Right Question, Wrong Answer

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

National Review's Jonah Goldberg pens a column that starts with a bang and ends with a whimper.

The bang? "Here's a good question for you: Why have public schools at all?"

On the one hand, it's nice that someone with such a wide readership is asking such a question. On the other, it is too bad he can't give the right answer. The result is that Goldberg basically grants a conservative imprimatur to the next step in socializing medicine while really only setting the stage for a transition from a mainly socialized education system to a completely fascist one (i.e., from government ownership of the means of production in that sector to one of nominal ownership under tight government supervision). As icing on that cake, he also bows to that criterion of truth so beloved by the environmentalists of late, "consensus".

Stand by for the whimper:

Right now, there's a renewed debate about providing "universal" health insurance. For some liberals, this simply means replicating the public school model for healthcare. (Stop laughing.) But for others, this means mandating that everyone have health insurance -- just as we mandate that all drivers have car insurance -- and then throwing tax dollars at poorer folks to make sure no one falls through the cracks.

There's a consensus in America that every child should get an education, but as David Gelernter noted recently in the Weekly Standard, there's no such consensus that public schools need to do the educating.

Really, what would be so terrible about government mandating that every kid has to go to school, and providing subsidies and oversight when necessary, but then getting out of the way? [bold added]
Let's explore this last paragraph a bit, shall we?

What would be so terrible about the government forcing -- I mean, "mandating" -- private schools to take a certain number of incorrigible and ineducable delinquents as a condition for accreditation? What would be so terrible about government money funding religious schools? What would be so terrible about local authorities determining that "real schools" must teach creationism in science class or sex education to children you do not think are ready for it? (Goldberg should remember that "religious schools" will include madrassas and perhaps should replace the word "creationism" with "evolution"....)

In short, what is so terrible about the government continuing to order people around and remaining in the business of influencing which ideologies guide and are taught in our schools (under the umbrella of "necessary" oversight, of course) -- while pretending to hand the schools over to the private sector? What is so terrible about replacing one failed government system that people at least realize is a government system, with another that people will think is "capitalistic"? And what is so terrible about capitalism once again taking an undeserved rap when this "solution" for public education fails?

These questions, I trust, just about answer themselves. Not only are our public schools so bad that many people will mistake this fascist proposal for a capitalist solution, but almost any change, even this one, would probably bring about a temporary improvement. But I am not interested in temporary improvements or in compounding our lousy educational sector with a lousy medical sector by muddying the political debate.

Goldberg's proposal would be acceptable only as part of a long-term solution, as a transition between our current socialist education system to a fully private one. Goldberg's own data clearly indicate that the public would be receptive to a privatized system. His job as an intellectual is to guide the public towards the best course of action. Sadly, he has failed, as my line of questioning above has already indicated.

Blind rebellion against a failed system when a revolution is needed will not do. We must abolish public education and with it, all government subsidies and "supervision".

-- CAV


madmax said...


If you have the time and you haven't seen it already, here is the link to the John Stossel report on the Public Schools. It is good to get an indication of just how bad the schools are and how corrupt the Teacher's Unions are (wow, are they disgusting). But for Objectivists, its frustrating because Stossel never gets at the heart of the matter; ie that government schools are *immoral* because they violate individual rights; education is not a right.

In typical libertarian fashion, all he advocates for is "greater competition" which leads him to advocate for vouchers. Tax credits are nowhere mentioned. Neither is privatization. But it is worth a look:


Mike said...

Given the content of your post, one with which I am in general agreement, I am interested to know what your take would be on the Direct Loans student loan program and on PELL grants. I benefited from both in finishing my J.D., and I would not have been able to attend college for perhaps many years (if ever) if I had to fund it myself, since my family is of modest means. The loans seem like less of a handout when I consider the hefty price tag I'll be paying for the next decade or more to cover them, but at the same time, did the government not force the taxpayers to lend to me the way they did to the banker in Atlas Shrugged? The PELL grants were more obviously a handout, and I am not obligated to reimburse the taxpayers, so is this justified on any grounds? Public policy to promote college education for those who could otherwise not afford it? Either way, is it not armed robbery from the productive, who might not wish to fund such endeavors? And the flip side of the equation, of course: if there were no government redistribution for student aid purposes, would society be worse off for the lack of graduates?

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the link. I'll take a look at it when I have a bit more time.


Regarding the moral status of accepting the kind of government aid you describe, I agree with Ayn Rand, who happened to address your very question in an essay, "The Question of Scholarships" that appears in The Voice of Reason.

Part of her answer was indeed as you indicate: You're only getting back part of your tax money anyway. Furthermore, the many government distortions in the economy (including many that drive up the price of collegiate education) would make it impossible to afford an education in any other way.

Because of such factors, she saw nothing morally wrong with accepting such "aid" so long as its recipient remained opposed to it and expressed this opposition when appropriate.

Regarding your question of whether "society" is better or worse off for such aid, I would say that even if we take that term in its proper context -- as a collection of individuals -- that the question is still being asked out of context.

Not only would we not have such aid in a fully free society, we would also, among other things, have better and cheaper schools in the first place (possibly lessening the need for some higher education) and economic forces would more properly align the number of graduates with the economic need for them.

As an example of what I mean, consider that now, our society makes it very cheap to earn a PhD in certain scientific fields and has loudly proclaimed the need for such scientists for decades. Now there is a huge glut of PhDs in some of the life sciences and nowhere for them to go. Scientists in training positions are starting to unionize in some places. Many such scientists would have been far better off without such aid and so would our economy.



Anonymous said...


I looked at the John Stossel report and it was quite scary. However, at least Americans are having some debate about this. Here in the socialist paradise of Canada, such debates can't even happen - be it for education, health care, or a multitude of other government run, "sacred cow" programs. For example, just recently, the provincial government in Quebec (the most socialist province in Canada, which is saying a lot) almost fell because they wanted to slightly cut taxes. Unbelievable.

What a sorry state of affairs. Please keep up the good work even though I fear that the battle has been lost. I just see things getting worse as we have an increasing population of ignorant drones, more than happy to turn to "saviors" such as religion or government.

Gus Van Horn said...


In the short term, things stand to get much worse, but do not forget that human beings have free will. People can change their own minds. Even in the short term, there is some faint hope.

The battle is not lost even in Canada, which has some freedom of speech. I say this for two reasons because the battle is twofold: (1) I think prospects are better long-term. Which side in this battle has logic and the facts of reality on its side? (2) More importantly, anyone who knows better, like you or me, at least realizes that his life is his own. This means that whatever enjoyment you can have (and even as bad as things are, there are many, many valuable things to be had from life) you can experience fully (i.e., without guilt). Furthermore, to the degree you choose to fight the war to change the culture, you know what is at stake and so will take your fight more seriously. I think this is part of what Ayn Rand meant when she said, "He who fights for the future lives in it today."

The collectivists can make it harder to act on one's rational convictions, but since it is impossible to force a mind, they cannot deprive you of your knowledge that your life is your own.

Objectivism is first and foremost a philosophy for you to live your life on this earth. Do not allow the necessity of fighting the collectivists cause you to focus only on that fight and so lose focus on the enjoyment you can still get from life. That is the kind of victory they really want, but by its nature you have to give it to them.

See also Winston Churchill: "[N]ever give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."


Jenn Casey said...

Gus, well done. I really enjoy reading your blog.

I read Goldberg's article myself yesterday and I'm still mulling over what I intend to write about it. It is crucial for his basic errors to be spelled out, particularly as you said, because many people will believe that he is arguing in favor of capitalism.

On a related note, I just read a paper (which I'll link to on my blog) by a law professor at Northwestern in favor of government oversight of homeschooling, based on the idea that

"States delegate power of children's basic education to parents, and the delegation itself is necessarily subject to constitutional constraints."

This is what passes for "legal analysis" by "experts" these days, unfortunately. As if the parents are merely subcontractors for the government! The same idea underlies Goldberg's assumptions and his recommendation that government should perform the role of overseer of education, in a taxpayer-supported system with a shiny capitalist veneer. Of course, NCLB is merely the latest attempt at oversight on a national scale (although it pretends to be at the state level).

This topic is of extreme importance to me, as my kids are nearing official school age. So, thanks!

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Jenn.

And boy, that quote is one for the books! On one level, it is hardly surprising to see someone saying something that, but on another, it is bad to see that people are beginning to feel comfortable stating such things openly.

I'll keep an eye out for when you eventually post that link. It's bad news, but the first step to fighting back is knowing, so thank you for the heads-up, too.

Jenn Casey said...

I posted the link to her article on my blog. It is quite long, just to warn you. She is a lawyer after all! It's hard to imagine that anyone will take it seriously, but I know that it's a very real possibility. Enjoy!

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Jenn. Although readers can follow the below link to your post, I'll mention it in my next roundup, as well.