Education is important. That’s why the government shouldn’t play teacher.

Posted on August 26, 2010 at 8.06 am

Q. What do you make of the Rawlsian idea of “effective freedom”? If I break my leg and am lying in the gutter with no resources to help myself how am I free? If the state is to tax, shouldn’t health and education be the primary services it owes its citizens as a result of the imposition? Protection of property rights might be the sole concern of the ‘night watchman’ state, but, you know, respect for property rights is free, and I would say an excellent side effect of good education. — ninefruits, from tumblr.

A. I’ve read Rawls, though it’s been a while and his ideas are hardly fresh in my mind.  At any rate, I’ll go question by question:

What do you make of the Rawlsian idea of “effective freedom”? If I break my leg and am lying in the gutter with no resources to help myself how am I free?

How are you not free?  No person is restraining you, and that’s what it is the responsibility of government to stop.  (Of course, if someone or their property has broken your leg and put you in the gutter, that is quite a different story.  But I’m assuming you just tripped over a…wild bird or something which could not possibly be a human crime.)  Basically, this confuses positive rights with freedom, and they are two very different things.

Note:  As a Christian, I would certainly feel a responsibility to help you if I found you in the gutter — as I suspect the vast majority of people would, Christian or otherwise.  So I’m not advocating not helping such a person (far from it), I’m just saying government isn’t the best man for the job.

Second note:  Hypotheticals are fun, but it’s also important to consider things realistically.  For instance, if all gun control laws were struck down tomorrow, would every single person be running around with a machine gun, creating armed mayhem?  Would teenage girls settle their spats with pistols and children shoot their way through playtime?  No, of course not.  Most people’s gun ownership status would not change; teenage girls would still have no interest in guns; and children would still have parents and/or lack of money preventing them from getting a firearm.  Similarly, we don’t have a big problem of injured people lying in gutters with everyone refusing to help them.  Flawed though our charitable system is, you would hardly be left there to freely suffer.  And instituting a libertarian government wouldn’t change that — if anything, more charities would spring up to fill the void government programs had left.

If the state is to tax, shouldn’t health and education be the primary services it owes its citizens as a result of the imposition?

Why health and education?  Aren’t those just the services you rather like?  Why not…aggressive war and military bases in 170 countries around the globe to keep Amurrca safe from the terrrists?  Some other people might prefer those primary services.

In fact, the primary services of the state are those (courts, police, defensive military, constitutionally limited legislature…that’s about it) which preserve freedom by guarding our persons and property against aggression, foreign or domestic.  If the state is to tax, these should be the result of the imposition and nothing else.  Anything beyond this is outside the just role of the state and inherently going to be catering to one group’s preferences at the (literal) expense of everyone else.  How would that be free?

Protection of property rights might be the sole concern of the ‘night watchman’ state, but, you know, respect for property rights is free, and I would say an excellent side effect of good education.

Indeed it is.  But does the state provide good education? No.  No, it does not. Especially not the federal government.  We all know this — most public schools suck (and that’s a link to an article from NYC’s 1990 public school teacher of the year). The state of our education system seems to be perpetually declining.  So yes, I do think education is important for a free society.  That’s exactly why I don’t want the government to continue its “educating.”

And, for the record, I went to four private schools, a highly-ranked public school, and homeschooled twice.  I learned less in the public school than I did in both the worst of the private schools and the homeschooling year in which I managed to do next to no school work.  The admitted logical problems with use of anecdotal evidence aside, I don’t think my experience was atypical, especially given the supposed quality of the government school.

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