The Reason Foundation: a Disgrace

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Reason is not libertarian, at least not on government subsidies to higher education

Shikha Dalmia is a senior analyst at the supposedly libertarian Reason Foundation. She writes an article which appeared in USA Today (September, 16, 2013, p. 8A). It is entitled “Higher education plans should focus on learning.”

In it she states, and I quote: “… there would be nothing wrong with making federal aid conditional on the use of these tests.”

Which tests? She says this of them: “Most higher education experts regard the Collegiate Learning Assessment as a good measure of how higher education is increasing the skills of students. It tests a sample of entering and graduating students to measure the improvement in their critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills. One-third of students in universities that use such tests show no gains after four years, which is why other universities aren’t clamoring to adopt them.”

Miss. Dalmia does a good job of criticizing President Obama’s initiative because it “would tie schools’ financial aid to ‘affordability and accessibility.’ Universities graduating more low-income students receiving federal Pell grants would get a higher rating. In short, existing federal aid will justify more future federal aid. The ratings would promote political, not educational, goals.”

But then she says this: “Texas mandates that its public universities use the test and publish the results. Obama needn’t go that far. But there would be nothing wrong with making federal aid conditional on the use of these tests. ”

But how in bloody blue blazes can this be reconciled with libertarianism? “… nothing wrong with making federal aid conditional on the use of these tests. ”

At least for the libertarian, there is lots wrong with this. First of all, this senior analyst is acting as an efficiency expert for the state. She is trying to make public universities run more effectively, more efficiently. (All universities nowadays, even private ones with the exception of Hillsdale and Grove City, are “public” in that they are subsidized by the government.) But if the very system is rotten to the core, why oh why attempt to support it? Why not, instead, support disbanding it, and replacing it with a completely private unsubsidized system? Is that not the real libertarian approach?

Secondly, just where does this Reasonite think “federal aid” comes from? From the tooth fairy?  No, it is derived from taxation. But taxes are compulsory! Ok, ok, a limited government libertarian might acquiesce in such coercive levies for armies, courts and police, the minarchist view. But for higher education? That, surely, cannot be compatible with libertarianism.

Perhaps Miss. Dalmia has not heard of the fact that most of what passes for “higher education” is an intellectual cess-pool. With but few honorable exceptions, most of what is taught therein, at least in the social sciences, is socialism, economic fascism, welfare statism, egalitarianism, feminist “studies,” black “studies,” queer “studies,” sociology, etc.

Our leading universities are politically correct. Nary is a libertarian word allowed to be uttered on their campuses, except of course when Ron Paul is invited to speak there. Well, there are a few other exceptions, and here I would include my own economics department at Loyola University New Orleans. (If you are a high school student and want a college education where at least some professors support Austrian economics and libertarian political philosophy c’mon down to the Big Easy; transfer students from other colleges are most welcome too.)

Further, making federal largesse “conditional” on states dancing to the tune piped out from Washington D.C. is a frontal attack on decentralism. Why should a supposed libertarian support the beltway vis a vis the hinterland? The presumption ought to be the other way around. (This presumption may be rebutted in my view, for example when President Reagan threatened to withhold monies from New York City unless it rescinded its rent control legislation, but Dalmia offers no reason for this being done in the present case.)

All in all not a very good “show,” as the British would say, at least from the libertarian perspective. Can they not find any libertarians to hire at the Reason Foundation? For a previous critique of mine of this organization, see here.

When Reason first began, way back in the day, it was a libertarian organization. It was started by Lanny Friedlander, a libertarian. At that time, they would have given their eye teeth to get an op ed published in a mass circulation newspaper such as USA today. If they would but have had that opportunity, you can bet your bottom dollar they would have used it to promote libertarianism. They would then not have supported statism, as in the present case. What happened? Will the real Reason, the libertarian Reason, please come back? Where have you gone, sweet Reason? Have you “grown in office?” But you’re not even located in Washington D.C. Well, maybe that inside the beltway philosophy is not a geographical concept.

12:51 pm on September 22, 2013