Milton Friedman’s Voucher Plan

More than 30 years ago – in 1979 – Milton Friedman and his wise Rose Friedman published the book Free to Choose, in which they made a (compelling) claim in favor of handing over authority to the free market, and taking it away from the government. The arguments they come up are profoundly grounded in empirical evidence, pointing at the inefficient and unequal spending of tax payers’ money on the ‘big issues’ of society (healthcare, Social Security, public assistance etc.). I want to focus at the expenditures on public education, about which the Friedmans say a lot, and in particular on the immoral and degrading effect this can have on citizens.

We humans are intelligent creatures. Some are – without a doubt – better equipped (mentally) for dealing with the whims of the free market than others, but still almost all of us are reasonably capable of fulfilling our needs in life. We can go the supermarket by ourselves, decide for ourselves what we want to eat for breakfast and dinner, and much more. The government doesn’t have to do this for us. We can decide for ourselves how we want to spend our leisure time: whether we want to go the movies or not. We don’t need the government to decide this for us. Not only because the government cannot know what each one of us wants – therefore inevitably being inefficient in the spending of its – or our – resources – but also because we know that we are intelligent beings, very much capable of making our own decisions in life.

And this intelligence of ours doesn’t have to confine itself to mundane decisions like how to spend our free time. We are equally competent in deciding for ourselves how we want to spend our money on more pressing issues in life: what hospital we want to attend, whether to assist our loved ones financially whenever the need might arise, and what school our children should attend. These issues are of such importance to our well-being – and our children’s – that, instead of putting the government in charge of these decisions, we should be the ones choosing what we consider to be best for our, and our children’s, future.

In 1979, the Friedmans noticed an upward trend in the government taking control of many of these decisions – decisions that, by the way, have a relatively big impact upon our financial resources. The most striking example of this might be the public financing of (elementary, secondary and higher) education. In 1979, the average US citizen paid 2.000 dollars per child that attended public education, even though not everyone’s child – assuming that you even have children – made use of public educational resources. The Friedmans found this state of affairs harming to the right of each individual to decide where to spend his money at, including the option to put one’s child at a privately financed educational institution.

Therefore they came up with a ‘voucher plan’: a plan in which every US citizen would – per child they have – get a voucher exchangeable for a certain amount of money – let’s say 2.000 dollars. They could cash in this voucher only if their child would attend an appropriate educational institution. This voucher plan would come in the place of the tax each US citizen is obliged to pay, irrespective of them having children and irrespective of their children attending a public educational institution. This plan would make sure that only the ones making use of pubic educational services would be charged, thereby excluding the non-using part of society.

The Friedmans made – primarily – financial arguments in favor of their voucher plan, saying that – on the whole – public educational costs would remain the same, and that parents would use their increase in autonomy to find the school that best suited the needs of their children. The relatively free market that would be created on the basis of the voucher plan, would improve the quality of both public and private education. I believe, however, that one argument in favor of the voucher plan, and the free market in general, has not received the attention it deserved – at least not in the Friedmans’ Free to Choose. And that argument has to do with human intelligence.

As pointed at above, humans are – for the biggest part – perfectly capable of deciding for themselves where to spend their money at. We wouldn’t want anyone else to do our groceries or schedule our leisure time for us – at least not for (our) money. But that is exactly what the government does when it comes down to public education. The government proclaims that – as the Friedmans explain – it is the only actor possessing the professional knowledge required for deciding what is best for our children – thereby implying that they are indispensable in order for our children to receive a qualitatively good education.

What this claim comes down to is the government saying – or not saying – that we (‘the crowd’) don’t understand what is important and what is not in regard to our children’s education, and that – because of that – they should step in and release us of this impossible duty of ours. We don’t understand what to do, but luckily they do. They are the father looking out for us, protecting us from doing harm to our children and to the rest of society.

I find this an insult to the basic level of intelligence the majority of the people has. We very well believe to know what is important in our children’s education – probably much better than the government, since, in contrast to the government, we know our children. Thus besides all the financial benefits of the voucher plan, by returning autonomy to the Average Joe, a voucher plan is required for respecting people’s intelligence. After all, we are no fools, are we?

What do you think?

Should State Media Stop Sharing Jihadi Propaganda-messages?

On the 23th of September 2014, the Dutch state television broadcasted a video-message of a jihadist in Syria. In this message he calls for his ‘Dutch brothers’ to support him in the war Islamic State fights against – among others – the United States. ‘If you cannot support us by coming to Syria,’ he says, ‘then at least do a severe deed in the Netherlands or Belgium.’

The full message takes 2 minutes and 43 seconds. The Dutch state television’s news-program – which is the most viewed TV-program in the Netherlands – broadcasted around 20 seconds of the message. So there he was: the jihadist in Syria, asking for Dutch people to support IS, and 1 in 8 Dutch people listened to his message. This raises the question: should the state television broadcast such a message? Doesn’t it, by giving a platform to these people, indirectly support these people? And if so, isn’t that weird, given that – at the same time – the Dutch military is fighting these same people in Iraq and Syria? Let’s take a look at these questions.

One could say that the state television shouldn’t do such a thing, because – by doing so – it gives a stage to a group of people that the state opposes. If a government is sending jets to fight a group of people in Syria, then this same government should not allow this same group of people to share its propaganda via the state’s own media. Furthermore, showing such messages – which are often violent in nature – might cause ‘the enemy’ to apply such violent measures again. After all: it worked the first time – in the sense that international media gave them free publicity. So why don’t do it again? This leads to the question: should the government want to support such violence? The obvious answer is: no.

Also, one could say, broadcasting such propaganda might cause messages most of us find wrong to be spread. The reason that a book like Mein Kampf is prohibited from being sold (in the Netherlands at least), is especially for this reason: because these ideas should – according to most of us – be banned from society. And so – one could say – it should be with jihadi messages. Therefore it is wrong for the state television to actively spread these messages.

So it seems clear, right? The state television should not broadcast such messages. But it might not be as clear-cut as it seems. For one could say that every person can think for himself, and that the government – or any news-agency for that matter – does not have to decide what is good or bad for us to hear. We can very well decide this for ourselves, after having heard the message. We are reasonable people, and seeing such a jihadi video-message does not compel us to support the messenger. And even it would compel us, what gives? Aren’t we free to decide who we want to support and who not?

Also, even though the content of the message might be ‘wrong’, it might still be newsworthy, and should therefore be distributed by the media. After all: people might find it interesting to know what is going on in the world around them, and seeing such a message provides them with a better informed perspective on the world. This cannot be wrong, can it?

I find this a difficult matter. What do you think?

Teaching Anti-Bully Classes at School

How to prevent bullying?

How to prevent bullying?

Bullying: an ever repeating and all destructing phenomenon. Every year, millions and millions of lives are irreversible damaged. And it is not like bullying is just a temporary problem; a problem that will resolve itself as time goes by. It is structural, in the sense that it seems to be deeply ingrained in human nature. So the question is: what can – and what should – we do about it? Should parents teach their children about the negative consequences of bullying? And what about schools; should they too make a (more profound) effort to stop bullying?

But before we start, let me ask you something. When you look back at your time at school, what are the first memories that come to mind? Is it the Latin vocabulary you were forced to remember in the first year of high school? Is it the utterly useless, but sometimes amusing, gym classes you had to take? Is it the list of historical facts that you had to recall? I can only speak for myself, but I would respond with a firm ‘No’ to each of these questions.

Looking back at my years in school, I can only remember the social bonding we, the children, had. I remember us kids playing together, trading collector-cards and chasing girls. Those are the experiences that – I believe – anyone is likely to remember about his childhood. Those are the experiences that have made you into the person you are today. It is because of these experiences that you have learned that it is not okay to steal someone’s football, and that it is no fun to kick your little brother. It is because of these experiences that you came to know that you were accepted by society. These are the experiences that proved to be truly important later on in your life.

But what if you would not have learned these lessons? What if you would not have learned what it is like to play with friends, trade cards, play hide and seek, or be in any other way involved in the social interactions that are of such great importance in the formation of any child’s identity? These are the lessons that get down to the core of what it means to be a human being. Of what it means to be wandering around on this earth of ours with your fellow species members. And let’s be honest: if you would have missed these lessons in your childhood, do you truly think that your life would have been any better if you would be able to remember the exact year Columbus reached America? I do not think so.

I believe that schools should, next to the regular classes, include a course about social dynamics, in which children are taught how they could – not should – interact with others. A class that teaches children the pros and cons of treating people in a certain way. A class that teaches children what the consequences of being bullied might be in what might very well be the most important years in a person’s self-development. A class that might make use of acting and little role-playing games in which the bully and the person being bullied repeatedly switch roles. Make it realistic. Make it tangible. Make it painful.

Because let me ask you the following: is it fair to put the blame on those that are being being bullied? To urge them to stand up for themselves and promise them that, if they don’t do so, things will only get worse? Is that how you truly help a child? And, on the other hand, can you blame the bullies for bullying if they have never been taught why it is wrong to bully? If they think they are just fooling around and that their behavior is simply the way you should behave among classmates?

Shouldn’t the responsibility lay with the adults? The ones who are supposed to know how to behave? And with the schools, the place at which children are present most of their time? And sure: schools might say that is not their responsibility to teach children how to behave. That it is the parents’s duty. But note that I am not saying that schools should teach children how to behave. I am only saying that schools might teach children what it feels like to be bullied, and what the consequences of this behavior might be. After taking these classes, children are totally free to decide for themselves how they want to behave. And if that doesn’t stop them from bullying, maybe more drastic measures, as in lowering bullies’s grades, might be necessary.

But what do you think? Should schools be more proactive in preventing bullying from happening? Or is it fully the parents’s responsibility to do so? And why?