The Education Calculation Problem

In the last century a minority of great economists, led by Ludwig von Mises, clearly and forcefully pointed out the impossibility of calculation and planning under a socialist economy.  History bore them out, and the Soviet Union collapsed under the crushing weight of its own absurdly uncoordinated production patterns.  Absent a price system, planners grasped for anything they could measure in order to get the right mix of goods.  They judged the success of the nail factory by the total weight of all the nails it produced, which naturally led to factories producing giant nails of no use to anyone.  Then they switched to the number of nails produced, which led to tiny nails, equally useless.  It may seem like a silly case of some rascally producers, but regardless of the intentions or skills of the workers or planners, how were they to know what type, size, quantity and quality of nail to make?  They had no connection or effective communication channel to the consumer.

The insights about the impossibility of planning under total socialism apply equally to so-called “mixed” economies, except that whatever remnants of a market are in operation will stave off total collapse at least for a time, acting as a kind of safety valve.  In other words, the same top-down disorder that resulted in a surplus of mustard and a shortage of bread can be expected in the “planned” segments of any economy.

Education is “mixed” in the US, but more top-down than market based in almost every case.  There is almost no relationship between the end users of education – students and their parents – and the producers and planners in the system.  It is no wonder the education system focuses on compliance, obedience, respect for authority, behaving exactly like other people your age, memorizing things whether or not they’re valuable, and a lot of other characteristics inimical to a free society and entrepreneurship, production, and innovation.  They focus on these things because they can be measured absent a market.  Something like student satisfaction is far more important, but only the nuanced, complex, adaptive market order can cater to such individualized, subjective vagaries.  Top-down orders don’t know what to do with it so they endlessly tweak and argue over Common Core and other arbitrary outputs that can be measured.

Are teachers paid too much?  Too little?  Are facilities too big and costly?  Too small and dated?  Are class sizes too big or too small?  Do students need more tech, or less?  Longer school days and years, or shorter?  More extra-curriculars or fewer?  More or less homework?  More STEM or more arts?  No one knows, and no one ever can know absent a market.

Imagine markets for other goods and services if they were managed in this way.  Does your local grocery store need more of fewer types of refried beans?  Do you think a town hall meeting and a few bean board elections would come to a better solution than the market process?  Does “society” need more trucks and fewer sedans?  The absurdity of these questions ought to give pause before we enter ridiculous debates about whether schools or universities need more of this, or less of that.  Good intentions and good people can’t make sense out of the chaos.  Only markets can.

The more managed a system, the more it relies on what can be easily measured, and will therefore tend to produce those things rather than what is of value to consumers.  If this goes on long enough, consumers may forget that they even have an opinion, or that they could even value things other than the low-quality product they’re given.  If you’d never lived in a world with a flourishing, diverse market, you may not even know that you wanted low-sodium extra smooth refried beans, because you didn’t even know canned beans existed.

The solution in socialist countries was private property.  Even at its peak, those who went outside the system and operated in black markets kept some semblance of quality of life possible.  Once people were formally allowed to take ownership over their own lives and resources, markets and a functioning price system emerged and quickly began the ongoing coordination and creative destruction of a beautiful spontaneous order.  Consumers were once again king, and their wants and needs (sometimes unknown until entrepreneurs offered it to them) were the ultimate driving force.  Production patterns became flexible yet highly efficient at moving resources from lower value to higher value uses, as determined by the preferences of the end user, not some board or commission.

Unless private property (the ownership of ones own learning) in education reigns, educators will continue to grasp in the dark for what to produce.  They’ll tend toward uniformity, authoritarianism, and clumsy, blunt approaches that lend themselves to easy measurement.  Once consumers seize ownership of their own learning and seek products and services outside the grip of the state, the education market will reach full bloom and a cornucopia of methods and means will emerge.  Until then, the question, “What should education look like?” is as unanswerable as, “What should an economy produce?”.

The Craziest Ideas Are the Ones Most In Need of Intelligent Responses

As soon as you say, “Everyone should believe X, and if you don’t, you’re a crazy”, you make X look both less desirable, and more likely to be mistaken.

If X really is obvious, you needn’t pressure everyone to accept it. Anyone who denies the irrefutable is not going to be pressured anyway. An appeal to authority or consensus is not going to win over doubters, nor should it. If X is untrue or even a little bit off in some way, your anger at non-believers will harden your perceptions and form an intellectual arrogance that blinds you to new developments. It also makes you look like an ass who’s afraid of a world where people believe things differently than you.

Believers in far-fetched, fringe ideas rarely suffer from this kind of angry, shaming proclamation, because they’re used to their ideas being considered fringe. Those who believe generally accepted ideas, or who oppose fringe theories, are most in danger of this mindset. They may be entirely correct that the fringe ideas are silly, but the angry demand that everyone agree with generally accepted ideas is at least as anti-intellectual as the fringe ideas themselves, and revealing of a deep insecurity.

Categorized as Commentary

Ideas and Experiences

From the Praxis Blog

Ultimately, what people believe determines the kind of world they live in. When the bulk of society is willing to tolerate some kind of annoyance, or oppression, or shortcoming, or injustice, or unfairness, it is likely to emerge in that society. Everyone weighs the costs and benefits of resisting undesirable features of social and political institutions, and when the costs are too high, they find ways to cope rather than push back.

Sometimes the coping includes creating belief systems that label the undesirable features good, or at least inevitable or necessary. These status quo justifying belief systems keep the status quo safe from pressure to improve. You see this in business, politics, and all manner of social settings.

If the beliefs of members of society are the binding constraint on the social order, how do those beliefs change, as they sometimes do, and often quickly and radically? (Think about the complete reversal of the common beliefs about slavery in the early 19th century, and the worldwide institutional changes that rippled outward from it).

There are two primary ways to change beliefs. You can give people new ideas and new experiences. Creating new ideas is to directly confront those that form someone’s belief system, and ask them to make room for new ones. It is to conceptually challenge, confront, question, or inspire. Think of the people who challenge the status quo with books, songs, sermons, speeches, essays, and conversation. Think of the times your mind has been opened or changed by a teacher or author or friend.

It’s easy to assume this direct educational approach is the only way to change beliefs, but there is another way more subtle and just as powerful. It may be less glamorous because it often lacks the decisive light-bulb moment or a clear hero, but it’s effect is no less profound. It is to give people new experiences.

This approach to changing the world does not require an intellectual turnabout, or any arguing over theories. When you create new experiences and offer them to the world, they are either valuable or not. If they make lives better, they succeed and overtake or fundamentally alter people’s beliefs about the status quo, sometimes before anyone consciously notices. Those who create new experiences are entrepreneurs, and they are world changers just as the influential intellectuals.

While people endlessly debate the merits of immigration law, and whether individuals from other countries should be allowed to work in the US and on what terms, entrepreneurs keep improving technology and creating jobs for foreign workers where they can create value for US firms and consumers without having to hazard immigration red tape. Innovators find ways to integrate the world economy even when political institutions and public belief make little room for it. Experts long debated the correct way to determine long distance telephone rates, who should own the valuable telephone lines, and how they should be managed. While they were wrangling, cell phones were created, and now the debate seems meaningless. While defenders of the status quo say taxi service must be regulated and restricted to work, Uber comes along and awakens us to the reality that it doesn’t.

People form beliefs with the best information available. Often, it is assumed some particular societal deficiency is inevitable simply because we lack the imagination to envision a different solution. You can open imaginations by thoughtfully articulating why the experts are wrong and computers can be small enough and useful in the home. You can also open imaginations by creating the microchip, and making, marketing, and delivering products that use it to better peoples lives.

When you see something unsatisfactory in the world around you, know that the beliefs which sustain it are subject to change. If you want to help humanity forge ahead, create new ideas and new experiences.

Categorized as Commentary

No Home Should Sell for Less Than $100,000

I am appalled by the fact that some people live in homes that cost less than $100,000.  It is truly tragic, and something my conscience can hardly bear.  That is why I support laws that require all homes sold to sell for no less than $100,000.

That is the same argument made by those who support minimum wages, “Sweatshop” bans, and other workplace and compensation regulations.

Every exchange has two sides.  Both parties give something to get something.  When acquiring a home, you give money to get whatever value the home will provide you.  When acquiring a job, you give your productive capacity for money.  If a home costs more money than you have, you simply can’t buy it.  If a wage costs more productive capacity than you have, you simply cannot “buy” it, or exchange your labor for that wage.

Demanding that all homes be sold for at least $100,000 does not magically put money in the pockets of those who have less than that with which to purchase a home.  Demanding work be compensated at a certain price (whether by wage floors, forced offering of benefits, work hour restrictions, etc.) does not magically enhance the productive capacity of the worker.  In both cases, the least well off have simply been priced out of the market.

You may feel sad in your quarter million dollar home when you realize many people have $60,000 houses, but only a fool would respond by demanding homes be sold at a higher price to ease the plight of the less well off.  When you feel bad about people only earning a few dollars an hour, it would be just as foolish to demand that the jobs they wish to purchase only be sold for a higher price than they can afford.

If Steve Jobs Had Been President

Some thoughts on the movie Jobs, recorded while driving to the office this morning.  Summary: institutions matter…a lot.  A guy like Steve Jobs in a political system is going to be either ineffective or destructive.  In the market, he was both effective and productive.  (Sorry about the noise from the McDonald’s drive thru.  I had to get some oatmeal and coffee!)

The Hardest Year of My Life

WordPress sent me a year in review infographic for this blog (linked below), and it got me reflecting on the year.  There was more on my mind than I suspected.

We’re living in a beautiful place just like we dreamed.  I’m working from home and travelling, which has always been a goal.  We’ve got family and friends close.  I launched Praxis and have never been more thrilled with the work I’m doing.  Yet I can unreservedly say 2013 was the hardest year of my life.

The year began with a horrible flu and cold that took the whole family out of commission for a ridiculous amount of time and put a damper on the holidays back in Michigan.  I knew even then, and told my wife Heather more than once, that this would be a hard yet amazing year.  I was ready to take it on, though I had no idea at the time what that meant.

I left a job that I absolutely loved to go after my entrepreneurial dream, based almost entirely on a single walk on the beach.  I know, cliche.  The photo on the masthead of this blog was taken the very day the inspiration struck.  It was early in 2013, and I was restless for no known reason.  I went to Isle of Palms to walk and think.  The word “Praxis” popped into my head, and it was like the floodgates opened and the entire program was born in my mind.  I raced back to my car, drove to my laptop to get it all down, and immediately began building.

Shortly before that beach walk, I had committed to myself to start blogging every single day, seven days a week.  I was in a creative drought.  I knew I had to force myself to create something, and if I didn’t know what, blogging would do.  I did it for a full six months.  It was incredibly challenging at times, but also very freeing and very rewarding.  It helped me carve out the space I needed to think outside the milieu I was in.  I can’t give any concrete causality, but I can confidently say that Praxis never would have been launched had I not been changed by the process of daily blogging.  Creating begets creating.

Travel and trying to start a business while putting my heart and soul into another job I was passionate about and my family started to take a toll midway through the year, but all seemed largely to be humming along.  I was on my way home from a trip to New York when I finalized arrangements to go full time with the Praxis launch.  I was ecstatic, and all my flights were (unusually) on time, so I even got home to put the kids to bed.  Then it came.  A text I’ll never forget.  I was sitting on my son’s bed and we read it together.  My 4 year old nephew Ryland fell in the pool and was in the ER in critical condition.

The next several days, then weeks, were a blur.  We rallied together as a family, but despite everything all of us could do, my sister’s beautiful little boy passed away.  The day of the funeral, Heather had to leave early to fly to Michigan due to unexpected news that her father was in Hospice.  He had been declared cancer free on Christmas day 2012.  In the spring, it came back, but he was fighting it and he was young and healthy.  Things turned quickly, and before we had a moment to process the loss of Ryland, we were packing the kids in the car to head up to Michigan for their grandfather’s funeral.

In between time putting pieces together with family, I spent the fall speaking to students about Praxis.  Giving inspirational talks on innovation and entrepreneurship was not easy while dealing with the stunning loss of two close family members.  What should have been the most exciting fall of my life was the saddest, and I had to push myself just to keep at it.

It’s been a bit more than three months since the death of my nephew Ryland and my father in law Mike.  So much has happened, and so much good, but we’re still trying to process it.  Parenting is hard enough as it is, but it’s been especially challenging trying to help a brooding 8 year old, a quietly perceptive 4 year old, and a loquacious 2 year old understand and deal with death.  They randomly recall memories that make holding back tears impossible.  I’m thankful for that.

I did not plan on writing any kind of year-end reflection, and I have not been doing daily blogging here since I launched Praxis, but this cool little blog year in review stirred up a lot.  I was especially moved to see that the most popular post on the site by a mile was an interview with my sister in the summer, which was reposted by several people while Ryland was in the hospital and after he moved on from this life.  I’m glad to have been able to lend something to the literally thousands of people who took compassion on her family and wanted to know more.

Considering the year and imagining 2014 leaves me speechless.  (If you know me, you know that’s a rarity).  I can’t say I’m full of a lot of joy, or anger, or even sadness.  I’m waiting for the inertia of life to slow down again so I can get back in the driver’s seat…or at least the useful illusion of being there.

I will say this: never have I had such a deep appreciation for the kindness of strangers than in 2013.  Friends and family have been amazing, but that’s not a surprise to me.  Scores of random people and internet acquaintances have truly and unexpectedly made the joys so much greater, and the grief so much less lonely.  Thank you.

Below is what WordPress sent me to summarize this year of blogging.  Thanks for being a part of it.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Everything is Modular…Is Governance Next?

Interchangeable parts revolutionized manufacturing—and all aspects of life—at the dawn of the Industrial Age. It’s in some way analogous to how the digitization of information is changing life today. The difference is that now you get the best of both worlds: You can keep the differentiation and individualization while also getting the standardization. It’s a mash-up world; it’s weird, and it’s beautiful. We can most easily see the impact in entertainment, but the implications reach far deeper, opening new possibilities for commerce and governance.

To my kids, this is all second nature. My son thinks modularly, and sees the world as a series of modules. He’s grown up with platforms like the iPad that are populated with modules called apps, which you can mix and match any way you like. He likes Minecraft, Legos, and Star Wars. There are Lego mods for Minecraft, and Minecraft sets for Lego. There are Lego Star Wars products and shows. There are YouTube video mashups of all these things. Some of the shows he likes combine medieval adventure tales with high technology, or Greek myths with cartoon slapstick and pop-culture references. Nyan Cat and Batman fighting an ancient pharaoh with the Ring of Power? Sure, why not?

When I was a kid, things were far more cemented to their platforms. I liked Top Gun, Star Wars, baseball, Legos, and a great many other things. With the exception of constant attempts to make Star Wars characters with my Legos, the idea of crossing these forms of play never entered my mind. A Lego TV show would’ve seemed weird and never occurred to me.

It’s possible I’m only noticing a difference between myself and my kids, and there’s not much more to it. But it seems likely something more fundamental is going on.

Information is freely available in a wide open, wild market, and it’s beautiful. There are no Star Chambers to give imprimatur to what should and should not be considered official or good ideas. There aren’t publishing companies or government agencies powerful enough to dictate content or the media upon which it travels. All information is on an equal playing field. You referenced 20 great scholars in the footnotes and spent a lifetime completing this great work? Good for you. But I might just find a blog post written in 20 minutes or a TED talk that’s more valuable. Sorry.

This democratization puts Rebecca Black and Maria Callas in the same arena. The whole world has equal access to each (unless, as is often the sad case, one of them resists and tries to keep their work hidden from the world, thinking it will make them more valuable). My kids wouldn’t think anything was weird about a dub-step remix of Epic Beard Man singing Pavarotti. Everything, every great work and idea, from all of history and every genre, is available to everyone with an Internet connection.

A lot of the kings of the old guard lament this change and consider it vulgar. That’s what people thought about Shakespeare and Dickens and the Impressionists, too. Get over it. Content is king. If you want to be appreciated, create great content, and make sure not to hide it from a world that just might autotune or photobomb it.

It’s exciting to think how culture will evolve and find new ways to create out of this informational abundance. Right now, it kind of feels like the wild frontier, where this new ability has us exploring every crazy mash-up we can, just to prove it’s possible and break down old categories and constructs. It’s fun and it’s just the beginning. Kids who grew up without the old categories won’t feel the need to destroy them. They’ll be able to spend their energy creating new forms, not only being conscious iconoclasts.

What other areas of life, besides just culture (is there a difference now between “high” and “low” culture?) will this modular outlook affect? Seeing everything as a module that can be moved from one platform to another, layered or nested with any other module, has got to bring about some innovations we can’t even yet imagine in every institution and aspect of life.

Already people expect to be able to customize their lives in ways they never did before, and as a result, they want options in the services they purchase, many of which were once the sole domain of top-down governments. Ideas like community and patriotism used to be the foundation on which states could maintain their power, even when they delivered an inferior product. Digitization has revolutionized the way people view these concepts. They are more socially connected than ever, but it has little to do with arbitrary lines on a map or bureaucratic jurisdictions.

The overlapping networks of modules have created new communities, new loyalties, and new citizens who are citizens by choice. If your smartphone is a platform used to house modular forms of entertainment and commerce, why not also governance? Forget the government bus system and download the Uber app. Who needs the public school when you have Khan Academy? Why can’t services like getting a cat out of a tree, or defusing a domestic disturbance also be offered in a diverse array of modules, instead of by one clunky agency?

My kids’ video games are just the beginning. I’ve got my popcorn and I’m going to enjoy watching it happen—or at least follow the hashtag on Twitter.

Originally published in The Freeman

Categorized as Commentary

6 Tips When Deciding Whether to Finish College

From the Praxis Blog

A lot of bright young people are unhappy in college.  They hate wasting money.  They hate wasting time.  They hate the fact that what they’re getting in return is of so little value in preparing them for career and life.

Many of these young people are resigned to push themselves through that one final semester, or year, or two years.  Sure, it sucks.  But they’ve come so far, it seems the sensible thing is to soldier through the drudgery and finish before pursuing things they are really passionate about.  At least then they’ll walk away with something, right?

Not so fast.

Here are six things to consider if you don’t love college but think you need to finish anyway.

1. Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy.  It’s gone.  It can never be recovered.  You will never get back the money or time you’ve put in.

This fallacy plagues everyone from investors to gamblers to your friend who makes you wait in an hour long line to see a mediocre movie because, “We’ve already waited half an hour and I don’t want that to be for nothing!”

I hate to break it to your friend, but it was for nothing.  Past expenditures that can’t be recovered shouldn’t factor in to decisions about the present and future.  It doesn’t matter that you sunk three and a half years and 50 grand into college.  What matters is whether the next six months and ten grand is better spent on college than all other alternatives.  Remove yourself from your prior experience.  If you had never spent any time or money on college and someone offered to put you through lectures for a year if you paid upwards of five figures, would that be your ideal way to spend those resources?  If not, don’t.

Quitting doesn’t make it all for nothing, it makes it all for whatever it is you’ve gained up to this point. If that wasn’t worth it, why would the next semester or year be?  Looking only ahead and not behind, what gets you closer to the kind of experiences and life you will enjoy?

2. Don’t see college as a single, unified product.  College comes as a bundle of goods; knowledge, a social experience, parties, football games, a signal that you’re a normal person, a degree, etc.  Unbundle it.

What parts do you really value?  If it’s knowledge gained from good lectures and discussions, ask yourself if that component can be had better or cheaper elsewhere.  If it’s the social experience, ask them same.  Do you really need four years and six figures to have a good time and meet new friends?  Can football games only be enjoyed if you have student loans?  Is a degree really the most effective and direct route to a career you love?

Consider the individual units of time, money, and energy you put in and get out.  Perhaps it was valuable for the first few semesters before you really knew yourself.  Rather than assuming you have to either take the whole bundle or leave it, take those valuable units, be thankful for them, and when the value ceases, move on to the next best use of the next unit of time, money, and passion.  Economists call this thinking at the margin.  I call it good sense.

3. Don’t let your past control your future. So you once thought your dream was to be a doctor, argue before the Supreme Court, or walk down the aisle in a cap and gown with an MBA.  Now that you’re in the thick of it, it doesn’t move you.  It bores you.  It tires you.  You don’t see the point in all the monotony.  But you’ve always been known as the gal who’s heart was set on that path.  To change course would make everyone think something was terribly wrong. So what.

It’s hard to be really honest with yourself about what makes you come alive.  It’s painful too, as what you wish you were and what you used to be pass away.  The only thing worse is living your present the way your past self wanted, rather than the way your present self needs.  It sucks to be a slave to anything.  Being a slave to your past personality is one of the worst forms.  Break the chains and do what gets you going today.

4. Don’t assume staying the course is a virtue. If you’re being punked by Ashton Kutcher, it’s best to figure it out and quit whatever embarrassing thing you’re doing.  Persistence is a great virtue; unless you’re persisting to drive in the wrong direction, take the wrong medicine, or cut the wrong sequence of wires while defusing a bomb.

Recognizing a fools errand takes insight.  Dropping out for something better takes courage.  If it ain’t right, don’t keep at it.

5. Don’t be a slave to your resume. It’s not that important anyway.

Sure, a college degree it still carries some psychological weight, but not much in a stack of resumes.  Titles, degrees, letters after your name and other accolades seem very important when you’re young and inexperienced in the professional world.  It’s because you have no other metric for success.  The education you’ve experienced for most of your life is all about gold stars and letter grades and honor rolls and GPA.  The market is nothing like that.  It cares about value.  Do you have it?  Can you prove it?

Resumes matter on occasion, but really only after you’ve got a foot in the door through your network, experience, and reputation as a hard worker.  Is college equipping you with those things?

What your resume lacks in degrees it can more than make up for in content.  It’s really impressive when someone is self-aware enough to know college wasn’t working, and bold enough to head for greener pastures.  It stands out from the crowd and opens the way for you to tell your story.  Plus, you can say, “I took the Mark Zuckerberg/Steve Jobs/Bill Gates/Larry Ellison route.”

An employer who writes off your great reputation, smarts, communication skills, and stellar work ethic, just because you don’t have a degree, is probably not someone you want to work with anyway.

6. Don’t forget opportunity cost.  You need to weigh the costs of finishing college.  You’ve got it.  Ignore sunk costs, think at the margin, and all that other stuff I’ve been saying.  Yeah, yeah.  You get out your calculator to add up the dollars, or if you’re more sophisticated, days and dollars.  But you’re ignoring the biggest cost: you.

You are scarce.  You can only be in one place, doing one thing, at one time.  That means for every choice you make there are countless other things you are unable to choose.  The cost of one decision is more than the money paid; it’s the value of the next best alternative.  Once again to the economists, who call this your opportunity cost.

If you’re considering that final fifteen grand for your senior year, you need to add to that the value of your next best option.  Maybe you could work and earn $20,000.  In that case, the cost of the final year is really $35,000.  Make a difference?  You bet.

It’s not just money prices.  Value is subjective.  Maybe you value experience and mentorship, or travel and new cultures, more than the $20,000 job.  You have to give it up to finish school.  Is it worth the price?

When you consider sacrificing four or more prime years of your youth, and being bound to one geographical location for most of that time, college starts to cost a lot more than tuition.  For half the cost and in half the time, you might be able to visit ten countries, start a business, earn some money, and learn computer programming.  That’s just scratching the surface.

Bottom line: Don’t stay in college just because you’re close to the end.  Look ahead rather than behind, figure out what fans your flame, weigh the costs and benefits of every alternative, and do what’s best for you.  Try Praxis for starters.

It’s Time to Shake Things Up

Not long ago, I launched Praxis; a ten-month alternative/supplement to college for entrepreneurial young people who want more.  I want to change the way education and career preparation happen.  I want to unleash a generation of entrepreneurs.  I want to help people escape the college debt trap.  I want to offer a better, faster, cheaper way to discover and pursue dreams.  I don’t want to just complain about the status quo, I want to create alternatives.  I am now devoting all of my energy to this project, and, somewhat bitter-sweetly, moving on from the wonderful Institute for Humane Studies.

Since my early teens I’ve wanted to help people achieve their dreams.  I’ve wanted to increase opportunity, prosperity, and freedom.  I started doing humanitarian missions.  Before long I noticed that, while noble and fulfilling, such efforts were like a band-aid on a tumor.  It was the political institutions that held so much of the world back from the pursuit of happiness.

I entered the realm of politics, ready to make a difference.  The experience, combined with my introduction of Public Choice Theory, revealed that politics was no cure.  Political actors were following a script already written.  They were followers, not leaders.

The realm of policy, and eventually of education in the ideas of freedom, drew me in.  Ideas are the driving force in the world.  People’s beliefs shape what they think about government and other institutions, and what they’ll let those institutions get away with.  Policy follows the path blazed by belief.  This led me to the Mackinac Center, where I worked with college students across the state of Michigan.  It led me to IHS, where I worked with students around the world, helping them understand liberty, and helping them find careers where they could advance the ideas that lead to sound institutions, which in turn allow for the peaceful evolution of a free and humane society.

IHS’s mission is near and dear to my heart.  They provide knowledge and support to intellectual entrepreneurs.  The big thinkers and communicators who’s ideas shape the beliefs of the public.  The innovators who challenge common notions and bust popular myths.  IHS has played a role in the life and work of nearly every one of the contemporary intellectuals I respect most; from Hayek and Friedman, to the younger crop of groundbreaking economists, philosophers, historians, journalists, and “dealers in ideas”. It has been an honor, a privilege, and a joy to work for this institution.

I mentioned intellectual entrepreneurs.  But to change the world requires two kinds of entrepreneur.  The innovators in the realm of ideas, who open up our imaginations, help us see what’s wrong with what is and to consider what could be.  And the innovators in the realm of enterprise, who create working alternatives to the failing, stagnant institutions of the present day.

People may be willing to question prevailing narratives if given enough intellectual ammunition, but shedding received wisdom and habits is much easier when better alternatives already exist.  You can convince people the Post Office or the telephone monopoly is silly and inefficient, but consider the power of offering them UPS, FedEx, email, cell phones, and WiFi.

It is indeed the work of entrepreneurs, mold-breakers, and “crazy ones” that drives positive change.  I am excited to support the great work of places like IHS as they continue to unleash intellectual entrepreneurs.  I’m even more thrilled now to throw myself headlong into the work of Praxis, as we seek to unleash the practical entrepreneurs.  I hope you’ll join me, whatever kind of entrepreneur you are, in creating new ideas, new businesses, new solutions.  Let’s do more than dream of a better world.  Let’s create it.

Categorized as Commentary

Don’t Go to College

Good friend and collaborator T.K. Coleman invited me on his show, “Conversations with FiFi & T.K.” to talk about Praxis and why traditional education doesn’t cut it any more.  We had a great conversation and I got to field some good questions about the Praxis idea.  Made me all the more excited for the start of our first class in February!  Hope you enjoy the interview.

Why I Love the Anonymity of the Market

A lot of people say they want to know the person who sells to them.  They want a tight-knit Mayberry-like marketplace where you buy from and sell to your friends and family.  Seems more civil and cozy than the widely dispersed and highly specialized global market, doesn’t it?  I don’t think so.  And I don’t think most people realize that the very anonymity they claim to dislike is one of the more humanizing and freeing aspects of the market.

Trying a new format, I recorded this while driving home from Starbucks.

You Were Born an Entrepreneur

Have you ever watched a baby with a goal?  They know what they want, but they don’t know how to get there.  They have limbs they can barely control and a variety of toys, tools, and furniture around them.  They collect information by watching others.  They test and explore, flailing their limbs until they invent their own kind of motion to get from point A to point B.  It’s remarkable when you think about it.  None of the adults around them are crawling, but babies find this solution on their own.  They will not be denied.

It takes years in a conformity-based education system to train that kind of initiative out of us.  In fact, conformity was one of the primary goals of the education system when it was established.  Experts believed that people needed to be molded into uniform widgets, then plugged into an assembly line like spare parts, ready to take orders.  It wasn’t a great model then, and it’s even worse for the world today.

Despite the slower economy, opportunity abounds.  Cloud-computing and other innovations have dramatically reduced the cost of creating, collaborating, and starting a business.  The best businesses are struggling to find people who can come in and add value, out-of-the-box thinking, and innovation.  The market is full of unmet needs, but there aren’t enough entrepreneurs to solve them.

Now is not the time to wait around for more jobs to open up.  Now is not the time to wander aimlessly through a status quo education, or sit in classrooms struggling to stay awake.  Now is the time to rediscover your inner entrepreneur.  Break free.  Pick goals, even if they’re notional, and think clearly about the best way to achieve them.  Test different approaches.  Is the well-worn path really the best option?

Why Now is the Time

These are exciting times in education and career training.  The landscape is changing, and everyone knows it.  College degrees are still expected by most employers, but the trend is in the other direction.  Some of the most interesting companies don’t care.  They want something that stands out and signals real value.

Online education is exploding.  It still falls short in many ways, but for basic conveyance of knowledge to the motivated learner, it’s incredible.  Meanwhile, innovators are furiously trying out ways to test and verify knowledge, make it interactive, and enhance the experience.

Young people are listless and frustrated, but not willing to throw in the towel.  More and more are taking longer to make it through college; not because they’re dumb, but because college doesn’t help them discover their passions and hone their skills, even in four years, so they try a semester abroad, a new major, and on and on.  They crave a new, immersive experience.  They want something for them, not for the people who created the system.  They want to be the customer, and have their educational needs catered to; rather than feel like the cog who is used by the system then discarded.

Yet there is hesitancy.  Young people want to try something new, and break the mold, but they’re scared to be too far out there or too different.  They read articles about the declining value and rising costs of college, but they still see degrees listed as a requirement for many jobs, and their friends and parents keep urging them to go, to finish, and if that’s not enough, to try grad school.

Is it a little radical to try something like Praxis?  Yes.  That’s precisely why it’s so valuable.  Five years ago, doing something other than college was risky. In five years it will be common. Now is that sweet spot, where you have a chance to do something just enough on the edge to make you stand out, but not so far that no one understands. This is the time to push yourself just a little out of the comfort zone, be an innovator, and reap the first mover rewards on the job market.

The opportunity cost is low for young people.  The older you get, the harder it is to try something for a year.  It’s always possible, but the mental hurdles become harder to overcome.  Now is the time.

Categorized as Commentary