This is a letter I sent to Miss Amel Karboul, “secretary-general of the Maghreb Economic Forum, and commissioner at the Education Commission”. It is to address her dangerous fallacies in the recent TedTalk in Milan, here: https://www.ted.com/talks/amel_karboul_the_global_learning_crisis_and_what_to_do_about_it

 

 

Dear Miss Karboul,

As a BCG alumnus, I received the Panorama newsletter today, featuring your TEDTalk in Milan. When recounting the decision of the Tunisian State to “invest” 20% of the country GDP in compulsory schooling, you state that “Some people protested. What about infrastructure? What about electricity, roads and running water? I would argue that the most important infrastructure are minds, educated minds”.

I would have actually asked “what about ceasing to rob money under threat of violence through taxes? I would argue that the most important infrastructure is liberty”. I guess my questions won’t cut much ice with you, who mention Bourguiba, one of those clownish African figures, a violent, collectivistic “president-for-life” with his accompanying cult of personality, as a beacon of Enlightment. Even more baffling, you also seem to consider it farsighted Bourguiba’s autocratic decision to waste the largest part of the State loot on what you called education, which is rather political patronage of the middle class and forced regimentation of the children. Tunisia had in 2016 a GDP per capita of 4265$, it was a third of the world average and almost 20 times less than Switzerland. Think about it, one member of the species Homo sapiens produces in Switzerland as much as a small platoon of 17 or 18 members of the same species in Tunisia. Most horrifyingly, GDP per capita increased by 4 times since 1960; Hong Kong 11 times, starting from a much higher base.

That results so desperately poor might be mentioned, even glorified, may only be attributed to a stubborn refusal to confront reality, coupled with a boundless optimism of the power of bureaucracy to improve the world. It seems you are stuck in a century-old positivist framework. Not only you seem oblivious of the findings of, say, the Public Choice school, you actually seem to ignore everything of the old classical-liberal tradition. Here, let me refresh your Tunisian studies with a free copy of Mises “Planned casos”, on the results of tinkering with the spontaneous order of the market: https://mises.org/library/planned-chaos-0

Schooling in poor, corrupted countries, has always been provided by the private sector, especially in the case of the poor. Parents vote with their feet, and all around the poor world, poor parents send their children to for-profit private schools, 3-4$ per month enterprises, instead of those weapons of mass instruction that are public schools. I can assure you, those kids in the Amazonas already have access to quality schooling, through some private initiatives in those hamlets you mention. I am honored to be friend and business partner of James Tooley, who showed (for example here: http://tedxnewcastle.com/speakers/james-tooley) how between half and two thirds of kids in India, Nigeria and Liberia, are schooled in those private institutions, and with much better results than what the public system offers for free. I am an enterpreneur by trade; I cannot help but think about how humiliating would be to offer a service for free, and have my clients say: “thanks, but no thanks, I prefer to pay”.

You state: “we take everyone in a room: teachers, teacher unions, parents associations, government officials, NGOs, everyone…”. Nope, not everyone, you are not even mentioning those who have been doing the job for the last 2000 years, and still perform it brilliantly for more than half of the burden, private enterpreneurs. Not only you do not recognize them, that would be unimportant if not because you corrupt good-willing but naive minds in rich countries with made-up fairy-tales, but your breed actually contribute in making their life as difficult as possible, with regulations that create room for the police and bureaucrats to ask for bribes, legal monopolies to those organizations against nature that are the public teachers unions, imposed curricula that are so ancient to seem coming from the XIX century, which in some cases is actually the case, the public school system across the world has the same origin, Bismark’s reforms around 1870, when Prussia need good, albeit not thinking, citizen-soldiers.

Thanks to human ingenuity, your war is destined to fail. While you try to inspect, regulate, watch, direct, enroll, indoctrinate, assess, license, authorize, admonish, control, preach, censure, command, private enterpreneurs keep laughing at you, improving their offer with constant innovation. Education, not simply schooling, is being transformed, with cheap for-profit providers, home-schooling, skill-based for-profit ventures (for example, IT boot camps like Flatiron or Fullstack) in the marketplace, complemented by beautiful free apps (khan, duolingo, codacademy, Wikipedia itself) offered to the world by private individuals moved by “the emotion we feel for the misery of others”, that sympathy of Smith’s “Moral sentiments” that does not need the brute coercion of the State to manifest.

Regards,

Massimo Mazzone,

Modena, Italy.