The Beautiful Tree: Education for the Poor


I just got my own copy of James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree. I’ve known James (and his work) for a long time and I’m a great fan, so I’m really looking forward to reading it. What James Tooley and the teams he leads are doing is nothing short of inspiring and one of the most impressive acts of true philanthropy being undertaken today. Their efforts are neatly synopsized here.

6 Responses to “The Beautiful Tree: Education for the Poor”

  1. Tooley has put libertarianism and free market thinking into practice, and now we have some empirical proof that private education is to be preferred to state education. I find it rather strange why he does not spread his concept of private education in 3rd world countries outside Kenia etc but puts it into practice in the entire African and Asian continent?
    And why are there so few libertarians who put their theory into practice, as Tooley does?

  2. Tom G. Palmer

    You raise good questions, GvdB. First, James has done work on private education in India, China, Nigeria, and a number of South American countries. So he is doing a lot beyond Kenya. I’m not entirely clear about putting theory into practice, however. Someone who works for free trade is putting his or her ideas into practice, by lobbying, educating, agitating, etc. Smuggling is not the only way to promote free trade, and not, overall, even ideal, in comparison to simply freeing all trade. But the general point is a good one.

  3. Thanks for the answer Tom.
    Lobbying works indeed.
    But I still think that the work of Tooley, whose results are verifiable, help more to promote free market thinking and decision making than a more theoretic approach. He provides a proof that the free market is better than e.g. state controlled education. What I wanted to point at is that it would benefit the libertarian cause to a greater extent if similar work were to be done on other fields. Examples of this could be private health care, prisons, banks etc. I think that Yaron Bruner of Ayn Rand Institute is having a ‘libertarian investment fund’ but besides that I have no clue who is doing something similar. Also, in many discussions about private healthcare, the US is taken as example No 1. Are there any better examples?

  4. Tom G. Palmer

    But note that what Tooley is doing is demonstrating that non-state schools, which are often illegal and suppressed by the state, provide education to the poor whom the state fails. There are many (perhaps not enough!) scholarly studies of how voluntary cooperation provides benefits that states fail to provide, or actively disrupt and suppress. The big problem is precisely that the state is an involuntary institution and thus does not compete with others in the way that, say, firms compete with other firms in the market. States can deploy coercive force to put alternative providers of good and services out of business, without having to offer anything better to secure the patronage of customers. Much of what Tooley is documenting is officially illegal.

    I would recommend, for your interests, some of the studies from the Reason Foundation, as well as many from the Cato Institute, especially on health care.

    The US does not have a free-market in health care in the way that is so often asserted. The tax code systematically distorts health care choices; insurance is a non-taxable benefit, so there are incentives to tie it to employment, and because of that, it becomes, not actual “insurance” against low-probability catastrophic events, but a form of pre-payment for services, with a whole host of perverse incentives attendant upon that. Moreover, Medicare and Medicaid constitute a huge percentage of health care financing. For careful studies of such matters, and recommendations for improvement, from the incremental to the sweeping, I recommend this page:
    and this page:

  5. Thanks for the links and the good reply, Tom.

    Still, the incentive structure of a state (using tax payer’s money) is different to that of a private company. This is the main root of problems described above. The state can never compete on an equal level with a cooperation. Perhaps other structures should be considered.

  6. I have been walking around with the following thoughts lately (perhaps it is best to move this post to another discussion):

    The old political systems of state (but also of economy) like socialism, liberalism, communism… are founded upon a view people have on private material property. Communists grosso modo believe that private property should be collectivised by the state, socialists are in favor of coercing people into giving a piece of their wealth to the state to provide for healthcare for a certain area etc. Libertarians are in favor of private property and a free market etc. I realize these are grave simplifications.

    But now the underlying basis of the economy, material property, is gradually being replaced by knowledge, patents…information in general. Ideas and their realizations become more valuable than property linked assets and material items. If e.g. China buys Saab or Hummer, it is not for the net asset value of the company, but primarily for the technology pattents they have.

    Now with the foundation of ‘capital – ism’ changing from ‘capital’ to something else, shouldn’t the normal ideologies of socialism, libertarianism etc advocate other solutions to different problems?

    I realize a possible reply could be that pattents etc are tradeable goods which could be seen as a sort of ‘product’ with a certain value. But still, there is an intrinsic difference between the two, I think.

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