Government Schooling to Fail Again

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I was at the airport looking for a newspaper when I saw the headlines about GM's nationalization "deal." I immediately muttered something like, "I'll never buy anything from GM again."

Not that I was planning to do so, anyway.

Myrhaf and Billy Beck have already discussed the matter, with Beck specifically catching another blogger framing the event in a way I have seen before, but in another context. (More on that momentarily.)

After quoting TigerHawk referring to the government takeover as an "experiment," Beck weighs in:

I understand the man's sense of humor and its well-earned reputation 'sphere-wide. I would point out that this could only be considered an "experiment" in the style of fourth-grade baking soda and vinegar volcanoes in custard dishes. In other words, all grown-ups know what's going to happen here. The fact that it's unprecedented doesn't mean that it can't be seen coming... [bold added]
This is very succinctly put, although with the reign of confusion that permeates much conservative discourse, I am almost as loathe to speak of "grown-ups" as I am to call this foolishness an "experiment."

Regarding the GM "experiment," TigerHawk notes that its "lessons" will be applicable to the subject of socialized medicine. A commenter -- assuming, perhaps rhetorically, that evidence actually matters to advocates of socialized medicine -- notes that this "test" is happening too late in the game. Be that as it may, TigerHawk has a point: This maneuver will fail for the same reason that any government takeover of medicine will fail.

That's all fair and good, but this analogy very closely resembles a mistake I see time and time again by conservatives and libertarians: Treating public policy debates as if they exist outside the realm of ideology.

One prime example of this I saw awhile back when Arnold Kling proposed what I could only call, "Libertarian medical experiments," proposing in all seriousness that "four or five diverse states adopt" socialized medicine on an experimental basis for some sort of standardized comparison to other states a few years down the line.

Just a few issues: Whose standards would be used? Will four or five other states get government completely out of medicine as a control? The latter never comes up. Most important, by what right can people be compelled to participate? That also never comes up. If Arnold Kling can dislike socialized medicine, and yet end up proposing its liberty-crushing and life-threatening adoption in several states, it is precisely because he foolishly sees freedom as uncontroversial and in no need of an intellectual or moral defense. This attitude is reflected in his willingness to treat individual human beings as laboratory animals.

Another example comes from a favorite columnist of mine, Thomas Sowell, who makes this same error across the board when he speaks of "adolescent intellectuals." As I said then:
[Sowell's] error is a common one, in which he treats an implicitly rational, reality-oriented philosophical outlook as a given, rather than as an implicit example of just another possible ideology. My last would doubtless strike many, probably including Sowell himself, as moral relativism at first blush, but it is not. For if the rational, "adult" ideology that Sowell implicitly favors can be judged as an ideology, so must all other ideologies be examined under the cold light of reason, and compared against the facts of reality, which include the requirements for man's survival.

It is easy, but wrong, to hold all intellectuals in such disdain, for to do so is to cede the deadly premise that so many of them have that a rational philosophy is not worthy of consideration in the marketplace of ideas, that ideology is somehow the one realm of human endeavor that is exempt from reason. Indeed, it allows them to go on pretending this is the case. Worse, it allows them to continue their attack against rational morality openly and unashamedly, while doing real damage to our civilization. [bold added]
It is fine, but not enough, to liken the GM "experiment" to a middle school demo whose results are pre-ordained, but the comparison should go further than that. It's as if we're in a classroom with a sadistic instructor who knows that dropping water into concentrated acid will cause it to spatter -- or that elemental sodium dropped into a beaker of water can cause a glass-shattering explosion-- and yet he forces the whole class to perform these experiments again and again.

If your child were in such a school, you would withdraw him immediately, and would have no doubt that the "instructor" was a moral monster. And yet our public has no such qualms about government officials who play similar games with our freedom, our finances, and our lives.

This analogy partially breaks down when you remember that, we, the public, are both parent and child. Nevertheless, if you go just a bit further, and ask why so many "parents" are still willing to send their kids to such a "school", you will begin to see why -- if you don't already -- the battle for freedom is a moral one, and why massive cultural change must precede any lasting or significant political change.

Any parent who would permit his child to suffer such "instruction" would have to be very ignorant at best or in agreement that the such a method of instruction is acceptable. Unfortuanately, we who disagree with such parents live in the same republic, and can currently be compelled to live with many of their foolish choices. The only solution is to work to help as many of the mistaken partents see what is wrong, and to win allies in the fight to sack the sadists in charge.

-- CAV

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