Rob L. Bradley Jr. ('73)
“Kinkaid students today are at an inflection point—hands need to be raised when textbook material can be challenged, and even refuted, from simple Wikipedia information. Teachers should encourage, not discourage, such initiative.”
Please introduce yourself to those in the Kinkaid community who do not know you.
I am a second-generation Kinkaidian (lifer, ’73) whose children both graduated from the school. I also volunteer-taught a three-week Interim Term course at Kinkaid for five years, ending in 2010.
I have been interested in free-market, science-of-liberty scholarship ever since high school, when a talented group of Kinkaidians embraced these ideas (see Robert Campbell interview). Two of these classmates are professors now, while I have taken the “think tank” route with books, articles, blogs, and so forth, on political economy issues, mostly involving energy.
Q. A Kinkaid free-market group … ?
A. Yes. I’m not sure that Kinkaid before or since produced a group such as us.
Q. What is your personal history in terms of degrees, work experience, and publications?
A. This can be found on the Internet (Wiki here). My publications range from a treatise to a primer to a trilogy (in process). My books allow me to do the shorter things with some confidence. I do research and publish in many areas that directly relate to the material covered in Kinkaid courses.
Q. Are you an academic?
A. No. I’ve had some opportunities to teach on the college and university level but have been too busy in the ‘think tank’ world, which is where most of the action is. But I have lectured at some 20 colleges and universities by invitation, which is ideal since I then address the really interested and interesting students.
Q. But you taught at Kinkaid?
A. I did, but not full time. It was for three weeks and just for the first part of the day. And I might add that teaching Kinkaid students, even 9th graders, is very special. They have such great potential academically and are our future doers. They are “bringing in the future,” so to speak. So my volunteer work had very high psychic profits.
Q. Were you a good student back at Kinkaid?
A. Hardly! My head was out the window a good deal of the time. I had ADD or ADHD before they had a name or a medication for it. My Government teacher Jim Hunter called me “blasé Bradley” in class. But I got excited about individualism when I read a book on my summer reading list, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I also got a charge when some of my classmates challenged, or even refuted, textbook material in class.
Q. What were the issues?
A. That free-market capitalism caused the 1929 Crash. That Herbert Hoover was Mr. Laissez Faire, and FDR’s New Deal came to the rescue. The Robber Barron story, including that Standard Oil and Rockefeller were bad because Ida Tarbell said so. The general progressive notion that regulation was by reformers against business, rather than, in many cases, by business for business.
Q. Was this in a U.S. history class?
A. Yes, taught by a young John Germann, now a retired Kinkaid Hall-of-Famer.
Q. How did he react?
A. He was not very moved, as I remember. I mean who is he going to believe: His Rice history professors and the textbook—or us? Can you blame him?
I have had to put myself in their shoes to understand it, before thinking strategically how to correct the situation. If I were the teacher hearing a new interpretation that did not square with what I had been taught and does not seem to fit within the paradigm, how would I react?
Ideally, the teacher should say “that’s interesting … I’ll study your view more. Thank you for your initiative and enriching the class.” But that’s darn hard, as it challenges your worldview and a lot of invested intellectual capital. That’s why I am a huge proponent of getting the competing worldviews before the students early, so they can be more open-minded. I think my Kinkaid students got that.
Q. So your old Kinkaid group was on to something, in retrospect?
A. Put it this way: I still make the same arguments. I remember one of my classmates, Mark Steiner, now a law professor at South Texas downtown, carried around Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression. Rothbard took on some accepted historiography about Hoover and FDR, calling Hoover the first New Dealer. Steiner and a fellow named John Knight brought these themes into class.
This revisionism is not only alive and well, it is near-mainstream. Take the recent book by Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, which our headmaster Don North told me he read. This book has sold more than 100,000 copies. That book is basically the same analysis as Rothbard but from the perspective of the street or the farm with stories from those found themselves stuck because of government intervention violating basic economic law. The Depression was largely a government-made tragedy, in retrospect.
This book should be required reading for students given that one’s interpretation of this boom/bust can literally anchor a worldview about Keynesian economics and public policy today.
Q. You believe history is relevant to current events?
A. Very much so! I wish I could take the current Kinkaid courses taught by Germann’s replacement to see what is going on—and maybe also to raise my hand at times. In fact I wish I could be a Kinkaid senior to get my grades up! Maybe participating in this website closes the circle for me.
Q. What happened post-Kinkaid to your academic interest in the free society?
A. Despite my low grades, I got into college (Rollins College) with the help of my tennis racquet (a scholarship). I ended up doing well in the small class, liberal arts environment where my passions could come through in classroom discussion and in essay questions. Big classes and multiple choice questions at a big school might have done me in.
Q. Were you an activist at Rollins?
A. I was (see profile here). My interest in free-market economics got a tremendous boost when I was a sophomore taking Principles of Macroeconomics. Keynesian economics was refuted right out of the classroom window!
Q. Explain that.
A. The United States had stagflation in 1974/75. The textbook showed the Phillips Curve, where inflation and unemployment were negatively correlated. Inflation cures unemployment, and unemployment removes inflation. But simultaneous high inflation and high unemployment exploded the chart.
Q. Did you have the answer?
A. Well, Austrian-school economics shed light on the real-world anomaly. At night in the library, after I read my textbook, Paul Samuelson’s Economics, I would go into the “stacks” of the library to read Mises and Rothbard. Those were dusty books that had scarcely been checked out. The “Austrian” criticisms of Keynesian concepts such as the accelerator, the multiplier, and the liquidity trap came right into play. I raised my hand in class and the professor (I was lucky) seemed interested that a student was interested enough to offer an alternative explanation. I went on to get Rollins’s top student award in economics, thanks in part to a largely open-minded economics faculty.
Q. Can a Kinkaid student do that in high-school Economics?
A. Yes. Some key 1970s material is no longer “textbook” because it is considered refuted. But Keynesian fallacies permeate the Kinkaid’s current offering, although they are cleverly not attributed to Keynes and are not discussed critically.
Q. Give us an example.
A. The so-called “paradox of thrift.” In the class notes from last year, the Kinkaid teacher presents this as fact, demonstrating the fallacy of composition. The student scribbled down: “Should you save more $$$. I can, but not everyone…. What if everyone did? The economy would crash!” Yikes! See Wikipedia for the rest of the story!
There is a lesson for us all here.
And Kinkaid students particularly. In the social sciences and humanities, don’t take the conventional wisdom for granted. Take the Government textbook’s romantic view of government. How does “We The People” square with government-business cronyism and the massive budget deficit (which I recently heard described as “fiscal child abuse”)?
Kinkaid students today are at an inflection point—hands need to be raised when textbook material can be challenged, and even refuted, from simple Wikipedia information. Teachers should encourage, not discourage, such initiative.
Q. Back to your Economics class experience…. The great Paul Samuelson was refuted?
A. Paul Samuelson, Nobel Laureate, the leader of the U.S. Keynesians, the #1 textbook author for decades, was stumped. I wrote about it in the campus paper, The Sandspur, with this quotation from him:
“It is a terrible blemish on the mixed economy and a sad reflection on my generation of economists that we’re not the Merlins that can solve the problem. Inflation is deep in the nature of the welfare state. Even when there is slack in the system, unemployment doesn’t exert downward pressure on prices the way it did under ‘cruel’ competition.”
At least he owned up to it.
A. Yes, he did. What else could he do? Still, too many academics just let their emotions take over and don’t challenge themselves and make mid-course corrections.
Q. This is an example of open knowledge?
A. Yes, and Robert Campbell (’71) wrote about it on this website.
Q. How did you develop your worldview if your professors were not teaching it to you?
A. My self education was a start, but summer seminars charitably financed by some great Americans kicked in. The Foundation for Economic Education was and still is great for high school students. One of my Kinkaid students went to a FEE seminar and is off to the races.
For college students, the Institute for Humane Studies, now affiliated with George Mason University, is the gold standard. IHS was founded by a Cornell University economist who was reprimanded by his administration for teaching F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. So he founded IHS in his garage to offer some sort of an alternative education. He might be the inspiration for freeKinkaid.org!
But today thousands of students and hundreds of university professors give thanks for IHS, and I am one of them. I spent a summer studying Austrian economics in one of their seminars. F. A. Hayek, who had recently won a Nobel Prize in economics, was in residence, which was just incredible looking back on it.
Q. So Kinkaid students have an alternative while even in high school?
A. Yes. But do Kinkaid parents want to ship their kids to free-market seminars during the summer? Or do they want to get basic, commonsense free-market ideas into the classroom pronto? To ask the question is to answer it.
Yes. This is a good place to stop. We are going to need another interview to cover your interim term experience all the way to the genesis of freeKinkaid.org.
I look forward to it.