Current Reading List

What I’m reading, or about to start reading (or re-read, or pick up and finish). Chances are, the list will accumulate new additions faster than I remove completed books. The ability to not finish every page in a book is one I’m trying to hone – without it, I’ll never cover all I want to!

Envy

Phi

The Collected Works of Armen A. Alchian

Young Pioneers

The Problem of Political Authority

A Pattern Language

An Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read

Moral Principles and Political Obligations

Two Cheers for Anarchism

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

The Job of a Parent: Create Free Space

Neighbors, ideologies, governments, social norms and other institutions and beliefs work to create a sense of duty and loyalty in individuals from the day they are born.  Even if some of these institutions and ideas turn out to be good, early fealty to them is often based on guilt for who a person is, shame at what they do, fear of retribution, or ignorance of alternatives.  One of the jobs of a parent is to act as a barrier between these pressures and their kids.

When people call a child “sheltered”, it’s usually meant derogatorily.  But a good shelter is what all kids need.  Not walls that keep them in, but walls that keep some of the strongest forces that seek to mold them at bay.  A seedling needs a protected area in which to gain strength and deep roots before it can weather the strongest winds and weeds.

It’s crucial that this safe space we create for our kids be full of windows and doors – opportunities to explore the very forces that we want to provide a buffer for.  Kids are curious, and the more they have access to information and ideas in a context without coercion, fear, ignorance, guilt or shame, the better conclusions they will draw about them, and the more equipped they will be for the world.

It’s harder than it may seem to create this space.  I think of the times when, far from protecting, I act as an amplifier of the forces of the world.  When your child loudly asks a question considered embarrassing by the mores of the day, it’s very easy to shut them down or project your own embarrassment on them.  It’s not easy to take all the social heat yourself, shield it from your kid, and respond generously.  When kids naively explore the world, we should let them, rather than cajole them into the conventional conclusions and behaviors.

Kids will run into the norms of the world, no doubt about it, but at least parents can ensure they don’t get smacked with it in the sanctuary of their own homes.  Don’t let the walls of your house be those coming in on them, before they have strength to resist.  Let your kids be expansive and boundless!  That’s how they’ll gain strength and identity and an ability to respond to the world around them with ease and freedom.

Process vs. Content

I spent the weekend at a conference discussing education, and what kind of program or curriculum is ideal for young students.  It struck me how easy it is to overestimate the role of the content of an educational program and underestimate the role of process.

One professor said he’s noticed that teachers who teach courses on comic books are no less likely to get students thinking about important concepts than those who teach philosophy.  The key is the quality of the teaching.  A good teacher can help students discover truths using a wide variety of curricular materials, where a poor teacher can’t wring enlightenment out of the best.

The process also matters in other ways.  Who owns the education of the individual?  If it’s the individuals own responsibility, and they primarily bear the costs and benefits, you get something much different than when students are a third party to a transaction between others.  Some self-selection, a level of interest on the part of the student, the freedom to direct their own inquiry – these are process related and are probably more important than the content of the education.

Process also maters to the method of how the individual educational processes are determined.  Do a small number of students or educators or bureaucrats determine what kind of system everyone will go through, or are myriad competing methods allowed to emerge?

It’s easy as a parent to worry too much about what books my kids are reading, what lessons their learning, and other content concerns.  I need to be reminded from time to time that kids are curious and eager to learn just abut anything if the process is conducive.

First, Do No Harm

Last summer I had a trip to the emergency room that highlighted one of the perversities of the medical industry in the United States: Health practitioners are prevented from helping patients because of regulatory hurdles erected by the state at the behest of vested interests.

We were on vacation in a small town on the shore of Lake Michigan, and I experienced some intense stomach pains. When the pain persisted, I wondered if it might be my appendix and decided to hazard a trip to the ER to get it checked out. Fortunately, my appendix was fine and the pain subsided not long after I arrived at the hospital. Unfortunately, my experience in the ER was painful for other reasons.

I arrived late at night to a small but clean new building. There were only two other people in the ER waiting room and there were several nurses and hospital personnel on hand to take my information. I was in the system and seated in no time.

Then I waited for an hour and a half.

Given that effective pricing mechanisms are not available to the hospital, the long wait actually makes sense as a way to weed out the more frivolous ER visitors. Hospitals are required to see everyone who comes in, and virtually no one pays directly for their health services, so the incentive is to abuse the ER with visits of low importance. Making patients wait a long time is one of the only means available to the hospital for reducing low value visits. Indeed, one of the two patients there before me left during this time.

Finally I was admitted. A very energetic 30-something nurse took my vitals and inquired to the nature of my visit. I discussed my abdominal issues at length, and he looked very thoughtful and excited, like an engineer relishing the challenge of a puzzle he knows can be solved. He asked a slew of good questions, some of them unexpected to me. He looked pleased in a Sherlock Holmes kind of way.

Now I was excited. I could tell he had several ideas about my condition. He said, “Well, you have to wait for the doctor.” He paused and lowered his voice a bit, “but I can tell you that I don’t think you’re in serious trouble … I’ve got some really good ideas on what’s going on and what you can do about it. I’ve seen and experienced what I think you’re dealing with.”

This was great news! I’ve had on and off unexplained stomach issues for a number of years, so I was eager to hear his thoughts. I asked him to elaborate and he looked a little dismayed. “I’m not a doctor. It would be outside of my professional boundaries if I told you more. The doctor will be in soon.” Then he left.

I was irritated, but glad at least that he seemed so energized and full of ideas. I was hopeful he’d talk to the doctor—and the doc could share his thoughts. I waited.

I waited some more.

After 45 minutes, I wandered into the hall (revealing hospital gown and all) looking for signs of life. I rounded a corner and came to a room where six or seven nurses were hanging around chatting. I asked if the doctor had forgotten about me. They casually said he’d come soon and returned to their chit chat. I went back to the room. At this point the pain had subsided quite a bit, and after my vague conversation with the nurse, I was convinced I was not in danger. Still, I wanted his thoughts. The nurse poked his head in again, seeming to feel sorry for me and, showing signs of frustration said, “Sorry, the doctor will be here soon. Hang tight.”

I waited another 45 minutes. Nothing.

I was tired, feeling better and getting grumpy. I had no cell signal, and I knew my wife was worried. I wandered the hall one last time with no result, so I decided to leave.

As I drove back to the cottage, I couldn’t help thinking of the frustrated nurse who seemed to have some helpful information he was dying to share with me but couldn’t. Why couldn’t he? Because he’s not a state-licensed doctor, and state-licensed doctors have made sure they are the only ones allowed to provide certain information.

The public justification for medical licensing laws is that they protect patients from bad service. The idea that state bureaucracies are the best way to guarantee good service is laughable. Just visit the DMV. The laws do offer protection, but not to patients. They protect doctors’ economic interests from the competition of other health practitioners with less training who might offer services at lower cost. This is an ethical problem for the medical profession.

The famous medical creed, “First, do no harm,” means that doctors ought not intervene with a patient if the intervention might cause more harm than doing nothing. But what about legal intervention? Left alone, I would have happily paid the nurse for his insight into my discomfort. He would have happily offered it. The doctor’s cartel, far from doing nothing, intervened with the long, blunt arm of the law and prohibited this interaction from taking place. In doing so, they caused harm to me by denying me information that could prove valuable to my health. In this case, it was not an emergency, but it very well could have been. There are instances of medical services prohibited by regulations that cause severe illness or death.

In South Carolina, where I now live, a law was recently passed banning midwives from assisting in home births if the mother has previously had a C-section or is otherwise considered a “high-risk” birth. The nurses and doctors advocated this law. It reduces the growing competition from the more personal, convenient and far less expensive home birth practitioners. Of course you can’t reasonably make it illegal for so called high-risk mothers to have home births across the board, because sometimes it just happens. So the law only makes it illegal for a midwife to assist. The result has been an increase in unassisted high-risk home births and an increase in medical problems as a result.

In both cases, the doctors’ lobby violates the creed to do no harm. Rather than letting people follow their planned course of action, professional associations concerned with the economic interests of their members run to the state and demand intervention that prohibits voluntary exchanges and does harm to the patients.

Milton Friedman argued long ago against medical licensing because it raises the cost and reduces the accessibility of medical services. Not only is it a bad practice for these economic reasons, but it is unethical as well. If doctors have an ethical obligation not to interfere with a patient when it might do harm, they should start by opposing state licensing regimes that do just that.

Originally posted here.

Commerce is Better Than Education

I’ve recently read several essays on education by some of the American Founders.  These writings have in common a belief that good education will promote civility, manners, advances in agriculture, manufacturing, and morality.  It seems to me effect is confused with cause.

It’s not education – at least not formal education or schooling – that produces industriousness and social cooperation, but social cooperation and industriousness that increases knowledge and education.  Commerce is the great civilizing force in the world.  The greater and freer the extent of trade, the more scope individuals have to exercise and explore their abilities and the greater the incentive to obtain knowledge of value to them.

When people are free to reap the rewards or pay the costs of their endeavors, they have every incentive to improve.  This incentive leads to advances in industry, arts, and even culture and values.  Peaceful, mutually beneficial transactions bring the greatest returns, and these require knowledge and respect for other cultures, proficiency with products and processes, and constant adaptation and learning.

When commerce happens, the incentive exists to become educated.  No one need impose an educational plan on their neighbor, and no one has the ability to know what kinds of knowledge their neighbor needs.  We over-estimate the role that education plays in determining the kind of world we live in.  In reality, markets do most of the heavy lifting, and education follows and fills in the well-worn paths etched by exchange.  You could expend all the energy in the world trying to ensure more young people learn your favorite subject.  But if the market signals excellent returns in a different field, people will flock their despite what they’ve been trained in.

We needn’t fret so much about what kind of educational systems exist around us.  We do need to do everything we can to ensure free exchange is unhampered, and myriad educational opportunities will flower as a result.

The Remnant

Sometimes what you do has no immediate impact. Sometimes it has no visible impact at all. But, if its something you love, and doing it brings you fulfillment and peace, there’s value in it. Not only value for you in the act of creating or doing, but if you genuinely feel in ‘flow’, it’s a sign your working in and around truth, and that cannot help but impact other truth seekers.

You may never have the pleasure of seeing others appreciate it. You may never have evidence that what you do has changed the world. But if it’s true, it has. Albert Jay Nock reminds of the story of Isaiah, who’s job was not to reach the people all around him. It was to speak to the Remnant.

Marketing Creates Value

Near the end of the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey saw reality in a whole new light. He glimpsed a world in which he was never born and realized just how important he was to those around him. This experience instantly and dramatically changed George’s outlook on life. In a matter of minutes, he transitioned from attempted suicide to pure joy at the fact of his own existence. No material facts changed. George Bailey was still stuck in Bedford Falls. He was still hard of hearing. He was still in deep legal and financial trouble. The angelic Clarence did nothing to improve the external condition of Mr. Bailey’s life, but he saved it nonetheless. He saved it with marketing.

Marketing is often criticized as being deceptive, slimy or at least economically wasteful. How could anyone justify a $2 million dollar Super Bowl ad about a bottle of Coke? Skepticism of marketing springs from an overly narrow and simplistic view of value. In the real world, the line between the real and perceived characteristics of an economic good is all but nonexistent. Our knowledge of and beliefs about goods are just as much a part of their value as anything that can be weighed or measured.

Economists have long understood that value (in the economic sense) is subjective. There is no universal formula to determine how much a good or service or experience is worth, because each person has different tastes, preferences and needs, and each will value things differently with changing circumstances. This means that how we feel about a good and what the good is made of are equally important in determining its value to us—i.e. how much satisfaction it brings. If making a better mousetrap can make lives better, so too can making people feel more confident in their mousetrap. This is not trickery; it’s value creation. Confidence in my mouse trap might help me sleep better at night and enhance my quality of life in a very real way.

We’ve all seen news stories about blind taste tests. They are meant to reveal consumer stupidity and branding smoke and mirrors. I recall reading about customers given a cheap beer and told it was a more expensive brand. They reported that it tasted much better than what they were told was the cheap beer, but was in reality the more costly. When they were told the opposite, the results reversed.

The report was framed as some kind of “gotcha” moment, as if a great hoax had been revealed. Why should these results be surprising? If you’ve ever picked up a glass of milk, thinking it was water, and taken a swig, you’ll understand. Even if you like milk you are likely to spit it out. Your beliefs about what you are consuming prepare your brain and your taste buds for a certain experience. The knowledge you have about what you ingest literally changes the experience of consumption. Try smoking a good cigar while stressed or in a hurry and see if it tastes even remotely similar to the same cigar when you have an hour to kill with nothing on the mind.

They say marketing is all about the sizzle, not so much about the steak. Why shouldn’t it be? Steak without sizzle is little more than raw meat; carrion fit for vultures and wild dogs. Steak beautifully plated and garnished creates more value for the person consuming it. Sight, sound, smell and taste are all part of the experience, and the brain is the crucial interface. Even if you have a purely utilitarian approach to eating and care only for the sustenance, you can’t ignore the mind. What you believe about your food actually affects how much it satisfies you.

My father suffered a closed head injury many years ago which affected, among other things, the communication channel between his brain and his digestive system. His brain always tells him he is hungry, no matter how much he eats. It is a near full-time job to convince him that he is full and doesn’t need any more food—that’s some serious marketing. In fact a great many people without head injuries resort to all kinds of tricks and techniques to convince themselves of the same thing in order to stay trim.

I recall talking to a friend who had no taste for coffee. I convinced her to try a sip only after closing her eyes and letting me describe step-by-step the growth, cultivation, harvesting and roasting process. She admitted that, while she still didn’t love it, she began to enjoy the taste a good bit more and understood why I love it so much. I know of people who can no longer stand the taste of meat because they observed the operations of a meat-packing factory. The meat did not change, yet its taste changed with their knowledge and feelings about it. The value of the product radically shifted with a change in perception.

If marketing makes us love a product more, and therefore makes us happier, it has indeed created value. Love for a new car comes not only because it is red, weighs 2,500 pounds and has four doors—all things that can be measured objectively—but also because it is safe, one-of-a kind, and edgy, all subjective to the person experiencing it. The purely informational role of an advertisement is no more valuable than its ability to make us proud of what we purchase. But how valuable is it?

We can get a rough idea of the minimum value created by marketing in dollars and cents. This does not, of course, measure the subjective value to each consumer, but it reveals how much value consumers placed on the marketing in money terms. If a marketing campaign costs $10 million and it results in an additional $11 million of revenue, we know that it has created more than $1 million in value, as judged by those who willingly spent money on the product. If the campaign made the product more valuable to more people and induced them to buy more or buy at a higher price, that is a reflection of the fact that the consumers felt the product and associated satisfaction created by marketing was worth more than the money they gave up to get it. Real value was created. If it was not, people would not have willingly parted with their money in exchange for the good. Better marketing can often be a cheaper and more effective way of improving a good and making people happier than altering the product itself.

Goods and the knowledge and feelings that come with them cannot be separated. New tile floors and soft lighting may be just as important as variety and good service at a clothing store. An inspiring ad campaign may bring just as much happiness as new features on a smartphone. This is no scandal, but a fact of the human experience of reality.

Rather than denigrate it as some kind of fraud or waste, we should applaud good marketing. Not only does it enhance the value of the products we buy, it enhances our quality of life even when we don’t buy the products being marketed. TV ads are often funny and entertaining. Billboards and magazine ads are sometimes works of art. Good marketing is a free gift to all, and it makes all our lives better. A world without marketing would be dull and far less fulfilling.

Altering our perceptions of reality is one of the best ways of improving our quality of life. It’s powerful stuff. Clarence saved George Bailey’s life with a recasting of the facts, and set him out with a full heart ready to take on the world. The creative efforts of marketers everywhere have the same power to make our lives richer and better.

Originally posted here.

Ask Where Things Come From

Yesterday, I came across this quote:

“America: Less than 5% of the world’s population, consumes over 25% of the world‟s resources.”

This is meant to shock and shame.  How selfish of the people living within this geographical area to consume so much!  That sentiment may be warranted if life were some kind of reality TV show with everyone stuck in a house with a fixed pool of resources, but it’s not.  If we really want to understand the world, we need to ask a key question: where do those resources come from?

They come from production and trade.  Everything that is consumed must first be produced.  There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.  In order for people in the borders of America to consume stuff, they must obtain it.  They can produce it themselves or trade something else they have produced for it.  In a free market, every exchange is voluntary.  In order for both parties to agree to trade, both must consider themselves better off after than before.  Because economic value is subjective, both walk away wealthier than before because they gave up something they valued less than what they got.

Now that we know some basic economics, what does the statistic about consumption tell us?  It tells us that, in order to consume a lot, American’s must have produced a lot.  It means what they produce must be more valuable to their trading partners than what they consume.  In other words, it means they are creating value for the world.

There is an exception to the rule that more consumption happens after more value creation.  Consumption can also happen after resources are taken by force, outside the operations of the market.  This fact is illustrated by another quote I came across yesterday on a list of common economic fallacies.  The commenter said a common fallacy is,

“Not asking where ‘G’ comes from.”

In macroeconomics, wealth is often measured (somewhat dubiously) in GDP.  The typical formula for measuring a nation’s GDP is: C+I+G+(X-M).  In this equation, C means private consumption, I is investment, G is government spending, X is exports and M is imports.

There are plenty of problems with this formulation, but leaving those aside, the math tells you that increasing any of these addends increases total wealth.  This is what leads many to advocate for increased government spending as a way to grow the economy.  To the true believers, any spending will do.  John Maynard Keynes famously suggested that the Treasury should stuff jars with bank notes and bury them in abandoned coal mines to be dug up again.

But where does G come from?  Government produces nothing, it only takes.  Every penny in the G category was taken from C or I.  This would not seem problematic at first for the economy as a whole, much as individual taxpayers may not like it, because the sum would remain unchanged.  Except that, as we have been reminded, economic value is subjective.

A dollar taken from someone and spent on her behalf is less valuable to her than keeping that dollar.  If this were not so, she would have given it up voluntarily.  People put their resources to their highest valued use, according to their own scale of value.  Any time resources are taken by force, value is destroyed.  Further, the choices people would have made would send signals rippling through the economy, telling entrepreneurs and producers what to produce more and better of.  When government puts resources to their uses, it signals entrepreneurs and producers to create more of what government wants, which diverts production and innovation away from the areas most valued by the citizenry.

The common problem in both scenarios – assuming the a high rate of US consumption means less for everyone else; and assuming an increase in government consumption means more for everyone else – is a failure to examine causal connections.  Static snapshots of data – whether a percentage of world consumption or GDP – tell us nothing about the ongoing relationships in our world.

These relationships have patterns and feedback and adaptations.  The data comes from somewhere, and it’s more than a simple path; it’s the result of a complex and constant churning of causes producing effects.  Freezing this dynamic process in time and measuring where a bunch of stuff is can’t tell you whether the process is just or efficient, or what the results will be over time.

Before you make data-based judgments about systems in the world, understand where the data come from.  What does the process look like that produced it?  What are the causal relationships?  What happens to the data through time?  Citing a lot data might make you feel smart, but if you accept data alone as proof of cause, it’s only a feeling.

The Birth of an Idea

Just because something is inevitable doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I used to think having an idea I believed in was the hard part, and once I had it, acting on it would be easy.  When you get an idea that you know you must act on – a thought you must put into words, an expression you must create – and you know there is no choice but to bring it into being, the real challenge starts.  It’s a process not dissimilar to pregnancy.

If you have been trying to get pregnant for some time, it is a relief when you do.  But things don’t get easier just because the eventual child is all but inevitable.  You have the knowledge that birth is coming.  You also realize how much has to be done between here and there.  There are moments of panic when you consider you have no nursery, no diapers, no baby clothes, no stroller, no idea what challenges may come, no knowledge of all the things you might have to do to care for the child.  There are other times when you feel completely at ease, resting in the knowledge that what you have created will come to fruition in due course.  You have a vision of life with a child, and you know that vision will be fulfilled and somehow everything you need to get done will get done.  Of course, you still have to do it.

The seed of an idea that moves you, once planted, will – must – grow.  You know it must be created, expressed, brought into the light.  But how many things are there to do first!  How can you handle them all?  How can you fill that space between now and then with the things that must precede the birth of the idea?  How can you prepare to raise and nurture it once it emerges?  Yet you know you will, because the idea is going to happen, just as the child is going to come.  Nature must run its course.

The mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges of pregnancy reveal the unique process of moving from potency to act; from knowledge of a new life, through gestation, to birth and beyond.  The near inevitability of the outcome is joyous and overwhelming.  Being ‘pregnant’ with an idea has many similarities.  It’s right to experience the tension between complete relief that the new creation is coming, and uneasiness with the knowledge of all that must happen first.  Your job is to do two contradictory things at once: relax and let it happen, and actively ensure the process and preparations move forward.

Bad Arguments Against Immigration

Originally posted here.

The Economic Argument
Arguments against immigration on economic grounds basically boil down to “They took our jobs!”. Some feel that allowing people to freely cross borders will result in a flood of low-wage labor that will “steal” jobs from natural born citizens. Labor is a factor of production, just like raw materials or financial capital. Restricting the flow of capital and labor will always decrease economic prosperity. Access to more resources – human or otherwise – always increases wealth and opportunity. If this does not make sense to you, I recommend Frederic Bastiat’s “What is Seen and What is Unseen”, chapter 7, as well as his brilliantly satirical “Candle Maker’s Petition

The Culture Argument
Others argue that immigration must be restricted in order to protect the nation’s unique cultural heritage. I submit to you that any culture which must be maintained by force is not an authentic culture and is probably a bad one. Cultures freely arise because they provide benefits to those who participate in them. Cultures are always changing. Getting government in the business of protecting culture is dangerous and counter-productive. First, who gets to define what constitutes culture? Bureaucrats don’t have the best track record in such matters. Second, do we really want to live in a culture that is forced upon us by government prohibitions, restrictions and mandates?

The Welfare Argument
Advocates of limited government sometimes argue against immigration on the grounds that immigrants make use of the welfare state and increase the cost of government. State-sponsored welfare programs are a problem. Stopping immigration because immigrants might use welfare programs treats one tiny symptom, not the problem itself. If you routinely tossed open cans of tuna on your front lawn and found the neighbor’s cats hanging around your property, would you try to ban cats or would you clean the up the fish?

Though I think the vast majority of immigrants immigrate for jobs, freedom and opportunity, I’m sure some come and make use of government handouts (though less than U.S. Citizens, and likely less than they pay in taxes). The handouts are an attractive nuisance and should be addressed on their own merits, not by attempting to ban the free movement of people.

The Safety Argument
Some argue that allowing easy immigration will bring bands of criminals into their country and make them less safe. First, if something is a crime it is already, by definition, illegal. Threats to life and property are already supposed to be addressed via the existing police and justice system. Putting up a wall and stopping anyone from crossing it on the grounds that some of them may be criminals is ludicrous. By this logic, governments should perpetually engage in random home searches because they might discover criminal activity.

Closed borders probably don’t stop criminals, but let’s pretend that they could; if we could keep foreign criminals out by keeping out anyone foreign, what would we gain? We’d have spent tons of resources keeping out foreigners, most of whom aren’t criminals, and we’d have that many fewer resources to fight domestic crime. Banning people from movement because some of them may be criminals is even dumber than banning gun ownership because some people may use them for crime.

A Better Argument
Freedom to immigrate can be defended from several angles, but I believe the most important argument is based on rights. Imagine you and I have pieces of property that share a border. You wish to traverse my property and I wish to let you, but lawmakers prohibit it. What business do they have dictating whether we can make decisions about our own property? Sure, they were democratically elected, but what business do others have of voting to determine how you and I peacefully use our property?

What if government issued a decree that business owners were prohibited from hiring anyone born on a Tuesday? It’s no different when they prohibit hiring anyone born in another country. Shouldn’t the business owner be free to hire whom he wishes? If an individual wishes to travel, work, buy, or sell peacefully and all other parties involved agree, why should government prohibit it?

When you think up other arguments against immigration, ask yourself why they should not also be applied in state to state immigration? City to city? Home to home?

At bottom, I think much anti-immigration sentiment comes from a fear of people unlike us. I support anyone’s right to be prejudiced, or to associate only with those of like culture. But putting that attitude into public policy not only hampers wealth and progress, it violates my right to associate peacefully with whom I choose.

Interview with a Decamom: Heather Hinkle

IMG_8390How many people know a mother of nine with a tenth in the womb? I’m related to one. Don’t hold that against her. She’s got children between the ages 2 and 12, with one set of twins in there.

IMM: I guess the obvious question to ask a mother of (nearly) ten is, why? Are you trying to field a baseball team?

HH: No, I hate sports. I love children and so does John and we always wanted a large family. We (obviously) have left our family planning to God!

IMM: Did the experience of growing up with such an angelic and genius younger brother cause you to desire tons of kids?

HH: Quite the contrary…it really made me doubt the wisdom of humanity propagating. I’m always fearful of my children displaying ‘Isaac-like’ behaviors.

IMM: Do you ever worry that each individual child won’t get enough attention with so many in the house? How to you try to remedy that?

HH: It’s definitely something both John and I contemplate and my full thoughts on the issue would take up more time than your readers would want to give. However, ways in which we try to combat it are by taking the older children to a special store they like, such as a bookstore, or taking the younger ones to the play-land at the mall. It can also be something as simple as one of us playing board-games with them once the smaller ones are in bed.

IMM: Are people generally kind and happy for you when they see you with all your kids, or do you get dirty looks? What’s the most surprising comment you’ve gotten?

HH: It’s interesting, but we’ve found in the south that people seem the least accepting of our large brood. This manifests itself by complete disinterest/ignoring of us. I’m not sure why this is, but we were approached/asked questions a lot more whilst living in the midwest. Once a lady at a store basically forced me to take a twenty dollar bill from her, to buy something for the family and another time an individual asked John how much money he made!

IMM: OK, you’re a homeschooling mom with a massive family. The picture most people have in their mind is of a giant farmhouse and a bunch of kids churning butter, wearing bowties, and giving each other violin lessons. Does that describe your home life?

HH: Nothing you listed describes us…except the bowties, which we don religiously. I think most people would be surprised to see that we live in a neighborhood, have a relatively small yard and our house is decorated really well!

IMM: Hardest and most rewarding parts of having such a big family?

HH: My pregnancies are definitely the hardest part for our family to endure; I wish I felt well and enjoyed them, but it is the exact opposite. It’s a sacrifice for all of us to endure eight months of me feeling sickly. And the weight…ugh! I look like Martin Short’s character, ‘Glick’ for my last two or three months. It’s hard to pinpoint what is the most rewarding aspect, but one would definitely be watching the kids interact with each other and how much they enjoy it…when they’re not arguing, of course!

IMM: Do you ever feel constrained by the fact that you are primarily defined by the size of your family? Do you feel held back from going after other things you want in life?

HH: Not especially; I feel I have plenty of other interests, etc. that define me. There are definitely times where I feel held back from pursuing other things I enjoy, but on the whole I feel that motherhood has propelled me to be more creative, organized and good with managing my time.

IMM: How long does it take you to get everyone ready and out of the house?

HH: You’ll find out in a few weeks, when you and your lovely bride come to watch them! If we are talking Sunday morning, it’s about an hour-and-a-half to two hours from awakening to pulling out of the driveway. If it’s a normal day where we are just getting in the car to run an errand, it’s actually fairly quick, maybe 10-20 minutes.

IMM: How many loaves of bread do you go through in a week?

HH: Nine. I really have to keep my eyes out for good prices on bread, because we don’t care for Wonderbread and the like…though I’m not trying to besmirch their fine name. Buy-one-get-one deals are the best!

IMM: Do your kids seem to like being in a big family? Do any of them ever complain about it?

HH: Well, judging from the strained looks on several of their faces in the accompanying picture, I think it may be a hardship for them! They all really like it; they generally start praying for a new baby shortly after I have given birth! I encourage them to delay that prayer for awhile, so I have some time to recover and enjoy feeling well. In conversation you will hear them say, “They only have five children in their family”!

IMM: How many kids do you plan on having?

HH: As I said earlier, we leave family planning to God. But I hate vague answers such as that; my feeling is we will end up somewhere around sixteen.

IMM: Do you recommend having a big family to others? Are there some people you think would be better with a small family, or do you think it can work for anyone willing to try?

HH: I do think having a big family is extremely rewarding and I try to be encouraging to people about it, while still being real. I think most people would benefit from having a large (or larger) family, but the reality is you have to be extremely dedicated with your time, resources and emotional energy. People very rarely say they regret having another child, but more often regret not having had more.

IMM: If you could go back to just before you started having kids and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?

HH: This is a tough one, but I think it would have to be ‘Everything is a phase that will end, but will move into another phase’. I know that wasn’t very sage; I wish I could say something that made me look smarter and others would consider hanging on their fridge.

IMM: In the midst of raising and homeschooling all these kids, you’ve launched a business. What was the inspiration? Can you tell me about it?

HH: My business is called Bliss and Brahm and it is a clothing line specifically for twins which will carry coordinating items for boy/girl multiples. It is in the very rudimentary stages, but is really exciting in the sense that I am doing this from start-to-finish, from helping to design the sketches for the pieces to getting them shipped out to the buyers. My inspiration came eight years ago when I was searching for matching outfits for my own boy/girl twins and could not easily find items. The name came from my twins’ middle names!

IMM: Do you have a website or Facebook page? When will products be available?

HH: I do have a Facebook page called Bliss and Brahm. I wish I had an incentive to offer your readers to ‘like’ my page, but I’m going to count on the fact that you have been pounding into them the positives of free-market and entrepreneurial business ventures and hope that will compel them! My website is slated to be up in early July and we are actually launching our first line of clothing in March of 2014. I realize that seems a long way off, but the world of fashion runs on its own timeline. In the meantime, my website will allow browsers to see our progress and weigh in with their own thoughts and ideas.

IMM: Thank you!

College: A One Sided Sorting Mechanism

I recently listened to an excellent EconTalk podcast with Arnold Kling discussing technological changes in higher education.  Kling pointed out the main role universities play is sorting, not forming.

There is a somewhat romantic idea among the populace that education molds and shapes young lumps of clay into the men and women they ought to be.  In this view, what school you attend is very important, because they have the power to mold you for better or worse.  Kling combats this notion by reference to studies that have tracked students accepted to Ivy League schools: They achieve the same level of success whether they attend the Ivy League school or choose instead to go to a lower ranked college.  In other words, it’s the type of student that goes to Harvard, not the type of student Harvard creates, that makes for success.

For employers, this sorting mechanism significantly reduces their hiring cost.  Kling described the process as a coin sorting machine, where you dump in a pile of loose change and is sorts all the quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies.  An employer looking for a certain skill level would be at great pains to sort all the applicants, but the type of institution from which they have a degree does a lot of the work for them.  What a student majors in also play a part in the sorting process.

Though this works reasonably well for many employers, it’s pretty inefficient.  Does it have to take four years and a few hundred thousand dollars to sort out who excels at what and who’s worth interviewing for which roles?  The signal sent by many degrees is getting weaker as more and more students flood into schools.  With the exception of the top schools, many middle of the road universities have turned into massive degree mills.  The printing of more degrees makes those already in circulation worth less to employers.

But there seems to me a worse problem.  Even if college serves as an effective sorting mechanism for employers, it is seriously deficient as a sorting mechanism for employees.  After all, a career is a two sided affair.  It’s not a matter of businesses finding out what you’re good at and allocating you there; it’s primarily about you finding what you love and what helps you get the most of what you want for the least of what you don’t.  The student needs a sorting mechanism to discover what industries, what kinds of work, and what companies they like.  College doesn’t have a lot to offer here.

Most degrees do not entail any kind of on the ground experience in the business world.  In fact, most classes don’t even talk about what different kinds of work are like.  You may enjoy learning philosophy, but that fact alone doesn’t do a lot to tell you which career paths are your quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies.  Students spend tens of thousands and a good chunk of their time tumbling through a system that gives employers some valuable info about who they are, but it provides the student with little info about who these employers are.  It’s like a dating service where only one side gets to view the profile.  It’s not uncommon for graduates to spend the first five or ten years of their career discovering what kind of career they want to have.

There are a lot of things students can do to remedy this problem.  They can seek knowledge, ask people with experience, take a wide range of courses, and explore different majors.  But at the end of the day, nothing beats genuine experience in the world of commerce.  As it is, most students are expected to cram that in an internship for a semester or two.  That’s a lot of time and money to burn if you don’t walk away with a good idea of what makes you come alive.

The Choir’s the Only Audience Worth Preaching To

All learning is self-motivated.  No one has ever successfully crammed a belief down the throat of another.  Enough brow-beating can coerce someone into changing their actions, but it cannot change their heart.  Even absent heavy-handed tactics, telling someone they are wrong will never induce them to alter their worldview unless they are already seeking.

Engaging those without some level of curiosity in your ideas is a waste, unless you enjoy it for its own sake.  But that’s the really peculiar thing; no one does.  When people get frustrated by discussion, it’s not because their open-minded interlocutor is asking too many good questions and seeing too much merit in the other side.  It’s because the hidebound counterpart can’t even work from the same basic assumptions, and resorts to illogical arguments or ad hominem.  That’s not because the wrong words are being used, it’s because the wrong person is being talked to.

A lot of people claim to love debate as a format for discovering what is true.  It supposed to be more balanced and less dogmatic than a presentation on just one side of an issue.  It seems just the opposite in practice.  Never have I seen a debate where a debater says, “I’ve really learned a lot and changed my position!”  Of course, it’s the audience who are supposed to learn, but that too is a rarity.  People watch debates for the spectacle, and to cheer when their side scores a rhetorical point.  There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but if a person were genuinely uninformed and wanted to learn about an issue, a debate would be the a poor way to do so, as the emphasis is on posturing and outwitting, not enlightening.  When defenses are up, nothing gets in.

If your goal is to be understood, or to help others see how a change in mindset could better their life and the lives of others, the choir – those who have self-selected into the space where your ideas are discussed – are the best audience to preach to.  If you value your own happiness, abstaining from street corner sermons to uninterested or hostile passersby is a must.  There are many derogatory sayings about talking to people with similar ideas, but it should be the opposite.  All the grumpy, hateful, fruitless and frustrating conversations happen when people walk away from the “echo chamber” and shout into ears that don’t care to hear.

Don’t waste your breath on people who have not signaled somehow that they are interested in your ideas.  You’ll live a happier life, and reap the immense rewards or real, back and forth, give and take conversation that builds the mind of truth seekers on both sides.  You learn to dance where you can freely try, in a studio with other dancers, not at the Bomont chapel.

Do What You Love, or Have it Easy?

The hardest thing to do is what you love.

It’s a long and difficult process to discover what you love; what truly makes you come alive.  It includes a series of epiphanies about your own errors of judgement and direction.  It demands brutal self-honesty.  It requires tedious and dangerous trial and error.  It cannot be found by mere reflection, but deep reflection has to occur alongside experimentation.  None of this is easy, and you’re never done.  You change, and what makes you come alive changes.  The journey toward it is endless and adaptation and adjustments of your goals are continuous.

That’s just to discover what you love.  Once you’ve begun to remove the chaff and hone in on a direction that makes you fulfilled, actually moving in it is even harder.  You have to muster the grit and determination to move toward it, even when the individual steps themselves are grueling.  You have to continue to remind yourself of what really awakens your love of life, and not let yourself off the hook pursuing anything less.

It’s much easier to find and do what you mildly enjoy, what you can tolerate, or even what you hate.  Anyone can stop the discovery process short and find what feels comfortable in the short term.  Anyone can choose not to chisel away the distractions; not to get to the core of what makes you fulfilled.  Anyone can treat what they love as an unattainable object that exists only to torment and tease.  Anyone can come up with mediocre, safe, reasonable, sound, and predictable goals and activities.

People say when you do what you love you never work a day.  It’s easy to hear that and envy those whose profession seems to be something they have a lot of fun with.  It is true that when you’re in the zone pursuing your passion, it doesn’t feel like work.  But discovering that zone, and making yourself enter in is more work than anything.

Some people think work is hard because they’re not doing what they love.  In reality, they haven’t been able to do what they love because they’re not willing to work hard enough.

Finding and re-finding what you love, and moving toward it every day, is the hardest thing in the world.  It is also the most worthwhile.