Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thinking Out of the Box

Last week, Houston's mayoral candidates appeared before the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals. The Chronicle reports that the first question was:

In a city where the group comprising 42 percent of the population has an outrageous dropout rate, the lowest rate of higher education and the highest uninsured and unemployment rates, what would you do to fix this as Mayor?
Not surprisingly, the candidates offered very similar answers--improve education and create economic opportunities. Of course, this sounds quite good. After all, if they said that they wanted to destroy the educational system and wipe out jobs, they wouldn't get many votes. However, such statements are essentially meaningless. They tell us nothing about what actions the candidate will take. They only tell us the desired results.

Since I wasn't invited to the forum--in fact, I haven't been invited to any of the mayoral forums--I didn't get a chance to answer the question last week. So I'm going to do something that the candidates won't do. Many voters won't necessarily like what I have to say, which is why those running for office won't say it. But between you and me, they really aren't interested in solving problems. They just want to get elected. And so, they propose to do more of the very things that caused the problem in the first place--pass more laws, enact more regulations, and spend more money. In other words, they want more government to fix the problems created by government.

So, here is my solution to the problems in our educational system and our economy: get the government out of the education business and start repealing regulations and controls on the economy. That's it--that is the entirety of my plan in a nutshell.

Unlike politicians who think that they can fix any problem known to man by passing more laws, I won't pretend to know how to fix every problem. But that isn't the responsibility of the mayor, or any public official for that matter. The responsibility of those in government is to protect individual rights.

I am not an expert on education, but neither are any of the mayoral candidates. Rather than dictate to students and their parents, I think we should leave those decisions to the people involved. Rather than pretend that I know what is best for them, I propose that we leave them free to make that determination.

Similarly with the economy. Rather than dictating to businesses how they may or may not operate, the government should get out of the way and let those involved make those decisions. Rather than mandate taco truck tags, or prohibit signs, or make liquor store owners grovel for permission to build a store, the city should encourage economic opportunity by removing the economic barriers it has erected.

I am not so presumptuous to claim that I know what is best for you. I don't even know you. And I bet that none of the mayoral candidates know you either. They certainly don't know the vast majority of Houstonians, and yet they want to dictate to all of us how our children will be educated and how we can operate our business.

This proposal is quite different from what the typical politician would endorse. It also differs in the fact that I cannot and will not speculate as to the specific results. I do not know if privatizing education will lead to lower drop out rates for Hispanics, though I suspect that it would. Again, that is not a proper concern for the mayor.

The only result that the mayor should really concern himself with is increasing the individual liberty of Houstonians. If his proposals accomplish that, the rest is up to the individuals who live in this city.

I realize that voters will not be real keen on these ideas. Getting government out of the education business creates a great deal of uncertainty. Many would be faced with decisions that are completely foreign, such as where to send their child to school and how to pay for it. (Taxes of course, could be slashed if education were privatized.) They would have a multitude of questions, not the least of which would involve the poor.

The omnipresence of altruism--the belief that morality consists in service to others--would cause many to focus on the poor. After all, if education is a "right", don't taxpayers have an obligation to fulfill that "right"?

The truth is, education is not a right. Rights pertain only to freedom of action, not a guarantee to the results of action. Rights are a sanction to take the actions necessary to attain one's values; they are not a claim on the values and lives of others.

Providing individuals with greater freedom leads to results that are impossible to predict. When individuals are unrestricted by arbitrary government barriers, innovation abounds. Technology is the most visible example. The products and services that seem like a fantasy today become the IPhones of tomorrow. The same would be true in education and every other area of life.

The mayoral candidates want to force all Houstonians into a neat little box. But such boxes are never neat--they are stifling and oppressive. If Houston is to retain its greatness, the citizens must kick the lid off of the box. They must demand their freedom.


Rational Education said...

have you been following the Chicago story?

What is your take on Daley's long standing mayorship of Chicago?


Brian Phillips said...

No, I haven't followed Chicago politics. I have enough in Houston to keep me busy.

Daley strikes me as a typical career politician. He uses his office to grant political favors in exchange for votes. While I don't favor term limits, he certainly seems to provide an argument in favor of them.