Patrick M. Byrne is the CEO of the Internet retailer Overstock.com. Byrne received his B.A. from Dartmouth, studied at Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, and earned a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford University. He co-founded Overstock.com in 1997 and became CEO in 1999. In 2005, Byrne initiated a controversial campaign against "naked short selling" in which he accused a "Sith Lord" and various financial firms of sabotaging Overstock's share price. Byrne also serves as head of First Class Education, an education lobbying group that seeks to require that 65% of all educational spending be spent "in the classroom." A strong proponent of school vouchers, Byrne spent almost four million dollars in advertising for a bill that would have given Utah residents who enroll their children in private schools taxpayer-supported subsidies. The bill lost, 62-38%.
Patrick Byrne: And domestic I’d say the only one that really matters to me is education. I think that the left and the right get hung up on a lot of silly things. You know what’s really going on, an economist ...good trade to the marginal utility in the market. And that really goes for human skill sets as well. If one kid leaves high school at 18 with this set of human skills, and one kid leaves high school with this set of human skills, their life prospects . . . or doesn’t leave high school . . . their life prospects are defined. And 99 percent of the time it’s going to work out just as you would imagine. And it seems to me that the left and the right get hung up about all these downstream effects. But if you really care about social injustice and inequality, racial inequality, income inequality, that’s all a downstream effect. If you can’t fix this, we’re just re-arranging deck chairs in the Titanic. But if we could fix this stuff, I think that . . . that in the space of a generation, a lot of problems would wash through that had been troubling America since our birth. And I think the only way to do that is through freedom, is through creating a competition, and a market, and education. ... higher education. We have . . . Our university system is the envy of the world. Well that’s because people choose. People choose where to go. They get vouchers. The vouchers are called Pell Grants or they’re called the GI Bill or something. But there’s a lot of choice, a lot of vouchers, a lot of competition. And the result is a system that’s the envy of the world. Our K through12 system is a disaster. We have . . . By fourth grade we’re still okay. By eighth grade it’s deteriorating. By the time our kids are 15, 16, we’re 25th out of 30 countries . . . we’re down . . . 30 ... countries. That’s a calamity. There’s no reason . . . America is used to thinking of itself as sort of . . . if you’re in my generation, you know you just think it just has this role in the world. Well it didn’t always have that role in the world, and there’s nothing that says we need to. We had a . . . Basically all our competitors were destroyed by World War II. One industrial country was left after World War II ..., too – the United States and Sweden. So essentially the whole competitor class was destroyed. We ran the table for two generations, but the rest of the world has built themselves back. And we’re sitting fat, dumb and happy, and we’ve slipped to 25th now for high school seniors out of 30 ...countries. Well that tells . . . that tells me where our standard of living is going to be in 25 years. It’s . . . And you know one generation is not a long time. In 1975, South Korea had half the GDP per capita as Mexico did. By one generation later, it had three times. South Korea had three times. So it had a six-fold differential in one generation. The same thing is gonna happen to the United States unless we get it together.
Recorded on: 10/29/07