Voucher Lessons

Congratulations to John McClaughry for a superb presentation of the case for family choice in education ("Who Says Vouchers Wouldn't Work?" Jan.). Your readers should note that even as his article appeared, the only respectable argument against vouchers was being pulverized in Nebraska. Private-school parents in that state do not receive one dime of direct or indirect financial assistance from government, but that fact did not stop Nebraska's bureaucrats from moving to shut down schools that do not comply with state regulations. Those who think they can secure freedom for private schools by opposing vouchers are simply kidding themselves.

Educational freedom depends on two things: (1) a large and active private-school constituency and (2) an absolutely clear understanding that parents, not the state, are the primary custodians and decision-makers for children. Vouchers would nourish both.

Lawrence A. Uzzell
, Inc.
Washington, DC

Amendment Solution

My compliments to REASON and John McClaughry for the excellent article about vouchers (Jan.). Two statements made in the article prompt me to add the following.

First, LeRoy Chatfield and I intend to qualify our California School Voucher Initiative for the November 1984 ballot, not the June primary.

Second, it is not true, as suggested by Mr. Klausner in his sidebar to the voucher article, that vouchers are more likely than tax credits to foster government control of private education. I agree that pressures to regulate private schools will increase when all institutions are forced to compete. But it is the reality of competition, not the mechanism (tax credit or voucher) creating competition, that stimulates the regulatory activity.

That is why our initiative constitutionally prohibits new state or local interference with private schools. And a constitutional protection is the best any scheme (tax credit or voucher) can provide. Private schools now must comply with certain provisions of the state education code, so the power of legislators to regulate private education is not in doubt. That power does not depend on how private schools are funded. Legislators will attempt to use that power if encouraged to do so by aggrieved interests (for example, government educators distraught over loss of a captive audience or disgruntled parents who expect private schools to satisfy all consumer demands).

It is naive to argue that tax credits somehow obviate the possibility of government control. A government agency can specify requirements for schools eligible to utilize tax credits as easily as it can promulgate rules for schools receiving vouchers.

Mr. Chatfield and I endorse tax credits as a means of improving educational quality. But our support is not based on the mistaken notion that tax credits will shield private education from a hostile reaction to competition. Only a constitutional amendment will block government intrusion. And that is what we have written.

Roger Magyar
Parents Choose Quality Education
Sacramento, CA

Selling Land to Save Social Security

I congratulate Loren Lomasky on his article "Buying Out of Social Security" (Jan.). In my view, he clearly stated the problems and realistically assessed both the political and economic factors that must be taken into account when redesigning the system.

I am especially impressed by the article's concluding section, which advocates dealing with the deficit of 50 billion dollars per year over the next two decades by selling the federal government's land holdings. My colleague, Rick Stroup, and I have advocated that approach for the past several years. Specifically, we have advocated this policy at several academic meetings and in the chapter "Timber Beasts, Tree Huggers, and the Old Folks at Home" in our recent book Natural Resources: Bureaucratic Myths and Environmental Management.

John Baden
Political Economy Research Center
, MT

Paying the Price of Improvidence

Loren Lomasky wants to put the cost of clearing up the mess on everyone but those who are profiting by it—those who have caused the problem by their unscrupulous greed in accepting largely unearned pensions.

As a result of having drifted from one low-value job to another, often with considerable gaps in between while I used up my savings, I have at my present age of 53 no private pension rights worth taking into account and no intention of striving for any during the remainder of my working life. But I have accepted for many years now that I must pay the price of my improvidence by ending my life within a fairly short time of ceasing work. It would be unthinkable for me, as it surely would be for any honest person, to prolong my life by accepting an income forcibly taken from others.

Victor Robertson
, IN

Feasibility, Not Fairness

A pity that Jim Davidson's remarkably temperate "Weep Not for the Wizened" (Viewpoint, Oct.) was such an unappreciated pearl before one of your irate subscribers (Letters, Jan.). Davidson's points were well-taken, and some even counter several appalling remarks in Loren Lomasky's "Buying Out of Social Security" (Jan.).

Mr. Lomasky could reasonably have pointed out the political infeasibility of repudiating the current Ponzi-Capone scheme of subsidizing the elderly. But for him to assert that the "fair" thing to do is to spread the fraud among various age groups is obscene. Some of the elderly may be worthy recipients of private charity, but extorting from Peter now to mollify past-victim Paul is hardly "fair."

Moreover, obviously a majority of these "victims" either acquiesced in, or actively perpetrated, an ongoing fraud that began before I was born. Wherein arises the fairness in extorting money from me for the benefit of that ilk? Especially when I could be sending money to my parents—who at least did something for me—if the government left me with more of my own money in the first place.

It is poor strategy to concede morality to what is merely the political power of pressure groups, such as the elderly. The first step toward reform is honesty. Bravo, Mr. Davidson. Shape up, Mr. Lomasky.

John Dentinger
Los Angeles
, CA

Simple Solution: Stop Stealing!

While Loren Lomasky recognizes the tragic and fraudulent nature of the Social Security system, his proposed solution tramples all over the rights of individuals.

Lomasky proposes that persons age 16 to 45 continue to pay Social Security taxes on a decreasing scale, claiming that this "would be their cost of 'buying out' of the system, and it is appropriate that they carry their fair share of the burden." This is the same statist argument used to justify all current government violations of individual rights—the draft, the income tax, public education, and the present Social Security system.

Since "there is no very attractive solution to the Social Security mess," I agree with Lomasky that "we must look at the least bad response that can be designed." I propose that the least bad solution is to begin respecting the natural right of all individuals to hold onto their earnings. Since each person is the just and rightful owner of the fruits of his labor, then the "least bad response" to the Social Security fraud is to stop stealing money from all persons—young and old.…

David Morris
W. Columbia
, SC

Mr. Lomasky replies: My critics raise a point of the utmost importance. I advocate phasing out Social Security rather than abruptly disavowing all obligations created by the program during its checkered 50-year history. This, they contend, is to acquiesce in continued thievery. To be sure, some will be severely worsened by the immediate elimination of the system, but these are persons who have illegitimately battened on an immoral system. The only legitimate policy is to go cold turkey, the sooner the better.

This is not an absurd position to take, whatever its political practicality. However, I believe it to be mistaken. My critics' argument presupposes the wrongness of initiating coercion. I concur. They maintain further that, when a pattern of coercive practices exists, it is equally wrong to utilize coercive means, even in the service of moving away from those practices. That is, they suppose that the demands of morality are always and everywhere the same, whether in a situation in which rights have generally been respected and are widely acknowledged, or where rights have been substantially abridged and in which their content has been obfuscated by figures in authority and by their loyal underlings.

Is it of any consequence that those now receiving Social Security payments were previously forced to pay for the pensions of others? That the vast majority of Americans has been seduced into believing that Social Security is a morally permissible activity of government—if not indeed morally mandatory? That millions of innocent persons planned for retirement in the all too warranted expectation that government would still be in the business of dragooning funds from Peter to pay Paul? That the true culprits—those in Congress who voted for the creation and subsequent voracious expansion of the system—will be harmed hardly at all by its abrupt demise, while those who had no part in perpetrating the scheme, will certainly suffer? Apparently my critics take these facts to be of no moral salience whatsoever.

They are not alone in doing so. Many defenders of liberty follow them in supposing without argument that circumstances make no difference; coercion may neither be initiated nor utilized as a means to minimize and spread out pain on the way to a free society. To be sure, in my essay I too ignored the theoretical issues at stake. Space was lacking to do otherwise. I hope to address these issues on a subsequent occasion; they are too important to be left perpetually unexamined.

Past Answers to Present Problems

In his February editorial, "The Static Fallacy," Mr. Poole inquires "when was the last time you saw a mechanical adding machine." It was last fall in the office of the flour mill at Amherst, Virginia. The mill runs on water power. It is not a museum or a rich man's toy; it is a working business.

In the same editorial Mr. Poole discusses Chinese competence in making steam locomotives. He may not be aware that many top transportation analysts have concluded that US railroads cannot long afford to operate with increasingly expensive diesel locomotives, but that coal-fired steam locomotives must come back. Fortunately, we will be able to import the technology from China.

I hope you don't mind having a subscriber who has a 19th-century mentality and is proud of it.

Benjamin R. Moser
Stanley, VA

Capitalist Luck

Thanks for James Payne's thought-provoking article "When the Rich Get Richer" (Feb.). I would ask Professor Payne to consider these points: Can human effort find oil where there is none? Can even the hardest-working farmer raise a good crop on infertile soil? No: there is an element of luck in the distribution of resources and, therefore, in the wealth among nations.

As for the implication that the poor deserve their poverty, can the child born to a poor family in El Salvador—or in New York, for that matter—expect the same quality of education as a middle-class child? Can Professor Payne believe that children deserve to inherit their parents' poverty?

None of this justifies an end to private control of wealth, but the element of luck present in capitalism cannot be argued away. The poor people of the world—the people shopping for a government and an economic system—want to know what's in it for them. If they interview Professor Payne as a representative of capitalism, the answer will be, "Nothing, unless of course you are clever enough to help yourself." If they interview Fidel Castro, he will promise a piece of the pie for everyone, even though the net effect will be disaster.

The refusal of capitalist theorists to acknowledge some responsibility to the poor makes it easier for the oppressed to accept communism. I think there is a clear economic justification for helping the poor: creation of wealth depends on ideas, and we cannot afford the kind of permanent poverty that shuts a whole class of people out of the process.

But above all, there is a need to add a moral dimension to capitalism if we expect to sell it to the world. Capitalists must start arguing that it is not enough to reassure ourselves that we have made the other man no colder. We must ask whether we have made him any warmer.

David Ross
Seattle, WA

Mr. Payne replies: There is no need to "add" a moral dimension to capitalism; it's already there. In this system, rewards flow to those who satisfy the wants of others. Hence, you are encouraged to figure out how to make your neighbor warmer. Under leftist doctrines, on the other hand, you are not rewarded on the basis of your service to your fellow man.

In any country, many individuals do not make an economically definable contribution and therefore receive no direct economic reward. They range from helpless babies to incompetent sculptors. Everyone, including free-market advocates, agrees that such individuals should be given some appropriate level of assistance. The dispute is over methods of caring for the nonproductive. Libertarians and (some) conservatives favor private arrangements on the grounds that voluntary giving is (a) ethical, (b) sensitive, (c) efficient, and (d) nondestructive. Liberals, socialists, and communists favor coercive redistribution regulated by political and bureaucratic processes.

As Mr. Ross admits, coercive methods of redistribution lead, sooner or later, to "disaster." Why do their advocates never learn this lesson? My answer is that they are victims of the endowment illusion. Believing that wealth happens automatically, they assume that production will be unaffected by forcible seizures of property (taxation, expropriation, etc.). Hence, to "sell" capitalism, we must first root out the deeply seated endowment illusion.

That, after reading my entire article, Mr. Ross still refers to the poor as "oppressed" (by the rich) reveals just how deep-seated this fallacy is.

The Perils of Purism

Tibor Machan's "Fighting Isolationism" (Feb.) introduces a welcome, sober contribution to the liberty-minded foreign-policy debate. Instead of merely shouting, "Drag the troops home!" Mr. Machan reminds us that we live in an imperfect world and must react to what is, not what we wish to be.

Purists who remind us of what year this now is and accuse Mr. Machan of "doublespeak," or crack open Orwell's Animal Farm to find comparisons there, will never shake Mr. Machan's testimony. Nor will anyone do so by overplaying the potential for abuse of military power inherent in military alliances. While that potential exists, the actual threat of communist aggression must be weighed against it.

We cannot build a new, freer America if we allow an aggressor nation to destroy the old; I for one would rather contend with Capitol Square than with Red Square. Nor will we necessarily be able to defend America more easily or less expensively by dragging the troops home. Sometimes a "costly" preemptive strike now, as in Grenada, can save a (partly) free nation from having to take even more costly defense measures later on. Those who advocate a purist stance must be willing to pay the price of its implementation.

Terry A. Hurlbut
Houston, TX

Exercised over Isolationism

Tibor Machan seems to suffer from Norman Podhoretz's inability to distinguish between isolationism and noninterventionism. The dictionary definition of isolationism is: "A national policy of abstaining from political or economic entanglements with other countries." Libertarian noninterventionists, on the other hand, simply oppose intervention, particularly military intervention, into the affairs of other nations. They seek strategic and conventional military disengagement from commitments to defend other states. The roots of this lie not so much in doctrines such as "the consent of the governed" as in the classical liberal notion of limiting government power.…

I also want to address a rather serious point: the issue of an a priori approach to foreign policy. No noninterventionist I know of bases his or her views on a priori analysis. Naming only a handful of them—Earl Ravenal, Leonard Liggio, Walter Grinder, Ralph Raico, Murray Rothbard, Bill Evers, Jeffrey Hummel, Sheldon Richman, Jonathan Marshall, and myself—the one common characteristic is a general command of the facts of international relations. Yet in a debate I had with Professor Machan some years ago, he openly confessed his ignorance of facts in foreign affairs and even questioned what facts were in such an area…

Noninterventionism is not an a priori view; it is based on broad-ranging historical analysis, intense study of current affairs, and rigorous strategic analysis. It is not "deduced" from libertarian principles; it is a policy prescription based on the above, having the aim of keeping the United States out of wars, avoiding a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union, and limiting government power.

Roy A. Childs, Jr.
Washington, D.C.

Mr. Machan replies: Mr. Childs wants experts. The fact is that there are "experts" on all sides of the foreign policy debate. But as David Sills of the Social Science Research Council has observed in another context, "Many of the debates that characterize the environmental movement—perhaps any social movement—are on the surface 'factual' or 'technical' in nature. But closer inspection often reveals them to be debates over values." The list Mr. Childs provides confirms this. Those on it do share one value—nonintervention. But beyond that we do not know what they stand for, and so we cannot say what their reason is for advising what they do advise in the concrete circumstances of the world in which nonintervention and nonaggression are rarely found.

The advice of Mr. Childs & Co. is aimed at a pure world, while the actual world is mired in armed conflict, terrorism, and a far more thorough antilibertarianism than our statist government.

Britain's Emerging Market Consciousness

I have read the response from Michael Turner (Letters, Mar.) to my article in your October 1983 issue on the future of the economic thinking and policies of the new British Social Democratic party ("God Save the Market!").

Mr. Turner is right to be skeptical about my "extraordinary" indication that the SDP is emerging as a market-oriented party, but I hold to my view of its likely direction.

SDP policy has not reached its final form—if it ever will. It is in its infancy and is evolving at a fairly rapid pace. Mr. Turner's quotation from Shirley Williams goes back over a year and that from Owen more than three years. And my argument was that the SDP leaders were changing. Moreover, they were changing not only because their personal opinions were being revised, but because social and economic advance was inducing them to rethink their former socialism. In particular, David Owen, the former British foreign secretary, is emerging as the undisputed leader and he is certainly leading them in a market-oriented direction. In a speech in January 1984, he reemphasized that the British economy would have to reflect rather than resist market forces.

Mr. Turner also quotes the former Liberal leader Jo Grimond from more than two years ago. The importance of (now Lord) Grimond is that he is market-oriented and still exerts considerable influence in the Liberal party and therefore in the Liberal-SDP alliance.

SDP intellectuals are absorbing Owen's leadership on the "social market economy." In a recent publication a group of them said "that the move towards the social market approach should be welcomed as a move away from corporate centralism…in the direction of a freer, fairer and more open society."

On some issues the SDP is more market-oriented than the Conservatives: competition policy, the trade unions, social benefits (which Owen wishes to make selective rather than universal).

I explained the SDP reorientation to the market partly in the light of the public-choice convergence theorem in two-party (or two-coalitions) systems. Although the Labour party has been showing improved figures in public-opinion polls, I hold to my view that they are on a downward curve, as the 1987–88 general election is likely to show. The importance for the United States is the probability that it will have to deal for the rest of the century not with a statist Labour-socialist government but with a market-oriented Conservative or SDP-led alliance.

Arthur Seldon
Institute of Economic Affairs
, England