By Nathan Barton
What should government provide? How? Under what limits?
Over at FEE.org, Kerry McDonald has an excellent article comparing public libraries and public schools. It triggered more thoughts and some memories of political campaigns from years back.
She points out that although both libraries and schools are “public” and almost always government agencies, they are very different and have seriously different impacts on people, learning, and society.
Her article can be summed up simply in her own words:
The main difference between public libraries and public schools is the level of coercion and state power that public schooling wields.
Although government-run libraries and government-run schools are funded by tax money (stolen from taxpayers), libraries are NOT mandatory and do not really have the sort of monopoly that the GRTF schools do. (Yes, she points out, you might not be able to check out a book or CD from a library in which district you do not reside, but you can still USE the library on-site. As I often do while traveling.)
She then discusses what it would be like if indeed GRTF libraries were run like GRTF schools: mandatory attendance and much more. I would add a few more things that we take for granted with GRTF schools: government-provided transportation to and from them, extracurricular activities added without number, government-furnished meals, counselors, and of course, additional fees on top of the supposedly “free education.”
I would also note that even though no state constitution (to my knowledge) requires that libraries be provided “free of tuition,” that I know of no public libraries in any state that require payment to allow entry.
The hypocrisy of government and politicians is obvious, once you make the comparison.
There are more “institutions” to which the insane organization and administration of GRTF schools can be compared, of course. I did so during several political campaigns twenty and more years ago, by comparing “essentials” and what we expect people to have.
Just as all people need education, so too do all people need food. Imagine if food were available ONLY through government-run, tax-funded grocery stores? Where there would be only a single grocery store in a geographical district. (This was in South Dakota, where a majority of school districts are rural and have but a single K-12 school, unlike urban districts.) And the only source of food was that store, paid for (mostly) by taxes. And where it might even be illegal to go to another store than the one you are assigned to.
Of course, the simile could be greatly expanded from that, having to do with rationing of food, medical evaluation to determine what kind of food you could get, and much else. But didn’t have to go that far to make the point.
Many people consider it a “right” to be adequately fed. In fact, FDR coined that “right” by stating that “Freedom from hunger” was essential and should be provided by government, way back in the 1930s. (To justify the then-new welfare state he was creating.) So why doesn’t government take over the food distribution system the way it has taking over the education system?
We know that a big part of that answer is because that would NOT work. Indeed, variations on that theme have been tried over the centuries. We know that in many locations, the “company store” was the only source of food for the workers and their families. It is today used as an example of corrupt business practices, because it gave power – nearly absolute power – by bosses over workers, and we know Lord Acton’s dictum. Another example of such a system is the 19th Century and early 20th Century reservation system, in which government prohibited hunting and (while trying to force AmerInd to be subsistence farmers under insane conditions) and then provided commodities (beef, corn, wheat, sugar, etc.) on which the tribes were to subsist. The corruption of the Indian Ring and the maltreatment of people (basically imprisoned on the reservations) is well-known.
And we have seen similar failures and abuses throughout the world and history. The starving of the Kulaks under Lenin and Stalin in Soviet Russia comes to mind. The killing fields of Cambodia are yet another. The closest thing to finding such a scheme which succeeded I can think of what that of Joseph ben Jacob in Egypt, where the Pharaoh’s government gathered the harvests of seven good years and then used it to feed the people in the seven bad years. (And even then, with what little we know, a lot of us question exactly how Pharaoh used it to create a tyranny in a once-free land.)
But it also important to know that there is NO MORE PROHIBITION in the US Constitution against governments taking over the distribution of food (that is, “nationalization” of food stores and distribution companies) than there is a prohibition against governments taking over education, or (a closer comparison) taking over some or all of the distribution and sale of beverage alcohol. (The only part which might be considered such a prohibition is the Tenth Amendment. However, this amendment is virtually completely ignored and would still allow states (or local) governments to take over food.)
Government has no more business providing education than it does providing food or liquor or any other consumer good.
(A related article that happened to go across my desktop today is also well worth reading – “How early is too early?” published by HSLDA, discussing appropriate ages for starting school and a lot of information on home- and private-schooling importance. That article contains numerous reasons that education should NOT be under government control or include compulsory attendance, age-based or not.)