A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Liberty’ Category

Fighting Fascism

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A lot of people have expressed an interest in fighting fascism here in the United States. Most of the people expressing such interest like to start off a lot of their sentences with, “We must…” “We must stand together!” “We must shutdown fascist speakers!” “We must run fascists out of town!”

Fascism is only made possible through collectivism. Using words like “we must” is where the disease begins. By using the collective term “we” it establishes a group identity, which is the beginning of developing an “us” vs. “them” mentality. By using the word “must” it establishes a requirement one must meet in order to be a member of the speaker’s collective.

Fascists love starting sentences with “We must…” “We must secure the fatherland.” “We must eliminate the immigrants who are the source of our strife.” “We must give our loyalty to our nation first.” In the case of fascism, the “we” is generally citizens of a nation and the “them” is everybody else. The use of the word “must” indicates that being a member of the nation requires securing it from “them,” removing “them” from “us,” and ensuring people’s loyalty is with the nation before anybody else including family members.

By identifying themselves first and foremost with a group, individuals can begin to justify any action, no matter how atrocious, so long as it benefits the group. This is the most dangerous aspect of fascism and the people who claim to want to fight fascism seem determined to rely on it.

I have a proposal for fighting fascism. Instead of relying on the very collectivism that makes fascism possible, why not rely on radical individualism? Perhaps people would be less susceptible to collectivism philosophies like fascism if they recognized themselves first and foremost as individuals instead of members of a group.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 9th, 2017 at 11:00 am

The Specter of Unscientific Public Policy

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There needs to be more science-based public polices, right? According to a lot of people, there does. According to me, the entire idea that there should be such a thing as public policy is absurd. But, much to my chagrin, most people still seem to be worshiping at the alter of statism so I find myself having to shoehorn ideas into that frame of reference. So I will say that I don’t believe there needs to be more science-based public policies because science is not the appropriate tool for determining public policy. What is the appropriate tool then? A healthy respect for individual rights. Let’s take a brief look at what happens when science is relied on for creating public policy instead of individual rights:

Throughout the 1930s (but actually continuing beyond that), at least 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized. American eugenics research was later put to use by Hitler’s Germany and was even cited at the Nuremberg Trials.

Many books and articles have been written about the eugenics movement more broadly, including some popular books of a recent vintage. The American experience with eugenics, as well as the Australian experience with stealing children in order to quicken the demise of the aborigines, to cite just two examples, demonstrate that concerns about the misuse of science are not confined to totalitarian, murderous regimes.

The science of genetics allowed us to better understand how certain traits are passed down from parents to offspring. After acquiring this new understanding people started arguing over what to do with it. This is where philosophy came into play. One camp, the pragmatists, thought that this knowledge must be acted on by passing legislation that legalized forcibly sterilizing people with undesirable genes. Another camp, what we might today refer to as classical liberals, thought that forcibly sterilizing people was a violation of their individual rights and therefore unacceptable even if they contained undesirable genes.

Today the predominate belief appears to be that the eugenics-based public policies of the past were a mistake. But humanity is still arguing about what to do with our scientific knowledge. Pragmatists are still arguing about what public policies to implement based on the latest scientific knowledge. Supporters of individual rights are arguing that that public policies should be based on individual rights, not scientific knowledge. As somebody firmly in the latter camp I agree with what the author wrote:

Science has also been part of debates over questions where a little respect for individual rights and good sense was all that was needed. We don’t need scientists to discover a “gay gene” in order to conclude that prohibiting consenting adults from having sex is wrong, and we don’t need scientists to show us that children raised in same-sex households are well-adjusted in order to allow same-sex marriage and child-rearing. To even endorse such arguments is to imply that only genetically determined sexual preferences should be protected (sorry BDSM community) and that the state has the power to use “science” to generally determine (as opposed to specifically removing children from dangerous households) who is allowed to raise children. Finally, we don’t need science—and we especially don’t need horrible dance numbers from Bill Nye’s show—to tell us that transgendered people deserve our respect and care.

Having a healthy respect for individual rights means you respect, even if you don’t necessarily like, the rights of everybody. Pragmatists, on the other hand, will only respect an individuals’ rights if they believe doing so will provide the most good to the largest number of people. What rights they’re willing to respect and for what groups largely depends on what they consider to be good.

Unscientific public policy shouldn’t be a specter. Public policy, if we’re going to have it, should be based first and foremost on individual rights, not scientific research. That’s the only way to guard against the pragmatism that lead to forcible sterilizations under the name of science. Whenever new public policies are being considered the question of whether or not such laws would bring the violence of the State upon nonviolent individuals should be the guiding principle. If they will then the policy should be dropped regardless of scientific research, if they won’t then the policy could be considered and scientific research could then come into play.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 5th, 2017 at 11:00 am

The Problem with Pragmatism

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Fascists have been trying to make inroads into libertarian circles. That has lead a lot of libertarians to state that libertarianism is anti-fascist. I’m beginning to think that fascism isn’t the real problem for libertarianism, pragmatism is.

As I touched on yesterday, pragmatism has been leading some libertarians to side with fascists because they’re offering a “lighter” alternative to communists “full” socialism. I’ve also seen a few libertarians passing around this article, which is basically saying that libertarians should support universal basic income because it’s better than the current system of welfare. And, of course, I’ve seen some libertarians passing around this article, which argues that supporting universal healthcare is fiscally responsible.

These are just a few cases where I’ve seen libertarians argue for pragmatism. And they make me understand how Ludwig von Mises felt when he was attending a meeting of classical liberals and called them all a bunch of socialists as he stormed after they started talking about pragmatism:

When I hear libertarians siding with fascists, supporting universal basic income, and supporting universal healthcare I can’t help but call them a bunch of socialists because they are expressing pragmatism, which is a socialist ideology.

The problem with pragmatism is that it always requires compromising principles. While some libertarians might think that compromising their principles, at least if it’s only a little bit, is fine so long as it moves some libertarian ideas ahead, doing so actually forwards the goals of socialists in two ways. First, the compromise means at least some of their agenda was also moved ahead. Second, the compromise means that they were able to get some libertarians to bend on one thing, which gives them the knowledge to get them to bend on other things. The first is obvious, the second is sinister.

Getting people to compromise on their principles requires finding the right button to push. Usually the button is fear. If you can find something that somebody is so afraid of that they’re willing to set aside their principles to make themselves feel safer, you’ve won. In fact, that was the whole point of the Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. If, for example, somebody fears communism so greatly that they’re willing to side with fascists, the communists know that they can manipulate the actions of that person by exploiting that fear.

If you’re willing to compromise your principles then you’re susceptible to manipulation. If you’re susceptible to manipulation then your opponents manipulate you.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 25th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Yes, Rights are Double-Edged Swords

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The argument over what is and isn’t a right used to primarily take place between governments and the people they claimed dominion over. Today, at least in the United States, the argument seems to be more and more taking place between government subjects and other government subjects. This shift seems most obvious on college campuses:

A coalition of marginalized students at Pomona College are demanding that the president of Pomona (one of the Claremont Colleges) take disciplinary action against student-journalists who write for The Claremont Independent, a conservative paper.

That’s not all. The students’ letter to the president also stridently rejects the very mission of a liberal arts college. The search for truth is little more than an attempt to silence marginalized people, in the view of these students. Accordingly, the campus administration must revise its commitment to free speech such that no one who espouses hateful views—as defined, in incredibly broad terms, by the offended parties themselves—is allowed to speak at Claremont.

“Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions,” the students wrote in their letter. “It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.”

Let’s consider the claim that free speech has been appropriated. Why do so many people consider free speech a right? Is it so people can express popular opinions? No. Popular opinions usually aren’t the opinions that are being suppressed. The reason so many people consider free speech to be a right because it gives protection to people who are expressing unpopular ideas.

What constitutes an unpopular idea? Generally speaking, an unpopular idea is a minority idea within a particular sphere of influence. For example, expressing anti-war sentiments is an unpopular idea when it is being expressed at a pro-war rally. It is not an unpopular idea when expressed at an anti-war rally. Expressing anti-democratic ideas is an unpopular idea when it is being expressed pretty much anywhere in the United States. It is not an unpopular idea when expressed at an individualist anarchist meeting.

The beauty of the idea of the right to free speech is that it can turn a minority idea into a majority idea. Free speech is why same-sex marriage went from strongly opposed by the majority of people in this society heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian values to being generally accepted, at least within the realm of government marriage. Likewise, cannabis legalization efforts have been made possible because the right to free speech has allowed legalization advocates to inform the public that the government claims about cannabis are false. Within the sphere of United States society these two minority opinions were able to be expressed, which allowed same-sex marriage to be legalized throughout the country and has allowed cannabis legalization advocates to achieve victory in several states.

But free speech, as with any concept developed by humans, is a double-edged sword. It allows minority and majority opinions to be expressed. Free speech is not “appropriated” when people use it to express an opinion that is unpopular within your sphere of influence, it’s exactly what the concept of free speech was created to allow. If that aspect changes then the entire reason for free speech goes out the window because the majority opinion will become the only opinion that will legally expressible. Admittedly, this usually sounds acceptable to people who hold a majority opinion within a sphere of influence but that is only because they fail to realize that their sphere of influence isn’t the only sphere.

The people who submitted the complaint at Pomona College likely hold the majority opinion in the sphere of influence of that college campus. But they may or may not hold the majority opinion within the sphere of influence of California. They most likely don’t hold the majority opinion within the sphere of influence of the United States of America. If their advice were to be followed, if free speech was curtailed in such a way that only majority opinions could be expressed, these people may find themselves silenced within the State of California and almost certainly within the United States of America.

You will likely always hold a minority opinion in several spheres of influence. If you advocate for speech being limited in a sphere you hold a majority opinion in, it will be used as precedence to silence your opinion in spheres you hold a minority opinion in. Free speech can either be a double-edged sword that allows everybody to express their opinions or it can be a single-edged sword that only allows the majority to express their opinions.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 21st, 2017 at 11:00 am

The Nazi Exception

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“I believe in the freedom of speech but…” “I believe in gun ownership but…” “I believe warrants should be required to search homes but…” Whenever you hear somebody tack on a “but” to their claim that they support a supposed right you know that the next thing coming out of their mouth will invalidate their claim.

Freedom of speech may be the only right cited more often than the right to keep and bear arms. How many times have you heard somebody say a variation of, “You can’t censor me! I have a First Amendment right!” If I had a nickel for everybody I have I’d probably be the wealthiest man on Earth. But many of the people who cite the First Amendment as protection against censoring their speech are quick to add a bunch of exceptions for speech they dislike. In recent times a lot of people have started citing the “Nazi Exception.” They claim that anybody who is advocating for Nazism, which is often a euphemism for any political speech they don’t agree with, should be censored. Fortunately, Ken White wrote a thorough refutation of the “Nazi Exception”:

Isn’t it simple? Isn’t it principled? Isn’t it safe? They’re not trying to silence all speech. They just don’t want to allow speech that calls for their extermination, dangerous speech.

Right?

No.

First, the argument relies on a false premise: that we don’t, or shouldn’t, extent rights to people who wouldn’t extend those rights to us. This is childish nonsense, and a common argument for tyranny. We criminal defense lawyers know it very well: why should this guy get a trial? He didn’t give his victim a trial. Why should she be shown any mercy? She didn’t show her victims mercy. Why does he get due process? He didn’t give his victims due process. The argument is particularly popular since 9/11. You hear it a lot whenever anyone suggests that maybe people accused of being terrorists — or of being someone who might plausibly grow up to be a terrorist, or might take up terrorism as soon as this wedding is over — perhaps should be treated as having some sort of right not to be killed or tortured or indefinitely detained. Nonsense, is the response. They wouldn’t give you any rights. The constitution isn’t a suicide pact! It’s also popular in matters of modern religious liberty. How can you argue that Muslims should have the freedom to worship here when Muslim countries deny Christians and Jews that right? In this manner, the student Left represented by the quotes below shares an ethos with the authoritarian and racist wings of the Right. A common taste for authoritarianism makes strange bedfellows.

Exceptions to declared rights are always a slippery slope. At first there are only a few put into place. But those few are used as justification for more. As time goes on more exceptions are added until everybody realizes that everything they want to say is pretty much illegal.

“But we can all agree that advocating Nazism is dangerous, right?” Sure. But so is advocating communism. Yet most of the people trying to establish a “Nazi Exception” would be opposed to a “Communist Exception” even though communists have killed even more people than nazis (but only because communism has lasted longer).

Another thing that is dangerous to advocate is democracy. Saying that pisses off a lot of people because they hold democracy up to be a perfect system of governance but let’s apply democracy to this problem. Let’s say the current party in power votes to establish a “Nazi Exception.” It gets passed and everybody cheers. Four years later an election leads to a change in power. The new power decides that there should also be a “Muslim Exception” and votes to pass it. Now the nation has the “Nazi Exception” that so many people wanted but it was used as justification by the new party in power to pass the “Muslim Exception” that they wanted. Democracy has just allowed a group that the “Nazi Exception” advocates hate to get their way. My point? What constitutes dangerous speech varies from person to person. You might believe that advocating Nazism is dangerous and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But you may flip your shit when I point out that democracy is dangerous. Where should the line be drawn?

As I’ve said before, if you hand power to the State you have to accept that that power may be wielded by people you hate. Handing that power over when the party you support is in power sounds like a jolly good idea. But the party you hate may only be a single election away from obtaining power and then it will inherit that power. After that your “Nazi Exception” may become a “Muslim Exception.”

Written by Christopher Burg

April 20th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Man Arrested for Hacking Without Hacking Anybody

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One of the more bizarre concepts in the United States legal system is that one can go to jail for providing a means for other people to commit crimes. Take Taylor Huddleston, for example. He was arrested because he wrote some tools used by malicious hackers:

The visitors were from the FBI, and after a 90-minute search of his house, they left with his computers, only to return two months later with handcuffs. Now free on bond, Huddleston, 26, is scheduled to appear in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia on Friday for arraignment on federal charges of conspiracy and aiding and abetting computer intrusions.

Huddleston, though, isn’t a hacker. He’s the author of a remote administration tool, or RAT, called NanoCore that happens to be popular with hackers. NanoCore has been linked to intrusions in at least 10 countries, including an attack on Middle Eastern energy firms in 2015, and a massive phishing campaign last August in which the perpetrators posed as major oil and gas company. As Huddleston sees it, he’s a victim himself—hackers have been pirating his program for years and using it to commit crimes. But to the Justice Department, Huddleston is an accomplice to a spree of felonies.

Brian Krebs offered a bit more legal analysis than the Daily Beast article. If you’re wondering why the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) went after Huddleston for writing a remote administration tool and not, say, TeamViewer, it’s because he advertised his product on a hacker forum:

Huddleston makes the case in Poulsen’s story that there’s a corporate-friendly double standard at work in the government’s charges, noting that malicious hackers have used commercial remote administration tools like TeamViewer and VNC for years, but the FBI doesn’t show up at their corporate headquarters with guns drawn.

But Nixon notes that RATs sold on Hackforums are extremely dangerous for the average person to use on his personal computer because there are past cases when RAT authors divert infected machines to their own botnet.

Now that you have the history of the case and the legal analysis, I’m going to provide the libertarian analysis.

Let’s assume the FBI’s accusation that Huddleston build a remote administration tool specifically for the malicious hacker market is true. Under libertarianism a crime doesn’t exist unless a victim exists so who were Huddleston’s victims? The people whose computers were hacked? While they were victims, they were victims of the malicious hackers, not Huddleston.

“But, Chris,” I hear some statist exclaim, “he built a tool used by hackers?!” That doesn’t matter. The existence of the tool itself is not a crime. A gun manufacturer isn’t charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting a murderer when one of its guns is used by a murderer. An automobile manufacturer isn’t charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting a bank robbery when one of its automobiles is used as a getaway car for a gang of bank robbers. So why are software tools treated differently?

I can hear our statist interrupting us again, “But, Chris, guns and automobiles have legitimate purposes! Hacker tools don’t!” First of all, that’s not true. Hacker tools have legitimate purposes. They’re often used by penetration testers. Second of all, that doesn’t matter. Every tool can be used for legitimate and illegitimate purposes. A gun can be used to defend an innocent life or to take one. An automobile can be used to drive to work or as a getaway vehicle for a crime. A remote administration tool can be used by a support technician to fix a user’s problem remotely or to configure a computer for botnet activities. Tools have no morality, only users do.

Under the arbitrary legal system us denizens of the United States suffer, manufacturers of certain tools can be charged for aiding and abetting criminals who used those tools while manufacturers of other tools can’t be. The only thing that determines whether a manufacturer can or can’t be charged is the opinion of a body of politicians. If they believe that the tools you manufacture have legitimate purposes, you might enjoy legal protections. If not, you might find yourself being arrested by the FBI because somebody used one of the tools you made to commit a crime. Under libertarian principles, a person can only be charged with a crime when a victim can be directly tied to their actions. What I can’t figure out is why most people seem to find an entirely arbitrary legal system more favorable than a consistent one.

Written by Christopher Burg

April 6th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Defense and the State

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A common objection made by statists about anarchy is that the anarchists would quickly be conquered by a neighboring state. Apparently the only way to defend ourselves from criminal gangs is to have a criminal gang of our own. Except, as Robert Higgs points out, such objections are based on two flawed presumptions:

This thinking presumes at least two critical ideas: first, that defense of a population requires a government that rules that population; and, second, that if a government has the power to take over another country, it will do so.

As for the first assumption, it seems clear that a national government may prove an ineffective means of defense in any event, as many governments have demonstrated through the ages. Moreover, it is certainly conceivable that decentralized measures of defense, such as pervasive guerrilla groups operating more or less independently, might prove effective in preventing a foreign takeover.

As for the second assumption, the persistence of many small countries with weak governments, even in today’s world, certainly calls into question the idea that effectively defenseless countries cannot persist. Surely Brazil has the means to conquer Uruguay, but it does not do so. Surely Germany or France has the means to conquer Belgium, but neither does so. And so forth in regard to many other countries. Governments have various good reasons for refraining from such possible conquests.

The apocalyptic scenario predicted by statists should be playing out today since there are many states easily able to conquer their neighbors. Unless, of course, the statists are claiming that colored pieces of cloth hanging from poles have some kind of magical power to repel invaders. But even if that’s the case, each anarchist in an stateless society could fly their own piece of colored cloth to keep neighboring states off of their property.

The threat of military invasion as a justification for having a state may be one of the flimsiest arguments against anarchism. We have very good examples of a militarily inferior force holding a military superior force at bay in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries in the Middle East and Africa. Hell, the North Vietnamese showed the United States how successful guerrilla warfare is against a militarily superior force. Lacking a formal military doesn’t make a particular chunk of dirt more vulnerable to invasion. If anything, it makes that chunk of dirt more dangerous because there’s no centralized force to take out to break the inhabitant’s will to continue fighting.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 30th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Uber’s Self-Defense Strategy

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Last week it was revealed that Uber developed a self-defense strategy against the State. Needless to say, this upset a lot of statists who were posting the #DeleteUber hashtag even harder than they were before. But those of us who don’t subscribe to the insanity that is statism can learn a lot from Uber’s example:

“SAN FRANCISCO — Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was being resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been outright banned.

The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities such as Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.

[…]

Uber’s use of Greyball was recorded on video in late 2014, when Erich England, a code enforcement inspector in Portland, Ore., tried to hail an Uber car downtown as part of a sting operation against the company.

[…]

But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in the app did not represent actual vehicles. And the Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from the app and in other ways. The company then served up a fake version of the app populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.”

How brilliant is that? The company identified a significant threat, government goons who were working to extort the company, and then screwed with them, which made their job of extortion more difficult.

This is a strategy more companies need to adopt. Imagine a world where services such as Facebook, Gmail, Google Maps, iCloud, SoundCloud, and other online services identified government goons and refused to work for them. It would be a tremendous strike against the quality of life of many government employees. In fact, the hit might be powerful enough to convince them to seek productive employment.

Companies like Facebook and Google have built their fortunes on surveilling customers. Why not use that massive store of data for good by identifying government employees, or at least the regulators that make their lives difficult, and either screw with them or outright refusing to do business with them? There’s no reason anybody should be expected to do business with extortionists.

Written by Christopher Burg

March 7th, 2017 at 11:00 am

It’s Happening

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The aftermath of this election is the gift that keeps on giving. After eight years of loving Big Brother and mocking anti-state ideas, neoliberals are suddenly espousing anti-state ideas. The appointment of Betsy DeVos has a lot of neoliberals upset because they think she is going to destroy the public education system (I wish that were true but it’s not). Some of them are so upset that they’re considering a formerly crazy libertarian idea:

In protest of school choice advocate Betsy DeVos becoming the next education secretary, some liberals threatened to homeschool their children. Lost on them, apparently, is the irony of that threat.

As I mentioned, the Education Secretary doesn’t matter if you don’t put your children into a government indoctrination center. Apparently this point has sunk in with a few neoliberals.

Granted, I know these people will have a change of heart when their team is in power again but it’s nice to see that for at least four years some neoliberals will be open to a few libertarian ideas. Perhaps one or two of them will take the ideas to heart and permanently overcome their statist tendencies.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 16th, 2017 at 11:00 am

But Who Will Build the Schools

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Without government who will build the schools? It’s a stupid question since nongovernment schools have existed for ages but it’s a question statists love to ask. They seem to think that single question justifies the existence of the State. So I’m going to answer it. People who are sick of the poor quality of education will build the schools:

A libertarian businessman based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Luddy made his fortune as the owner of the nation’s leading manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems. CaptiveAire has factories in six states, and its 2016 revenues were $400 million. But what does fabricating stove hoods and building HVAC systems have in common with turning out successful students? More than you might think.

[…]

In 2007, he decided to take a more radical step by creating a non-profit network of schools called Thales Academy. Influenced by economist Albert Hirschman’s classic 1970 treatise on political science, Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Luddy conceived of Thales as a way to give families “exit.”

“‘Voice’ is [when] you go to vote [or you] express an opinion…Exit…is like Uber…where someone comes up with an entirely new idea, they bypass the existing industry, and they get amazing results.”

The first thing statists are likely to complain about is that Thales Academy charges tuition. Supposedly schools that charge tuition put education out of reach of poorer families. But as anybody who has been to a school in a poorer neighborhood knows, even though every family is forced to pay tuition for the school (although they use the euphemism of taxes) the quality of education is usually subpar (and that’s being extremely generous). In other words, the complaint is equally applicable to both private and public schools.

What should be considered is that even though public schools they are so bad at providing an education that Mr. Luddy still decided to invest a portion of his wealth to build an alternative education system. That right there speaks volumes about the quality of government schools.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 24th, 2017 at 11:00 am