Many people are alarmed as they see our liberties fading, racial divisions rising, and our culture in a free-fall. How did we get here? In this episode, Linda interviews E.J. Antoni, Economist at Texas Public Policy Foundation, to discuss educational...
Many people are alarmed as they see our liberties fading, racial divisions rising, and our culture in a free-fall. How did we get here? In this episode, Linda interviews E.J. Antoni, Economist at Texas Public Policy Foundation, to discuss educational ideologies that have positively or negatively impacted our nation. America has always offered equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. We want every citizen to have the opportunity to succeed, if they choose to do so. Encouraging individual responsibility empowers students (or employees) to reach their highest potential. Promoting freedom, opportunity, responsibility, and respect will always reap great rewards. Education policies can help or hinder individuals or nations. Which ones do you support? Listen today to decide for yourself!
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Linda J Hansen: Thank you for joining us again today. I have a repeat guest, E. J. Antoni. E. J. is an economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation whose research focuses on fiscal and monetary policy. His research has been featured with the Daily Caller, Fox Business, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, the Show-Me Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Arizona Chamber Foundation, FreedomWorks, and the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, where he is a visiting fellow. He has taught courses ranging from labor economics to money and banking and earned his masters and doctorate in economics from Northern Illinois University.
I’ve had the chance to work with E. J. because he often works closely with economist Steve Moore, a long-time friend and advisor to me with Prosperity 101®. E. J. provided valuable assistance when Steve and I were adding updates to my latest book before publication last fall. And I asked E. J. to come back to follow up on a previous interview because we didn’t really get to dive into a new topic, education. We talked about various education proposals, policies within education, but I’d really like to dive a little deeper on that and how it affects businesses and jobs and prosperity for individuals and our nation.
Thank you, E. J., for being back here with us for another episode and I really appreciate your insight on all these issues. Welcome.
E.J.: Thank you for having me back, Linda.
Linda: It’s great to have you and I love learning from you and talking about all these issues with you. In our last interview, we talked quite a bit about economic policy. We talked about immigration, minimum wage policy, just a lot about economic policy. I know that the Foundation does a lot of research and writing on educational issues as well. Education policy is something that maybe business owners don’t have at the top of their mindset because they are busy watching their bottom line. They are trying to make sure they meet their customer’s demand every day. There just are not enough hours in the day. But I’m hoping that in this episode we can sort of connect the dots as we begin to see some of the trends in education and how if we bring those out to future generations and incoming employees to the businesses that are being founded. How do all these education policies affect businesses and our national prosperity?
E.J.: That is a very complicated question.
Linda: (Chuckling) Not easy to cover in one episode, I know.
E.J.: Yeah, I guess we should probably start turning back the clock a bit and realize that in days gone by a teacher was really primarily just concerned with one thing. It wasn’t what your home life was like. It wasn’t whether or not you had breakfast in the morning. It wasn’t whether or not you had to walk to school or whether or not you had a bus, whether that was a public bus or a private bus that you had to pay for whatever the case may be. The teacher was just concerned—did you get your work done and do you know how to do these problems or can you diagram this sentence or can you read this book, whatever the case may be. You may say that that was harsh or cruel or whatever, but I would contend that it’s not the teacher; it’s just life that’s harsh and she’s merely trying to acquaint you with those facts.
Linda: Amen to that.
E.J.: There was a time when that was the only purpose of education. What education did was it gave you a skill set that you could take to the workplace and that you could take into the real world. We’ve reached this unfortunate place where education has been in many ways replaced with indoctrination and that ideology is much more important in a classroom than facts or knowledge are. When you couple that with programs like minimum wage laws, what you do is you cut the first rung out for many people in life and that is their first job.
You’ve educated them in poorly run government schools. In other words they haven’t been educated. Then that first job which you’re primarily not compensated through pay, you’re primarily compensated by learning a skill set. You’re learning to show up on time. You’re learning how to deal with a boss and customers. You’re learning how to be polite to others and those types of things. So when you take that away all of a sudden, you create an entire generation of people who aren’t really fit for the jobs available for them.
So it’s really sad to see many people today fighting, actually fighting against things that are remedies for this situation, like charter schools for instance or different types of voucher schemes, whatever the case may be—school choice where parents can choose where to send their kids to school. They can choose who will educate their children and that they can take their tax dollars with them in whatever choice they happen to make. It’s absolutely amazing the fierce opposition that you find to these different movements which have had overwhelmingly positive effects on the children who have been fortunate enough to find themselves participating in those alternate programs.
Linda: That’s a really good point regarding the success that school choice has shown and the overwhelming opposition to it. When I think back to my grade school days and high school days, we were not indoctrinated the same way that young people are now. I just think of this interview I just recently heard from a young lady from North Korea. Maybe you heard of her, too. She talked about fleeing North Korea and she came to the U.S. for freedom and opportunity and she ended up at an Ivy League college and now she is doing interviews talking about how the indoctrination at this Ivy League college was even more so than what she experienced in North Korea.
So it’s an interesting change that has happened in our education system and people need to be aware of this. As I mentioned before, business owners aren’t always putting these different issues together in terms of why they are not getting the people they need to work at their businesses or why they don’t have the skill sets needed. I know of employers who have remedial reading programs for new employees because they come to work and they don’t know how to read. We have employers who have remedial math programs. They can’t do simple math. These are people who’ve grown up in so-called good school systems. We have to go back to, like you said, where we’re preparing these students for life, giving them skill sets that they’ll need in every opportunity that presents itself to them. Then they can get specialized training obviously. But it’s not really the school’s responsibility to indoctrinate or to provide those social welfare type programs that have become so popular.
When we’re talking about some of the educational programs that are not that helpful, could you address critical race theory? We haven’t really addressed it a lot on the podcast to date. I know that it could take its own episode all on its own because it’s so massive both in educational institutions as well as being promoted in many businesses. Could you address that and the effects it has on our nation not only socially but economically?
E.J.: Sure. Actually, I’d probably expand it beyond critical race theory because I’ve noticed that many of the people who yesterday were espousing critical race theory, today are espousing the exact same ideology; they’re just using a different name or a different acronym, whatever the case may be. Because as people start to get wise of what exactly is in critical race theory and as they start to see it for what it is, which is essentially racism, they begin to turn away from it and all of a sudden, it’s not as attractive. So it’s the bait and switch; we’re just going to change the name a little.
So let’s maybe address it in terms of its ideology. So the idea that an individual is a certain way because of their skin color or the idea that an individual is predisposed to something because of their skin color, I specifically want to reference choices; they’re predisposed to choices because of their skin color. That’s essentially racist, right? This is something we would find at home in the KKK and yet this is exactly what critical race theory espouses. What’s really funny is that many of these ideologies which purport to advocate for so-called people of color or black and brown people, however they want to phrase it, these different groups, they actually disparage them because, what do they do? They say that showing up on time, timeliness is whiteness. Getting the correct math answer is whiteness. I fail to see how addition and subtraction has anything to do with skin color. If someone could explain this to me, I really would be amazed especially when you consider the fact that the numbering system that we use in mathematics today was not developed by someone with white skin. Pythagoras and Euclid certainly did not look like the typical white American.
So the idea that essentially this is, well, let me put it this way. It is the soft bigotry of low expectations to somehow say that a black person can’t show up on time or a black person can’t cut the mustard when it comes to rigorous academic activities. At the same time, they want to speak out of both sides of their mouth because they want to take these different qualities and attribute them as whiteness and therefore say that these qualities are somehow bad. Yet these are the same people who will say that blacks must be equally represented at MIT. So it’s really interesting if you look at the blacks who are admitted to MIT and the blacks that are admitted to college at large. The blacks that are admitted to MIT are far superior intellectually; I mean it’s night and day. Yet the average black at MIT is still below the average white person at MIT. Why? Because they have quota systems; because what they do is they say you have to have this percentage of your student body be black. What’s really sad is that black students, who for example would have excelled at other colleges, end up failing out of MIT or the Ivy League, because they were fundamentally mismatched with their university.
Yet the same people who espouse this ideology, whether it’s critical race theory or something similar, will say that we should have quotas because there is no difference between a black person and a white person. Yet they will also say that this long history of slavery, of Jim Crow, of discrimination, has fundamentally disadvantaged these people. Well, you can’t have it both ways. Either these people are fundamentally disadvantaged and can’t compete, or they’re exactly the same as everyone else and therefore, there is no reason for these distinctions and quotas should be okay because if everyone’s not proportionally represented then it’s obviously a sign of nefarious activity, of some kind of racism. But no, the fact of the matter is that the long history of slavery and Jim Crow has had an effect. Now things have improved, but once you added in things like the welfare state which absolutely decimated the black family,
E.J.: That set them back many, many years. So what are we left with today? In my opinion, we are left with today a situation where quotas for example, do far more harm than good. We’re in a sit…and that’s just what the numbers tell us, right? We’re also in a situation where telling people that they are a victim because of an immutable characteristic is demotivating them. That is telling them fundamentally, you don’t have to try because if you fail, it’s not your fault. It’s some other person’s fault and they’re the ones that are keeping you down. So why try? Why strive for anything? So once again, we’re cutting out that first rung on the ladder for so many people.
Linda: Right. You bring up really good points. The other thing that some of these educational initiatives do is seek to divide, seek to divide by identity, whether you’re black, white, brown, yellow, red—it doesn’t matter; but they will seek to make it matter. It is just devastating. I know there were some places that were talking about having different colored water fountains. I’m thinking, “Wait a second. We went through that already in our country. Why are we going through that again?”
These things in our educational system, whether it’s these social curriculums that talk about victimization and all of this or whether it is just the dumbing down of America that we’ve seen happen over the last forty years really, helping people not think through these issues thoroughly. This impacts all of society. It impacts us economically. It impacts us socially. It impacts families. It impacts businesses.
So you talked about the bigotry of low expectations. This can be for anyone—color of skin, whether you are male, female, young, old, whatever. America has always shown that we have opportunity for all, equal opportunity for all, but we don’t guarantee equal outcome for all; equal opportunity, but not a guarantee of outcome. That’s where people can come here and have their American dream. They can work hard. They can achieve. They can build. They can grow. It’s just great, but it is not something that we should put a lid on. When we do that, we’re hurting individuals and we’re hurting small businesses, large businesses all around, because they are not getting the employee pool that they need, critical thinkers. You mentioned school choice. School choice, charter schools, homeschools, private schools often can bring that whole other perspective where you are teaching young people how to learn, not what to learn or what to think, and that will prepare them for all of life
E.J.: Absolutely. You bring up a very interesting point which is the difference between the equality of opportunity and the equality of outcome. If you look at people raised under the same roof, siblings, you don’t find equality of outcome at least. What do you find? You find that disproportionately the first born tends to achieve the highest; they tend to have the highest educational achievement. They are disproportionately lawyers and doctors for example, as compared to their younger siblings. They tend to have higher IQs. A lot of it just has to do with the fact that the firstborn usually receives the undivided attention of the parents, whereas subsequent siblings do not. We find the exact same pattern with twins for example, and yet if one of the twins is either stillborn or passes away shortly after birth, we find that effect diminished. So there really does seem to be a certain advantage that’s bestowed just in something as simple as birth order.
But even not comparing individuals, let’s just look at one individual on their own. You are not equal to yourself on different days. How many people have had a bad day? I would say this to my students. You will have one day when you take a test and another day when you take that same test and you might have done better or you might have done worst because it’s just a different day. So the idea that we would expect the innumerable effects that contribute to an individual’s outcome, the idea that we would expect those to be equal among different parties, is just an absolute farce. Furthermore that means that it’s even more silly that we think we can correct for that, that we think we can somehow create this notion of social justice or cosmic justice. It really is an oxymoron in terms. Justice is what? It’s giving the individual his or her due. It has nothing to do with society. So to say this is somehow a societal issue just doesn’t make any sense at all, but that’s exactly what these different forms of indoctrination, in my opinion, at their, in their heart, what they seek to do. That’s the root of all this. It’s that we’re somehow going to correct for the inequalities that we think we perceive in the universe.
Linda: Right. I think it was Thomas Sowell. I’m going to loosely quote this. He said something like, “We have reached a point in our society where people are no longer responsible for what they do. They no longer have to suffer the consequences or reap the rewards of their own behavior, but they have to suffer the consequences of people, of generations ahead of them.” It’s amazing to me that with some of these ideologies, we take away that personal responsibility and it becomes a collective responsibility based on group identification. That’s just not healthy for any society. We need to have personal responsibility.
You mentioned how everybody has a bad day. I’ve always heard it said, “There’s no perfect politician unless you run yourself.” I’ve thought, “Well, I’m far from perfect and I argue with myself in the mirror often. So you can’t even say that because there’s no perfection. We have to just all work hard and really strive to be able to be the most objective and just and righteous as we can as individuals and as a nation.
What would you recommend to business owners or employers who would like to help their employees understand a little bit more about how these educational initiatives impact employment and job growth and their economic prosperity overall?
E.J.: Well, I think to hit on one of the points that you just made, the individualism, the individualistic aspect that has made this country so incredibly profitable and so incredibly great, the idea that your life is yours and you can do with it as you want. You can make of it what you will. You get to reap what you sow, good or bad. That’s an incredible incentive to sow good seed. It’s an incredible incentive to work hard when you get to keep what you earn. It’s an incredible incentive to invest when someone is not going to take the fruits of that investment away from you.
So I think if employers can couch it in those terms and especially if they can hold up other people who have done great things having been given very little to start with. I think that’s a tremendous source of encouragement and to just keep pounding home this message because they’re getting, employees are getting the opposite message everywhere else they turn. If an employer can just keep pounding home this message of individualism, of individual responsibility and of individual reward, and therefore to reward at the workplace, to reward individuals for the things that they do and to not reward and/or punish people based on what the group as a whole does.
Linda: Those are really good points. Well, our time has come to a close. So I really appreciate those closing thoughts. If people want to reach out to you, how should they reach you?
E.J.: They can find my contact info at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s website. That’s texaspolicy.com.
Linda: Okay. That’s great. You can find him underneath the staff there and you can reach out to E. J. Thank you so much. You’ve given time for two episodes that have been so, I think, educational and enlightening for our listeners. I really appreciate your incite and hope to have you back again. Thank you.
E.J.: I would love that. Thank you for having me.