Peering Inside the Belly of the Beast

Recently by Jim Fedako: Secession and the Bonds of Peace and Prosperity

The New Year is a good time to review all those things gathering dust. This year, while cleaning my filing cabinet, I dug a little deeper than usual and found this certificate, suitable for framing, of course. Holding it, I reflected and reminisced.1

A little about myself: I used to be a state-leaning conservative. Not quite a statist, but someone who believed in the state, nonetheless. Back then, I believed that since the state was at least part of the solution, state-run schools were one of the means. So I ran and was elected to my local school board.

During my term on the board, my wife and I began embracing homeschooling for a variety of reasons, finally moving our children out of government schools even as I continued to support them.

Everything changed when I became familiar with the Austrian school and through an economics book used by many homeschooling families, Whatever Happened to Penny Candy. Needless to say, my epistemological boat was rocked by a book written for young teenagers. Almost from the first page, I saw my errors – which I still blame on years in government schools, college professors, and my general lack of critical observations (a byproduct of government schools). I subsequently devoured additional books (including Human Action) and became an adherent of Austro-libertarianism.

My wife and I now homeschool exclusively and I no longer serve the Leviathan, but what I learned in practice supplemented and strengthened the knowledge I gained from reading and studying.

It is true that the leading scholars of the Austro-libertarian tradition created (and continue to create) an exacting edifice of theory and history. While this can never be replaced, I believe that sometimes a little practice brings it all together.

As such, I suggest that each reader experience at least one instance of the state in practice during 2013. Participation is easy. Most local and state governmental entities create committees that include community members. The reason is certainly not benign – the entities are looking to justify their actions based on supposed community input. But those committees do exist and they are typically begging for community members.

Through your participation, you will not lessen the creep of the state – you cannot. Keep in mind that politics does not drive change, ideas do. But even attending one or two meetings will be the eye opening experience that exposes the inner workings of the state, confirming Austro-libertarianism. The key is to not to let yourself get caught up in the issues being discussed. Instead, focus on the undercurrents and participants, letting your theory enlighten your observations.

As an example: While serving on the local school board, I began reading articles and books that claimed pressure groups – mainly the educational system itself – were the real force behind so-called reform efforts. To see if that was indeed the case, I applied to be a community member on a content advisory committee during the development the Ohio Grade 4 Writing Achievement Test.

I was the only community member on the committee, with the other members being either teachers or administrators.2 So, while I had to take time off from work to attend, the others continued to receive their tax-funded salaries. Nevertheless, what I learned in the two hours I spent on that committee confirmed all that I had read.

Quickly, agendas come to fore, and I was left outside of the discussions. Sure, I was allowed to speak, but only as a courtesy. Regardless, it is what I observed that made my time worthwhile.

Those two hours were Kafkaesque, to be certain.3 I now know why questions associated with the word "birthday" were anathema to Ohio standardized tests: some children may be too poor to be able to answer a question that asks them to imagine their most-desired birthday gift – as if the concepts of birthday and imagine have an inherent wealth-based bias.

Multiple choice and true/false questions were consistently attacked since (it was claimed) they do not show "authentic learning," though no one on the committee could respond to my question asking for a definition of authentic learning.

In the end, I left the meeting knowing that what are termed assessments of state standards are simply the means, with inculcation of children the ends.

Afterwards, whenever someone in public education lamented the standards, my face would turn red, "Are you kidding me? You folks created the standards you now question, and you did it on my dime."

Then there were the few hours I spent on my school district's health committee as a board member listening to two county health department workers push a proposal for students to be forced to perform desk-side calisthenics every hour, on the hour. Those two claimed the county was suffering an obesity epidemic, even while reaching for the ubiquitous candy bowl that somehow found its way into every meeting in the district.

The community members on the committee could only nod in approval – overpowered by the mutated version of the Delphi Technique used by schools and other agencies to control the direction and findings of community-based committees.4

If being on a committee – even for a few hours – is not for you, consider attending meetings as an observer. Spend only a few hours at a local zoning hearing and you will see just about everyone in attendance (public officials and neighbors alike) extract something from the property owner seeking zoning board approval.

As a school board member, I would attend those meetings to see what developments were coming to the district. I distinctly remember the meeting where a zoning official demanded that vinyl siding be one micron thicker than proposed by the developer, with the developer asking the official, "Do you even know what a micron is?"

And there was the meeting where the zoning official said that all exteriors had to be natural, with the developer saying, "Do you realize that what you call stucco isn't mud? It's manmade."

These two examples stand out since most of the time I saw successful men and women kowtow to the elected officials, bribing them with the promises of free parkland for the township and some additional hedges and pine trees for adjacent homeowners.

After only a few hours watching local politics in action, you will realize that, in many ways, the U.S. is only a slightly more sophisticated Third World country.

Those are but a few instances of the state in action – at the hands of petty officials who haven't yet developed the evil required to advance to higher offices. Nevertheless, even a few hours with these folks will give you a taste of what occurs in Washington, DC.

Commit to putting theory to practice in 2013. You will see the theories of Mises, Rothbard, Higgs, Hoppe, et al, confirmed as you watch petty officials act out Hayek's Road to Serfdom before your eyes.