The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

April 16, 2006

Single-Race Schools

The state legislature in Nebraska has adopted, and the governor has signed into law, a bill that divides Omaha’s public schools into districts that fall along racial lines: Black, Hispanic, and White. The key proponent of the bill, Ernie Chambers, is an African-American who believes this approach will give black parents more power over their childrens’ education.

This policy will strike many as misguided, and I agree. It rarely, if ever, makes sense for governments to treat people differently on the basis of race.

But the motivations of those advocating this policy are reasonable. Some black children might learn better in schools with other black children, just as some boys or girls might learn better in single-sex schools.

More broadly, learning styles and learning goals might differ across children in ways that most people would accept as reasonable: some kids need college prep while others need vocational training; some kids need science programs while others need language programs. And so on.

Then a policy that promotes variety and choice has real benefits. The policy that achieves this is vouchers.

Under vouchers, government need not take a stand on single-race schools or on other dimensions of variety. Instead, government provides vouchers and lets parents decide what is best for their kids.

Parents will not always make perfect choices. But many will use the flexibility provided by vouchers to find educational opportunities that best suit their kids.

In addition, vouchers diminish the need for government to take a stand on controversial issues like single-race schools. Most people will find it less objectionable that parents use vouchers to choose a single-race school than that government own and operate singles-race schools. This is exactly the current situation regarding parochial schools. Governments do not operate them, but existing voucher programs permit parents to choose them.

The voucher approach is not perfect. But as the Nebraska case illustrates, it allows the government to sidestep polarizing positions while making parents and children better off.

80 Comments:

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Just as with George Bush any eventuality is explained as a reason to invade Iraq or cut taxes on the rich, so with libertarians any eventuality is explained as a reason to implement vouchers.

It doesn't matter if the fix is straightforward. It doesn't matter if the reasoning is silly and implausible. What matters is the repetitive drumbeat of the propaganda term "vouchers".

European nations that have implemented vouchers tend to segregate their children along language, ethnic, or religious lines. Americans (with the exception of racists and religious extremists) have always pragmatically chosen the melting pot alternative. It's a huge win in terms of creating a populace that is not riven by innumerable rivalries. There's little controversy over it because of the transparency: everybody can see what's being done in the educational institutions.

However, the idea that public controversy is a problem is silly in and of itself. Controversy indicates information asymmetry, and is the information cost of resolving it in our system.

"Most people will find it less objectionable that parents use vouchers to choose a single-race school than that government own and operate singles-race schools."

This is a false dilemma. The less objectionable third option is for government to operate multiracial schools. And that's what's going to happen in Omaha: a federal lawsuit will point out that this "separate but equal" policy is unlawful.

What's really stopping vouchers is not unions, not government, but the public desire to be able to monitor that tax monies are being used to give children equal educations, teaching tolerance, and practical subjects. The libertarian notion of vouchers would also have madrasses teaching jihad, Black Panther run schools teaching revolution, white supremicist schools teaching open hatred: all sucking at the government tit in the name of freedom. And not having to justify their curricula to anybody. Public spending without public oversight and control is a guaranteed disaster.

 
At 7:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take the voucher analysis one logical step further. Why a voucher? Why not cash?

 
At 10:52 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Most libertarians only go along with voucher idea, because they think it is a better option that current policy.

The best option is wholly privatized. If we really wanted to improve the system and "correct" the positive externality of education, then we should subsidize education rather than monopolize it.

Why is seperate but equal, only "bad" when it is for race/ethnicity?

Also, the recent history of multi-racial schools, would likely not lend itself positively towards increasing its tyrannical proclivities.

I agree with your statement that it is public opinion that holds back vouchers, although I think people are right for all the wrong reasons.

 
At 4:15 PM, Blogger smilerz said...

You say that Europeans have segregated their children yet fail to support why this is bad.

The European nations that have vouchers also have achievement much higher than the US with less investment. If the goal of education is to educate then I think we are clearly on the wrong path.

 
At 7:44 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Mr Huben,

While you work your self into a lather about libertarian thought, you should scrutinize your own thoughts. You state:

Americans (with the exception of racists and religious extremists) have always pragmatically chosen the melting pot alternative.

Its good that you have such faith in the American people. You would probably conclude then that if vouchers were implemented, the vast majority of schools would have that same melting pot characteristic that Americans have accepted.

Oh, wait, no you don't. You seem to feel threatened by vouchers.

The libertarian notion of vouchers would also have madrasses teaching jihad, Black Panther run schools teaching revolution, white supremicist schools teaching open hatred: all sucking at the government tit in the name of freedom.

So which is it? Are Americans interested in "melting pot" schools, or just a bunch of various racists? For sure, if you had such faith in Americans as you had in the first quote, you would agree that we shouldn't be affraid of the parade of horrors you place in the second.

 
At 2:34 AM, Blogger Al Brown said...

Government should not be in the business of running or financing education. And, as it turns out, its not really necessary. All thats really needed is creative financing.

Education, in most cases, more than pays for itself. All thats needed is a new financial instrument that provides a financial return to investors paid from the future earnings of the student whose education is being financed.

I'd say pay that return out of the income taxes the graduate pays. The student can pay it directly in a perfectly libertarian world free of taxation should that ever occur.

 
At 10:55 AM, Blogger smilerz said...

I think that it is interesting that Huben never responds to substantive challenges to his posts, resorting to name calling and vacuous accusations.

 
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