Education and Government

By Eric Wadsworth, April 10 2010

This was written as a reply to a facebook thread, so it's pretty informal. If I made any mistakes in my facts, just let me know.

First of all, it's important to understand how much everyone pays the government for education. I directly pay about $1800 every year in property taxes for my house, to the state government, and more than half of that goes to the public education. But that's the small portion. Business in the state pay much higher property taxes, most of which goes to education.

So, every time you buy a loaf of bread, some percentage of that price is there to cover taxes, and is paid to the state government as part of the property tax that the grocery store pays, and that the bakery pays, and that the flour mill pays, etc. That adds up.

The federal government takes money from people via income tax, and even more from businesses. They pay around $50 billion for education each year. Lots of that is given to the states as federal support for public education. So, when you go to the water park and have fun on the water slides, you're paying for public education.

So, the point is that everyone pays a LOT of money for education.

The problem when the government provides a service is that the customers lose a direct feedback mechanism. If a free market, if there is a service I want, I can look around and find several providers of the service, and choose the one that provides the quality that I am willing to pay for. If I think that the service stinks, I stop paying for it, and give my money to a different provider. If enough people stop buying something, hopefully the seller will go bankrupt, and the workers can get different jobs and start doing things that are productive elsewhere (this is why government bailouts to "rescue" businesses that have demonstrated that they are useless are such a horrible idea).

When the government is providing it, everyone pays for it, and you get whatever is given to you. You don't have much choice in the matter. If you hate it, you can try and fight the system, and good luck with that.

The free market naturally encourages healthy competition, as businesses need to keep the quality high and the costs low in order to attract and keep customers. And in the process, the people have many options, and lots of freedom, and people have jobs and can earn a living. If this is education we're talking about, then the service providers are schools, and teachers get paid what they should receive, depending on how much the customers (the parents) are willing to pay.

But this whole system doesn't work once the government steps in and forces everyone to pay for a service that they provide.

But wait, education is important, and what about people who can't afford to pay for it? If the government weren't an unfair player in the market, there would be half a dozen schools in your vicinity, all trying to provide the best education for the money. You, as a customer, a parent of a child, can choose one that meets your needs. There will be ones that cost a lot, and there will be ones that cost very little, and lots of options in between. And only ONE of these options would cost more than you are currently ALREADY PAYING for public education.

Remember, you've got all this money in your pocket, that the government hasn't taken from you in taxes to pay for public education.

Government is always more inefficient and wasteful than a private company, because governments don't earn, they spend. A company that is inefficient eventually goes out of business, while a government just takes more money from the people in taxes.

But what about those people who STILL can't afford to pay to send their kids to a private school, even though now it's affordable for most people? Shouldn't we use the force of government to take money from people who, perhaps, don't have kids, and use that money to send underprivileged kids to school, because society as a whole benefits when the population is educated?

Now that is a very compelling argument. Many people say that "Yes, of course, education is important, we need to take money from people to pay for it."

But I say "No". And here's why.

This gets back to principles. The one here is: "It is better for people to have the freedom to make bad choices than it is to force them to make good ones."

As applied to this situation, since I do not have authority to put a gun to the head of my neighbor and take his money, and use it for a good purpose, the government also does not have this authority. When the government does this, the provider of the money has performed no charitable act, and the recipient of the money has no gratitude. The human spirit has been raped.

I would hope that people would voluntarily pay the tuition for children to receive a better education than they could afford. But I am not willing to force people to do so by taxing them. Even evil rich people. It's just not right.

When you introduce charity into the system, it becomes a wonderful thing! Let me show how with an example.

Sean and his wife had seven children, six of which were school age, and one younger daughter. Sean had a great job, he was a skilled surveyor. and he made quite a bit of money. But one day he fell off a cliff while on a hike, and was paralized from the waist down. He could no longer perform his job so he had to switch to a desk job that didn't pay nearly as much.

They lived in a country where the government refused to tax the citizens to pay for taking care of people who had difficult situations. Sean had decided not to buy a disability insurance policy, so he was suddenly in a big financial problem. He had to sell his large house and move to a smaller one in a less expensive neighborhood.

He also had to withdraw his children from the expensive, but very good, school that they had been enrolled in. At this point, Sean really wished he had opted to purchase one of the disability insurance policies! But it was up to him, and he had decided not to, and this was the consequence.

There were several schools available in his neighborhood, but with six kids in school, he could not afford to pay for the tuition to have them all attend even the cheapest school in the area.

He and his wife spoke with the owners of the local schools, and one of them agreed that if the kids did adequate work, they could get a hardship discount on the tuition. They could now afford to put all of their kids in school. The kids were grateful to the school, and pledged to do good work.

But the owner of the surveying company where Sean worked knew what a great family this was. He had met the kids a couple of times, and was impressed with how bright they were, and so he met with Sean and offered to pay some of the tuition needed to send one of the kids to one of the better, but more expensive, schools. It wasn't a whole lot, but over time it was quite a bit. Sean selected his oldest son, James, and together they met with Sean's boss. The child promised to do good work, and that he would, after he graduated, someday help some other needy child to get into a better school. Over the next few years, James attained the best grades in the school, fulfilling his promise to his dad's boss, who was supporting his education. He met with James every year, and they spent an hour going over the work he had done, and what he had learned.

Alice was the second oldest child. She was very interested in music, and the low-income school where she was attending did not have a music program at all. She was very proud of her older brother's achievements, and wanted to be in a better school.

So she and her mother went and applied at a national organization for the arts. Alice met with some of the people who worked for the organization, and learned that wealthy people who were interested in the arts contributed money so that children gifted in music or art could be assisted in their education. Alice took a couple of piano lessons there at the institute, and they judged her to be potentially gifted, and offered to pay the tuition for her to attend the same school that James was at, as long as she participated in the music program and gave a recital once per year.

Alice studied hard, especially music. She eventually became a master violinist, and later in life worked for this same charitable institution.

Greg was the third child. He and his twin brother were runners and pole vaulters. Their low-income school didn't have a good program for athletics, so they applied for a tuition subsidy at the same school that James and Alice were attending. They won the award, and were able to attend at a discounted tuition rate.

Patti wasn't very interested in academics, music, or athletics. She was very social, though, and made many friends at the lower-quality school. Some of these kids were struggling, and the teachers here weren't very good, but she found that she could help some of her friends quite a bit. After a while, one of the teachers asked that Patti be allowed to receive free tuition, if she would commit to spending an extra two hours each day helping some of the kids who were falling behind. She did this, and later in life worked at this school as a teacher.

The money that Sean saved, by not having to pay for Patti's tuition, allowed him to send their younger daughter, Beth, to the same school that James was attending. Beth was so grateful to Patti, who worked so that she could go to a better school, that for the rest of their lives her older sister had a special place in her heart. Patti eventually became a medical researcher, and found a way to re-grow nerves, which led to her father's paralysis being cured.

When the youngest child, Amy, arrived at school age, she wanted to go to the school that James and the others attended, but there was simply no money for any tuition at all for her. Sean and his wife had some friends at the church they attended, and their church had a program for kids who...

You get the idea. :)

Do you see the difference between a government program that forces everyone to pay to help those who do not have the means to help themselves, and letting the people take care of if themselves?

Look at the gratitude, love, and charity that people will show. Look at how this system, without any government involvement, encourages people to take responsibility for their own futures. Look at the involvement of the parents in their children's futures.

Here's something more subtle: Those people who are paying for the kids' educations are not actually giving. They are making an EXCHANGE, or a trade, as per the free market.

Basically, the trade is in virtue. In other words, Sean's boss is paying for James' tuition, while James is demonstrating virtue to Sean's boss, worthy of the tuition. The boss receives the warm feelings of charity, of feeling like he's a good person, while James receives the benefit of a better quality education.

I hope this clears up my position, and why I want to live in a country where government is limited to its proper role. Where force is not needed, government is not needed. Force is not needed to make people do good things, such as send their kids to school. Government is here to protect people's rights, that's all. The people should have the freedom to live their lives how they see fit.