Fredric Williams

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Location: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, United States

teacher, writer, father, husband, former government official, former corporate executive, former college teacher, former consultant

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Global Education

Introduction: Being There

What do we really need to learn? Let's start with what the State requires us to learn: English, Math, Science, Foreign Language, Social Studies.

Then let's look at life. What do we need to know? How to talk? How to write? I've been paid to write and I've both given and written public speeches — but few people do either. Most professional freelance writers — whose skill is exceptional — make incomes of perhaps $10,000 per year.

Math? I was a mathematics major in the honors program at the University of Wisconsin for two years, before I decided I could see no particular value in learning more about calculus. In the years since, I have served on the faculty of Carnegie-Mellon where I taught engineering seniors, in the budget office of NASA and in its mission control center, for the high-tech division of a Fortune 100 multinational, and for the Office of Technology Assessment, created to advise the US Congress. 

If mathematics would have served anyone outside the fields where it is absolutely required, surely it would have served me. I cannot recall a single instance of using — or needing — calculus. I remember virtually nothing of trigonometry and have rarely used geometry for anything more sophisticated than calculating the area of a room. Algebra was handy only to show I can remember a little of it.

My high-tech career didn’t require college mathematics. It didn’t require high school math either.

Foreign language? In my travels, Arabic might have been helpful. Swahili, too. Spanish or French would have helped. 

However, I studied German in high school and college — enough so I once was able to read a bit of  German literature. I’ve spent a total of less than twelve hours in Germany fifty years after high school. In all that time, I needed my German only once — to answer a question from a young German couple asking for directions at the Paris Air Show. 

I studied Russian in college, but it, too, proved necessary just once — when my Russian translator (an accomplished linguist) was refused a drink at the bar of the  Rossiya Hotel in the old Soviet Union. He had twice asked for a combination of liquors not on the approved menu, making him persona non grata. The young woman behind the bar completely ignored him; it was up to me.

What language did I really need to learn? I ended up living and working in Korea at the dawn of the new millennium, but arrived unable to read, write, speak or understand Korean. Korean wasn’t offered in high school, and wasn’t considered necessary or useful in college. I spent eight years in Korea.

I think the point does not need to be labored further. I have had an extensive education, and abundant opportunity to employ my knowledge. The fact is that the bulk of my formal education has been almost entirely useless to me, other than for teaching others courses in the same generally useless subjects.

What can we say of the vast majority of students who are spending their youth in classrooms learning what they are unlikely to ever need? What have we done to prepare them to work in restaurants, shops, selling insurance, managing small businesses, staffing offices — doing the actual work of our society? How have we prepared them to shop wisely, invest their savings, choose a mate, raise children, maintain their health, or do any of the most important functions of living?

I believe we  have failed them and that our process of education will continue to do so.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Give Me Liberty: A Way Forward

Executive Summary

For more than three decades I have wanted to show Americans a way to escape from the downward path the nation has been following. The way out is not to tinker with what we have. It is not to follow a political philosophy suited to another time or place. Because so many people are violently attached to specific political ideologies, I have been reluctant to publish anything more than an occasional comment on current events. Changing minds is very difficult, and I do not wish to do anything that is unlikely to be beneficial.

The inspiration for this work goes back to 1981, when I met Benjamin Victor Cohen, financial and legal advisor to FDR, architect of the New Deal, and someone far more conservative than most people would imagine. Cohen was the smartest person I have ever met — at least on subjects about which I had some knowledge. Because of him, I believe I have an obligation to state what I believe is the only practical solution to the difficulties we find ourselves in. 

What I hope to present here is an approach that will give people the best possible life, knowing that as time passes, even the best solution will require adjustments. The solution is radical — that is, it goes to the very root of our problems. It may seem impossible to implement, since it requires so many changes. Nevertheless, if these changes are made, every member of society will benefit.

America is in trouble. It makes wars which it cannot win. Its Government spends borrowed money unwisely. It has a long history of inflation and inflationary bubbles. It has enemies both at home and abroad — some of whom use violence to express their anger. It has millions of unemployed, millions in prisons, tens of millions of poor, and innumerable people who are unhappy with their lives and jobs.  

If America is to become a prosperous and happy nation, it must begin by eliminating wasteful spending — by individuals, institutions, and governments. Each year we should save half of what we are able to produce. This will, over time, make the nation far richer, eliminating poverty and increasing our freedom to pursue our goals and our ability to achieve them.

At the root of our problems is our management of government. We have built into our system great incentives for corruption. Instead of doing productive work, most people recognize that they can extract wealth from the system by investing in manipulation of the government to their benefit. Political contributions and lobbying are just two facets of a system that in some cases robs a few to benefit everyone, and in far more cases robs everyone to benefit a few. In the end, a system based on robbery — taking money by force — is a corruption which impoverishes the society.

We would all like to be healthy. If we believe that this can be accomplished by doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and governments, we are largely in error. Our health depends on us. Nearly half of all Americans suffer from chronic diseases — and most of these are caused by their own acts. If we remove responsibility from those who are in a position to act, we assure that expenses will be shifted to those who have acted responsibly. The society will be poorer because our sympathies are extended to those who injure themselves and consequently us.

To finance the errors of our Governments, we must force people to provide money. This robbery is permissible only in the sense that the Government has the guns and a pretense of legitimacy. Since this pretense is unlikely to be abandoned in the immediate future, we must begin by assuring that all taxes and other means of extracting wealth have the effect of discouraging harmful action and encouraging beneficial action. As a result, most of the taxes currently assessed must be discarded. 

We do not wish to discourage productive work by income and payroll taxes. We do not wish to discourage exchanges of products and service between individuals and businesses by the imposition of sales or value-added taxes. We do not wish to discourage the security of home ownership by taxing our homes. It is, however, reasonable to discourage hoarding of assets, consumption of limited resources, and destruction of our environment.

We wish to live at peace and in harmony with all of the people on our planet. If we see a powerful military machine as the means to destroy our enemies, we can be sure only that we will spend great sums of money each year to disturb the peace of others. In exchange, they will disturb our own peace. Our goal should be defense, not war. It should rely on preventing conflict, not engaging in it.

Because of the defects in our current system, many people do require welfare. In a more properly managed society, welfare should be necessary only to a very limited degree. These days I receive payments from Social Security and insurance from Medicare. I am glad I do. However I recognize that these payments to me are, or will soon become, welfare paid for by those who are working. To the extent they are a return of the payments I was forced to make, they are mine by right. Beyond that, they are not. Those who have assets at their death should make full restitution of any amount that exceeds their contributions and the interest on those sums.

We are often fond of saying that America is a nation of immigrants. It still is. When my great-grandfather came to America, there were no laws restricting people’s movement — just as there are no laws restricting the movement of Americans from one state to another. Just as trade produces wealth, the right to travel freely is an invisible hand that is essential to our freedom and prosperity and to the freedom and prosperity of people everywhere.

Government has a powerful role in all formal education. As a teacher, I enthusiastically endorse the value of learning. There are few things as important as having skills, knowledge, wisdom, and moral guidance. Unfortunately, our system of education is poorly equipped to provide what is needed. Adam Smith, author of the economics classic Wealth of Nations, explained how the incentives work. Teachers must be hired, fired, and paid directly by individual students. Payment by anyone else assures that the quality of teaching -- and thus of education -- will suffer.

A major issue for most people is abortion. Setting aside the slogans about right to life and right to choose, this comes down to much deeper questions regarding Life, Free Will, and Parasitism. Where do the rights of one individual human being end and where do those of another begin? Is an individual free to make choices, however mistaken, or is society correct in compelling an individual to do what it believes to be right? Does one human being have a right to live wholly at the expense of another? 

If we are to have world peace, we must have peace among ourselves, peace within the family, within the neighborhood, within the community and within the nation. This cannot be achieved between nations until it is achieved between individuals. Our goal must be to increase harmony, not to stop war. There are means to this end, but violence and the use of force, legal or otherwise, are not among them.

Over a period of several hundred years, democracy has grown to be the preferred basis for governing. It has the undoubted advantage of giving a very large number of citizens some role in ruling society. 
However it has been clear since the time of Plato that democracy is fatally flawed and that it inevitably sets citizens at each other’s throats. Under representative democracy, as John Stuart Mill recognized, the majority has the power to tyrannize over the minority. Power corrupts.

If we are to harmonize liberty, government and society, we must choose a system which maximizes individual freedom, minimizes the use of force by government, and recognizes the immense value of cooperation in assuring peace and prosperity.

The solution to this problem begins from where we are by changing the rules by which we live and the philosophy which underlies those rules. It begins here and now with education — with being led to the truth. With such knowledge, we will recognize the wisdom in what Plato argued in The Republic. The best form of government is that in which the best qualified to govern are given the task of governing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Regarding Huntingtonsteam's comment on the impossibility of Mr. Obama having traveled to Pakistan in 1981 on a US passport, it is understandable why one might think so, since this story has been often repeated on the internet by people who did not take the time to do any serious research. Pakistan was an ally of the US before, during, and after 1981, and was heavily engaged in aiding our efforts to destabilize Afghanistan's government as a means to bring the USSR into disrepute. Travel was not only permitted to Pakistan, it was encouraged. If you doubt it, take a look at a New York Times travel story encouraging trips to Pakistan that year:

I truly hope libertarians will take the time to check their facts before passing along gossip. Repeating such things damages the credibility of those wishing to advance freedom. There are real issues to deal with, but if we are sidetracked into such non-issues, as seems to happen
quite frequently, it will be difficult for anyone to take the cause of liberty seriously.

Regarding the award to Mr. Obama, I think it is not inconsistent with at least some of the Nobel Peace Prizes given to American politicians in the past. Unlike the Nobel winners in the
sciences, chosen by serious scientists from Sweden, or the prize in literature, given by the Swedish Academy, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient is given by politicians -- specifically a committee selected by the Norwegian Storting (parliament). This method of picking the
peace prize was perhaps a reflection of the myopic idealism of the Norwegians regarding the prospects for peace -- and a tendency to overlook evidence of blood on the hands of the nominees.

Teddy Roosevelt won the peace prize after the slaughter of millions in the American colonization of the Philippines, because he helped arrange a peace settlement between Russia and Japan. It would have been impolite to observe that Teddy also offered to keep hands off Korea when Japan colonized it -- in exchange for Japan keeping hands off our expanding empire in the Philippines.

Woodrow Wilson won the peace prize after reneging on a promise and dragging the American people into World War One (while silencing dissent at home) -- because he came up with the idealistic Fourteen Points and the League of Nations -- neither of which had any practical
effect. His incompetence in establishing a just peace set the stage for the rise of fascism and World War Two.

Jimmy Carter won in 2002, by which time his role in destabilizing Afghanistan -- leading to perhaps a million deaths during the Afghan War of the 1980s -- was widely known. American propaganda had presented this as a Russian invasion of Afghanistan, but Carter, following Zbigniew Brzezinski's advice, had armed and financed the effort to overthrow the Afghan government; the USSR was asked to assist in quelling the rebellion. As stability was returning under the Taliban, America invaded in October 2001. The result of Carter's actions included the empowerment of Osama bin Laden, the man the US Government blames for the events of 9-11-2001. The award, on 10-11-2002, claimed "Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts
must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development." There are a lot of dead Afghans and their friends and relatives who might disagree.

When Al Gore shared the prize in 2007, the committee revealed the political purpose of its award:

"By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond
man’s control."

I would guess that the award to Obama is made in the same spirit. He has done little good, permitted further harm, but promised a rosy future -- a bit like Woodrow Wilson. Overlooking his actions and listening to his words, the committee felt compelled to advance such idealism.

This, too, has a long history. In December 1906, in presenting the award to Teddy Roosevelt, Gunnar Knudsen opined:

"it is appropriate to recall that the Norwegian Parliament was one of the first national assemblies to adopt and to support the cause of peace. Twelve or fifteen years ago, Gentlemen, the cause of peace presented a very different aspect from the one it presents today. The cause was then
regarded as a utopian idea and its advocates as well-meaning but overly enthusiastic idealists who had no place in practical politics, being out of touch with the realities of life. The
situation has altered radically since then, for in recent years leading statesmen, even heads of state, have espoused the cause, which has now acquired a totally different image in public

Yes, indeed. Now peace was no longer utopian, it had the right image. What a pity that less than eight years later, the greatest war in human history had begun, and that lovely image was to be sullied by tens of millions of deaths.

Let's hope the Obama award is not an omen of a similar future.

[Originally published 11:11 a.m., October 11, 2009. Edited to correct spacing on May 12, 2010]

Monday, July 11, 2005

I believe in TLC:

Truth -- as the only reliable way to achieve love
Love -- as the only reliable way to achieve cooperation
Cooperation -- as the only reliable way to achieve peace and harmony