Civilization Week 17 Compulsory State Education, Classical Liberalism and the Flaws of Protectionism

Question 1: What does the evidence show about education in England before the compulsory state system was established?

Despite what most modern education representatives would have you believe compulsory state education is not a flawless solution to educating the youth. In England compulsory education was lawfully introduced in 1880, this law stated that all children must attend public or private schools until the age of ten. Later the age required would increase to thirteen, and expand to include deaf and blind children. But before 1880 historians have found most english children were attending schools, and in fact the quality and diversity of the things being taught were actually better. Its surprising, seeing that England was very poor at the time. You’d think parents would just stick their children into factories to help keep the family financially above water, but it turns out despite having little money parents would indeed scrape together what little they had for their childrens benefits. In 1833 the net worth spent on education was about 1%, by 1990 this had dropped to 0.7%. Quantity of schooling had indeed grown, but the quality and successfulness of the schooling had fallen. Apprenticeships had drastically decreased, and instead of choosing what they wanted to learn the children were now forced to all learn the same skills and knowledge. In todays world we can clearly see how little children appreciate this forced schooling, where as before children had been desperate to be educated. The state stepping in had not only destroyed many private schools through raised taxes, but had also turned the privilege of education into a joyless black and white bureaucracy.

Question 2: What is classical liberalism?

It’s surprising, almost humorous, how distinctly swapped liberalism and conservatism have become over the years. Classical liberalism supported freedom of religion, freedom of speech, smaller government interference and private property. Classical liberals pushed for a laissez-faire economy, which in modern tongue would translate to a free market or capitalist society. They wanted utilitarianism, which states people should be free to go about their own affairs with little to no government involvement. Of course, like any group of people, there were those that wanted the state to step in on certain subjects: such as schooling, taxes etc. But I wouldn’t classify these people as classical liberals, they were just incorporating some liberal ideas into their own philosophy. Someone who was a full blown classical liberal was Gustave de Molinari. Molinari believed we should have a laissez-faire economy with no exception whatsoever. He believed the people should be free to build their own market, their own set of rules and regulations, and that no group should have the right to govern the masses.

Question 3: Choose one of the works discussed in lesson 83 and explain how it reflects the principles of classical liberalism.

Frederick Bastiat’s political commentary The Petition of the Candle makers highlighted the flaws of protectionism. In this story a group of candle makers make their plight known to the state. Their plight is that they are experiencing unfair competition, an equivalent to their candles is stealing their business and is impossible to compete against. Who is this all seeing business god of light? Well who else: the sun. The sun is stealing away the candle makers business by making light free for all. How are they supposed to compete with a price tag of zero? They can’t, so they take their plight to the government to enforce. And what is this enforcement that will guarantee the candle makers a pretty penny? Well its to force people to block the light from their homes. Block out their windows, doors or any small cracks the sun can seep through, for then they will be forced to buy candles. This story is supposed to be ridiculous, its making it known through an easy to catch method how silly protectionism can be if manipulated by greed.

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