My 10-year-old daughter and I started to talk about philosophy. It’s what she currently say is what she want’s to do when she grows up. I told her that I think she has what it takes to contribute to that field and that she probably also would make a great logician. She asked about what logicians do and via Russel’s Paradox (hers and my favorite) we came quite naturally to speak about ancient Greece. They had been talking about Greek thinkers in school, she said. Then she asked something surprising:
Daughter: Does Greece still have a leading edge in philosphy?
I couldn’t help thinking about how Greece is the G in PIGS and how those countries probably all will collapse, maybe with Greece first.
Me: No, … that was a very long time ago. … Then again, … yes, maybe, since they have these heroes in their past maybe they keep getting inspired and maybe Greece is still producing great philosophers.
Daughter: Producing! That can’t be the right word.
Me: Well, … foster then? What’s wrong with it producing, anyway?
Daughter: Foster is better … Producing sounds like in a factory.
Me: Yeah, don’t you think countries and regions are a lot like factories, producing food, cars, toys and also philosophers?
Daughter: Not quite, you know, it’s the people who choose what they want to become, not the factory.
Me: That’s only in a truly free society though.
Daughter: What? People can choose freely what to become in Sweden!
Me: Can they?
Me: I don’t agree. Think about your piano teacher for instance. She obviously loves her job. Loves teaching new generations how to sing and play piano and such.
Daughter: Exactly. She became what she wanted to be.
Me: But maybe she would rather have liked to be a free entrepreneur in her field?
Daughter: Couldn’t she?
Me: She could probably not afford it.
Daughter: Why not?
Me: Because she would have to charge a lot more per pupil than we pay for your lessons to make a living from it. She wouldn’t get many pupils since parents like us can’t afford it because most of our money is forced away from us by the government. The same government that runs the music school using some of our money. Even if we could afford it there’s still the choice of paying much less for your lessons using the public option. Do you see how the government has destroyed the market for free entrepreneurship in this area?
Daughter: I think so … But why do you say that the government forces our money from us?
Me: Because that’s what they do. It’s like gangsters robbing you on the street. Those you give what you have lest they kill you or beat you up. The government is saying something like “Give us your money or we will make your life a living hell!”.
Daughter: They wouldn’t use foul language like that!
Me: Right, they wouldn’t, but that is what they mean, isn’t it? If I don’t pay my taxes they claim it and send people here that takes our things away and sell them. And then I would probably have to go to jail too.
Daughter: Yes, I see your point.
Me: Even if your piano teacher didn’t want to be a free entrepeneur, maybe she would still want to become rich from her talents and good hand with you kids?
Daughter: Couldn’t she?
Me: Not with the salary the government pays her.
Daughter: She gets a low salery?
Daughter: Maybe you can’t choose freely what you want to be…
Me: In this case it’s the effect of government adding unjust competition on the market for piano lessons. But it’s worse in basic education, because there we have a government monopoly.
Daughter: No, it’s not a monopoly, dad. I go to a “friskola”.
I don’t know how to translate “friskola”. It’s private corporations that run schools with taxpayer money. All schools, “private” or public, get the same amount of taxpayer money per pupil. Entrepreneurs that can run the school for less than they get from the government pockets the difference. (So far, if the Social Democrats wins this years election they might forbid these school entrepreneurs to make a profit.)
Me: Yes, but your school gets payed with taxpayer money, just like a public school.
Daughter: Is that so? But why does anyone want to run a school like that?
Me: Because they like running schools and there’s money to make from it.
Daughter: How could it be money in it? I thought the school system was starved?
Me: Oh, there’s lots of money to make for the right entrepreneur! You see, your school gets exactly the same amount of money per pupil as public schools do.
Daughter: I don’t quite follow.
Me: But, don’t you know that when the government runs things it does so with great inefficiency? In fact government is the worst operator of any business. That means that even a mediocre entrepreneur can make money simply by running the school more efficiently. And truly skilled entrepreneurs can get really rich.
Daughter: I see … so, the government is bad at running schools and that makes it a good affair for private businessmen?
Me: Spot on. … So do you agree?
Daughter: Agree with what?
Me: That only in a truly free society people can choose what they want to become?
Daughter: Not fully. I don’t get it. Sweden is free!
Me: Is it? Is it freedom that the government forces us to give them our money?
Daughter: No, that’s not free. But they don’t force much from us, do they?
Me: Well, in Sweden we pay the highest taxes in the entire world.
(Yeah, possibly with the exception of North Korea, Cuba and the like, but I didn’t want to complicate the picture further.)
Daughter: We do??? … ummm … So what’s a free society then?
Me: To me it’s a society where government stays out of the way. … Everything is based on free will and exchange. … In a good trade there are two winners. Mutual benefit is the key. … Everywhere the government interferes a piece of freedom is the price. … So … a really tiny government is an important marquee of a free society.
Not a perfect answer, I know! But the question took me by surprise…
Daughter: Are there any truly free countries?
Me: No, but some are more free than others.
Daughter: Of course! Is Sweden one of the freest?
Me: Well, we have the highest taxes in the world, remember?
Me: Well, our government forces more money of us than governments in other countries. That means our government has lots resources and has grown really, really big. Huge even. There’s not many activities we can participate in without the government interfering in one way or the other. Lot’s of freedom-pieces payed. Thus; not free. Not by a long shot. But, yes, we have free speech and freedom of press and many other key elements of freedom so we’re not the least free country in the world either.
Daughter: I see …
Me: Remember, this is all as I see it. If you start checking these things up, you’ll find that most people see it differently. Many agree that schools and other institutions run by the government are in bad shape, but they somehow blame it on greedy businessmen. Or something. … Then, of course, there is the odd public school that is run well. It’s very much about what people run it. … What you must do is think hard and much about these things. Investigate them and form your own view. Don’t just swallow the views that “everyone” has. And certainly don’t take my word for it in matters like these, I’m very strongly opinionated here. Ask around. Read. Think. Think a lot.
Daughter: Maybe I will.
Can’t blame her! She’s a kid. Tons of more fun things to care about than if a bloaty government is a good or a bad thing.
End of transcript. I’ve shortened it some and might have gotten some details a bit wrong … But most of it is correct, I’m sure, because the session stuck to my mind in a peculiar way. Yeah, maybe some of it was lost in translation too. English is a struggle!
I’m not sure if I did the right thing talking this openly to her about my views? She tells me she feels free and I tell her she’s a serf… Parental fail? Then again, we have this agreement, my daughter and I, that we should be open and honest with each other. She was in that want-to-be-taken-seriously mode and would have sensed if I was dishonest or avoiding something vital. Besides, I must prepare her for her fight to break the Swedish serfdom. For when I’m not around to fight it for her. =)
- Education Is Too Important for a Government Monopoly
- The Myth of Scandinavian Socialism
- The secret behind the hot sales of “The Road to Serfdom” by free-market economist F. A. Hayek
- Teacher Training for AP Economics: They’re Back – Paul Prentice of Pikes Peak Economics Club (powerpoint)
- From Greek Philosophy to Swedish Serfdom – A discussion about this article on Mises.org
- Reddit /r/politics thread about this article