The Online Video Market as Alternative to College

I’m a big fan of philosophy. I know a decent amount about it. How? I’ve listened to Arthur Holmes lecture for 81 hours on the history of philosophy. I’ve gone through John Searle’s 21-hour class on the philosophy of language. I’m currently listening to Daniel Bounevac’s still ongoing lectures on the analytic tradition. All on YouTube.

You probably know Kahn Academy, the free online education behemoth. You may have also heard of edX, which partners with leading universities to provide free online courses. These are part of a growing trend: they’re called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course), and between the bunch of them, you have videos and courses on just about any topic you would study in college. Free.

What’s this got to do with Pressing the Button? While college is provided by as many “private” institutions as public, the industry can hardly be called private. Given the cost of university, state-funded financial aid is omnipresent. Any non-governmental institution that provides the same service for free is an important example of Pressing the Button.


A common conversation I have with folks who have not graduated college:

“Maybe I should go to college. But it’s so expensive. And the schedule is too much – you only get financial aid if you go full time.”

“Why don’t you just study using online videos? You avoid all those problems.”

“Huh? Yeah. I should go to college.”

When I press, the three main objections I hear are:


Videos aren’t enough.Continue Reading

What if a private fire protection agency refuses to service nonsubscribers?

Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel tells us of a fire protection agency that refused to service nonsubscribers, precisely because they were nonsubscribers. Even though the property was on fire, and even though the fire agency was there, ready and able to put out the fire, the agency was unwilling.

As it turns out, Sandel’s story is selectively edited. In the full story, both private and public fire agencies failed. So his story does not tell us whether public is preferable to private. But the core of his question remains: can we trust private agencies to service nonsubscribers in need? And if not, is the private provision of fire protection desirable?

First, watch Sandel’s tale (starting at 29:20), related to shocked students with mouths agape (transcript below):

It’s sometimes thought that collective goods like police protection and fire protection will inevitably create the problem of free riders unless they’re publicly provided.

But there are ways to prevent free riders. There are ways to restrict even seemingly collective goods like fire protection.

I read an article a while back about a private fire company, the Salem Fire Corporation, in Arkansas. You can sign up with the Salem Fire Corporation, pay a yearly subscription fee, and if your house catches on fire, they will come and put out the fire.

But they won’t put out everybody’s fire. They will only put it out if it’s a fire in the home of a subscriber or if it starts to spread and to threaten the home of a subscriber.

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From Rothbard to Landauer: The Practice of Anarchism

In his essay Do You Hate the State?, anarcho-capitalist economist Murray Rothbard presents a distinction between “gradualist” libertarians, who merely want to reform the state, and “abolitionist” libertarians. Rothbard explains that:

while the abolitionist will accept a gradual step in the right direction if that is all that he can achieve, he always accepts it grudgingly, as merely a first step toward a goal which he always keeps blazingly clear. The abolitionist is a “button pusher” who would blister his thumb pushing a button that would abolish the State immediately, if such a button existed. But the abolitionist also knows that alas, such a button does not exist, and that he will take a bit of the loaf if necessary — while always preferring the whole loaf if he can achieve it. … His button-pushing position stems from the abolitionist’s deep and abiding hatred of the State and its vast engine of crime and oppression. With such an integrated worldview, the radical libertarian could never dream of confronting either a magic button or any real-life problem with some arid cost-benefit calculation. He knows that the State must be diminished as fast and as completely as possible. Period.

Rothbard’s button provides a thought experiment to discern how radical one’s opposition to the state really is.

But what if we treat the button as more than a thought experiment? While it is true that we will never have a magic button to immediately abolish the state, this does not mean that our only pathways to end the state require gradual reforms or violent revolutions. … Continue Reading