Now that George Bush has ended all problems in the Middle East
by exterminating several hundred thousand Iraqis, he has moved to
fulfill his campaign threat to become our "Education President."
His first step was to fire bumbling education bureaucrat Lauro Cavazos
as Education Secretary, and to replace him with the beloved Governor
Lamar Alexander, who is under the control of those baleful neocons.
In particular, Alexander's control is neocon education theorist
Chester Finn, aided by educational historian Diane Ravitch. Essentially,
the neocon program for education is to bring us more of the problem
rather than the solution: that is, to escalate the already calamitous
statization of the family, and to bring all kids under the domination
of the swollen and monstrous educationist bureaucracy. In the battle
over education, the neocon view is all power to the teachers and
administrators (good) that is, to the State's technocrat
New Class, whom the neocons represent, and all power to be taken
from the parents (bad). More renamed "magnet" schools, expensive
national testing to be administered by you know who
and we can expect that, sooner or later, the spectre of "merit pay"
boodle for the aforesaid "New Class" will not be far behind. (N.B.
Neocon attacks on the "New Class" are not to be taken seriously.
They are essentially nuanced though nonetheless bitter family feuds
within the statist New Class, waged between Truman-Humphrey
Democrats [the neocons] and McGovern-Kennedy Democrats ["left-liberals"].)
But what about the tiny carrot of "choice" held out by the Bush
administration? Shouldn't libertarians welcome any elements of parental
choice in education? Shouldn't we therefore favor some form of federal
aid to private schools, thereby allegedly expanding parental choice?
There is no doubt about the ultimate libertarian position on the
public school question: it is to abolish that monstrous system root
and branch, and return education to the total control, management,
and choice of the parents. Another plank in the libertarian program
is to abolish the despotism of compulsory school laws, which dragoons
kids into either the public school system itself or into private
schools duly certified and approved by the State.
That last clause should be noted and underlined, because it underscores
the major problem with many "transition programs" that libertarians
have fallen for in recent years. Simply calling for abolition of
the public school system seems too sectarian to most libertarians,
who yearn to advance their ideas idealistically in the public arena.
Hence, in education as in many other areas, libertarians have latched
onto transition demands that would bring us half or third of the
libertarian loaf as better than achieving nothing at all. While
I agree that half a loaf is better than achieving nothing at all,
it is of the utmost importance to make sure that the transition
demand is (a) substantial and radical enough to worry about, and
(b) helps to achieve the full program rather than undercutting it.
In other words, the transition goal must not be such as to undercut
our work against the ultimate goal itself.
On education, the favorite transition demand, pushed particularly
by Friedmanite "free-market" economists is the "voucher" plan, touted
as expanding parental choice. The parent receives a voucher which
he can use to pay tuition at a private as well as a public school
of his choice. I have always opposed the voucher scheme bitterly,
because it enshrines in "libertarian" favor a policy forcing taxpayers
to pay for the education of other people's children. It is in no
sense a privatization or market policy.
Furthermore, Friedmanites do not even label vouchers as a transition
demand, but hail it as a good in itself. But in that case, why not
have taxpayer-financed vouchers for everything else: housing, food,
clothing, etc.? Vouchers look like nothing so much as a slightly
more efficient freer form of welfare state, and it would be especially
pernicious in diverting libertarian energies to enshrining and sanctifying
As an alternative to the Friedmanite voucher scheme, I have long
supported the idea of tuition tax-credits. Parents would be able
to deduct their private school tuition off the top from their
income tax bills (that is, as a tax "credit" and not as a mere deduction
from taxable income). The standard free-marketeer critique of tax
credits is that such credits are really "subsidies" fully as much
as vouchers, but I have rebutted vehemently that tax credits or
exemptions are not "subsidies," because it can never be a
"subsidy" to allow people to keep more of their own money. A subsidy
to X only exists when the State takes money out of Y's pocket to
give to X. And, of course, if you don't pay enough income tax to
cover school tuition, then your credits are indeed limited to your
tax payment, so that the credit scheme can never entail a genuine
Well, once in a blue moon, I change my mind on a political issue,
and this is one case. I have now abandoned support for tax credits.
I have been convinced by an argument relayed to me from an old friend,
paleoconservative Dr. Gary North, and seconded by other leading
paleos. My God, have I abandoned liberty at last, under the terrible
influence of these "horrible fascists," as one Modal has called
them? Not quite. North's argument is as follows, and it will be
instructive for all Modals out there to parse it carefully: whether
it be vouchers or tax credits, the State will decide which private
schools are worthy to receive them. If those schools are not deemed
worthy, that is, if they are not Politically Correct in all sorts
of ways, they will be stricken from the approved list. The result,
then, of vouchers or tax credits will be, in the name of expanding
parental choice, to destroy the current private school system
and to bring it under total governmental control. Parents who want
to send their kids to really private schools, schools which
may be Politically Incorrect in many ways, will then have to pay
tuition to a third set of genuinely private schools, after
paying taxes to support two sets of schools, the public and the
Officially Approved Private.
I had only to hear this argument to be converted. It's not that
I never thought of the problem of approved private schools before,
it's just that I had not given it sufficient weight. One argument
that paleoconservatives make about libertarians is that we tend
to become so enamored of our "abstract" though correct theory that
we tend to underweigh concrete political or cultural problems, and
here is a lovely example. Once we focus on the question, it should
be clear that, in our present rotten political and cultural climate,
there is no way that the State would allow parents to choose genuinely
private schools in a tax credit system. So the problem with tax
credits is not the Subsidy Question, but granting the State any
right to rule over our choices.
So do we have any transitional demands left in education, short
of abolishing the public-school system? Sure we do. In addition
to abolishing compulsory schooling (i.e., school truant laws), we
can battle against every school bond issue, every expansion of public-school
budgets, and in favor of all attempts to cut and restrict them,
and within those budgets to slash away at federal and state
budgets, and to try to decentralize and localize as much as possible.
Is that enough to do?