Some people complain about bitter partisan politics. I welcome it. The greater the number of decisions made in the political arena the greater the conflict. Let’s look at it by way of a few examples:
I like the Lexus LS 460. I also like Dell computers. Many other people have a different set of preferences. Some might prefer a Cadillac and an HP computer while others prefer a Chrysler and IBM computer. With these strong preferences for particular cars and computers, we never see people arguing or fighting in an effort to impose their preferences for cars and computers on other people. There’s car and computer peace. Why? You buy the car and computer that you want; I do likewise and we remain friends.
There’s absolutely no reason for car and computer choices to remain peaceful. Suppose our car and computer choices were made in the political arena through representative democracy or through a plebiscite where majority ruled. We would decide collectively whether our cars would be Lexuses or Cadillacs or Chryslers. We also would decide collectively whether our computer would be a Dell or HP or IBM computer.
I guarantee you there would be nasty, bitter conflict between otherwise peaceful car and computer buyers. Each person would have reason to enter into conflict with those having different car and computer tastes because one person’s win would necessarily be another person’s loss. It would be what game theorists call a zero-sum game. How would you broker a peace with these parties in conflict? If you’re not a tyrant, I’m betting you’d say, “Take the decision out of the political arena and let people buy whatever car and computer they wish.”
Prayers in school, sex education and “intelligent design” are contentious school issues. I believe parents should have the right to decide whether their children will say a morning prayer in school, be taught “intelligent design” and not be given school-based sex education.
I also believe other parents should have the right not to have their children exposed to prayers in school, “intelligent design” and receive sex education.
The reason why these issues produce conflict is because education is government-produced. That means there’s either going to be prayers or no prayers, “intelligent design” or no “intelligent design” and sex education or no sex education. If one parent has his wishes met, it comes at the expense of another parent’s wishes. The losing parent either must grin and bear it or send his child to a private school, pay its tuition and still pay property taxes for a school for which he has no use.
Just as in the car and computer examples, the solution is to take the production of education out of the political arena. The best way is to end all government involvement in education. Failing to get government completely out of education, we should recognize that because government finances something it doesn’t follow that government must produce it. Government finances F-22 Raptor fighter jets, but there’s no government factory producing them. The same could be done in education. We could finance education collectively through tuition tax credits or educational vouchers, but allow parents to choose, much like we did with the GI Bill. Government financed the education, but the veterans chose the school.
Government allocation of resources enhances the potential for human conflict, while market allocation reduces it. That also applies to contentious national issues such as Social Security and health care. You take care of your retirement and health care as you please, and I’ll take care of mine as I please. If you prefer socialized retirement and health care, that’s fine if you don’t force others to participate. I’m afraid most Americans view such a liberty-oriented solution with hostility. They believe they have a right to enlist the brute forces of government to impose their preferences on others.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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