All Commentary
Friday, June 1, 1962

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1962/6


When the Committee for Econ­omic Development and the Ameri­can Economic Association com­bined to set up a National Task Force on Economic Education with a view to prescribing a minimal economics program for high school students, their choice of a panel favored a rather eclec­tic type of Keynesian. Heading the panel was George Leland Bach, whose own textbook, Econ­omics: An Introduction to Analy­sis and Policy (published by Pren­tice-Hall), contains the statement that “you may not like having the government so big, but there it is.” (Meaning that Professor Bach is not a man to argue with a trend.) And supporting Bach was Paul A. Samuelson, Econo­mics Professor at the Massachu­setts Institute of Technology, who changes his mind on the annually permissible amount of inflation as one edition of his textbook suc­ceeds another.

As might have been expected from anything bearing a Bach-Samuelson imprimatur, the report issued by the National Task Force (“national” by whose majority vote?) and published by the Com­mittee for Economic Development, for sale at $1.00 a copy, is a flabby document. Called Economic Edu­cation in the Schools, this docu­ment virtually denies in every im­portant line that there can be either a science or a useful art of economics. In the guise of being “objective,” it announces that economics is a matter of choosing between goals. This might seem unexceptionable, for choice is in­deed at the bottom of economics. But when it comes to the discus­sion of the goals themselves, the Task Force throws everything in­to the laps of the prospective high school economics students. Any goal is, presumably, acceptable. You pays your money and you takes your choice, and the useful­ness of economics as a study is to provide a “rational” and “objec­tive” means of justifying what­ever it is that you happen to think anyway.

The effect of the recommenda­tions in Economic Education in the Schools is to encourage a rather low cunning in the ap­proach to “who gets what, when.”

The axiomatic assumption under­lying the Task Force report is the relevance of relativism: “the strangest things at Kew are the truths of Katmandu.” Since most economic systems are, in more or less lamentable practice, “mixed,” the relativistic view prescribes no particular degree of mixture. It all depends on what your “goal”is. If you want a bigger “public sector,” why it’s your right, and you can vote for it at the polls, if not in the market place. If you don’t think that rewards should go commensurately to those whose abilities or capital resources are in a position to earn them by con­tributing to the economic process, just write a letter to your Con­gressman and ask for a forcible redistribution of the “national” income.

 

As Ralph W. Husted, former President of the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners, has suggested in a notable pam­phlet, The Teenage Mind and Analytical Objectivity (Vincent Press, 145 Hudson Street, N. Y., 20 cents), the Task Force has hopelessly confused the issue by failing to draw any clear distinc­tion between the economic con­cept of effective demand and the purely political concept of the “broadly felt social need.” The re­sult is that the Task Force’s actual recommendation to highschool students is that they sign up for more “social studies.” To the Task Force “economics” is not something that has pri­marily to do with the market; it is something that has to do with pressure groups. The “broadly felt social need” may be virtually any­thing at all. In the case of the “felt need” for guided missiles or a Distant Early Warning system, it may be what a vast majority of the population wants. In the case of a wheat subsidy, it may be what a majority of wheat farmers, in itself a minority of the whole population, may be able to con­jure out of the Senate and the House of Representatives by judi­cious rolling of a few hefty logs. Finally, in the case of compulsory social security, it may be what the Machiavellian manipulators of the dictionary slipped over in the mid-nineteen thirties in the name of “insurance” (which it doesn’t happen to be).

The Task Force report, in de­nying that there can be a science or a useful art of economics, in­volves itself in a social non se­quitur when it recommends the study of economics to high school students. What it is really recom­mending, of course, is that the student be given a more sophisti­cated drenching in the sort of thing that goes under the generic name of “problems of democracy.”

It is a “problem of democracy” that people no longer regard themselves primarily as individu­als, but as communicants in groups whose objectives are best forwarded by a due regard to the art of back-scratching. It is a “problem of democracy” that farmers want to have it both ways when it comes to dealing with the facts of the Industrial Revolu­tion: they want the cost-cutting benefits of mechanized equipment without yielding a snitch in price when it comes to selling their final product. Again, it is a “prob­lem of democracy” when a labor union, having fastened an “indus­try-wide” clamp on a basic seg­ment of the economy, insists on a raise in wages without regard to productivity.

Naturally, your relation to any “problem of democracy” depends on where you happen to be situ­ated in the grand politicalized scramble. In the case of the high school student, who is presumably to be taught how to be “rational” and “objective” in his “analysis,” the “problem” will depend largely on where his parents sit. All of which means that to carry out the Task Force’s recommendations for the high schools involves a trifling with high social explosives. If the senior year course in “problems of-democracy” economics should decide, “rationally,” that this-or that back-scratching group is get­ting its own backs scratched alto­gether too pleasurably, the yowls from “labor” parents or “farm” parents or “banker” parents would almost certainly intimidate any school board into weak-kneed re­treat. So we would be pushed back to eclecticism: anything goes, provided it is what you may choose to vote for by ballot at the polls. As for the concept of “effective demand,” which could be taught, it would be too crass to limit econ­omics to preoccupation with any such thing. The members of “underprivileged” pressure groups might be insulted.

Because “modern” economics is all mixed up with highly political­ized questions of countervailing powers and welfarist donations and “progressively” taxed in­comes and gifts-to-tribal-factions­in-the-tropics and “investment”­ in-Soil-Banks and labor-produc­tivity – that – ignores – inventor -and – investor – productivity, it is hardly to be wondered at that the Task Force doesn’t know how to present its subject as either a sci­ence or a useful art. To have a science, one must know how to describe a basic unit of measure­ment. And to have an art (which proceeds from the application of choice in a less-than-random way), one must first define one’s me­dium. In the maze of Bach-Samuelson economics, there can be no unit of measure, and the medium would defy anybody to set up its boundaries.

Since the state is in virtually everything today, the only rele­vant subject is politics, including the politics of getting the state out of things. Well, there used to be the subject of political econ­omy—so why not teach it once more, whether in the high schools or in college? Alas, the project is beyond us. For the old-fashioned political economy assumed that man had a nature, and that it was in his nature to wish to be free. In the modern age of “anything goes,” man has no specific nature, and it is purely an arbitrary ques­tion of “goals” whether he should or should not be free, even if he has the temerity to think he might possibly wish it.

But shouldn’t those high school students be taught something? Well, why not let them read The Federalist? Or, simply, why not give them an old-fashioned text about the factors of production and the economics of the firm, and let them go on from there for themselves with a warning that the politics of a “gimme” age has complicated everything and that it is their problem to get out of the moral cul de sac as best they can. Such curtness might wake a few of them up.

Schools Weighed In The Balance, Staff Study for the Association for Christian Schools,

1962. Houston, Texas: St. Thomas Press, P. 0. Box 35096. viii, 63 pp. $1.95.

 

Reviewed by Rev. R. J. Rushdoony

This important and timely study does not attempt to give a philos­ophy of education but is rather “an analysis of the problems con­nected with the control of schools.” As such, it is an excellent and pointed report on what may be the major sector in today’s battle against statism.

State supported and controlled schools were not part of the Amer­ican republic in its origin; they appeared a couple of generations later as a result of European, and predominantly Prussian, influence. They were viewed as a device for social salvation, both here and abroad. Jeremy Bentham, English utilitarian, held that “if we can get universal and compulsory edu­cation, then by the end of the cen­tury all our political and moral problems will have been solved.” Politicalized education is an ac­complished fact in most countries, America is “the last surviving area of resistance.”

In the United States today, both private and church-connected schools are making major head­way against state schools, and the likelihood is that their rapid growth will be stepped up.

Meanwhile, “public” education grows steadily more statist, the creature of “politics in the worst sense of the word.” Between 1948 and 1958, the number of school districts was reduced from 106,000 to 48,000, the consolidations being made in the name of efficiency but actually serving to reduce local control. The current demand for federal aid (and control) aims at further nationalization of the schools.

The basic question, effectively posed by Schools Weighed in the Balance, is this: To whom does the child belong—to the state and its educators, or to the parents under God? The conviction that state control of the child’s education is collectivist in tendency and inte­gral to a socialist order is plainly set forth, and the study is dedi­cated to the cause of a “wall of neutrality between school and state.”

The study is a major challenge to libertarians. It is good that we oppose statism and the drift into socialism, but the opposition is fu­tile if this major battle line—edu­cation—is neglected. Here a prac­tical, effective, and thus far vic­torious battle is being waged. If the state can own and socialize our children, then it most certainly can own and socialize our prop­erty. If we surrender our children to the state and its schools, how can we then dare to consider our property our own, having already conceded the major front? And how can God’s blessing be invoked in the battle against statism, if the most important point of battle, the child, is callously surrendered to the state?

Before libertarians go any further, they need to face up to these questions. A hard-pressed but still successful battle against the enemy is being fought by pri­vate and Christian educators, ably represented in this study. Our re­lation to this cause will be indica­tive of the honest measure of our concern over statism.

The Adams Papers,

Volumes I-IV. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. $30.00.

 

Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton

The shelves of public libraries are stocked with biographies and studies of Washington and Jeffer­son, but John Adams has been ne­glected. Adams served his country in many capacities for over twen­ty-five years—bef ore, during, and after the Revolution—but no monuments have been erected in Washington to remind us of his great achievements. It is indeed gratifying, therefore, to see, at last, a new edition of the literary works of John Adams, second President of the United States of America.

The four volumes that have just appeared, consisting mainly of John Adams’ diary and autobiog­raphy, are only a beginning. The Adams papers, which include ma­terial that extends well into the twentieth century, were given to the Massachusetts Historical So­ciety in 1956 by the Adams Manu­script Trust. This edition, when completed, will consist of 80 to 100 volumes containing the papers of John, John Quincy, and Charles Francis Adams, the first three generations of this remarkable family, the cutoff date for mate­rials to be included being 1889 when Abigail Brooks Adams, wife of the first Charles Francis, died. The one previous edition of John Adams’ works dates back over one hundred years!

It would appear to this writer, an acknowledged layman in such matters, that Mr. L. H. Butter­field, Editor in Chief, and his staff, have done a superb job. Even for trained scholars it is no easy task to read, sort, and edit thousands of pages of manuscripts, many of them almost illegible. The job of annotating is well done—compre­hensive but not distracting. The editors have made every attempt to offer these papers pretty much as they were written. Misspellings and minor errors stand, except for those that would be unintelligible unless corrected. But even more important, the editors have not at­tempted to whitewash any member of the Adams family. Nothing has been deleted to make them appear better or wiser men than they were. Following the lead of Charles Francis Adams when he edited a collection of his grand­father’s letters, they allow the reader to form his own opinion rather than make one for him; they seek to develop his judgment, not control it.

It is hoped that publication of these four volumes of The Adams Papers will spark an interest in the public career of John Adams, first of the family to become fa­mous and one of the greatest of the Founding Fathers. True, he was vain, ambitious, and ill-tem­pered, but all these faults can be forgiven in an “intensely honest” man, a man of integrity. How great is our need for men in public life who will speak the truth as they see it, whatever the conse­quences! But before this need can be fulfilled, we must learn with Mill that we can never have great minds “in a country where the test of a great mind is in agreeing in the opinions of small minds.”


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.