The Invention of Need

Some notes on power structures.

Socialism requires an agenda more publicly potable that its fantasia of violent marxist class struggle. It needs promises that are compellingly proposed as rights and conveniently can never be fulfilled. Unrequited rights best guarantee unchecked powers.

The greatest promises and largest expenses in socialist nations are healthcare and education (in the United States, they are the first and second largest industries). You have been repeatedly told — convinced — that both are necessities. You probably are convinced they both contribute to your life and to society. Both are socialist Potemkin villages designed to capture and control a significant part of the economy and convince the population that the marxist fantasia is somehow based on fact.


But let’s consider the facts. You may have heard something like 300 years ago the average life expectancy was 39. The number may be 37 or 41, but regardless, it’s a remarkable illustration of the ability of averages to mask reality.

Studies of England and New England going back four centuries consistently show that if you lived to 20 years old, you almost always lived to at least 60. Deaths before 20 were usually (1) infant deaths due to the usual illnesses infants contract and (2) 8-year-old boys who chase dogs into lakes and forget they can’t swim (this happened almost every year, in every town; the conclusion is that hyper, incautious 8-year-old boys are borderline suicidal).

Contra what you’ve heard, death in childbirth was rare for women (no more common than men dying in war or random farm accidents). Infants died all the time in childbirth but most women had to give pregnancy a good dozen attempts before something went lethally wrong.

Some studies put the bottom limit age at 18 or 19, but most of those who reached that age died 60 or older. The historical problem that occurred becomes obvious when standard living arrangements are considered:

Male (≈26 years old) marries female (≈21 years old).

They live in (usually the male’s) parents’ house. Parents are ≈50–60 years old.

≈2 years later, they have their first child, which the grandparents help raise.

≈2 years later, the grandparents die. The male inherits his parents’ house.

Repeat cycle.

But by the late 1500s, these grandparents didn’t die when they should have; significant numbers were living past 80, which means there’s a 55-year-old male living with his 80-year-old mother.

Thus the cycle broke. The quest for more land became a dire necessity; ergo America. By the 1630s, it’s not remotely surprising to find people living past 80. Many centuries earlier, the emperors of Rome, unless they died a violent death, often lived into their seventies: Augustus 77, Tiberius 79, Vespasian 70, Nerva 68. Matilda lived in the early 1100s, had three children, and died at 65. And she spent her life warring. Unless there was a plague, living into one’s 60s was fairly common before the Renaissance. Many English Kings of the Middle Ages lived into their 70s, and even Henry VIII, as famous for his poor diet as he was for his corpulence, died at 55. John Adams lived to 90 and was a little above average, but Jefferson lived to 83, which was fairly average. It seems clear that any who repeats the average life expectancy was 39 has failed to notice that, in reading history, most people are not dropping dead at 39. That average is a function of many children dying (usually in infancy) and most others dying at 60 or later. The average may be 39, but if you were magically transported to London in the 1640s, you’d see an age distribution that is largely similar to the one you’d see in London today (which is you say, you wouldn’t notice it at all, though you may notice the civil war — either the cold civil war occurring today or the generally more active one of the 1640s).

Why has the average life expectancy increased? Mostly because if, today, you have eight children, all eight of those children will likely reach adulthood. And average life expectancy has increased largely due to sanitation, inoculation, watching your young children (in agrarian societies, there was no “raising your kids” — after a few years they raised themselves because you had work to do, and this is why so many 8-year-olds were falling down wells).

Most of the positive affects of sanitation, inoculation, watching your children disproportionately effect children. None of it has anything with most of what we think of as “healthcare.” In fact, most healthcare does nothing for life expectancy, though doctors are generally loathe to admit that plumbers have saved more lives than doctors. Of course, Kings and Queens may have had better sanitation and diets than the general population (Henry VIII an exception), but they had no better healthcare (frankly, whatever “healthcare” they did have likely contributed to their death). Access to healthcare is a utopian promise predicated on the notion that healthcare improves lives, and yet most healthcare could be eliminated and the aggregate affect on life expectancy would be minimal — that’s the only reasonable conclusion from the fact that so many people lived beyond 60 years old so many centuries ago.


We’re been told that education is the key to success. With the usual repetition of propaganda, we believe it. The problem is that there is little — some would say no — data that connects education to increased wealth. They correlate, but demonstrating causation has been the holy grail of education statisticians and has, predictably, proven elusive.

One of the initial issues with believing causation is believing that public schools teach skills. “Skills” can be broadly divided into social skills (do you play well with others?) and academic skills (math, history) with literacy bridging the two. Though there’s a broad assumption that schools teach social skills, not only is it not been proven but such a conclusion is illogical. Was the vast majority of the population of Europe and America mal-socialized prior to the 1830s? Were these nations filled with rapists and serial killers and vast hordes of misanthropes? Does synthetically aggregating students and coercing them into a synthetic game of learning teach them real-world skills, wherein they must deal with outcomes-based reality among peoples of vastly varying ages?

The entirety of formal, coerced, public education is synthetic, and there’s no evidence that students are better socialized today than they were three centuries ago. There’s further no evidence that homeschooled children are more poorly socialized than public school children. In fact, the evidence suggests that the public school experience is psychologically damaging for many children — and why wouldn’t it be? There’s nothing socially natural about it.

If that argument is not wholly convincing, then consider that there’s no evidence that public schools have been successful at teaching academic knowledge (math, history, etc). That’s not a fringe opinion, but it is politically nonviable so you’re unlikely to hear it from your school. But ask those who’ve studied the issues, such as Stanford professor of education history David Labaree (see Someone Has to Fail), and he’ll assure you that public education cannot justify itself based on teaching academic knowledge because evidence of its success in that area is something between poor and non-existent. Even literacy, which one would think is a basic function of schools and a basic requirement for a functioning democracy, has not been shown to be successfully taught at schools. The primary indicator of whether your child will graduate from high school literate is whether your child showed up to kindergarten literate. Schools have little effect — so much so that the literacy rate in New England is lower today than it was in the 1780s. Lower. (Note: When Horace Mann was making the case for public funding of public schools, he neither could nor did make the case that schools would increase literacy. Most young children in New England were already literate, and no one argued that schools would improve literacy — or, really, any academic learning.)

Some argument in favor of public education is possible, but it’s factually inaccurate to suggest that purpose of public education is to educate. In fact, most of those at the top of the education food chain do not suggest and discourage others from suggesting that public education can or should be justified based on teaching academic knowledge. (In fact, this is why so many educators are opposed to Common Core. Common Core is the final expression of the standards movement that began in the 1980s, and the standards movement sought to finally require schools to teach academic subjects.)

So what is the purpose of public education? Perhaps it’s an expensive baby-sitting service, or perhaps it’s a government indoctrination program — both arguments have substantial evidentiary support. But one feature cannot be overlooked: if you were to review the largest employer (by quantity of employees) in cities across the United States, you’d notice a curious pattern: the public school system is one the greatest (and often, the greatest) employer in every city.

A common tactic in totalitarian states is to — by whatever means possible — directly employ a majority of the people. If a majority pays their rent and buy their food with government checks, then a significant restraint has been placed on any nascent rebellion. Andrew Jackson initially attempted to eradicate the spoils system, whereby government jobs were given to government supporters. Not only did he fail, but governments globally tend to engage widespread spoils. The argument in favor of the spoilsization of nations is that it engenders stability and social cohesion; riots in company towns and national rebellions suggest that such an argument has limits, but it’s logical to assume that people are generally disinclined to openly reject their own employer.

And so when we learn that the government of North Korea employs nearly everyone, we understand that such is the result of the socialist utopia; such widespread (or universal) employment schemes supply the coercive pressure necessary for maintaining power. So when we find that the largest employer in most cities is what could be construed by historians centuries hence as government indoctrination programs, it becomes necessary to reach for details to discern the difference between North Korea and Chicago, which has over 132,000 government employees (not including police, etc.). While North Korea is not Chicago, the power dynamics are uncomfortably similar. Why should a free people’s government be so insistent on being the greatest employer and be so resistant to any decreases in that power?

Governments, of course, transform their grasp on power into your need for education. And they transform their domestic imperialism into your need for — your right to — expanded access to healthcare and education. The data defies their stated reasons (and, likely, your stated beliefs) for this colonization of people’s rights, but the arguments remain largely unchallenged. Education and healthcare are, and will continue to be, the government’s largest expenses and the people’s largest employers. Somehow we’ve come to believe that the government capture of our health and our children’s education is beneficial to us; this is the denouement of the deft marxist legerdemain that convinces voters that the great marxist struggle for rights has been fruitful while tightening the noose around liberty’s neck.

This also explains why governments are usually fairly lax with their employees (e.g. why it’s so difficult to fire teachers). The chief culprit is the unions, but they have a willing accomplice in the government. Governments generally do not want to fire an employee, because that’s not how the spoils system works. The arrangement is that the employee concedes to government power, and the government will share the spoils. Engaging in the rigor of private sector employment — requiring private sector productivity — would belie the difference between a job and deploying the spoils of power. This further explains the cult of public sector employees — that they are public servants or underpaid or under-appreciated. Such propaganda serves to mask their role in ensuring state power.

Objectively, are the socialist propositions of healthcare and education worth their expense in liberty? Do they add value other that the psychological assurance that your government has not spent trillions of dollars ensuring your capture? Do they, at a basic level, achieve their stated objectives? Are they even capable of achieving their basic objectives?

About Nathan Allen

Formerly of Xio Research, an A.I. appliance company. Previously a strategy and development leader at IBM. His views do not necessarily reflect anyone’s, including his own. (What.) Nathan’s academic training is in intellectual history; his next book, Weapon of Choice, examines the creation of American identity and modern Western power. Don’t get too excited, Weapon of Choice isn’t about wars but rather more about the seeming ex nihilo development of individual agency … which doesn’t really seem sexy until you consider that individual agency covers everything from voting rights to the cash in your wallet to the reason mass communication even makes sense….




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store