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The Fix Liberty Project

Welcome to The Fix Liberty Project! We explore the fundamental principles of liberty and morality upon which a free society stands and thrives.

Ross Brown
Ross Brown, Creator and Host of The Fix Liberty Project

The Fix Liberty Project is created and hosted by Ross Brown. Ross is a Christian, husband, and father who bridges liberty and morality to stir American cultural values.

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๐ŸŽ™๏ธHello old friend. #FixLiberty ... See MoreSee Less

๐ŸŽ™๏ธHello old friend. #FixLiberty

A few months ago, students Nathan and Wesley invited me to speak about foreign aid in Mr. Jeremy Wallace's social studies class at Monona Grove High School on May 8, 2024. I accepted the invitation, but the subject is massive and far from clearcut in my mind โ€“ there are simply too many variables at play to sweepingly define foreign aid as either "good" or "bad" โ€“ so it took me over a month to figure out what we might discuss in our 90 minutes together.

Eventually, in true Fix Liberty fashion, I realized that we needed to consider fundamental principles before we attempted application. I also realized that a commonly-known old saying would help us engage the conversation.

Wednesday, May 8th came; I arrived at school 30 minutes early to review my notes; the school bell rang at 8:15 AM; Nathan introduced me to his classmates; and the class was mine to teach. We dove in.

โ€œDoes anyone here like to fish?โ€ A few hands went up. โ€œWhat do you like to fish for? Where do you like to go?โ€ Yes, we warmed up our discussion on foreign aid by chatting about fishing.

Before long, I turned to the whiteboard behind me and wrote the words, โ€œGive a man a fishโ€. I returned my attention to the students and asked, โ€œWhat comes next?โ€ They knew the answer: โ€œAnd he eats for a day.โ€

โ€œThen what?โ€

โ€œTeach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.โ€

I wrote the entirety of old saying on the whiteboard. It would serve as the basis of our conversation for the next hour.

We started our conversation by discussing the legitimate value of both halves of the old saying. Prior to this event, I thought the old saying ranked teaching higher than giving. (After all, eating for a lifetime is surely better than eating for a single day.) But as I considered the old saying in the context of foreign aid, I came to appreciate the importance of both of its halves.

The first half of the old saying seems to speak to the importance of reactionary and emergency care. We live in a broken and fallen world: in this life, we endure natural disasters (like earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, and tornados) and manmade disasters (like war, terrorism, famines, and industrial accidents). When we meet a starving man โ€“ literally or figuratively โ€“ it is good to react to his emergency needs by giving him literal or figurative food: he will only eat for one day, but he will survive another day. Teaching a starving man to fish while withholding what would be a gifted fish ignores the urgency of his needs.

But, as the old saying suggests, we should not stop with giving. If all we ever do is react to emergencies, we will never improve the situation. We are right to consider and address the root causes of the manโ€™s starvation.

The second half of the old saying, then, seems to speak to the importance of improvement and preventative care. Our world remains broken and fallen, but experience proves our ability to nevertheless improve it. What fundamental principles tend to promote the improvement of our world?

This is, in a nutshell, the subject of my future book. But, as I shared with the students on Wednesday morning, Iโ€™m not the first person to be interested in such a question. Consider Adam Smithโ€™s book ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด, which is fully titled ๐˜ˆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜๐˜ฏ๐˜ฒ๐˜ถ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜Š๐˜ข๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด. Why are some nations rich? Why are others poor? Smith published his thoughts in 1776 and fathered modern economics in the process.

Of course, it would have been impossible to fully answer these questions in a single 90-minute class, but we would take time to derive four fundamental principles from the old saying before opening it up for application and discussion.

First, we discussed human dignity. Does the man even matter? The old saying presumes the answer is yes. After all, if we donโ€™t care about the man, we have no use for the old saying.

Likewise, we could dismiss the subject of foreign aid altogether if human suffering or human dignity do not matter; indeed, we could cut the conversation short and the students could use the balance of class as a study hall. So I posed the question to the students as I jotted notes on the whiteboard: โ€œWhat do you think? Does human suffering matter? Does human dignity matter? Why?โ€

The students seemed to be caught off guard a bit by such a simultaneously easy and difficult question. Encouragingly, they knew their answer to be yes โ€“ but they were less sure how to defend their moral position. They said yes, the question of human suffering and human dignity matters, because it just ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด.

At this point in the conversation, I shared my first opinion. I agreed with the studentsโ€™ conclusion, but I was better prepared to defend my moral position. I shared my perspective as a Christian: absolutely this matters! In my faith, God gives me two things to do: love God and love others. I cannot love others genuinely if I ignore or disregard their condition. I was teaching in a public school, so I didnโ€™t preach a sermon, but I ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด invited by Nathan and Wesley to share ๐˜ฎ๐˜บ thoughts with their class. Stating my position in the context of the Gospel was my honest perspective on the question at hand.

In the end, then, we all agreed โ€“ for any number of known and unknown reasons โ€“ that the question of human suffering and human dignity matters. So we rightfully carried on with the conversation.

โ€œLetโ€™s look at the old saying again. Who we are talking about?โ€ My non-trick question elicited mostly blank stares. โ€œAre we talking about a dog? A robot?...โ€ Ah, lightbulbs!

โ€œNo, weโ€™re talking about a man.โ€

โ€œRight! We are talking about a man โ€“ a human being.โ€ I returned to the whiteboard to kick off a discussion on our second fundamental principle, writing โ€œWhat about human nature?โ€

I posed another question to the class. โ€œWho here is pursuing a goal of some type? Graduation, athletics, getting an A in Mr. Wallaceโ€™s class?โ€ A few hands went up and students shared their goals.

One particular student was pursing a college hockey career as a goalie. She had already signed a letter of commitment with her future college team, so this student was as serious as they came in the pursuit of her goal. After sharing a few highlights of my own collegiate intramural floor hockey career, I asked the student more about her journey. Specifically, what actions was she taking today to advance her pursuit?

The student explained that she was training on a regular basis to build strength and endurance. She also revealed that her future hockey coach embraced โ€œMidwest style hockeyโ€ (which, I went on to learn, emphasizes teamwork and strong defensive play) rather than โ€œEast Coast style hockeyโ€ (which emphasizes individual skill and fast offense). Midwest style hockey thus dominated her studies of the game.

I asked another painfully simple question: โ€œTraining is hard, studies take time โ€“ why are you doing ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜บ of that?โ€

The student paused for just a moment, but then answered clearly, โ€œBecause it will help achieve my goal.โ€

โ€œExactly!โ€ I exclaimed. โ€œIs it safe to say you are investing your time, energy, and money into those things because you believe those investments will help you realize your goal?โ€ The student affirmed the same, so I returned to the whiteboard. Under the question of human nature, I wrote โ€œInvestments chase returns.โ€

But then I returned to the student. โ€œWhat if something changed? For example, what if your future college hockey coach embraced the East Coast style instead of the Midwest style of play? Would your investments change? If yes, how?โ€

The student confirmed the obvious: her studies of the game would shift to the East Coast style if her future coach embraced the East Coast style of play. I returned again to the whiteboard and wrote โ€œHow to achieve returns depends on rules of the game.โ€

In real time, then, the class and I uncovered an important aspect of human nature: Humans tend to make investments in the pursuit of positive returns โ€“ and we tend to keep an eye on the laws and norms which govern how our returns may or may not be realized. In short, investments chase returns; how to achieve returns depends on rules of the game.

We returned to the old saying. What are the manโ€™s rules of the game? How does he expect to obtain fish to eat? Will more fish be given to him tomorrow? Does he have a reason to learn and work? Moreover, is the man secure in his pursuit and possession of fish, whatever its origin?

I shared my second opinion of the day: when it comes to foreign aid, it is important for us to consider the incentives that aid creates โ€“ and to watch out for unintended, potentially harmful consequences.

We kept our focus on the old saying as our conversation turned to the third fundamental principle. I wondered aloud, โ€œWhy does the man need aid in the first place?โ€ We all agreed it was possible that the man had simply fallen on hard times โ€“ this is a broken and fallen world. But we also agreed it was possible that the man was suffering due to systemic problems in his society. โ€œSpecifically on that note,โ€ I asked, โ€œis the manโ€™s government fulfilling its proper duties?โ€

For sake of time, we needed to move through this third fundamental principle pretty quickly. So I simply wrote the words โ€œProper governmentโ€ on the whiteboard, then read aloud the words of Adam Smith from Book 4, Chapter 9 of ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด, in which Smith concisely describes three proper roles of government:

โ€œAccording to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to attend to; three duties of great importance, indeed, but plain and intelligible to common understandings; first, the duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies; secondly, the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and, thirdly, the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect or maintain; because the profit could never repay the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society."

I then summarized Smithโ€™s three points on the whiteboard, writing โ€œ1) National defense, 2) Protecting natural rights and administering justice, and 3) Infrastructure and public institutions.โ€

I also immediately presented a fourth proper role of government espoused by economist Milton Friedman (himself a great admirer of Adam Smith), writing โ€œ4) Protecting individuals incapable of responsibility.โ€

I explained that Smith and Friedman argue that government must be strong and faithful in its execution of these four roles. When government does its job, citizens have opportunities to prosper. But Smith and Friedman also argue that attempting to utilize the institution of government to tinker with a societyโ€™s rules of the game beyond these four roles will create unintended consequences, many of which can be harmful.

I returned to the question, โ€œWhy does the man need aid in the first place?โ€ and rhetorically posed additional questions for the studentsโ€™ consideration: โ€œIs the manโ€™s government failing to fulfill its proper duties? Is it corrupt? Has it failed to provide for national defense? Has it failed to protect the manโ€™s natural rights, like the right to own property or engage work? Has it failed to administer justice or build and maintain basic infrastructure? Has it failed to properly regulate the nationโ€™s publicly-held natural resources such that overfishing has caused a fish shortage? Has it failed to institute a system of public education to teach the man how to fish?โ€

โ€œOr, oppositely, is his government already doing too much? Are the rules of the game instituted by the manโ€™s government toxic or destructive? Is his government enabling him to be lazy through redistributive handouts? Is his government killing the manโ€™s incentive to fish by forcibly redistributing the fish he catches to those unwilling to fish for themselves? Has his government overregulated the market, thus making it impossible to fish?โ€

I shared my third opinion of the day: we understand the importance of rules of the game, so when it comes to foreign aid, we must evaluate the caliber of foreign governments. Are they fulfilling their proper duties? Are they doing too much? If foreign governments are failing their people at either end of the spectrum, the long term effectiveness of our foreign aid is likely to be severely limited.

We returned to the old saying one last time to open a discussion on the fourth and final fundamental principle of the day. I asked the students, โ€œWhy does ๐˜จ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ feed the man only for one day? Why does ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ feed the man for his lifetime? What is the cause of this dramatic difference?โ€

By this time, the students were no longer intimidated by my easy questions, so they quickly replied with the obvious answers: the man could eat the given fish only once, but if he know how to fish, he could catch additional fish throughout his lifetime.

I gave words to this objective truth, writing on the whiteboard โ€œScarcity defines our reality.โ€ As I explained, scarcity simply means that resources are not infinitely available. Once we eat a fish, we cease to have it; we no longer possess it; it is no longer available to us for repeated consumption. Drawing upon another old (modified) phrase, we cannot have our fish and eat it too.

Suddenly I raised by voice, โ€œPANIC! Are we all going to run out of fish and starve?!โ€ The students laughed a bit and calmed me down: no, we would not run out of fish because we would go catch more. We would work. In other words, we would engage in ๐˜ฑ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ๐˜ถ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ. I returned to the whiteboard again and wrote, โ€œScarcity is overcome through productivity.โ€

As we discussed that morning, giving a man a fish can be a beautiful act of service. But giving is always preceded by productivity: the only way we can ๐˜จ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ a fish is to first ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ a stock of fish, and the only way to ๐˜จ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ a stock of fish is to ๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ. If we are to feed ourselves and potentially the man, we need to be productive. This is what we call an economy โ€“ and, to pull ideas together, the rules of the game which comprise an economy are critically important: they will either foster or hinder productive behavior.

With four fundamental principles identified, it was finally time for application. I was invited to class to share my thoughts on foreign aid. So, what were my thoughts?

I started with a simple statement โ€“ โ€œI think this stuff is really hardโ€ โ€“ but it wasnโ€™t a cop-out answer. It is my real opinion on foreign aid. Like I said, there are simply too many variables at play to sweepingly define foreign aid as either "good" or "bad." It is good to help people in need; it is bad to incentivize poor behavior or bolster misbehaving governments. Unfortunately, in the real world, it is often hard to accomplish the former without simultaneously promoting the latter.

โ€œIn general,โ€ I shared with the students, โ€œand for reasons we have explored this morning, I think we are wise to help others primarily by encouraging the institution of strong, proper governments and by letting aid flow primarily through private charities.โ€ As I explained, ideally, such an approach addresses immediate needs, creates healthy rules of the game, and fosters economic growth; it gives a man a fish to eat today and empowers him to fish for his lifetime. But sometimes political situations, like war, make it difficult or impossible for private charities to operate โ€“ and other times the scope of a disaster, like a major earthquake, necessitates a governmental response. So, in light of the fundamental principles, I think we are right to consider the entirety of a situation and weigh all options as we contemplate potential applications of foreign aid.

โ€œFinally,โ€ I said, โ€œI also know that Americaโ€™s figurative โ€˜stock of fishโ€™ is rapidly depleting.โ€ We cannot give foreign or domestic aid if we have no stock from which to give. Our out-of-control federal government has racked up nearly $35 trillion in public debt โ€“ which equates to over $100,000 worth of debt per citizen and over 120% of our annual GDP. On top of that, our federal government has made $215 trillion worth of promises for which it has no payment plan: each American citizen is on the hook for over $640,000 in unfunded liabilities. Economic reality is going to come crashing in on us if we donโ€™t fix our public finances: federal taxes are going to increase, federal spending is going to decrease, or inflation is going to soar. One way or another, if we want to help others, we first need to get our own house in order.

With those concluding remarks, we moved into a time of open discussion. The students had specific opinions to share about America, Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza โ€“ and they were better equipped to explain their opinions because of the fundamental principles we discussed. I wonโ€™t tell you a fish story: we didnโ€™t solve all the worldโ€™s problems on Wednesday morning. But we did net a great conversation about fundamental principles that will help those students ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฌ for a lifetime.

Thank you again to Nathan, Wesley, and Mr. Wallace for the invitation to your class. Iโ€™m looking forward to next time already!

#FixLiberty
... See MoreSee Less

A few months ago, students Nathan and Wesley invited me to speak about foreign aid in Mr. Jeremy Wallaces social studies class at Monona Grove High School on May 8, 2024. I accepted the invitation, but the subject is massive and far from clearcut in my mind โ€“ there are simply too many variables at play to sweepingly define foreign aid as either good or bad โ€“ so it took me over a month to figure out what we might discuss in our 90 minutes together. 

Eventually, in true Fix Liberty fashion, I realized that we needed to consider fundamental principles before we attempted application. I also realized that a commonly-known old saying would help us engage the conversation.

Wednesday, May 8th came; I arrived at school 30 minutes early to review my notes; the school bell rang at 8:15 AM; Nathan introduced me to his classmates; and the class was mine to teach. We dove in.

โ€œDoes anyone here like to fish?โ€ A few hands went up. โ€œWhat do you like to fish for? Where do you like to go?โ€ Yes, we warmed up our discussion on foreign aid by chatting about fishing.

Before long, I turned to the whiteboard behind me and wrote the words, โ€œGive a man a fishโ€. I returned my attention to the students and asked, โ€œWhat comes next?โ€ They knew the answer: โ€œAnd he eats for a day.โ€

โ€œThen what?โ€

โ€œTeach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.โ€

I wrote the entirety of old saying on the whiteboard. It would serve as the basis of our conversation for the next hour.

We started our conversation by discussing the legitimate value of both halves of the old saying. Prior to this event, I thought the old saying ranked teaching higher than giving. (After all, eating for a lifetime is surely better than eating for a single day.) But as I considered the old saying in the context of foreign aid, I came to appreciate the importance of both of its halves.
 
The first half of the old saying seems to speak to the importance of reactionary and emergency care. We live in a broken and fallen world: in this life, we endure natural disasters (like earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes, and tornados) and manmade disasters (like war, terrorism, famines, and industrial accidents). When we meet a starving man โ€“ literally or figuratively โ€“ it is good to react to his emergency needs by giving him literal or figurative food: he will only eat for one day, but he will survive another day. Teaching a starving man to fish while withholding what would be a gifted fish ignores the urgency of his needs.

But, as the old saying suggests, we should not stop with giving. If all we ever do is react to emergencies, we will never improve the situation. We are right to consider and address the root causes of the manโ€™s starvation.

The second half of the old saying, then, seems to speak to the importance of improvement and preventative care. Our world remains broken and fallen, but experience proves our ability to nevertheless improve it. What fundamental principles tend to promote the improvement of our world? 

This is, in a nutshell, the subject of my future book. But, as I shared with the students on Wednesday morning, Iโ€™m not the first person to be interested in such a question. Consider Adam Smithโ€™s book ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด, which is fully titled ๐˜ˆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜๐˜ฏ๐˜ฒ๐˜ถ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜Š๐˜ข๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด. Why are some nations rich? Why are others poor? Smith published his thoughts in 1776 and fathered modern economics in the process.

Of course, it would have been impossible to fully answer these questions in a single 90-minute class, but we would take time to derive four fundamental principles from the old saying before opening it up for application and discussion.

First, we discussed human dignity. Does the man even matter? The old saying presumes the answer is yes. After all, if we donโ€™t care about the man, we have no use for the old saying.

Likewise, we could dismiss the subject of foreign aid altogether if human suffering or human dignity do not matter; indeed, we could cut the conversation short and the students could use the balance of class as a study hall. So I posed the question to the students as I jotted notes on the whiteboard: โ€œWhat do you think? Does human suffering matter? Does human dignity matter? Why?โ€

The students seemed to be caught off guard a bit by such a simultaneously easy and difficult question. Encouragingly, they knew their answer to be yes โ€“ but they were less sure how to defend their moral position. They said yes, the question of human suffering and human dignity matters, because it just ๐˜ฅ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด.

At this point in the conversation, I shared my first opinion. I agreed with the studentsโ€™ conclusion, but I was better prepared to defend my moral position. I shared my perspective as a Christian: absolutely this matters! In my faith, God gives me two things to do: love God and love others. I cannot love others genuinely if I ignore or disregard their condition. I was teaching in a public school, so I didnโ€™t preach a sermon, but I ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ด invited by Nathan and Wesley to share ๐˜ฎ๐˜บ thoughts with their class. Stating my position in the context of the Gospel was my honest perspective on the question at hand.

In the end, then, we all agreed โ€“ for any number of known and unknown reasons โ€“ that the question of human suffering and human dignity matters. So we rightfully carried on with the conversation.

โ€œLetโ€™s look at the old saying again. Who we are talking about?โ€ My non-trick question elicited mostly blank stares. โ€œAre we talking about a dog? A robot?...โ€ Ah, lightbulbs!

โ€œNo, weโ€™re talking about a man.โ€

โ€œRight! We are talking about a man โ€“ a human being.โ€ I returned to the whiteboard to kick off a discussion on our second fundamental principle, writing โ€œWhat about human nature?โ€

I posed another question to the class. โ€œWho here is pursuing a goal of some type? Graduation, athletics, getting an A in Mr. Wallaceโ€™s class?โ€ A few hands went up and students shared their goals.

One particular student was pursing a college hockey career as a goalie. She had already signed a letter of commitment with her future college team, so this student was as serious as they came in the pursuit of her goal. After sharing a few highlights of my own collegiate intramural floor hockey career, I asked the student more about her journey. Specifically, what actions was she taking today to advance her pursuit?

The student explained that she was training on a regular basis to build strength and endurance. She also revealed that her future hockey coach embraced โ€œMidwest style hockeyโ€ (which, I went on to learn, emphasizes teamwork and strong defensive play) rather than โ€œEast Coast style hockeyโ€ (which emphasizes individual skill and fast offense). Midwest style hockey thus dominated her studies of the game.

I asked another painfully simple question: โ€œTraining is hard, studies take time โ€“ why are you doing ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜บ of that?โ€

The student paused for just a moment, but then answered clearly, โ€œBecause it will help achieve my goal.โ€

โ€œExactly!โ€ I exclaimed. โ€œIs it safe to say you are investing your time, energy, and money into those things because you believe those investments will help you realize your goal?โ€ The student affirmed the same, so I returned to the whiteboard. Under the question of human nature, I wrote โ€œInvestments chase returns.โ€

But then I returned to the student. โ€œWhat if something changed? For example, what if your future college hockey coach embraced the East Coast style instead of the Midwest style of play? Would your investments change? If yes, how?โ€

The student confirmed the obvious: her studies of the game would shift to the East Coast style if her future coach embraced the East Coast style of play. I returned again to the whiteboard and wrote โ€œHow to achieve returns depends on rules of the game.โ€

In real time, then, the class and I uncovered an important aspect of human nature: Humans tend to make investments in the pursuit of positive returns โ€“ and we tend to keep an eye on the laws and norms which govern how our returns may or may not be realized. In short, investments chase returns; how to achieve returns depends on rules of the game.

We returned to the old saying. What are the manโ€™s rules of the game? How does he expect to obtain fish to eat? Will more fish be given to him tomorrow? Does he have a reason to learn and work? Moreover, is the man secure in his pursuit and possession of fish, whatever its origin?

I shared my second opinion of the day: when it comes to foreign aid, it is important for us to consider the incentives that aid creates โ€“ and to watch out for unintended, potentially harmful consequences.

We kept our focus on the old saying as our conversation turned to the third fundamental principle. I wondered aloud, โ€œWhy does the man need aid in the first place?โ€ We all agreed it was possible that the man had simply fallen on hard times โ€“ this is a broken and fallen world. But we also agreed it was possible that the man was suffering due to systemic problems in his society. โ€œSpecifically on that note,โ€ I asked, โ€œis the manโ€™s government fulfilling its proper duties?โ€

For sake of time, we needed to move through this third fundamental principle pretty quickly. So I simply wrote the words โ€œProper governmentโ€ on the whiteboard, then read aloud the words of Adam Smith from Book 4, Chapter 9 of ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด, in which Smith concisely describes three proper roles of government:

โ€œAccording to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to attend to; three duties of great importance, indeed, but plain and intelligible to common understandings; first, the duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies; secondly, the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and, thirdly, the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect or maintain; because the profit could never repay the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.

I then summarized Smithโ€™s three points on the whiteboard, writing โ€œ1) National defense, 2) Protecting natural rights and administering justice, and 3) Infrastructure and public institutions.โ€

I also immediately presented a fourth proper role of government espoused by economist Milton Friedman (himself a great admirer of Adam Smith), writing โ€œ4) Protecting individuals incapable of responsibility.โ€

I explained that Smith and Friedman argue that government must be strong and faithful in its execution of these four roles. When government does its job, citizens have opportunities to prosper. But Smith and Friedman also argue that attempting to utilize the institution of government to tinker with a societyโ€™s rules of the game beyond these four roles will create unintended consequences, many of which can be harmful.

I returned to the question, โ€œWhy does the man need aid in the first place?โ€ and rhetorically posed additional questions for the studentsโ€™ consideration: โ€œIs the manโ€™s government failing to fulfill its proper duties? Is it corrupt? Has it failed to provide for national defense? Has it failed to protect the manโ€™s natural rights, like the right to own property or engage work? Has it failed to administer justice or build and maintain basic infrastructure? Has it failed to properly regulate the nationโ€™s publicly-held natural resources such that overfishing has caused a fish shortage? Has it failed to institute a system of public education to teach the man how to fish?โ€

โ€œOr, oppositely, is his government already doing too much? Are the rules of the game instituted by the manโ€™s government toxic or destructive? Is his government enabling him to be lazy through redistributive handouts? Is his government killing the manโ€™s incentive to fish by forcibly redistributing the fish he catches to those unwilling to fish for themselves? Has his government overregulated the market, thus making it impossible to fish?โ€

I shared my third opinion of the day: we understand the importance of rules of the game, so when it comes to foreign aid, we must evaluate the caliber of foreign governments. Are they fulfilling their proper duties? Are they doing too much? If foreign governments are failing their people at either end of the spectrum, the long term effectiveness of our foreign aid is likely to be severely limited.

We returned to the old saying one last time to open a discussion on the fourth and final fundamental principle of the day. I asked the students, โ€œWhy does ๐˜จ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ feed the man only for one day? Why does ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ feed the man for his lifetime? What is the cause of this dramatic difference?โ€

By this time, the students were no longer intimidated by my easy questions, so they quickly replied with the obvious answers: the man could eat the given fish only once, but if he know how to fish, he could catch additional fish throughout his lifetime.
 
I gave words to this objective truth, writing on the whiteboard โ€œScarcity defines our reality.โ€ As I explained, scarcity simply means that resources are not infinitely available. Once we eat a fish, we cease to have it; we no longer possess it; it is no longer available to us for repeated consumption. Drawing upon another old (modified) phrase, we cannot have our fish and eat it too.

Suddenly I raised by voice, โ€œPANIC! Are we all going to run out of fish and starve?!โ€ The students laughed a bit and calmed me down: no, we would not run out of fish because we would go catch more. We would work. In other words, we would engage in ๐˜ฑ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ๐˜ถ๐˜ค๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ. I returned to the whiteboard again and wrote, โ€œScarcity is overcome through productivity.โ€

As we discussed that morning, giving a man a fish can be a beautiful act of service. But giving is always preceded by productivity: the only way we can ๐˜จ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ a fish is to first ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ a stock of fish, and the only way to ๐˜จ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฏ a stock of fish is to ๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ. If we are to feed ourselves and potentially the man, we need to be productive. This is what we call an economy โ€“ and, to pull ideas together, the rules of the game which comprise an economy are critically important: they will either foster or hinder productive behavior.

With four fundamental principles identified, it was finally time for application. I was invited to class to share my thoughts on foreign aid. So, what were my thoughts?

I started with a simple statement โ€“ โ€œI think this stuff is really hardโ€ โ€“ but it wasnโ€™t a cop-out answer. It is my real opinion on foreign aid. Like I said, there are simply too many variables at play to sweepingly define foreign aid as either good or bad. It is good to help people in need; it is bad to incentivize poor behavior or bolster misbehaving governments. Unfortunately, in the real world, it is often hard to accomplish the former without simultaneously promoting the latter.

โ€œIn general,โ€ I shared with the students, โ€œand for reasons we have explored this morning, I think we are wise to help others primarily by encouraging the institution of strong, proper governments and by letting aid flow primarily through private charities.โ€ As I explained, ideally, such an approach addresses immediate needs, creates healthy rules of the game, and fosters economic growth; it gives a man a fish to eat today and empowers him to fish for his lifetime. But sometimes political situations, like war, make it difficult or impossible for private charities to operate โ€“ and other times the scope of a disaster, like a major earthquake, necessitates a governmental response. So, in light of the fundamental principles, I think we are right to consider the entirety of a situation and weigh all options as we contemplate potential applications of foreign aid.

โ€œFinally,โ€ I said, โ€œI also know that Americaโ€™s figurative โ€˜stock of fishโ€™ is rapidly depleting.โ€ We cannot give foreign or domestic aid if we have no stock from which to give. Our out-of-control federal government has racked up nearly $35 trillion in public debt โ€“ which equates to over $100,000 worth of debt per citizen and over 120% of our annual GDP. On top of that, our federal government has made $215 trillion worth of promises for which it has no payment plan: each American citizen is on the hook for over $640,000 in unfunded liabilities. Economic reality is going to come crashing in on us if we donโ€™t fix our public finances: federal taxes are going to increase, federal spending is going to decrease, or inflation is going to soar. One way or another, if we want to help others, we first need to get our own house in order.

With those concluding remarks, we moved into a time of open discussion. The students had specific opinions to share about America, Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza โ€“ and they were better equipped to explain their opinions because of the fundamental principles we discussed. I wonโ€™t tell you a fish story: we didnโ€™t solve all the worldโ€™s problems on Wednesday morning. But we did net a great conversation about fundamental principles that will help those students ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฌ for a lifetime.

Thank you again to Nathan, Wesley, and Mr. Wallace for the invitation to your class. Iโ€™m looking forward to next time already!

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๐Ÿ“– "The United States emerged from [World War II] relatively unscathed compared with either its allies or enemies. Europe, America's traditional rival for global hegemony, was shattered. An estimated 36.5 million Europeans died of war-related causes compared with 405,000 Americans. Agricultural production halved. Industrial production was set back decades. Germany produced as much in 1946 as it had in 1890. Great cities such as Berlin and Warsaw lay in ruinsโ€ฆ Some 25 million Russians and 20 million Germans were homeless. By contrast, apart from Japan's bombing raid on Pearl Harbor, the war left the vast American homeland untouched." -๐˜Š๐˜ข๐˜ฑ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ฎ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ข by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge (p. 275-276)

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๐Ÿ“– "The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got. The natural price, or the price of free competition, on the contrary, is the lowest which can be taken, not upon every occasion indeed, but for any considerable time together. The one is upon every occasion the highest which can be squeezed out of the buyers, or which, it is supposed, they will consent to give: The other is the lowest which the sellers can commonly afford to take, and at the same time continue their business." -๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ด by Adam Smith (Book 1, Chapter 7)

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Political gridlock is ๐Ÿ“– โ€œan intentional design feature of our [American] system. The Founders wanted it to be difficult for fallible people to wield too much power, especially when it comes to important things โ€” curtailing freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion, the rights of assembly and press and protest.โ€ -๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ: ๐˜ž๐˜ฉ๐˜บ ๐˜ž๐˜ฆ ๐˜๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฆ ๐˜Œ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜–๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ -- ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ by Ben Sasse (p. 148)

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๐Ÿ“– โ€œThe point of disagreement โ€” if disagreement is to make us better and draw us together โ€” is never winning. It certainly isnโ€™t to attack someone else. It is to enrich the discussion, test out your point of view in a respectful way, and persuade someone you care aboutโ€ฆ If we are to engage in disagreement, we should do so in good faith. To do anything less is to short-circuit the competition of ideas.โ€ -๐˜“๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ ๐˜ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ณ ๐˜Œ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ฆ๐˜ด by Arthur C. Brooks (p. 188)

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There is ๐Ÿ“– "a universal bias in human psyche, namely the idea that we are smarter and more sophisticated than our ancestors, and that everything we do is 'unprecedented.' This is, in my mind, one of the most bogus claims ever made. In fact, little of what we do is unprecedented." -๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Ž๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ญ: ๐˜๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ ๐˜ˆ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ข ๐˜Ž๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ ๐˜œ๐˜ฑ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฆ ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต๐˜ด by Thomas Philippon (p. x)

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๐Ÿ“– "If there are sacrifices to be made, [good leaders] share in them as much as any member. In doing all of this, [it] will make it harder for people to feel envious and resentful, which can sow divisions and make people political." -๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜“๐˜ข๐˜ธ๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜๐˜ถ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ ๐˜•๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ by Robert Greene (p. 434)

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โœ๏ธ "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience -- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." -Ephesians 2:1-10

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๐Ÿ“– "Capitalism [i.e. free enterprise] is considered a four-letter word by an increasing number of people who -- if not for its fruits -- would be without food, shelter, clothing, and smartphones." -๐˜๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ฎ: ๐˜ˆ ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ by Madeleine Albright (p. 115)

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Actually, capitalism and free enterprise are two different things, Madeline. Many capitalists are in fact anti-free market.

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