Milton Friedman: Professor Voucher

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Last week, I wrote an article on federal housing vouchers. I made the point that these vouchers are like all other vouchers: a pseudo-market intrusion of the government into our lives.

I made an assumption: the evil side of housing vouchers will be apparent to conservatives in a way that school vouchers are not.

Conservatives also oppose food stamps. Yet food stamps are vouchers. I showed this, too.

I made a second point: vouchers are a favorite solution to economists who follow Milton Friedman. Friedman favored pseudo-market solutions in the name of free enterprise.

Austrian School economists have not been taken in by this approach. They see vouchers for what they are.  Lew Rockwell wrote the following back in 2000.

Another California voucher initiative, Proposition 38, is headed for defeat. And it will happen for the same reason that big-government spending programs are failing in state after state. Taxpayers have rightly become very stingy with their money. They don’t like politicians stealing it and spending it on new redistributive schemes. If and when the voters have anything to say about it, they say no. That the establishment conservative movement is backing this one will make no more difference in 2000 than it did in 1996.

Why should this surprise anyone? It shouldn’t, but we are still going to be put through four months of Voucher Hell, listening to liberal opponents tell us that Prop. 38 will destroy public schools (oh sure!) and conservative partisans tell us that government spending is the answer to all education woes, so long as the right people get the money. They will trot out data, pseudo-scientific policy studies, speeches from think tank blowhards, and racial victimologists of all sorts, and it will be pure torture. But in the end, Californians will see that Prop. 38 means more school spending and maybe more school taxes, and will vote it down.

The voters did vote it down.

The question is this: Why do conservatives and Chicago School economists keep returning to the pseudo-market vouchers program in the name of liberty? Vouchers will extend the power of any government that issues the vouchers into the operations of every private institution that accepts the vouchers. Yet conservatives keep touting vouchers.

This is because conservatives are always looking for a way to make coercion more efficient. They don’t like vouchers when vouchers clearly extend government power into areas where the government does things conservatives don’t like, such as government housing and government food subsidies. But they are all for efficient government when it does something they like, such as tax-funded education. They think government will be less intrusive. They are wrong. It will be more intrusive. Why? Because it will use vouchers to impose government rules and regulations on every organization that accepts the money.

They know this is true with respect to federal aid for higher education. But they turn a blind eye when it comes to government control over private schools, kindergarten through 12th grade.

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