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How I Learned to Love the State

Mises Daily: Monday, November 07, 2011 by

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While we were students of the state education apparatus, how many of us had to write research papers where we were asked to "change the world"?

I'm sure we can all remember a writing prompt similar to this: "If I could change one thing about the world, it would be …" or "How I can make the world a better place."

Often, these writing prompts were given to us when we were not even old enough to think about abstract concepts like war and politics.

Were these assignments teaching us to think critically? In some cases, this is possible. For the most part, however, these paper topics taught us to do one thing: become central planners. It taught us that complex social problems could conceivably be solved by one person (or a few bureaucrats) in a room developing public policy for the entire nation.

If we just give $1,000 to every poor person, we won't have any more poverty, we thought. The teacher never asked, "From where would this money come?" It did not matter because at least we were thinking about other people. We were thinking about the needy. We were thinking about "solutions" and being "proactive."

I think we could save the environment if we could get everyone to plant one tree, we concluded. The teacher never asked, "How would you get everyone to do this? Would it be through force or persuasion?" It did not matter. We were beginning to realize the importance that policy makers play in shaping our world.

We were not asked to look at the many unintended consequences that would arise from these novel ideas. Where would we get $1,000 for every poor person? By what standard do we judge poor? How do we ensure that $1,000 would be spent to bring the person out of poverty?

Of course, it was never asked whether it was moral to steal money from some to give to others. It did not matter. We were just pretending to be the state; there's no harm in that.

No idea was a bad idea. These teachers were taught to respect the diversity of ideas. Their creed dictates that all ideas have different values and none are necessarily better than the others.

But how can we expect children to experience proper cognitive development when we cannot tell them the difference between right and wrong for fear of offending their sensibilities?

What if a child were to propose a society (loosely) based on the principle of nonaggression. What if a child were to ask the teacher, "Why do we have a government in the first place?"

This would certainly go against the teacher's love of central planning. The answer to this child's question would be simplified into one word: chaos. For most teachers, an anarchic society is and can be nothing but chaos and destruction. After this, the child would not think about it again for years, if ever.

Why would the teacher not be open to this idea? Why would the teacher argue against this child's proposal? The idea would be rejected for the same reason that a news channel owned by a light bulb company would likely never have a special report about its defective light bulbs. Most government school teachers will certainly not entertain the idea that the government is immoral.

Government schools are essentially propaganda machines for the government, but there is no propaganda minister or a top-down curriculum from the Department of Education that promotes this propaganda.

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Public schools, by their very nature, are designed to promote government. They teach children to accept that government is exempt from the ethical code that prevents someone from stealing their neighbor's belongings; without government theft, the schools would not exist.

They teach children that the biggest problems of the day can only be solved by central planners. Through these exercises, children learn that humans are so simplistic that one policy can solve a major problem with thousands of variables.

It teaches kids that everything happens in a vacuum. The idea that every man is a unique, free-thinking individual who faces unique choices is replaced with the view that all men are part of a herd, which can be easily manipulated and coerced.

When they ask children to think about what they would change in the world, they are really asking, What would you coerce others to do?