read that right: 90) of all juveniles who went before a judge that year were functionally or totally illiterate. Do you suppose there is a correlation, there?

Right now you and I are usually the sole guardians of what our children and grandchildren are learning. If we can regain responsibility for choosing the schools and teachers they have even if we lack the luxury of teaching them ourselves test scores will rise again. Unless you would prefer to argue that children today are inherently more stupid than those born about 1940? Obama cut a program in DC which provided $7,000 vouchers for a few lucky kids. The kids learned, and each voucher saved $4000 that would be spent if they were in vastly inferior public schools. Parents loved it, the children delighted in it, but unions and statists loathed it. The argument was the same — although unspoken — as at the time of the Industrial Revolution: “Send them to school? Teach them to read? Whatever for?! They’ll get ideas above their stations.”

For over fifty years our schools have been under the control of those who lean very far left. The only way to take them back is through propositions, referenda, or restoring the Republic. That’s either republic, folks, the Republic of Texas or the republic the founding fathers set up and hoped we would be able to keep.

Linda Brady Traynham is a former editor and analytical project report writer and is now a Whiskey & Gunpowder field correspondent on a ranch in the Republic of Texas. She studied Counseling at Boston University and got her Masters degree in Philosophy from the University of Hawaii.