Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Education and Coercive Funding

The following is a series of letters to the editor published in the Half Moon Bay Review in opposition to a local parcel tax to help fund the local government schools, the latest of which was published today. Also, just today, I found a discussion site that I was previously unaware of hosted by the paper. After carefully reading all of the entries, I will do my best to respond. I am grateful to an editor who is willing to publish my views even though he is in disagreement with them.

LTE 3-17-2010

Budgets are cut. Jobs are lost. Schools are expected to do more with less. The suffering quality of education is a true tragedy—but not the one that most people seem to think.

The spiral of increasing costs accompanied by decreasing quality is an inescapable function of all goods and services provided via state central planning. The best intensions and admirable efforts of the hard working, honest individuals participating in this system can not overcome this economic fact.

The real tragedy is the existence of government schools. Compulsory attendance laws result in the government providing schools for students to attend. This requires funding, which--as in all government programs--is accomplished through the expropriation of private property, subsequently allocated on political terms, not according to quality or economic efficiency.

The strong-arm of government has created a near monopoly in education. Although private schools do exist, the variety of educational options is severely stunted. Because government schools appear to be “free,” and people who chose a private alternative end up paying twice, 80% of primary and secondary students attend government schools. Only the relatively wealthy are able to “opt out.” This crowding out of private alternatives leaves people dependant on government schools—and thus dependant on the political processes to affect both curriculum and funding.

With a captive “customer” base, the normal incentives for providing the best value for the lowest cost no longer exist. Powerful unions increase costs further while bolstering barriers to competition-induced improvements. Schools can not compete for funds by offering a better product, so they are reduced to begging for votes to expropriate even more of their neighbor’s money.

And that is the real tragedy of our educational budget crisis—a tragedy that only the free market and its consistent respect of property rights will alleviate.

Measure E is on the ballot to raise money for our local government schools. Cutbacks in state funding mean the education of our local youth will suffer. This is tragic. Education is important and worthy of receiving adequate funding.

In spite of this, I cannot bring myself to support a law that uses the force of government to deprive others of their property. If people cannot be convinced to voluntarily provide financial support to the schools, I know of no moral principle that allows me to force others to act against their best judgment. Our Constitution was written to protect us from precisely this abuse of power by the majority.

It is simply immoral to even attempt to achieve a goal through the use of force, no matter how deeply ensconced in compassion, generosity, or good will. You may try to persuade your friends and neighbors, and tirelessly work to obtain their voluntary assistance (financial or otherwise), but, if you can’t convince them, there is no moral basis for employing the coercive power of the state to aid you in achieving through force what you can not achieve through persuasion.

What is at stake is greater than the plight of our schools. The peaceful coexistence of human beings is grounded upon the recognition of each individual’s right to his own life, liberty and property — and only his own.

The civilized world has come to recognize the immorality of enslaving another human being in order to employ his labor against his will. The next step in our moral progress is to recognize that a man’s property is an extension of his life, and that to seize a man’s property against his will is merely another form of slavery.

For this reason, Measure E is immoral and should be soundly defeated.

Proposition E has passed. In spite of being against the principle of government-run education, I have mixed feelings about the results of last week’s election.

In part, I am relieved that the vital services our local schools provide will not suffer the devastating cuts they would have without this financial boost. At this time, for many students and families in our community (including mine) there is no realistic alternative to government schools. I am very appreciative of the relationships and experiences that my son enjoyed in his four years at Half Moon Bay High School. Many of the individuals in the system are excellent human beings devoted to providing a quality education to our children. That said, I continue in my concern that this is a temporary patch on a fatally flawed system, which in the long run is neither moral nor practical. The very existence of government education is premised upon the violation of property rights. Even though 70 percent voted in favor of Measure E, 30 percent of our neighbors will have their property taken against their will. Additionally, history has repeatedly demonstrated the failure of central planning — in business, in education, in health care. (Please see my letters from March 17 and June 2.)

I can only hope that, with more time and experience, more people will come to understand the superiority of a government limited to the protection of individual rights and a society which demands that all interactions are based on persuasion, and in which the initiation of force is always viewed as an illegitimate means for obtaining one’s ends.

Thank you for the opportunity to express my minority view in your publication.


Shane Atwell said...

abolish teacher and school certification and I bet cheap private schools would drive out the crappy public schools in no time.

HaynesBE said...

I am not a fan of certification either but I am not sure how abolishing it would really solve the problem.
Since private schools already do not have to have certified teachers, I am not sure that this action would be sufficient.
The bigger problem, I think, is that even if you pay for private schools, you have to pay for government schools. The only people who can afford private schools (scholarships aside) are really those who can afford to pay twice!
Vouchers are not really the answer either. Additionally, as long as the government funds something, it will be necessary that it have oversight.
Hillsdale College found that it could not even accept students receiving government guaranteed loans without the government making mandates on its curriculum and other operations.
Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

Anonymous said...

Milton Freidman proposed vouchers in the 1950's. His plan called for every child to be given the nominal cost of attending school. I would advocate for that plus a CPI adjustment for location. Those who argue that the Constitution guarantees an opportunity rather than an outcome (i.e., the opportunity to make a living, not welfare) provide the argument for vouchers, for without a good education one doesn't really have a good opportunity. And now we are back to the problem of taxes.

Regarding the 30% who voted against raising taxes to pay for your school... As I've argued prviously, they accept the taxes by the fact of their CHOOSING to live in your community. If they don't like it, they can sell their homes and move to someplace with less taxes; and they can sell it for a better price as a result of better schools in the community, by the way.

You, who feel it is morally unacceptable to force the 30% to pay can cleanse your conscience by paying an extra amount equal to your children's share of the monies raised by force and thereby not participate in the force exerted on your neighbors. The numbers should be readily available from the principal of your school or from the school board. Our local schools are happy to accept donations to make up their shortfalls, and I'm sure yours would be, too.

You might consider your extra contribution as the voluntary taxes for which you advocate. The question is whether you and the others in your community who profess to ascribe to the "objectivist philosophy" are committed enough to your moral premises to act on them regardless of what the rest of the community is doing. Given my experience with human nature, I'm guessing that the majority will not contribute the extra money.

I would be interested to know if you pony up and how much it costs you.


Anonymous said...

Garret, we seem to be talking past one another. I think I understand Ayn Rand better than you think I do. Her system would certainly seem ot be workable IF all humans behave rationally. They do not. Therefore, those who don't behave rationally need a little help from the rest.

You can get a taste of my logic by reading the post preceding this one, regarding funding of schools. In fact, Beth's school situation provides a real life experiment to see how Ayn Rand's followers aquit themselves when it comes to righteous behavior and voluntary funding. We'll have to rely on Beth to provide an accurate accounting of how they do.

You hint at the point I was making regarding your investments in corporations when you reminded us that Ayn Rand's philosophy allowed individuals to group together to do whatever they wish as long as no individuals' rights were violated. Just so. The problem is that according to Ayn Rand each individual, even the individuals in such groups, must be accountable for their actions. Consistent with this demand for individual accountability and responsibility, no modern corporations could exist in an Objectivist world, as the whole point of the modern corporation is to limit stockholder liability to the cost of the investment (and to grant the corporation limited personhood for the purpose of entering contracts and agreements, and, as we have just witnessed, for the purpose of funding political campaigns). This means that in the modern corporation the owners of the corporation are not responsible for anything (bad) the corporation does, but they get to share in the profits.

Please explain how a legal entity whose purpose is to shield individuals from responsibility and accountability is consistent with a philosopny based on individual responsibility and accountability.

As I alluded to in the preceding post just because someone else made up the rules, you are not absolved of the accountability for participating in them unless you are forced. I could be wrong, but I'm assuming nobody forced you to invest in stocks. So, it appears that your moral premises become less important when there is money to be made; you and the rest of the Objectivists who own stock are willing to stand down on your principles to keep up with the Joneses. Please explain how this is not the case.

Remember, owning bonds avoids the whole moral dilemma, as it is a contractual lending transaction, not an ownership situation.


Anonymous said...

The silence on the issues I have raised is deafening.