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Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Education and the Jubilee-One thing that struck me about Old Testament economics is that people weren’t allowed to get too far in debt and that debts were forgiven every seven years. Land had to be returned to its original family every 50 years. This meant that every family had long-term access to land and prevented the emergence of a landless underclass. In a post-frontier economy, it’s not feasible to give everyone a plot of farmland to call their own, or to turn land purchases into 49-year-or-less leases. How do we apply that concept to a modern economy? We can do better than give people 40 acres and a mule; we can give them a quality education. A good education gives people the human capital that they will need to succeed in a post-agrarian culture. This seems to call for education being a universal requirement and leans strongly towards something that the government should finance; we can debate how that money should be spent, but I’ll argue that not mandating it would lead to an underclass of people without anything to offer society other than a warm body. This doesn’t work at the problem of differences in financial capital between families; kids from rich families will have advantages starting out that poor kids won’t. However, the goal of giving every kid a solid education will keep people from having a total lack of capital. People without land in an agrarian society were serfs or sharecroppers; people without human capital today are minimum wage “burger-slingers” or candidates for welfare. In an earlier era, such low-education folks could get a decent factory job; today, many factory jobs need a certain amount of math and computer skills. This makes the need for quality schooling in poor areas even more important, if we are to give people hope of something more than a low-end job.

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