Tag Archives: Democracy in Chains

Five Decades of ‘MarketWorld’ Education Reform

27 Jul

By T. Ultican 7/27/2019

There has been a fifty-year push to reform education using business management principles. In the period, Harvard Business School has trumped Columbia Teacher College concerning pedagogy. Unfortunately, the results are an unmitigated disaster for most communities and students. This market based endeavor – financed by billionaires – has transformed public schools into non-democratic profit centers. It is the precursor to the ultimate goal of dismantling universal free public education.

The radical right is pushing to privatize everything from policing; to prisons; to schools. They have spread the gospel that governments are incapable of solving problems but businessmen can. In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan declared “…, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Viewing society as consisting of “makers” and “takers,” these apostles of privatization fear the tyranny of democratic majorities. They strive to make property rights the paramount civil right.

When it came to privatizing school, the right originally tried to use vouchers, but that was a tough sell. Jeff Bryant quoted Jeffry Henig an Education Professor at Teachers College, “The Walton foundation itself was one of the early organizations to transition from vouchers to charters.” In his AlterNet article Bryant explained,

“Henig believes many conservatives view charter schools as a way to “soften the ground” for potentially more private options, though he isn’t entirely sure “the Waltons view charters as a Trojan Horse for eventually providing vouchers universally.’”

When putative progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress or Democrats for Education Reform promote charter schools they are promoting an anti-democratic and anti-union position. When politicians like Corey Booker and Joe Biden say they support public charter schools, they are in fact supporting the radical right’s privatization agenda. When Bill Clinton eliminated depression era banking rules and “welfare as you know it” plus campaigned for school choice; he was advancing Charles Koch’s ideology.

Two recent books have brought the privatization agenda into sharp relief.

The first book is Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth plan for America by Nancy MacLean. Through serendipitous good fortune, MacLean stumbled onto Nobel Prize laureate James M. Buchanan’s unorganized papers shortly after his 2013 passing. They were in boxes and stacked on tables in his George Mason University cabin. The other more well known American Nobel Prize winning economist from the right is the Milton Friedman. However, MacLean discovered that Charles Koch, the financier of the radical right “bypassed Friedman for Buchanan.

The other book is Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas. He takes the reader inside the worlds of elite philanthropy in New York City and of thought leaders in Aspen, Colorado. He writes,

And what these winners wanted was for the world to be changed in ways that had their buy-in – think charter schools over more equal public school funding, or poverty-reducing tech companies over antitrust regulation of tech companies. The entrepreneurs were willing to participate in making the world better if you pursued that goal in a way that exonerated and celebrated and depended on them.

James M. Buchanan, John C. Calhoun and Segregation

James M. Buchanan grew up in Tennessee. His grandfather had been an unpopular governor of the state; however Buchanan was raised in near poverty. It was his academic abilities that took him from the obscurity of Middle Tennessee State Teachers College to a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago in 1948. The youthful socialist became a “zealous advocate of market order.” It was at the University of Chicago where Buchanan met Friedrich August Hayek and the Austrian School of Economics.

Writing in Atlantic Magazine Sam Tanenhaus disclosed, “Hayek initiated Buchanan into the Mont Pelerin Society, the select group of intellectuals who convened periodically to talk and plot libertarian doctrine.” After World War II ended, The Mont Pelerin Society was a relatively small group of economists mostly from Europe and the United States who were widely viewed as a fringe group. They were against initiatives such as social security, universal health care and public education. The title of Hayek’s 1944 book The Road to Serfdom encapsulates their antipathy to any government social endeavors.

Professor MacLean, who is a historian from Duke University, compared Buchanan’s economic ideology with John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was a son of the antebellum south, a senator from South Carolina and a Vice President of the United States. MacLean quotes him stating, “A ‘government based in the naked principle that the majority ought to govern,’ was sure to filch other men’s property and violate their ‘liberty.’” Calhoun was also a leading defender of slavery. In his most famous speech he said slavery is “instead of an evil, a good–a positive good.

Buchanan and Calhoun

Buchanan’s first plumb teaching assignment came at the University of Virginia in 1956. This was also when the “massive resistance movement” to Brown versus the Board of education and desegregation of public schools in Virginia was heating up.

In 1959, Buchanan joined with another new hire at the university, G. Warren Nutter (who later became a key Goldwater advisor) to write “The Economics of Universal Education.” They argued that the root of the desegregation problem was that “state run” schools had become a “monopoly” that should be broken by privatization. They said if the state sold off their school buildings and equipment, they could limit their involvement in education to setting minimum standards. Then all kinds of schools might blossom.

Since MacLean’s book was published there has been some push back against her tying Buchanan and his paper to the “massive resistance movement” saying he did not involve himself in desegregation politics only in the economic issues of education. However, Buchanan and Nutter did state in their paper, “Every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing.” In any case, schools in Virginia were closed. Black children stayed home while white children attended tax-subsidized private schools. In Prince Edward County, schools were locked closed from 1959-1964. MacLean says that for Buchanan segregation was just a side issue in his life-long libertarian pursuit.

Murray Newton Rothbard was an American economist of the Austrian School and a political theorist whose writings and personal influence played a seminal role in the development of modern right-libertarianism. MacLean discovered “Murray Rothbard encouraged Koch to study Lennin.” Not Lenin’s economics but his methods for advancing an unpopular ideology. On this point MacLean noted, “At a 1973 March log cabin meeting Buchanan stressed the key thing moving forward was that ‘conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.’”

In 1978, I saw the Communist Workers Party takeover the Iron Workers Union at National Steel and Ship Building Company (NASSCO). When watching the development of the radical right for the past few decades, similarities with the tactics of communist movement were unmistakable. Both movements are secretive, anti-democratic and motivated by extreme economic theory.

MacLean states, “The Mont Pelerin Society cause since the 1950’s is the end of public education.

Killing Public Education

In 1978, Congressman Ronald Mottl D-Ohio 23 introduced a bill promoting education standards. It was the first time a bill was proposed that amended the 1965 education law to promote a particular theory of education. Mottl’s bill went nowhere like another similar bill (H.R.371) introduced the next year by his colleague Tennyson Guyer R-Ohio 4. However, these were the first harbingers of education standards that emulated business practices.

In 1983, the Reagan administration produced the infamous “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” This polemic was neither factually nor pedagogically well founded. Serious academic research has subsequently shown this non-peer reviewed writing to be the misguided work of amateurs. Its glorification of business practices opened the door for federal control of education and fostered standards based accountability. It made legislation like the proposals introduced by Mottl and Guyer viable.

In Winners, Giridharadas labels – modern social reform based on the belief that business leaders and market forces are the sure way to a better society – “MarketWorld.” He explains,

In an age defined by a chasm between those who have power and those who don’t, elites have spread the idea that people must be helped, but only in market-friendly ways that do not upset fundamental power equations.

Giridharadas shares three criteria for being a “MarketWorld” thought leader speaking at the Aspen Institute or the Clinton Global Initiative or the main TED talk stage. Thought leaders should:

  • Focus on the victim, not the perpetrator.” Condemning a perpetrator is a “win-losey” solution not a win-win.
  • Personalize the political.” If you want to be a thought leader and not dismissed as a critic, your job is to help the public see problems as personal and individual dramas rather than collective and systemic ones.
  • Be constructively actionable.” … “People, especially the winners who shape tastes and patronize thought leaders, want things to be constructive, uplifting, and given to hope.

He gives examples including this one:

“What the thought leaders offer MarketWorld’s winners, wittingly or unwittingly, is the semblance of being on the right side of change. … Take, for example, the question of educating poor children in a time of declining social mobility. A true critic might call for an end to funding schools by local property taxes and the creation, as in many advanced countries, of a common national pool that funds schools more or less equally. What a thought leader might offer MarketWorld and its winners is a kind of intellectual counteroffer – the idea, say, of using Big Data to better compensate star teachers and weed out bad ones.”

Data shows that “MarketWorld” and libertarian philosophy has damaged public education and harmed all but the top 10% of wage earners in America. Giriharadas shares the following data table information and notes, “One hundred and seventeen million people had been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s.

Earning Level 1980 2014
Top 0.001 % $17,000,000 $122,000,000
Top 1% $428,000 $1,300,000
Top 10% $58,000 $116,000
Bottom 50% $16,000 $16,200

It is possible that Charles Koch and “MarketWorld” think this is a feature. To me, it looks like a powerful data set that says we need an empowered Government to protect Americans from ravenous billionaires and their self-serving anti-public education and anti-democratic views.