The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

March 09, 2006

Military Recruitment and Federal Funding

In a decision handed down earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a federal law that compels colleges and universities accepting federal funds to permit military recruiters on campus. Several law schools had sought to ban such recruitment activities out of opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The Court’s ruling is not especially controversial; 8-0 decisions are few and far between. And the ruling is consistent with most people’s common sense that if institutions of higher learning want the government’s money, they must accept the conditions under which it is given.

The Court’s decision does raise a more troubling issue, however; it shows that government support of education means government control of education. This control is not absolute, since schools can decline government money. But eschewing federal funds puts an institution at a competitive disadvantage, so the funding hook helps government push various policies on higher education. At a minimum this suppresses variety and innovation; in the extreme it facilitates thought control.

Whether this negative of government funding outweighs any benefits is a more difficult question. At a minimum, however, such funding comes with strings attached.


At 6:24 AM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

One thing I love about right wing (including libertarian) political arguments is the stream of unsupported assertions which get all the bobbleheads nodding in unison.

Take this one: "At a minimum this suppresses variety and innovation; in the extreme it facilitates thought control."

First, we have some splendid counterexamples, such as desegregation.

And in context, how is requiring equal access for military recruiters suppression or thought control?

This case is about whether private institutions can promote censorship. Not about federal infliction of policies.

Perhaps, Professor Miron, you can detail some of the supression you feel.

At 7:17 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Alan Miron said...

The evidence for my view is compelling. Consider first the extreme case: totalitarian governments such as those in the former Soviet Union or Communist China. These regimes controlled the education sector completely; there was no variety or innovation, and the explicit purpose of government control was to enforce a set of political beliefs.

In modern democracies, the stiutation is less extreme but still serious. Most European governments run the higher education sector; the vitality of these institutions pales in incomparison to the U.S. When was the last time you heard of a U.S. student seeking a Ph.D. in Europe, as opposed to the other way around?

At the primary and secondary level of education, the effects of government control are even less dramatic because the U.S. still has substantial decentralization of education decisions. Nevertheless, much variety that could exist is minimally available at best (e.g., schools that offer french immersion, or science-focussed curricula or 11-month schedules). And local governments enforce uniform curricula routinely; many of these are disasters (e.g., math programs that focus on writing, not math).

To be clear, I oppose the federal law in question. My point is that federal funding of education opens the door for further interventions, and many of these undesirable.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger KipEsquire said...

Two points:

--Unanimous SCOTUS decisions are hardly "few and far between." They occur all the time. You just don't hear about them.

--Did you even read the opinion? C.J. Roberts made it very clear that Congress could require colleges to grant access even if there were no funding.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger John Harvard said...


1. Even when you have a good point to make, there's no need to be a d*ck about it.

2. I just took a very quick look at the opinion, and the only passage that seems to correspond to your point is at the start of section III. There, the Court says that under Art. 1 sec. 8, Congress has authority to require campus access for recruiters if in doing so Congress does not exceed other constitutional limitations, including the First Amendment. So, simply stating that it's clear from the opinion that Congress can require access does not resolve the issue.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

The evidence Professor Miron presents does NOT support his statement "At a minimum this suppresses variety and innovation; in the extreme it facilitates thought control." I'm somewhat surprised at how weak his answer is.

His "extreme case" of totalitarian governments is not the USA, where we have any number of checks and balances on the actions of government. So it just doesn't apply to a US supreme court decision.

Examples of European universities having less "vitality" is a bald assertion of corellation indicating cause, a common mistake.

Counterfactual assertions about how diversity in primary and secondary education could be greater is just unsupported nonsense that doesn't even pass the sniff test: the vast majority of private schools operate in totally boring and traditional homogeneity. And if enforcing "uniform curricula" is such an evil, it doesn't really matter what granularity it's inforced at: state level or (say) university level as at Harvard. Such vague and hackneyed complaints only appeal to ideological bobbleheads who have already bought into the arguments.

JH: I agree with you. I believe I heard on the radio that the decision stated that Congress could in any event require access because of its power to raise armies. If that's the case, the federal funding is irrelevant. On the other hand, I suspect a strong argument could be made based on the 3rd Amendment that such access by recruiters might be the equivalent of quartering in a house.

In any event, I think the correct solution is abolition of the silly "don't ask, don't tell" policy and eliminating discrimination against gays in the armed forces. That is probably where the libertarian argument should be: that the government doesn't really have any legitimate need to discriminate against gays in the armed forces any mor ethan they did against blacks.

At 5:46 PM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Oh, and I neglected to point out that there is a really clear, topical example that would support Professor Miron's assertion: the prohibition of development of new lines of stem cells. Harvard is building a new research facility without federal funds specifically to address this federal sillyness. You'd think that such a clear example would be used instead of three vastly inferior arguments.

But once again, this is a very rare occurence, and it hardly requires denial of funds to be enforced: it could as easily be made criminal.

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