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Saturday, September 26, 2009

School Vouchers Test Anarcholibertarian Strategy

Anti-school-voucher anarchists are often so mired in their anarchist abolitionism that they can't bring themselves to confront this simple question: would vouchers decrease the entanglement of school and state?

Even an anarcholibertarian like David Friedman has spoken favorably of vouchers as a way to start getting the government out of education -- where (bad news!) it's already completely entrenched. For 89% of K-12 customers, the government already has total control of
  • service boundaries,
  • inter-district busing,
  • admissions policy,
  • capital spending decisions,
  • textbook selection,
  • curriculum standards, including treatment of creationism, the Bible, gay marriage, etc.
  • testing standards,
  • teacher hiring standards,
  • union rules,
  • teacher pensions,
  • prayer in school,
  • pledge of allegiance,
  • school uniforms,
  • religious calendar and observance,
  • zero-tolerance rules for toy weapons,
  • campus smoking,
  • drug testing,
  • PE requirements,
  • etc. etc.
With vouchers, the government's bureaucrats would have much less control over the education industry, and (if done right) not much more control over schools than food stamps gives them over grocery stores. Why is that prospect so horrible for anarchists to contemplate?

Anarchists need to make up their minds about which is more likely to herald the glorious dawn of anarchotopia: a minimal state that shows people how well markets work, or a maximal state that shows people how poorly governments work. Some anarchists seem to fear small government more than they fear big government. The LP is not the right party for anarchists whose plan is for the government to keep growing until it completely collapses under its own weight. There are already plenty of other political parties working on that plan.


Thane Eichenauer said...

The issue of education vouchers was discussed at the last county Libertarian Party meeting here in Phoenix, Arizona.

There were a few Libertarians present who were pro-voucher. I was not.

I basically asserted that he who pays the bill will set the tune. If the government issues a check then it will be tempted (and what government avoids temptation these days) to dictate rules.

The US government issues education vouchers and education loans to individuals and now has claimed control over:

* admissions policy
* discrimination policy

Some might say that the US government strings over colleges are light in comparison to K-12 non-private schools but I say that strings are strings and that the economic perversion caused by government college funding programs are reason enough to yell HALT to those enthusiastic proponents of vouchers.

To this day I hear of vocational colleges offering to educate people to be chefs and video game designers. The world doesn't need the number of chefs and video game designers our local vocational colleges are producing.

Debbie H. said...

I am disappointed to see this continuing focus on maintaining the status quo in what is arguably the easiest and most important place to start moving towards freedom, the education of our children.

Why not focus on talking about first taking charge of your own family and if you really want your children to have freedom, you can have it right now, just take your kids out?

And then help others get their kids out.

I especially have to snicker at how you had to interject

"(if done right)"

into your post. That really says all we need to know about how well this idea will work now doesn't it?

Brian Holtz said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on whether ending government ownership and operation of schools counts as "maintaining the status quo".

Debbie H. said...

Sorry but I just don't get it. Is your purpose to free people from government-funded education or not?

You say the 89% figure is bad news but if we really want to change things, then we should be focusing our energy on the great news, which is that 11% are not in government schools.

Education is the one area we can really start helping people find at least one way out of government control. We can do it today, right this minute.

No one has to wait for people who think there's a way to reform if we just "do it right."

You can dismiss my comment and say we just need to "agree to disagree" and stay mired in your attitude that reforming of the system will actually happen, let alone work, but that certainly does nothing to help free families from government education right now.

But perhaps that's not your goal?

Brian Holtz said...

Ending government funding of education is just one of my purposes. Ending government ownership of schools is another. I don't see where I said that anyone has to "wait" for anything -- just like I'm manifestly not for "maintaining the status quo".

Please try disagreeing with what I actually say.

Debbie H. said...

How about if I ask a clarification question instead:

Since you say vouchers will only interfere to a similar level of control as food stamps, does that mean your voucher idea, i.e. education stamps, would be restricted to those who qualify as poor, as food stamps are?

Brian Holtz said...

If we can get vouchers to be means-tested from the get-go, that's great. Even if they're not, I'd still vote for them, because that gives us a dial for decreasing the entanglement of school funding and state -- while also eliminating or greatly decreasing the sorts of government controls that I listed in my article.

I'm all for people boycotting the public schools if they can afford it, but doing so no more decreases government theft for school funding than does a completely-not-means-tested voucher program. (In fact, such a program might still decrease such government theft, if you believe that competition decreases costs.)

Vernon L. Etzel said...

I've been a proponent of education vouchers since 1981,and it's always hit a brick wall in the LP. It goes to Rand's "Robbing Peter to Pay Paul" principle. Of course, if Paul is the courts or military, that's OK. The issue isn't paying Paul, but robbing Peter. Who cares what crooks do with their money? Its great that geolibertarians are holding strong to free market principles while rejecting feudal land policies.

Vernon L. Etzel said...

Ending government funding for education is a conservative principle, not necessarily a libertarian one. We don't advocate ending government funding for military for example. There is a big difference between food stamps and State Farms-- one enhances a free market, the other creates a state monopoly. Big difference. If government funding is "morally acquired", there's no reason the protection of "Life and Liberty" can't include basic human services.. IMO

Debbie H. said...

Vernon I do not understand your points at all. You think government interference in a market enhances a free market? And how in the world could government funding ever be "morally aquired?????"

Vernon L. Etzel said...

Nope, absolutely not. I completely believe in free markets to provide all human services, including education and health care. This is the disconnect with conservatism: not being able to see a difference between direct subsidies, like food stamps, and socialism, like state farms. Big difference.

Vernon L. Etzel said...

As for how governments can "morally acquire" their funding-- if you believe that all taxation is theft, I sort of agree. However, land and natural resources, patents, other things that might be a moral source of income for "government", or whatever anarchist concept you're into. It's not something to debate here in this little comment thread. The issue is that the morality of the taking isn't justified by military protection any more than other spending strategies.

Brian Holtz said...

Debbie, there are lots of potential revenue sources that various libertarians defend as moral: contract insurance, returning ground rent via land value taxes, pollution taxes, congestion taxes, resource depletion taxes, resource auctions, "demand revelation" voting, refundable trusts, etc. Each of these is arguably not force-initiating and thus not "theft".

Debbie H. said...

If the funds are raised with the voluntary cooperation of both parties, then I'm fine with it.

Brian Holtz said...

Fines aren't voluntary. Are fines "theft"?

Debbie H. said...

I don't know, what is the fine for?

Do fines occur when people voluntarily contract with each other for products and services?

Would a business like a restaurant impose some sort of fine on one of its customers for, say, smoking? Or would they just kick them out if smoking is not allowed in their business?

Brian Holtz said...

Debbie, if we can't agree on the state's moral authority to impose fines on aggression that occurs within its jurisdiction, then the details don't matter much. So I'll just note that the applicability of your restaurant/eviction analogy hinges on assignment of property rights in land, a topic on which you might not share my geolibertarian principles.

Is this is the first time you've heard of geolibertarianism? You can read more about it at

Debbie H. said...

No it's not the first I've heard of Georgism and LVT. As a matter of fact, I've been debating/discussing this very issue the past 2 weeks on a yahoo group I moderate.

It's an interesting theory that misses the point because it assumes a state and taxation are necessary, a position I do not hold any longer.

I also do not agree that a state can even hold moral authority over a geographic region.

Brian Holtz said...

Whence The Authority Of The State?

Do Markets Under-Produce Public Goods?

Can Torts Police All Negative Externalities?

Debbie H. said...

There is no room in blog comments to discuss your links in depth.
But maybe that's why you moved to doing that.

I will however read each one and then stop when I hit on something that doesn't make sense to me.

Past that point I guess we're finished here. But back to your original posting, again I just wish
libertarians would at least agree that education is the primary way we are going to make any strides so if we continue to propose ideas that justify the use of government schools, everyone will continue to be taught at young ages that government force is moral.

On to your links

1. I stopped at the second sentence, "everyone is created with an equalright to protect the rights of other individuals" Comment: There is an equal right to protect others, but it is not a moral obligation. If it were most of us could not even live our lives because we'd be too busy with this obligation.

2. In the third sentence the author proposes national defense as a non-rival non-excludable good. This assumes someone can legitimately create a service, monopolize it and force it upon everyone at the point of a gun.
Which is of course pretty ironic when talking of defense. We have no idea what would develop in a voluntary market just as we can't with anything when in the free market. Yet people find solution and innovations. For one interesting idea on how it could work, look up Stefan Molyneux's
DRO idea.

3. More assumptions by people only thinking in terms of what government has already created. For example, if federal government did not get involved in forcing interstate highways, would that particular mode of transportation have developed in the same way? Since that made it easy to use cars as a mode of transport, it grew fast. We have no idea whether we'd have an auto pollution problem if roads were left up to
the market.

Brian Holtz said...

The whole point of vouchers is that there would be no such thing as "government schools" -- i.e. schools financed by anything other than tuition payments controlled by parents. You apparently don't understand the voucher argument.

1. I don't say there's a moral obligation to protect the rights of others. I say there's a moral obligation to respect the local rights coordination framework, and a moral obligation not to appropriate the ground rent it creates.

2. I've given the textbook argument that the public good of national defense would be under-produced. Your response is simply "nuh uh".

DRO's aren't for national defense. DRO's haven't ever worked in an interesting experiment:

3. I'm not making "assumptions", I'm reporting the HISTORICAL FACT that such negative externalities have NEVER been adequately policed by torts alone. The "assumption" here is the fantasy that anarchism could solve any of these problems, when it never ever has.

Anarchism is faith-based libertarianism.

Debbie H. said...

(I'm going to just stick to the original blog post, too much to deal with otherwise.)

Okay, so maybe you're right, maybe I don't understand the voucher argument.

As I understand it, and maybe I'm wrong here, vouchers still depend on having a government point guns at me to hand over money for other people's education.

As I understand it, vouchers just change the manner in which the stolen money is spent. Is that correct?

If I'm correctly understanding it so far, can you help me further understand how vouchers solve the root problem of people pointing guns at me to take money for education?

Vernon L. Etzel said...

Debbie: I think the "moral argument" about sources of funds here is that you, directly or indirectly, are pointing a gun at everyone else claiming that some piece of land is yours. Perhaps you own 5000 acres of coal-rich land. By what right? The violence of property rights goes back to the beginning of time, the histories of Conquest. Government, guns, secures your little dotted lines. It keeps people off your lawn. As a human being, though, you have inherent rights, which are different.

Vernon L. Etzel said...

If you don't see a moral source of funding for government, then all government is immoral in your view. Brian wants to reduce the impact of government on our lives, the control it has over our liberties. That's certainly libertarian. More-so than a tax credit scheme which entrenches policy with the IRS. If the only argument against public welfare is theft, the argument is moot if those funds are morally acquired. Again, there's a big difference between food stamps and state farms, between direct-subsidy vouchers and state schools. Big difference-- free markets vs. state monopoly.