Why We Won’t Hush: A Response to Bast and Harmer
Or, how I survived the briar patch and came out grinning
by Marshall Fritz
Originally published in The Education Liberator, Vol. 2, No. 8, October 1996
WebEditor’s note: To see a summary of the 10,000-word Bast and Harmer article that was printed in the same issue of The Education Liberator, click here. The Cato Institute published a paper with the full article and a response from Douglas Dewey in March 1997 as Policy Analysis #269, titled “Vouchers and Educational Freedom: A Debate.” You can also read the full article at the Heartland Institute
When I received Joe Bast’s and David Harmer’s 10,000 word (single spaced) defense of government vouchers, I said a prayer. I prayed that if they were right, that not only would I see it, but that I’d have the courage to admit it.
My fears that I was wrong were heightened by Joe’s handwritten note, “Read it and weep.”
But when I encountered the first attack on my motives and person, I began to brighten. After all, if they had reason and facts, they wouldn’t resort to ad hominem. As I continued, I became almost giddy in a Bre’r Rabbit sort of way. They had not responded to the central issue Doug Dewey and I had raised: Government vouchers will increase dependency by recruiting four million more people onto tax-financed edu-welfare.
As they created various straw men and effectively attacked them, my confidence grew. Near the end, I found their self-inflicted coup-de-gras: They told me to hush. When one is convinced of the truth of one’s position, one is glad to engage in discourse. One does not ask the opponent to hush.
Bast and Harmer Assertion #1: Fritz opposes steps toward privatization without putting forth his own plan, and this is worse than criminal negligence.
Marshall Fritz Response #1: In 1994, I began publishing and revising a document, “A Beginning, But Not Quite a Plan.” In The Education Liberator, we began publishing how-to articles aimed at developing a plan. In March, 1996, we started publishing and revising, “No More Reform: A Practical Plan for Separating School and State.” It is now at version 8.2; 500 copies have been distributed. Send a contribution of any size and mention this article, and you will get this 64-page bound report.
B&H Assertion #2: Separationists think letting people keep their own money is the same as a subsidy or entitlement, and believe that a family’s income belongs to the government, and that a family must petition the government to keep some of it.
MF Response #2: At the risk of sounding harsh, how does a government voucher let a person living in government housing on food stamps and AFDC, keep his or her own money? Only by using a collectivist reification, “parents,” can B&H pull this off. For sure, they would never propose a reverse-means tested government voucher (one usable only by the prosperous).
The assertion that Freedom Loving Anti Voucher folks (FLAVs) believe family income belongs to the government is simply odd. I know that Joe knows that Walter Block, David Henderson, Gary North, Lew Rockwell, Hans Sennholz, and the late Murray Rothbard are well known for asserting exactly the opposite, that family income belongs to families, not to the government.
Speaking of letting people keep their own money and trusting them to make their own decisions, I would not object to a plan that reduced per child spending of government schools by 20 percent a year for ten years, then ended the remainder (about 10 percent) in the eleventh year, especially if there were tax reductions of the same amount each year. Would B&H be against such a plan because it did not require those receiving the tax cuts to spend them on education?
B&H Assertion #3: We should give parents and school administrators the opportunity to decide for themselves whether vouchers are a blessing or a curse.
MF Response #3: If we ask the food stamp recipient about his food stamps, he will curse that they are insufficient and too restrictive. He will not mention a blessing. He will mention his “rights,” and be angry that they are not being sufficiently met. I need not take very many spoonsful from the Pacific Ocean to decide that it is all salty. It takes only a few spoonsful of history and observation to recognize that human capacity for sloth, covetousness, and anger is both high and widespread.
B&H Assertion #4: So great is their fear of government control that FLAVs would rather live with socialism than experiment with privatization. FLAVs have a lack of vision and faith.
MF Response #4: This argument hangs on an idiosyncratic use of the word “privatization,” giving it a meaning of “vending out.” Using this concept, the U.S. Post Office “privatized” in the 1920s when it stopped flying its own planes and contracted with airlines.
When government owns and administers the means of production, we call that “socialism.” What name do we give to a system where government directs production, even funds it, but leaves the actual operating units in individual hands? The name that comes closest is fascism. I challenge B&H to point to examples where fascism has been a stepping stone from socialism to private enterprise.
Rather than Separationists lacking vision and faith, I contend that those who believe the state is necessary as an education funding vehicle display a lack of faith in the market.
B&H Assertion #5: A voucher plan would reduce public spending on education.
MF Response #5: B&H are right for the short haul. But perhaps the reason parent-financed schools are less expensive is that they do NOT have access to tax-financing. If we look at what government financing has done in health care, we can reasonably predict that the savings will be temporary.
B&H Assertion #6: The great majority of private schools differ little from their public school counterparts. The overwhelming majority exist because parents want religious instruction and discipline, not because they do a better job of educating children.
MF Response #6: If this is true, why do B&H want more children going to private schools?
B&H Assertion #7: Some critics of vouchers portray the children currently being victimized by government schools as being unworthy of compassion or assistance.
MF Response #7: This assertion is wrong, even bizarre. I do not know how to respond to it.
B&H Assertion #8: If philosophical purity or moral absolutism prevents the FLAVs from promoting vouchers, they should at least cease standing in the way.
MF Response #8: I believe that government vouchers will do harm to our children, our education system, and our country. First, several million more children and families will become dependent upon government financing. This is an increase in the number on edu-welfare. Second, parent-financed schools will lose their independence and become dependent upon government financing. Government controls will follow and eventually strangle those schools just as the government operated schools are already strangulated.
By telling me and others “Hush!,” B&H are saying we should subordinate what we think is best for children and schools to what they think is best. I see no reason I should give up my independent thought to them. In fact, their call for us to “Hush!” is powerful evidence that they have not made their case, even in their own minds.
B&H pride themselves on their ability to make certain predictions: i.e., that vouchers are imminent and probable, that tax-funding will do little or no harm to parent-financed schools, and that millions of children will be helped by attending tax-financed “private” schools. Further, while they want Separation, they think it so remote in time or probability that, by their calculus, it is incapable of rescuing children from the desperate situation they are in now.
They think I’m incorrect in my predictions, which are largely the opposite of theirs. Then they claim I am immoral (“beyond criminal negligence”) for disagreeing with their predictions and acting on my own.
How much evil is OK?
But the real disagreement goes deeper than a difference over predicted outcomes. It goes to the ancient conflict between pragmatism and principle. I believe that humans are best guided by finding principles and sticking to them. This isn’t the forum to discuss the source of the principles (God, Allah, natural law via evolution, etc.), but rather whether principles should be discarded in favor of pragmatics.
B&H lambast me and others for “philosophical purity and moral absolutism.” Let me use a rather ugly hypothetical situation to highlight the difference:
Due to a freak nuclear accident, there are only 17 fertile women left on earth. Living deep in caves in Ethiopia, this small cloister of Coptic nuns escaped the world-wide sterilization that affected all women and even babies in utero. Continuation of the human species depends upon the use of their ova. Each of them refuses. Would you justify rape in this instance? Would you forcibly harvest their ova to implant in other women? Or, like me, would you think it better to stick to some principle of not committing aggression against others?
How much evil is OK, if it is doing some good?
I think it is evil to recruit people into dependency. Tax-funded vouchers, when offered to people who currently pay their children’s tuition at a parent-financed school, seduce those parents into dependency. I think that is evil and sufficient cause to forgo government vouchers as a tactic in the march toward Separation.
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