Wednesday, January 17, 2007

John Holt on Milton Friedman

When and to what degree should we citizens be allowed to protect ourselves against the crooked and incompetent, to decide what we will buy or use, or who we will work with, and when should we be protected whether we ask to be or not, and if so how, and by whom? Beyond that, is our present system of giving licenses through S-chools a good way, or the best way, or the only way of doing this? I think it is none of these. Too often the protectors don't protect, but turn themselves into a new conspiracy to exploit and defraud the public. We could probably protect ourselves quite well against many (but not all) dangers, if we were not early in life made into expert-worshippers, and if we could easily find out the truth about the dangers. Thus, the conservative economist Milton Friedman has said that even medical doctors should not be licensed. If someone thinks he can heal others, let him say so, and get what clients he can. But require him to make open to everyone both his methods and the results of his work, including the names and addresses of all his past clients, so that would-be clients can check up on him. To a large extent, people with money enough to choose do this now; they would not think of going to a doctor (or dentist, or lawyer) without asking former patients or clients what they thought of him.
—John Holt, Instead of Education, chapter 16

Monday, January 15, 2007

John J. Pierce in the New York Times

This weekend, the New York Times book review had a couple of letters in response to a previous review of John Scalzi's novels which commented on one of science fiction's most perennially controversial novels, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. One of them is by John J. Pierce, who points out the long history of contention over the book and how Heinlein liked Joe Haldeman's The Forever War despite the latter being a direct critique of his book. It's an example of how irreverent and open debate is encouraged in the genre; as Gregory Benford put it, while in "serious fiction ... proceeds from canonical classics that supposedly stand outside of time, deserving awe, great and intact by themselves", science fiction books constitute "immense discussions, with ideas developed, traded varied; players ring changes on each other — a steppin'-out jazz band, not a solo concert in a plush auditorium."

Pierce is recognized among science fiction fandom as a critic, editor, and fan. He edited and wrote introductions for a number of excellent entries in del Rey's 1970s series of collections of the selected short stories by classic authors: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun (the only volume of short stories ever assembled of one of the unsung early masters of the genre), The Best of Murray Leinster, and The Best of Cordwainer Smith (later followed by a larger complete collection of the author's short stories). He's also written four critical books on the history of science fiction (which I haven't read, but look intriguing): Foundations of Science Fiction (1987), Great Themes of Science Fiction (1987), When World Views Collide (1989), and Odd Genre (1994). I've also seen him at Lunacon in 2003 and 2005 on panels discussing topics such as favorite pre-20th century and out-of-print science fiction, and the New Jersey Humanlight celebration in 2004.