A Primer On Ludwig von Mises’s “Socialism”

Why did Mises write this book?

Mises was attempting a scientific analysis of the socialist program. Much of the early writings on socialism concerned themselves with ideological critiques of the existing capitalist order rather than a scientific exposition of what socialism would put in its place. Mises wanted to explain: what is socialism? how does it compare to capitalism? what claims does socialism make about society? are they true? what can we expect the world to look like under a socialist order? and, is socialism possible?

 

What the heck is Mises saying?

Some people find Mises’s writing confusing. He uses big words (“panegyrists”) and archaic references, often in foreign or dead languages. Mises possessed a Classical education like many educated Europeans of his time and saw himself as part of a grand Western intellectual tradition that had taken over two millennia to develop, scientifically examining social phenomena by responding to particular people, schools or ideas which were well-known and publicly debated in his day. He was a systems-builder who started with a foundation and then added to it block-by-block, the end result being an intellectual skyscraper.

 

What are the biggest ideas in “Socialism” (Chapters 1-4)?

The word Capitalism expresses, for our age, the sum of all evil. Even the opponents of Socialism are dominated by socialist ideas.

To drink coffee I do not need to own a coffee plantation in Brazil, an ocean steamer, and a coffee roasting plant, though all these means of production must be used to bring a cup of coffee to my table. Sufficient that others own these means of production and employ them for me.

If the State takes the power of disposal from the owner piecemeal, by extending its influence over production… then the owner is left at last with nothing except the empty name of ownership, and property has passed into the hands of the State.

 

What is “Liberalism”?

Mises’s Liberalism stood for a social order built on respect for private property rights and contractual negotiation of social conflicts, which was once an intellectual project of thinkers of all nations and ethnicities participating in “Western civilization”. Today, Liberalism lives on most strongly in the ideas of the American Libertarian movement, which was kick-started in large part by the publication of Mises’s “Human Action” in 1949. Since then, Socialists have co-opted the Liberal name, having rightfully seen it as valuable due to its old popularity and intellectual prestige.

 

What is Socialism?

The essential idea is “a policy which aims at placing the means of production in the hands of the State.” It is the antithesis of the private property order of Mises’s much-cherished Liberalism, and diametrically opposed to the “consumer sovereignty” of the marketplace. Socialism is Utopian by nature, promising to deliver a perfect economic, political and social environment where all inequalities and disputes are resolved forever and the end of history, in the sense of a constantly-evolving, ever better social order, arrives.

 

Do Liberalism and Socialism have conflicting ends?

No! And this is the most fascinating part of the analysis. Socialist propaganda strives endlessly to create contrast between the goals of Liberalism and the goals of Socialism. The goal of both is to raise the material standard of living of humanity as a whole. The only thing that differs is the means chosen to secure those ends. But it is that choice which ultimately makes all the difference.

Notes – Human Action, Part I

Introduction

The introduction of the book is Mises’s explanation for why he wrote the book— to ground economics in the science of praxeology and to refute the various anti-economic philosophies. It seeks to answer the simple question, “Why did Mises write this book?”

 

  1. Economics and Praxeology

Economics is a young science. It introduced new knowledge about human society that did not fit into the existing disciplines of logic, mathematics, psychology, history or biology. It stood in opposition to earlier methodologies for explaining social phenomena, such as historicism, which focused on social aggregates and metaphysical supernaturalism. Other social philosophers focused on practically changing society through forms of social engineering, believing any kind of regularity to social relationships was non-existent and thus not worth considering in their schemes. The discovery of social regularities contained within economic study proved an intellectual revolution. But the revolution was limited in scope until a general theory of human choice (praxeology) could be developed.

 

  1. The Epistemological Problem of a General Theory of Human Action

Economic study suffered a serious early crisis during the “Methodenstreit” in which the epistemology of economics was argued between historicists (economic history), logical positivists (emulators of the natural sciences) and praxeologists (methodological individualists and deductive logic). These economic methodology debates quickly became radical in nature, leading to the first charges against rationalism in all of scientific debate which up to that point had accepted human logic as universal and immutable. Such criticisms bring into question ALL scientific findings, but they are really aimed only at economics specifically. Thus, Mises wants to ground economic theory in the general theory of human action to demonstrate it’s universality and defend it from polylogist and anti-rational criticisms.

 

  1. Economic Theory and the Practice of Human Action

Economics receives criticism as being an imperfect science. All science is imperfect, and is subject to change and improvement over time. One major school of criticism comes from naturalist scientists who blame economics for not adopting their own methodology— they suffer from a narrow focus and can not see the virtue in doing things any way but their own. The other major school of criticism is that economics hasn’t solved all social problems, so it must be barren. This perfectionist fallacy ignores the great progress economic theory in action has achieved so far, such as the “Industrial Revolution”, which was directly enabled by progress in economic thought applied to the political realm which freed the energies of entrepreneurs and creators. The modern era is characterized by ignorance and hatred toward economic science, it is also an era of social disintegration, wars and mass social calamities. The fate of civilization’s progress and the progress of economic science are directly intertwined.

 

  1. Resume

Mises wrote this book to situate economic theory within a wider body of human choice, known as praxeology. He did this to defend it from its critics, but also to expand the breadth and knowledge of the science to gain new insights on social phenomena. In that sense, Mises’s book is both reactionary, and revolutionary.

 

Part One, HUMAN ACTION, I. Acting Man

Human action is the study of means used to obtain certain ends. It does not study the ends themselves nor does it administer judgments about personal values. Human action is purposeful action, it is not animal action, instinct or reflex. And it does not concern itself with the reasons for ends being chosen. Within the framework of human action, all actions taken are either effective, or ineffective, they can never be judged as irrational or rational. For man to act, he must be aware of causal relationships that he believes he can influence. Human action demands methodological dualism— human action is assumed as an ultimate given, it is beyond the scope of praxeology to investigate causes antecedent to it. Human action is a necessary category of the life of man, he can not avoid choosing in the act of living, life itself being a choice over death. What man strives for in acting is to relieve felt uneasiness— some call this happiness but it is not an objective category and can best be thought of as an improvement in his position as judged by himself, though happiness is a commonplace referent for the concept. Positivism demands an experimental, inductive, natural sciences approach to knowledge of human action yet it tacitly accepts the methodological dualism of praxeology in appealing to man’s rational mind to consider an alternative way of performing economic science.

 

  1. Epistemological Problems of the Science of Human Action

Praxeology and history are the two main branches of the science of human action. History is a collection and systematic arrangement of data of human action experience in the past; it can not tell us anything that is valid for all human action and thus can not predict anything about the future, it can only tell what has taken place before. Complex phenomena with interlaced causal chains can not be used to validate an existing theory— the natural sciences require the ability to set constant all entities but one variable which is then tested. All human experience is filtered through human reason, which is a priori valid and universal to all individuals. It is the unique structure of the human mind and it is impossible to conceive of or interpret human experience other than through the logical structure of man’s mind. This gives rise to methodological apriorism, which means that it is impossible for man to conceive of a reality in which the fundamental logical relationships of his mind and his understand of causality do not hold. “Human knowledge is conditioned by the structure of the human mind.” Primitive man who is said to understand miracles is a man who has a difference of content of thought, not of the process of thought itself— the attribution of miracles to life phenomena was an early attempt at establishing causal relationships in the world around man. The concept of action implies belief that the means chosen are valid and that the end sought is valuable— it does not imply that the action is guided by a necessarily correct theory or appropriate technology for achieving the end sought. Action == reason, action is how man effects his reason in the world around him. All human experience must be filtered through pre-existing logical categories, for example, experience of money requires knowledge of the theory of medium of exchange to make sense of the data of money. “It is the meaning which acting individuals and all those who are touched by their action attribute to an action, that determines its character.” In this way, collective entities can have meaning for man’s actions even though methodological individualism holds, which implies that only individuals are capable of acting. “There is no social collective conceivable which is not operative in the actions of some individuals.” Methodological collectivism is revealed to be a false idol when considering the fact that there is a multiplicity of coexisting social units and mutual antagonisms— which social collective is “acting” in this case? Human action also follows methodological singularism, it is convened with concrete action of a definite person, at a definite date and a definite time, not action in general. Praxeology is causal-realist— what happens in acting? what does it mean to say that an individual did X, at Y place and Z time, and not A at B place and C time? What is the result of him choosing one thing and setting aside another? Human life is an unceasing sequence of individual actions, though these actions may be taken in the context of a larger project to which they belong. For example, “A cathedral is something other than a heap of stones joined together. But the only procedure for constructing a cathedral is to lay one stone upon another.” Historians must select which data are valuable to study by referencing a specific end or theory which they are using to make their choice. The historian seeks at “verstehen”, or understanding, he does not make up facts or interpret data as he likes but applies all his best knowledge of existing science in other branches to understand the “meaning” of the data he looks at— its implications and significance. However, this “understanding” is always limited by the current state of the underlying sciences he depends upon. Empirical data by itself is seen to be hollow when we acknowledge the recording of miracles and witchcraft by numerous human witnesses in past history— these events can not have logically occurred even if we have collected data of people verifying them in the past. Where the underlying science is unsettled, history may prove to be “open to interpretation” as to the significance of events recorded. There are no constant relations in the field of economics and so establishing things such as the “elasticity of demand” of a good are nothing more than historical facts, not future-predicting theories of human action. “Happiness” is not an inappropriate measure of human action due to technological limitations but because it is not objective and universal in its implications— it means different things to different people. Logic, mathematics and praxeology are universally valid for all humans capable of reason. “What counts for history is always the meaning of the men concerned.” All historical events are described and interpreted by means of ideal types, e.g., general, president, businessman, entrepreneur, doctor, tyrant. But ideal types belong only to history— human action concerns itself with real acting man as he is, which is the mistake made by the German Historical School or the American Institutional School, which built their theory around the “ideal type” of “homo economicus”. This was a make believe intellectual phantom with no connection to real, acting man. “Praxeological knowledge is within us” and is in this sense experience based, but it is something that belongs to everybody who is capable of human reason, and no amount of experience or description to an entity not capable of it could lead to their understanding. “The end of science is to know reality”, and we use our experience of daily life to decide what interests us and what we should explore, but not how we should explore it (theory building). Economic theory refers to practical problems simply because that is what man is concerned with understanding. Economics is necessarily politically contrarian because it serves to provide knowledge of the limitations of human action and thus the necessary restraints that exist for human legislators and warlords in their social engineering endeavors. Economics is holistic, special theories of economics must be encased in a greater framework which is itself consistent in order for special theory to be valid. Praxeology belongs only to man— superhuman entities capable of anything would not fit into a theory involving entities which have limited means of satisfying their ends.

 

III. Economics and the Revolt Against Reason

The classical economists destroyed all socialist theories and demonstrated their impracticality. Instead of admitting defeat because they could not construct a logical theory, the socialists turned to questioning the efficacy of human reason itself. They decided to substitute mystical intuition for universal logic (similar to divine right of kings for monarch). Marxian polylogism states that every social class has its own distinct logical structure within the mind. There is no biological support for this assertion and Marxists make no attempt to establish anything beyond this assertion. Marxian “ideology” is a doctrine which is incorrect from proletarian pure logic but which is beneficial to the class interests of the one who espouses it. Marxists provide no explanation for why minority policies which are deemed injurious to the wider social body nonetheless come to pass without the majority stopping them. “The fundamental logical relations and the categories of thought and action are the ultimate source of all human knowledge.” We can not even imagine a system that operates otherwise without referring to this logic in our inquiry, and we can not explain logic without using logic. This means logic is an ultimate given. Polylogism scan not explain why people of the same social class nonetheless arrive at different conclusions about the truth.

 

  1. A First Analysis of the Category of Action

Economics concerns itself with the way thinking man turns things into means by way of action. It is concerned with the meaning men give to things through their action and not what third parties think about such action. Man’s ends can be thought of as existing on a scale of values, which are ordinal. It is a simple rank of things he’d like more over things he’d like less, the satisfaction of which serve to remove felt uneasiness. These scales don’t exist in any real sense and are simply a tool used to understand the concept of action, and they are revealed definitely only through concrete action. The values that things have are within the person of whom action is taken, they are not intrinsic to the things themselves. Economics concerns itself with what man DOES do, not what he should or ought to do, e.g., prices of “sinful” goods must be explained from the way men value them, not how an ethical system claims they should. Action can be thought of as an exchange, where a less satisfactory set of conditions is given up for a more satisfactory set of conditions. Costs are the value of the next best thing given up. Profits are the excess of gains over costs. Anytime costs exceed gains, loss is incurred.

 

  1. Time

Change and time are two aspects of the same phenomenon. Thinking takes time and is itself an action. Action is always aimed at altering the events of the future because the present moment is fleeting. The present is an ideal boundary line separating the past and the future. The past is designated as the place where opportunity to consume or do has passed. The future is designated as the place where the opportunity to do or consume has not yet taken place. The present is the place in which it is too early to do some things and too late to do others. The uncertain nature of the future means that we have a vague notion at any given moment of how much of our action we can consider “now” or present. Time must be economized like any other good due to the fundamental nature of reality. Actions are never synchronous, they always are in a relation to one another of being sooner or later. Man’s values and thus actions can change over time. There is a difference between logical consistency, and praxeological constancy. Irrationality does not apply.

 

  1. Uncertainty

“To acting man the future is hidden”, it is possible in a metaphysical sense that events are entirely deterministic but this is not the experience that man himself faces; he faces an experience of choice. In matters of uncertainty, acting man faces two kinds of probability, class probability and case probability. In class probability, the actor knows all qualities of the class itself, but knows nothing of the character of any specific event which might take place within that class. In case probability, he knows some of the factors guiding the outcome of a specific event but not all of them and the outcome itself is unique and not categorizable with other “class” events. The case is characterized by its uniqueness, not its similarities, to other identical events. Human action is based upon case probability, where no safety or stability can be purchased or achieved— all human action is inherently speculative with regards to the likelihood of a given action achieving the aimed at end. Case probability can not be quantified because it would require the summing of non-identical items. And game theory is an inappropriate means to study human action because human action in the division of labor aims at benefitting all participants, not just sum (i.e., zero sum game). Competition has been wrongly characterized as a form of combat when really competitors win their customers by achieving excellence and preeminence. All allusions to military terminology or characteristics is purely metaphorical. Because praxeology studies multi-causal events, its prediction is necessarily qualitative and reliant on “understanding” (verstehen), it can never be quantifiable or mathematical in nature and there can never be any certainty with regards to its outcome.

 

VII. Action Within The World

Utility is that which has causal relevance to removing felt uneasiness. Subjective use-value utility is different than objective (or technological) use-vale utility. Objective use-value may be obscured, incorrectly utilized or multiplicitous in comparison to subjective use-value. Acting man does not choose between total supplies of various goods serving as means— he chooses only between the relative, discrete amounts for his purposes against other ends he could pursue. And because he satisfies his most urgent wants before his less urgent wants, he values the means “at the margin”, meaning in consideration of the value of the least urgent want he’d have to give up. The law of diminishing marginal utility is implied in the category of action. It is futile to attempt to calculate composite values of total supply based off of knowledge of partial supplies— this is not how acting man utilizes discrete amounts of supply. Supply itself is characterized by a set of homogenous goods which could equally satisfy a given want. Technological recipes are not part of supply, once known they are inexhaustible and can be used as many times as is desired— however, the action leading to their discovery does involve scarcity and supply. The law of returns simply states that for any combination of real factors of production there is an optimum in relation to the productive end desired with regards to most efficiently utilizing scarce resources. It can only tell us that there is an optimum. It can not tell us how to arrive at it— this is something that must be achieved through experience (technological vs. teleological knowledge). The law of returns applies to all branches of production equally. The indivisibility of certain means of production is what gives rise to the fact that often large-scale production is more efficient and therefore optimum than small scale variants. Labor is the employment of human physiological capacities as a means of obtaining desired ends. Leisure is preferred to labor and labor itself suffers from the law of diminishing marginal utility. Additionally, not all labor is equal in quantity and quality within an individual or population. “Men do not economize labor in general, but the particular kinds of labor available.” The supply of labor available is conditioned upon genetics, social conditioning and innate human subjective preferences for labor vs. leisure. The potential supply of labor for each kind of work necessarily exceeds the demand in the long run because labor can be shifted and retrained to perform new tasks. Labor is always more scarce than the material factors of production (land, capital). The substitution of “labor saving” machinery for human labor does not render labor abundant so long as there are still more material productive factors available to combine with the freed up labor to pursue additional human well-being. Activities which provide immediate gratification are not labor nor work but consumption goods themselves, of the first order.  Mises believes the creative genius is a special case which does not subscribe to the praxeological laws conditioning labor and is more equivalent to “manna from heaven” in that he toils under different conditions, for different reasons, and he can not be substituted, ordered/planned nor replaced. Production is not a creative act but one of rearrangement of already existent phenomena. Man is creative only in thinking, not rearranging the world according to his thoughts. Man’s capacity to work is a given much like the state of natural resources and animal substances. The material changes of man’s economy are due solely to the ideas he holds in his head about what is desirable. “Production is alteration of the given according to the designs of reason.”

 

Review – Complete Family Wealth

Complete Family Wealth

by James E. Hughes, Jr., Susan E. Massenzio, Keith Whitaker

Chapter 1 – Complete Wealth

There are five forms of family wealth: human, intellectual, social and financial. A family can be rich in the first four without any of the fifth. Financial wealth is primarily useful for enhancing and developing the other four forms of wealth. The failure to acknowledge, measure and grow the four qualitative forms of wealth are the principal causes for the failure of family flourishing.

The Five Types of Capital

  1. Human, the individuals who make up the family including their physical and emotional well-being, their ability to find meaningful work, to establish positive identities and to pursue their individual happiness
  2. Intellectual, knowledge gained through education and experience by the family over time and the ability to transmit this knowledge across the family
  3. Social, the family’s relationships with each other and their community, including shared decision-making, the adoption of new members into the family and the giving of family resources to the larger society in which it belongs
  4. Spiritual, a shared sense of purpose and meaning for the family, primarily translated through stories and vivid experiences passed down through the generations
  5. Financial, the family’s assets, property, cash flows and other equity interests that provide it with money used to pursue all other ends

For a family to grow its five forms of capital over time, every family member must adopt an attitude of being responsible for contributing to the family capital’s growth in the ways they are able to do so.

Things Families Can Do To Grow Their Wealth

  1. Human
    1. Promote individual flourishing
    2. Ensure basic needs for food, shelter and clothing are met and provide for those experiencing a life emergency
    3. Emphasize the importance of finding meaningful work to promoting a sense of individual self-worth
    4. Encourage the development of strong personal identities separate from the family’s financial position
    5. Promote geographic diversity of the family to ensure the family is a participant in a changing global environment
  2. Intellectual
    1. Encourage each family member to achieve their maximum level of learning however they do that best
    2. Provide a means for the collection and dissemination of the accumulated knowledge of all family members (Wisdom Book)
    3. Include all family members in family governance issues at the highest level of each person’s ability to understand and provide feedback
    4. Ensure all family members understand, to the best of their ability, the workings of the family enterprise
    5. Diversify the family’s intellectual capital by encouraging the study of world cultures and languages
  3. Social
    1. Hold well designed family meetings to provide time to connect as a family, conduct business and deal with difficult topics in productive ways
    2. Encourage family members with challenging interpersonal relationships to seek professional consultation aimed at resolving their conflicts
    3. Articulate a clear family governance system that encourages members to come to thoughtful decisions together
    4. Provide incentives for the family’s highest achievers to take representative and leadership roles within the family governance system
    5. Provide the rising generation early opportunities to participate in the family’s business and philanthropies to foster community involvement
  4. Spiritual
    1. Tell the family’s stories of success and failure, good times and bad times and allow the rising generation to transmit these stories down the line
    2. Clarify the family’s shared values and make sure they are expressed in business, philanthropy and gift-giving
    3. Approach important decisions with “seventh-generation thinking”
    4. Promote humility by acknowledging the fact that every family member is a part of a larger society and limits to act must be respected
    5. End every family gathering with a brief gratitude exercise by having each member identify someone they want to thank and ways to offer those thanks
  5. Financial capital
    1. Avoid the temptation of defining success within the family strictly in financial terms
    2. Learn productive ways to discuss money and financial management with all family members so all can be participants in caring for the family’s financial wealth within their ability and know-how

Many families create budgets for managing and growing their financial wealth, but few think to create such budgets for caring for their qualitative capital. Imagine forming such a budget. What would the relative amounts budgeted for in each category say about the relative importance of these forms of capital to the family?

The “Family Balance Sheet” exercise provides a short survey approach to quantifying the existence and growth of family qualitative capital over time.

Chapter 2 – Family Enterprise

Families that flourish over time define themselves as families of affinity. Their first principle is inclusion and they look for ways to be inclusive toward people who share their affinity.

  • Who in my family shares this vision of family based on affinity rather than blood?
  • Who are the members of my family of affinity?
  • Who could be potential members of my family of affinity?

7 Keys to Flourishing Over Multiple Generations

  1. Early on the fundamental intention is set to build a great family, not just a great business
  2. These families articulate and share their core values amongst themselves and with others, through example, education and discussion
  3. These families respect and encourage individual differences and encourage and support each member in achieving their unique dreams
  4. They keep their collective focus on their strengths, even when facing challenges
  5. They share history with story-telling that is told and re-told through the generations, creating a reputation and tradition for each person to live up to and contribute to
  6. Parents see themselves as teachers AND learners
  7. These families understand the importance of individual stages of development and integrate that into their understanding of parenting

Keys for Flourishing Amid Wealth

  1. Giving wisely, this requires thought and care on the part of both givers and recipients
  2. Promote and encourage individual identities separate from the wealth, especially for the rising generation
  3. Utilize trusts, which are primarily human rather than legal relationships in their focus and structure
  4. Philanthropy provides a shared focus

Families are built on individual flourishing within a larger structure of shared identity, values and stories and a connection to the wider community.

  • Is each family member flourishing?
  • Does the family enjoy a shared culture aimed at promoting individual flourishing?
  • Do family members know how to chart their own paths apart from the family enterprise?

When a family has an intention to grow all its forms of capital over multiple generations through coordinated effort it creates a family enterprise. The three main parts of any family enterprise are family (inclusion), owners (preservation) and managers (performance). Trouble arises when one of these parts takes priority over the others.

Common sources of conflict in family enterprises:

  • Parent-child and sibling conflict over managerial control
  • Conflicts over managerial strategy and direction
  • Conflicts over ownership strategy (keep vs. sell)
  • Conflicts between shareholders who are also managers versus shareholders who are outside the business, ie, reinvest profits or distribute as dividends
  • Conflicts over employment and compensation of family members
  • Tensions between the spouses of family members who are owners or managers in the business
  • Failure of communication and understanding between trustees (family or nonfamily), the legal owners of title, and beneficiaries, especially when most of the family’s financial capital is held in trust

Ideally, for long-term success the family circle should be larger than the owners or managers circles in terms of the time and resources employed the care for it.

In addition to keeping the family circle strong, family enterprises need to pay attention to the ownership circle by finding ways for each owner to take responsibility for his position. Without this, they become passive on questions of strategy and defer to management. Active ownership is cultivated by understanding:

  • Ownership is a responsibility; management is a calling.
  • The enterprise is a “we” and “us”, not “they” or “them”
  • Passive ownership leads to paternalism and resentment
  • Managing risk is a complex discipline that every owner must undertake, and the balance between taking too much risk and taking too little risk is one that can be learned and managed
  • Trustees, because of their duty of prudence, are entropic owners and cannot take the same risks as owners in competing enterprises
  • Beneficiaries must step up to be active owners, meaning meeting regularly with trustees and asking questions in an effort to learn
  • Family owners must possess a basic understanding of systems theory, leadership science, the process of leadership transitions and the methods for assessing the health of the enterprise and the performance of management
  • Family owners must communicate with each other and truly listen to each other to develop their dreams for the enterprise as it evolves beyond the dream of the founder or creator generation

Why do we need school?

Several weeks ago I sat in a local screening of a education activism documentary called Beyond Measure. The film’s narrative followed three primary threads: the emphasis on standardized testing in American schools is harmful to students and the principle of education; many children have extraordinary talents and curiosities which are systemstically repressed by the school system; there are many more ways for people to become educated than the traditional method of rote learning and testing, and one such method that is gaining popularity with parents, students and teachers is called Project-Based Learning.

At this point, the argument in the first thread no longer seems to be controversial. I can’t think of any prominent thinkers or activists who desire more standardized testing in American schools, and those who defend the current practice seem to do so more out of notions of traditionalism or authority rather than some kind of impassioned idealism about the educational benefits of standardized testing.

The idea in the second thread about the greatness inside individual students is still controversial. Looking at it cynically, it has a whiff of the “beautiful, unique snowflake” theory where everyone gets a trophy and everyone’s contribution is valuable simply because it exists. Being more charitable, even if we don’t go to the extreme of believing every individual is as good as every other, it’s still hard to accept the idea that every child has the potential to be a great writer, or a great artist, or a great engineer, if only they had the right conditions around the to support their growth. On an intuitive level, people realize that some are weak and some are strong, some are brilliant and some are dim. And on a more practical level, it defies explanation why we see uneven outcomes in student performance and post-education life when you control for the education they received as a common variable.