September 21, 2009

Do you want real equality?

Recently I posted some thoughts about Democrats leveraging the failing education system to maintain their power base in the African-American and Hispanic communities. It triggered a notion that I've posted on before but wanted to reiterate with some more emphasis, and that is what does equality mean in America?  There are two opposing views to this fundamental question, which has hijacked the national political debate from the issue of liberty.  Freedom, or liberty in the Declaration of Independence is second only to life in terms of inalienable rights.  The issue of equality (all men are created equal) while important, is not paramount to the national discussion.  Yet there it is, on the front burner.

But let's take as a given that all citizens are free, despite the best efforts of the Democrats to implement health care reform, and card check get the picture.  If all people in the United States are free, then the country can start to grapple with other issues like equality.  But here's the conundrum on equality - it all comes down to how you define it.  The President's definition is what is driving his agenda. The problem with that is that he seems to have a skewed definition of the word.

Milton Friedman postulated that there are two ways to define freedom - equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.  Where the Declaration of Independence states "all men are created equal", he notes that the interpretation of that phrase is with respect to their rights.  It does not mean their abilities.  I cannot dunk a basketball like LeBron James.  Similarly he cannot sing like Etta James.  But what we all have in common in terms of equality is our inalienable rights. 

The discussion turns then to what rights are we granted by our Creator?  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Notice that neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution have ever granted happiness - only the pursuit of it?  That is because no one - the government, a business - not even yourself can ensure you achieve happiness.  It very well could be unattainable for an entire lifetime.  And that's BIG.  Obama and many liberal Democrats, and socialists view equality as equality of outcome.  presumably, they believe that equality of outcome will result in equality of happiness.

What is equality of outcome?

Does that mean equal pay regardless of occupation? Should a doctor and a garbageman make the same amount, or even what they need?  If so why become a doctor?  Studying to be a garbageman is much less taxing.
Does it mean equal skills training for anyone in need, or even desire of a skill?  What if someone without the right abilities to do so, wants to learn piano? Who pays for that training? And why?
Does it mean equal grades on test scores for students?  Does it mean everyone gets a turn on the school football team?  Or an equal turn as CEO at Mobile Oil?
Equality of outcome, even theoretically, is a silly notion.

What does make sense is equality of opportunity.  Everyone should not be impeded by systems (especially governmental), or attitudes (such as racism) or anything else from trying to achieve their goals.  The single biggest impediment to that type of equality, is equality of education.  Equal education means equal rights.

Pumping money into bad schools and ineffective teachers is not the answer.  The Invisible Hand is the answer.  Open up education to the marketplace and see how much better students start doing. 

That does not mean charging people to attend school.  Come on, you already pay taxes for it!  It does not mean bussing students across town either.  It means giving every family school vouchers that they can use to select where their children attend school.  A voucher should be good for any school in the country.  The choice of families to send their children to better schools will weed out ones no one wants to attend.  Open up school districts and allow different public and private schools to compete for the children in the area (and thus a share of the voucher revenue, as the government pays out based on voucher volume).

As consumers, parents actively pursuing the best schools will be the first to enrol their children and those who miss out on #1 because they were late starting the hunt process can start looking at number #2.  But school #4, only half filled because students all went to the other three first, is now, out of survival, incented to improve it's rating.  In a free market it has to improve or close.

Watch how well the private schools do.  The remaining public schools will become a school of last resort when the better private schools unexpectedly fail or get filled beyond capacity.  The government would be free to mandate core cirriculum (math, English, science etc.) and require standard testing if it wished.  But the private schools could pad their cirriculum as they saw fit, rather than being forced to teach sex education, gender studies or anything specific.  If there's a demand for sex education, the private schools will end up teaching it, and fast.  And if there isn't an appetite for it, they will drop it just as quickly.

The only impediment to this approach would be to figure out a way to ensure a fair system of equal access by all. They could be impeded by poor planning, or racism or some other factors. But that's a minor problem - figuring out a mechanism to prevent fraud and unequal access is small compared to figuring out a way to solve everything.  Just leave the solution to the 50 Experiments Theorum.  What the free market system promotes here is an environment where those with talents will be able to avoid having them languish due to an inadequate school enviroment.  Skills will be developed.  Everyone will be better off.  The government will stop throwing money down an education sink hole.  In essence it will be outsourcing education to the private sector, where countless success stories exist, unlike government, which has to it's credit a great military, a moon landing, and the Hoover Dam.  Those things combined don't offset the inefficiency of the DMV.

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