Recent books in the ASI’s pile

The ASI receives more books than it can get round to giving a full review of, but here are some particular interesting recent ones you might want to check out.

Describing itself as a work of ‘creative non-fiction’ it’s a wide-ranging thesis on the city. Get it if you love their wonderful twitter account.

Probably one to look at in the library, given the price, this handbook seems to be the most authoritative work from practitioners and experts in the area; a more scholarly take on The Beautiful Tree.

I’m really glad this book exists.

Tyler Cowen says this is ‘one of the very best philosophical treatments of libertarian thought, ever’ and what can I add to that?

The list of reviews on the back is very impressive: Dani Rodrik, Mike Munger, Lant Pritchett, Tyler Cowen, and the topic is hugely interesting.

Misunderstanding why people tutor their children

The latest horror to assail our civilisation is apparently the idea that parents might hire tutors for their children. No doubt it’s the upper middle classes deploying their superior financial resources to make sure that their own special little snowflakes get ahead in the race to grasp the great big brass ring that status and position offer in our society.

In those circumstances, it matters that an ethnic divide is opening up.

Quite right: if those with an enhanced melanin content are being held back by the privileges going to the melanin deficient then this is indeed something we should act upon. Do something about even. Perhaps we should ban private tutorials? Or possibly even reform the education system itself so that none is needed?

We would go with that second option ourselves: all taxpayers cough up for the current publicly funded education system so, yes, all should benefit from the best it has to offer. Except there’s one little wrinkle to this:

From the age of 11, as many as 22% of UK children are seeing tutors. But there is a big gap between, on the one hand white children (20%) and, on the other, black children (47%) and Chinese children (48%).

It is not those pinkish hued upper middle classes who are giving their snowflakes a leg up. Given the population distribution in the country, with ethnic minorities largely concentrated into the inner cities, it’s actually the people suffering under the yoke of the inner city school systems that are attempting to make up for the deficiencies of those inner city school systems.

The answer thus is not to ban private tutoring but to set off more than a few rockets under those running the inner city school systems.

Although we agree, that’s always an unlikely conclusion to a Guardian article….

It’s free speech that will defeat Islamist preachers in universities

I suspect most readers of this blog will agree with Barack Obama’s basic point in the video above, which is that by banning racist books and right-wing speakers to ‘coddle’ oversensitive types, universities are failing students.

This is a problem we have in the UK as well – Brendan O’Neill and Tim Stanley were barred from speaking at a debate about abortion they’d been invited to take part in at Oxford last November, and certain parts of the social justice movement have been waging a quiet war against ‘trans-exclusionary’ radical feminists (and vice-versa, perhaps) by having them barred from university conferences and events, heckling them when they speak, and so on. People like James Watson have been made untouchable for suggesting that there may be genetic differences in IQ between different races.

This is not entirely a left-wing phenomenon. Today David Cameron has ‘named and shamed‘ universities ‘that regularly give platforms to hate preachers who are determined to undermine British values’. It’s not clear to me what ‘British values’ are, or what’s so bad about wanting to undermine them. Is belief in the NHS a British value, making free marketeers dangerous too? Is belief in democracy, excluding Jacobite restorationists from campuses and the like?

The obvious response to this is that these people will not just ‘undermine British values’ but actively encourage students to kill other people. Of course we already have laws against incitement to violence (excessively strict ones, some would say) but perhaps these don’t work here. A roundabout suggestion that the, ahem, Zionists are controlling the media and, you know, maybe these ISIS fellas aren’t so bad after all is not – and should not be – illegal, but might plant a seed in enough people’s minds to lead them to kill.

No doubt there is something rotten in British universities, but I wonder if part of the problem is that opponents of these speakers are heavily restricted by the sort of people Obama attacked yesterday.

How easy is it to oppose Islamism on university campuses? Being anti-abortion is unpopular, but Islamophobia is so forbidden that Ed Miliband proposed to make it a hate crime. Last year Plymouth University’s Islamic Society tried to have a speaker from the anti-Islamist Quilliam banned from speaking there. The year before that, a mob of students blocked Israel’s deputy Ambassador to Britain from giving a lecture at the University of Essex. There is no shortage of other examples either.

So perhaps institutionalised political correctness is allowing Islamists to get a free pass at universities without being challenged, as it has arguably contributed to child abuse in Rotherham and elsewhere. If feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite is too edgy to be allowed to perform to Goldsmith University students, what hope do harsh critics of Islamism like Maajid Nawaz or Douglas Murray have?

Banning hate preachers would mean we must also accept the principle of banning Maajid Nawaz for pushing back against them, Tim Stanley for opposing abortion, and Germaine Greer for showing insufficient respect to Caitlin Jenner. It concedes too much.

Open debate is too valuable to give up in places where it is supposed to thrive. It shouldn’t be harder for Islamists to speak at universities – it should be easier for their enemies to contradict them. The problem is not what is being said, but what is not being said.

Fraser Nelson might be too laudatory here

But isn’t it going to be just marvelous if he isn’t? For he’s talking about the state of education, the state of the state school sector. And it appears at least that the problem has finally been cracked:

When Boris Johnson is asked about his education, he cheerily replies that he would like “thousands of school as good as the one I went to: Eton”. Once, this would have been seen as preposterous: how can state schools compete with a £35,000-a-year Leviathan? But each year shows what teachers can do, given enough power and trust. Battersea Park was a failing school when Harris took it over last September with only 45 per cent of its pupils securing five decent GCSEs. Yesterday, it announced this has risen to 68 per cent. King’s Maths School, a free school in London, released its first-ever results earlier this week. Its average points score is among the top 10 schools in the land. Not the top 10 per cent; the top ten schools.

The staggering advances being made by state schools in Britain are the work of teachers and pupils, rather than politicians. Kenneth Baker, Tony Blair and Michael Gove simply offered increasing amounts of freedom to teachers, and their faith has been amply rewarded. For those who had despaired of ever finding a remedy for sink schools, this is nothing short of miraculous – and it’s only just beginning. School reform can now be seen as the greatest achievement of the Labour years, even if the Conservatives are the only ones who believe in it.

We might even call this a victory for conservatism (no, not Conservatism). Burke’s little platoons can indeed organise society so that it actually works. But the much larger point that we need to keep pointing out here is that there’s a vast difference between government or state financing of something and government or state provision of something. This is relevant to the railways, the NHS, to the power sector and all the rest as well.

There are indeed good arguments, Adam Smith made one of them for example, that there should be governmental subsidy to the education system. Being part of a generally literate and numerate population almost certainly is a public good. But that does not mean that it has to be government that actually provides the education. The same is true of health care: yes, it probably is true that at least some goodly portion of health care financing should be provided through the insurance pool of the entire population. And thus through the mechanisms of if not the tax system in its entirety then at least some portion of that insurance net. But this is not at all the same as stating that every provider of health care should be a government employee, nor that politics should be the mechanism by which we decide what health care, in detail, to offer.

As this schools revolution is showing, there is that vast difference between government financing of something desirable and government provision and management of it in detail. And as that revolution is showing, removing the government provision of it seems to be the best method of improving the provision of it.

Securitising Britain’s Future: A free market solution to university funding


When the Coalition Government increased tuition fees from £3,300 to £9,000 a year, it had done so to provide a sustainable alternative that would boost university’s incomes and cut government spending. But there are reasons to believe this has failed. The Guardian reported that the new funding system is likely to cost the government not less, but more money than the system it replaced. It is time to reevaluate university funding, and I propose the following alternative: a system under which students would agree to ‘sell’ a percentage of their future income to their university in exchange for an education.

Under the current system moral hazard occurs since the universities need not worry about its students’ ability to repay their loans. Instead, the government will bear the costs if students default. This is a problem in desperate need of addressing especially considering that an estimated 73% of graduates will not be able to fully repay their loans.

Under the proposed system in which universities own the income rights to students’ future earnings, the incentive structure would be changed as to align the interests of students, universities and society alike. Universities will factor in how much their education will benefit their students in terms of their future earnings. This allows relative prices to convey how much certain professions are, in fact, valued by society. The university would encourage more students to take up careers that are more valued and it could charge less (in terms of percentage points) for the degrees with better prospects than those with worse.

By contrast, universities today charge uniform rates and have an incentive to provide the most appealing courses – which often mean courses that are enjoyable or easy – rather than being actually useful or valuable. The graduates may therefore lack the skills to be productive members of the workforce, despite accumulating large debts. Universities even have an incentive to admit students it knows will not benefit from the course since it will nonetheless receive government funding.

In turn, universities could sell its future income rights through a process of ‘securitisation’, per course or as a diversified portfolio. This free-market solution provides an equitable opportunity to all, since students’ ability to attend university is not depended upon current wealth but future earnings; thus depended upon skill and merit, not money. This system would streamline all stakeholders’ interests and ‘securitise’ Britain’s free and prosperous future.

Tamay is the runner-up in the 18-21 category of the ASI’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition.