The Benefits Of Public School Socialization

Michelle Malkin reports on the sexual assault of a developmentally disabled girl in Columbus, Ohio to which the public school "servants" were negligent in responding.

On March 9, according to press reports, a developmentally disabled girl told Mifflin school officials that four boys dragged her into the school auditorium, punched her in the head and face, pushed her to her knees, and forced her to have oral sex with two of them. A crowd of students watched and one student videotaped the incident. The 16-year-old girl's lip was bloodied in the alleged gang attack; dazed and crying, her face swollen, she reported the assault immediately to her special education teacher, Lisa Upshaw-Miller.

One monstrosity was piled upon another. When the girl's father, who had been summoned to the school by the teacher, insisted on calling police, an assistant principal twice urged him not to call 911, according to Upshaw-Miller. Assistant Principal Rick Watson implored the girl's father to call the non-emergency police line instead of 911 a violation of Ohio state law because "a news channel might tape his daughter and cause her further mental trauma," according to his statement to school investigators.

Meanwhile, according to witnesses, the school's principal, Regina Crenshaw, shuttered herself in a meeting about bell schedules and curriculum for a half-hour while underlings scrambled to perform damage control.

While the performance of the principal and her associates was disgraceful, it is no less disturbing than the behavior of the crowd of students who watched and videotaped the incident. This incident and similar ones should give pause to those who criticize homeschooling for its "lack of socialization".

In my home county, Montgomery County, Md., a local government report revealed that nearly 12,000 children ages 12 to 17 are bullied, abused or robbed by peers and others. Of that number, more than 1,000 are victims of sexual assaults. The school system, which is not required to inform police of these crimes, has been bombarded with complaints by parents that school officials ignored the victims or downplayed sexual assaults including a number of incidents involving young girls attacked on local school buses.

When education is compulsory and the market is monopolized, it's not surprising that schools tend to look less like places of learning and more like jails.

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There's no evidence that

There's no evidence that abusive people wouldn't exist in a free society. But it is very likely that this level of mishandling by school administrators would not exist. Instead of just calling in to complain, parents would have the option of withdrawing funding from the school and transferring their children to other, better managed schools. Over time, as more and more schools began responding harshly to this sort of misbehavior, its incidence would almost certainly decline.

While public schools are not technically monopolistic in that there are other options, they are actually much worse than many other monopolies in that everyone has to buy what they're selling. If I don't think what the cable company is offering is worth it, I don't have to buy it. But I have to pay for public schools no matter what.

My general feeling is that

My general feeling is that Jonathan is not saying, as Jeff asserts, that: 1. This bad thing happened, therefore 2. Public schools are bad.

But rather, 1. Public schools are bad, and 2. Here's another bit of evidence to that point.

Of course, if you don't accept the premise, the post won't mean much to you. Which is fine.

Jeff, You may be right that

Jeff,
You may be right that this is not something that's specific to public schools. But from my own experience in public school, my feeling is that a lot of schools end up being huge, impersonal places where abusive behavior of students toward one another tends not to get much attention from authorities, perhaps because they're busy dealing with students who have even more serious behavioral problems, as well as drugs, etc. Keep in mind, though, that this just comes from my experience, and I was the sort of kid who was a target for getting picked on in a relatively large school where no one really noticed (or if they did, they considered it kind of minor stuff). Practically speaking, in a small educational environment like private schools or group home schools it's probably easier to keep tabs on bullying and antisocial behavior and intervene appropriately. People in home and private schools may have just as many pathologies, but I don't think that they can slip by unnoticted quite like they can in a public school. Part of the problem I see with kids who exhibit antisocial behavior in big public schools is that it may be something that can be corrected, but no one is paying attention. Consequently, the kids end up getting the message that it's something they can get away with, and it gets worse.

Don't you think you're

Don't you think you're overgeneralizing just a tiny little bit? OK, so what we have is a few psychos and a bunch of inexcusably apathetic onlookers. Is there any evidence whatsoever that these people wouldn't also exist and be at least as psychotic/apathetic in Libertopia? Would you like some examples of sexual abuse from private schools, or by home-schoolers, so we can condemn them too? What happened is horrible, but it has practically nothing to do with whether public schools are a good thing to have overall.

P.S. public schools are not a monopoly either, unless you want to tell the millions in private schools or learning at home that they don't exist.

Evan Williams: To me, the

Evan Williams:

To me, the definition of “injustice” is paying $10,000/year to send your kid to a competent school, and still being forced, at gunpoint if necessary, to pay for other kids’ education.

Yes, that is unjust. It would also be unjust, though, for only the parents to pay for public schools while all reap the benefits of a generally educated populace...and, snarkiness aside, even a public-school education is a lot better than what most people would get if public schools didn't exist. How do we resolve a situation in which there is potential injustice to either side? Democratically, of course, and it's a democratic process that got us where we are wrt public schools. There are always losers in a democracy, but there don't have to be whiners.

I’m curious as to how one would procure “evidence” from a non-existent utopian ideal

It's possible to have evidence that something would happen (what I asked for) without having evidence that it has happened (what you chose to address). Given that your whole ideological enterprise is based on theories of what would supposedly happen if certain changes were to occur, you should be familiar with the notion of evidence that is based on comparison to or extrapolation from similar cases when empirical observation is not possible. My point is not that such things have actually happened in Libertopia, but that there's no credible reason even to believe that they wouldn't. Human nature is the cause of such horrible events, and human nature isn't going to change just because people live under a different political or economic system. That's the mistake the communists made, and libertarians should be extra-wary of making it again.

While public schools are not

While public schools are not technically monopolistic in that there are other options, they are actually much worse than many other monopolies in that everyone has to buy what they’re selling.

Good point, Brandon. To me, the definition of "injustice" is paying $10,000/year to send your kid to a competent school, and still being forced, at gunpoint if necessary, to pay for other kids' education. Or, being forced to pay for other kids' education, even though you never plan on having kids.

Is there any evidence

Is there any evidence whatsoever that these people wouldn’t also exist and be at least as psychotic/apathetic in Libertopia?

Jeff,

I'm curious as to how one would procure "evidence" from a non-existent utopian ideal (not that libertarianism is utopian, but, I'm just playing along with your assertion...)

This is, I have found, the typical response to a libertarian criticism of a socialist institution: "wouldn't this still happen in your Libertopia!?" Now, I agree, it IS pretty lazy to apply causation to a merely temporal association; however, given that you don't hear about this shit coming out of many private schools, there just might be a more causative association than you suppose. But, since A) you can't prove a negative, and B) you can't garner "evidence" from a political ideology, your argument is weak.

From my own experience,

From my own experience, having attended both public and private schools, one of the major differences is attitude towards parents. At Catholic elementary school, where I received a far, far superior education to the public schools, there was an expectation that parents had a role in the process.

I did one year in Catholic HS, which was terrible (except for the girls in pleated skirts). This school proves that private doesn't automatically mean better, but by the same token they were losing money hand over fist, and after a few scandals I understand that they've cleaned up their act.

I spent the rest of HS in a public school with a small class in an affluent neighborhood. The education was very good (although, it became clear that their elementary schools are not up to snuff...what do you mean you don't know what a predicate is?), but the bureaucracy was horrendous. Parents were seen almost as the enemy. They fired a principal on average every four years, the teacher's union was unstoppable, and parents would be lucky to get a call if their child got into trouble. Needless to say, if I didn't take an active role in my own education, and my parents didn't spend time with me at home, I literally could have learned nothing.

I guess the point is, that public schools are institutions, designed to move kids through as quickly and easily as possible, with little or no "interference" from the parents. Private schools, on the other hand, are a business that must satisfy the consumer, ie the parent, in order to continue. As I noted, that doesn't automatically make a private school better, but there is an underlying philosophical difference which can't be overstated.

it IS pretty lazy to apply

it IS pretty lazy to apply causation to a merely temporal association

That's a bit of an understatement. If I (for example) were to do the same, would you take the same "boys will be boys" attitude? Somehow I don't think so. Why is Jonathan's "confusion" about correlation vs. causation quickly brushed aside, but my supposed demand to prove a negative (which only happened in your mind anyway) sufficient reason to dismiss what I say? Double standards are a sure sign of disinterest in the truth.

given that you don’t hear about this shit coming out of many private schools

Really? A few minutes with Google and anyone can see that if you don't hear anything it's because you're guilty of selective observation.

Children are like wild

Children are like wild animals.

Jeff - and, snarkiness

Jeff -

and, snarkiness aside, even a public-school education is a lot better than what most people would get if public schools didn’t exist

The evidence compiled by Sen. Kennedy's staff some years ago on public schooling in Massachusetts would suggest that more children get a better education without public schools. Or more specifically, the literacy rate was higher in Massachusetts prior to public education. Additionally, there is a growing body of work that suggests the prussian-style education given in most public schools (and many private schools for that matter) is not good for children. Not to mention the common sense that one size does *not* fit all.

I don't think a system of exclusively home schooling and private schooling would stop all incidents of bullying and assault. There are and always will be a few monsters walking upright on two legs, just as there will always be a number of invertebrates capable of dressing themselves and spewing forth something resembling human language. I do think that under private education the invertebrates will not tend to end up in positions of authority. The mechanisms here are the same, or at least very similar to, the mechanisms described by Hayek on how the worst politicians come into power.

The school system, which is

The school system, which is not required to inform police of these crimes

Many of my friends are teachers, and this does not match my experience at all. The reporting requirements here in California are extremely strict. ie anything indicating sexual abuse, or violence by parents must be reported to the govt.

(not arguing with your general point, tho).

Don’t you think you’re

Don’t you think you’re overgeneralizing just a tiny little bit? OK, so what we have is a few psychos and a bunch of inexcusably apathetic onlookers.

Did you read the paragraph I quoted at the bottom of the article? In a single county, a thousand children are victims of sexual assaults, per the local govt. 12,000 are bullied. These aren't isolated incidents.

Is there any evidence whatsoever that these people wouldn’t also exist and be at least as psychotic/apathetic in Libertopia?

I'm afraid I can't guarantee that these people wouldn't exist in a "Libertopia". Libertopia - as you describe it - is not an option. In fact, I can guarantee that they would exist in any system. The difference is how influential they would be, how much power they would wield, and how responsive they would be to rectifying the situation. Monopolies cater to power seekers and have little incentive to please patrons.

Would you like some examples of sexual abuse from private schools, or by home-schoolers, so we can condemn them too? What happened is horrible, but it has practically nothing to do with whether public schools are a good thing to have overall.

It happens quite often: abusive parents who keep their children at home call themselves "homeschoolers" to keep the local snoops away, story is revealed in the press, homeschoolers are branded nuts and bigots. I agree - a single incident doesn't say anything. I simply wanted to point out that the "socialization" argument against homeschooling is ridiculous compared to the type of bullying, abuse, and Lord of the Flies-type socialization that is par for the course in traditional schooling.

P.S. public schools are not a monopoly either, unless you want to tell the millions in private schools or learning at home that they don’t exist.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what "monopoly" means. For the vast majority of the middle and lower class (and the rich), a quantity of money is taken from them without their consent to provide them with a "service" which they cannot opt out of without sacrificing that quantity of money. The purchasing power of that quantity of money is monopolized. If they want a different service provider, it costs above and beyond that quantity of money.

Who does this favor? Those who can afford to spend that extra non-monopolized money: the rich. It's the rich who can escape bad schools, not the poor. Even if we accept the assumption that certain families are net redistribution recipients (a dubious assumption at best due to the effects of taxation on the economy), they cannot choose alternate providers because the market for low-end alternate providers is monopolized. All the poor can do is vote for new school board every few years or attend monthly PTA meetings. That's the power of Voice.

You keep insisting that I am defending some sort of Utopian ideal. I'm not. My views come from my skepticism, not idealism. I favor the free market over the political market because the free market better controls the power-seekers and would-be tyrants.

The political market is the greatest burden the poor have to bear. It's supported mostly by well-meaning people who somehow think that voting gets rid of the influence of money, when instead all it does is create a singular product, which of course, goes to the highest bidder.

Jeff, I've already stated

Jeff, I've already stated that inept schools and all that that implies are not solely in the realm of public schools, but my thoughts on the handling of such still have merit.

For instance, the RCHS I went to for one year had a few child abuse scandals. Technically the teachers are all "brothers" and not "priests", if that means anything to you. Either way, as I stated, the difference is not between bad occuences happening. The difference is how they are handled and by whom they are handled.

Let me put it this way:

Something awful happens to your child in either public or private school.

Do you have more leverage and control over your own child's well-being and education in a public or private school?

The answer is obvious, and it doesn't involve any sort of "utopia".

Either an impersonal and nebulous government has control of a given child, or the individual parent does, period. Choose as you may.

Do you have more leverage

Do you have more leverage and control over your own child’s well-being and education in a public or private school?

I don't think the answer to that is as simple as you try to imply. Some victims and parents in the Catholic sex-abuse scandals are finding that redress is hard to come by. On the other hand, some public schools (particularly in rural areas where the administrators, teachers, and parents all know each other well) are very responsive. Public schools aren't directly run by devils in some Washington DC basement, you know; they're run by real human beings, usually by members of the same community as the students. I challenge anyone to show statistical evidence that dereliction of duty such as occurred in this case is widespread, with extra credit if anyone can cite figures to show it is significantly less widespread in private or parochial schools. I'll be quite surprised if anyone even tries.

Yes, that is unjust. It

Yes, that is unjust. It would also be unjust, though, for only the parents to pay for public schools while all reap the benefits of a generally educated populace...

It's not unjust. Education is far from unique in having positive externalities. As a man, I benefit when women exercise and wear nice clothes. Is it unjust for me not to have to pay for their clothes and gym memberships? I benefit if my neighbor keeps his house in good condition. Is it unjust that he has to pay for it? I benefit if someone invents a useful device. Is it unjust that I don't have to fund his research?

Of course not. Even though education and physical fitness have positive externalities, most of the benefits are concentrated in the hands of the recipient. When you receive education, you benefit from it much more than I do, because you can recover the cost of your education and more by commanding a higher salary. So it's entirely fair to ask you to bear the cost. Similarly, a woman can recover the cost of increasing her attractiveness by attracting better men. We all do things that have positive externalities every day, but you can't just put an arbitrary price--and arbitrary it must be--on these externalities and use that to justify taxation.

Of course, this doesn't apply to voting. Since we cannot recover the cost of making informed choices at the ballot box, most people have little incentive to educate themselves on the relevant issues. IIRC, this was one of the primary arguments for public education--to educate voters. Ironically (or perhaps not), most public schools nearly or completely ignore the one subject that is absolutely necessary for informed voting: economics. Anyway, this is a problem specific to democratic countries with universal adult suffrage.

I was about to make a

I was about to make a comment regarding the alleged injustice of not paying for positive externalities, but Brandon beat me to it. I guess a strict utilitarian could make the argument that not forcing beneficiaries to pay for the positive externalities they enjoy leads to an underproduction of utility, and this is unjust compared to a more efficient alternative. But then we must consider the transaction costs involved, and the relative size of the positive externality to the internalized benefit. As Brandon mentioned, most of the benefit already goes directly to the people who pay for it directly.

I agree that libertarianism

I agree that libertarianism is a minority position, and that we are not yet at the point where the population would advocate for the position that I and many others here do (I think this definitely comes full circle to the problem of the state educating children and choosing what and how they can be taught, rather than parents.) However, I think that it is a much stronger movement than you would like to admit.

One thing that has struck me is that when I first became a libertarian, very few people seemed to know what the term meant. Now that I'm at law school, it's a part of the vocabulary of everyone. Professors constantly refer to certain stances as the "libertarian" positions. Perhaps, even if the ideas are not widely accepted, they remain powerful.

Actually Lisa, Jeff is

Actually Lisa, Jeff is arguing that there is a positive externality involved with an educated populace. He believes there is, and that those who don't pay for that externality are free riding.

Maybe two different things

Maybe two different things are being conflated here. Originally, I think we were discussing education as a public good, and whether people are free riding on it. But free riding is when people get something without paying for it, police protection and national defense being the classic examples that peple use. But if we both have kids, and you are paying someone to educate yours, I don't see how I can free ride off of that. I still have to pay someone to educate my kid. The free rider problem usually refers to people getting something without paying, resulting in underproduction of the good in question. You seem to be arguing that education would be underproduced in the sense that in a free market some people would not be able to afford it and would thus go without. That certainly may be true, but it's not really a free rider problem. I personally think it falls into the same category as food stamps, housing subsidies, medicaid, and many other things that exist for people who have children whose needs they cannot provide for. Certainly education has positive externalities; lots of things do. But whether people should pay for them seems to me to be different than the question of how to fill a demand for something among people who cannot pay for it. If that's what you want to do, then do you think public education might be a very inefficient way to achieve it?

Jeff- How many Libertarians

Jeff-

How many Libertarians are there in national office? That tells you approximately how much sympathy the populace in general has for the alternative you’re offering.

I only know of one, Ron Paul, but I'm not sure its fair to necessarily deduce from that the sympathy of the general populace. Probably 16% of the eligible population voted for Bush or Kerry in 2004, but I would imagine that a good portion of them, if given a survey of a few dozen issues, would have more in common with his positions. This is why the debates are limited to the two party's (it would be too confusing to have additional participation - issues might actually be discussed.)

I think that there are other plausible explanations for the dearth of libertarians in political offices. At least, in my experience, many libertarians don't even see working within the system by trying to elect libertarian officials to be a feasible method of achieving positive change because of the nature of a democratic republic. Many people sympathetic to the cause of liberty vote Democrat or Republican, because they view voting for a third party candidate as "throwing away their vote." Some libertarians abstain from voting because they view it as counterproductive. Lastly, (but probably most importantly) there is the whole body of work suggesting that it is only the most vile and manipulative that excel in the political sphere.

I agree that libertarianism is a minority position, and that we are not yet at the point where the population would advocate for the position that I and many others here do (I think this definitely comes full circle to the problem of the state educating children and choosing what and how they can be taught, rather than parents.) However, I think that it is a much stronger movement than you would like to admit.

Brandon, _There’s a causal

Brandon,

_There’s a causal effect at work. But you probably have it backwards. Most people believe that compulsory, taxpayer-funded education is a good thing. So whenever a country gets rich enough to institute it, they do. That’s why they always go hand in hand._

I'm not buying this as an historical matter. Actually, I'm not buying it as a complete story. You might be right that nations have to reach a certain level of wealth before they bother to create free public education. But I think that one could make a pretty good argument that it's impossible (or at least terribly unlikely) that societies can _continue_ to advance past that level without public education.

What you seem to be discounting are many of the other effects that seem generally to be tied to education. Better education populations tend to have fewer children and less crime; those statistics track with wealth, also, but not as closely. I suspect that, to the extent that such characteristics do track with wealth, it's a case of overdetermination.

Much of this discussion, though, strikes me as rather strained. I don't really see any very good reasons (other than a priori ideology) for thinking that education doesn't have pretty massive positive externalities. The more interesting question would be whether public funding for education is an efficient or effective way of producing those externalities. Arguing that there may not really be any positive externality after all is a sucker's bet. You're flying in the face a quite a lot of evidence about the positive good of a well-educated population, which gives your argument the flavor of blind ideology.

Now, the “rising tide”

Now, the “rising tide” effect can be powerful–I’d rather be middle-class today than a 12th-century king–but in the short run, I might be better off with the competitive advantage. It’s really not something you can figure out a priori, but having educated compatriots is not the unmitigated good that you claim it is.

In addition, better education results in smarter thieves, as well as voters better able to vote themselves money out of your pocket, and smarter special interest groups. I concur that it is by no means clear what sign the externality of education has.

Sorry about that, Brandon.

Sorry about that, Brandon.

Lisa, Though I can't speak

Lisa,

Though I can't speak for Jeff's response to your challenge, I think that I would object that your example isn't exactly parallel. I don't think that Jeff's claim was that you somehow owe a debt to each person who is educated. Rather, his claim, at least as I understood it, is that because you benefit from having an educated public, you free ride to the extent that you aren't helping to pay to ensure an educated public.

In your drug trial example, though, what you suggest is that, because I benefit from your having taken the drug, I owe you money. But that's not quite right. I don't specifically benefit from _your_ having taken the drug. I benefit from the _entire clinical trial_. Indeed, it would be a bit counterintuitive to say that I owe you specifically, given the nature of clinical trials. After all, some participants have odd reactions, and some people serve as controls.

But the important thing to consider here is that I _do_ pay for clinical trials. After all, pharmaceutical companies build those costs into the cost of the eventual drug. So I'm not free-riding at all on clinical trials. I pay to conduct them. If all volunteers decide to hold out for cash payments for participation in clinical trials, then I'll pay for that, too, or at least I'll pay for it to the extent that I benefit from it (meaning if I actually take the medicine in question).

So I think that your analogy doesn't hold up. Though I'll admit that I was nearly convinced for most of the morning. :smile:

Jeff, Why is a transaction

Jeff,
Why is a transaction based provision of things like protection and fire service unworkable? Private subscription-based fire service is the norm where I grew up (and yes, if you don't subscribe, they will come put out your burning house. It will run you $500 an hour). Also, I guess I still don't follow about the free rider issue. Maybe I benefit from an educated populace. How does it follow logically that I owe money for that? Maybe if you tell me what you think of this example it will clear this up: I am a partcipant in a clinical drug trial. On one level, this is a transaction between me and the drug company. I reap direct benefits if the drug works. But other people who do not participate in the trial, but instead wait until the drug finishes testing and goes on the market, are in a sense free riding on the risks I took. They can have some assurance that the drug is relatively safe (or at least a better understanding of the risk-benefit tradeoff) because I did the experimental trial first. They assume less risk and have less uncertainty when they take the drug than I did. Do they owe me money because they're free riders? (While I receive medical care related to the trial, I am not paid for my participation).

Bad Brendan. Bad.

Bad Brendan. Bad.

whether or not some other

whether or not some other customer of my health insurance company keeps in shape should have no effect whatsoever on my premium.

Be realistic. Whether you like it or not, if the insurance company splits a group into two and offers one a discount, that comes at the expense of the other. They're not just going to offer a discount to half and leave the rest alone.

Given modern technology, it almost certainly is workable.

Maybe in a few years, more likely in a decade or so, but not today...and that's just the technical side. There are just too many transactions, for every person every day, most of which are not currently tracked as transactions and thus require new infrastructure - like an ID that cannot be left at home, that cannot be spoofed, and that identifies a person's "contract" status automatically so that e.g. emergency services don't have to wait for an answer. The privacy advocates, your own ilk very much among them, probably wouldn't even stand for it...thus defeating the very means by which their own supposed goal might be accomplished. If private agencies are involved there's a massive problem of coordination and conflict resolution to be solved. There's fraud and corruption. No, Brandon, you're just dreaming. Make your own case and explain how it is possible today, or give up the claim.

Education isn’t a public good. It’s characterized neither by free riders nor by nonrivalrous consumption.

That's a narrow and self-serving definition of "public good" but let's work with it anyway. Not characterized by free riders, eh? Oh yes it is. Everyone who benefits from living amongst an at least minimally educated populace, or enjoys hiring from such a labor pool, without paying for it, is a free rider. Go ahead, compare the US to places where public education doesn't exist. Know any where you'd want to live? Don't ask me to believe it's coincidence. Our success is predicated on our social structure, including schools, including social security and progressive taxation and regulated markets and a very long list of other things that libertarians only know enough or have enough energy to bitch about because they are its beneficiaries.

But let’s be honest–that’s not what you want. You want a redistributive system, under which some people get much more than their money’s worth and others get much less, and you can’t get there from here.

I get a lot of crap around here for behavior far less offensive than your attempt to misrepresent what I think. Where are the guardians of civility now, when it's one of their own transgressing? I can speak for myself far better than you could ever dream of doing, and I don't want anything like what you say I do. See the previous post about failure of imagination. If you think that anybody who doesn't want what you want must be a socialist, it's only because you can't think clearly.

I would say that Brandon’s

I would say that Brandon’s example actually does involve injustice, and it’s not feasible to collect such debts on an individual basis, but that doesn’t mean they can or should just be ignored. As I’ve pointed out here before, there are ways to deal with this. If you and Exercise Woman were part of the same health-insurance plan, and she got a break on her insurance for going to a health club, a thousand like you would indeed be paying an appropriate amount for her and a thousand like her to exercise.

Absolutely not. Ideally, the way insurance works is that I pay as my insurance premium for any given period of time the net present value of what the insurance company estimates I will cost them over that time, plus a small risk premium. So whether or not some other customer of my health insurance company keeps in shape should have no effect whatsoever on my premium. Her premium should be reduced by the net present value of the savings which the insurance company expects to realize from her healthful behavior.

Anyway, the benefit to which I was referring was the esthetic pleasure of having attractive women walking around, and I clearly am freeloading on that. Is that unjust?

It’s simply not workable to treat everything that government does as a transaction between it and every individual. There are too many transactions involved, and it’s way too cumbersome to have e.g. police and firefighters checking everyone’s status before they provide (or withhold) their services.

Given modern technology, it almost certainly is workable. But let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that it is not, and that this justifies government involvement in providing so-called public goods like police and fire service. But then you overreach. Education isn't a public good. It's characterized neither by free riders nor by nonrivalrous consumption.

Look: if you want to set up a system where people are taxed based on a reasonably accurate estimate of the cost of providing government services to them, or even of the benefit they derive from those services, I can live with that. It's not ideal, but it's a lot better than what we have now. But let's be honest--that's not what you want. You want a redistributive system, under which some people get much more than their money's worth and others get much less, and you can't get there from here.

you can’t imagine how a

you can’t imagine how a purely transaction-based government could be done, therefore it’s unfeasible.

I can imagine it being feasible, with some sort of micropayments etc., but I contend that it's not feasible today. Look at the whining about how complicated taxes are. Multiply that by about a hundred, and that's the complexity of the task you're claiming is feasible. I find that a bit of a stretch, not only technically but also in terms of human nature and what people would do with so many opportunities to abuse such a system. The failure of imagination here is yours, in not even attempting to imagine how a system would really be likely to evolve.

What is it with you and trying to prove negatives?

You mean what's with me and others trying to demand that I prove a negative, right? Ask them. Proving something's feasible is most emphatically not proving a negative. Go ahead and make a proposal, and we'll see how full of holes it is.

given its experience with that, would this society decide that again if given other alternatives?

In specific cases, such as Social Security, maybe not. In general, for the foreseeable future, yes. What percentage of the vote did Bush+Kerry get in 2004? What percentage did Badnarik get? How many Libertarians are there in national office? That tells you approximately how much sympathy the populace in general has for the alternative you're offering.

you don’t even agree with “to each according to his need"??

I neither agree nor disagree with it; it's orthogonal to what I'm saying. I'm not talking about what reasons the people or their elected representatives use to claim that a specific thing is or is not worth doing collectively. "To each" could be such a reason, but so could "because it's right" or even "because Hayek said so." What I'm talking about is the democratic process by which those ideas do or not become actual government policy, regardless of their specific content. However large or small the extent of political power, it's either democratic or autocratic. Which do you prefer?

So “find a better provider” has to equal “move"?

Practically, yes. For the reasons described above, "pick and choose" isn't a real option. If you are physically present in a country and/or trading with its people, you cannot help but benefit from the advantages and protections its society affords. If you're not paying for them, you're freeloading. Exceptions can be made for immigrants, visitors, or trade between nations because they are relatively few in number and the scale of the problem remains rather small, but it's just not feasible to have agreements more complex than international trade agreements between the government and each of its citizens. It would be kind of cool if that weren't the case, but here in 2005 you can take the whole deal or move. If we had a more federal system you might have more (or more appealing) options of where to move to, but we don't. I'm talking about reality, not abstract utopia.

You don’t believe in giving people choices? What do you think about the de-monopolization of telephone and energy service providers?

Does the phrase "slippery slope" mean anything to you? I support as much choice as is feasible. I think competition is a good thing, so I favor telecom/energy deregulation provided that it allows competition instead of just letting near-monopolies hide externalities. I favor letting people choose their own schools, health-care providers, security and safety services, as well...but not at the expense of the public forms of those things. A minimal level of such services is beneficial to all and in some cases morally necessary, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't be free to create or patronize private alternatives that provide an even higher level of service if they choose and have the means. That's meaningful choice, even if it's not the choice you personally want to have but that requires others to accommodate you.

It’s simply not workable

It’s simply not workable to treat everything that government does as a transaction between it and every individual. There are too many transactions involved, and it’s way too cumbersome to have e.g. police and firefighters checking everyone’s status before they provide (or withhold) their services. There are only two realistic options: forego doing something, or do it [b]for all, paid by all[/b] (BTW, “for all” means as a group, not for each member individually).

Heh - Jeff, you have essentially just made a "creation by design" argument in favor of unconsented-to government action: you can't imagine how a purely transaction-based government could be done, therefore it's unfeasible. What is it with you and trying to prove negatives? Trust me - it's amazing, the things that the market will come up with if enough people express a particular desire...

This society has decided, democratically, that some things are worth doing on that basis.

But, given its experience with that, would this society decide that again if given other alternatives?

Even the dissenters end up benefiting, and even the dissenters end up paying.

Wow, you're hardcore - you don't even agree with "to each according to his need"??

Unless you think the wishes of your minority should override those of the majority, your alternative is the free market: find a better provider, i.e. move.

So "find a better provider" has to equal "move"? You don't believe in giving people choices? What do you think about the de-monopolization of telephone and energy service providers? That seems to have worked out fairly well so far...

What is the basis for saying

What is the basis for saying that I owe a debt to people who do things I never asked them to do, that affect me in some indirect way?

Whether you asked for it or not, you reap the benefits. Yes, I know this is a libertarian site and everyone's going to scream that you should never pay for anything you don't explicitly ask for, but I disagree. It's simply not workable to treat everything that government does as a transaction between it and every individual. There are too many transactions involved, and it's way too cumbersome to have e.g. police and firefighters checking everyone's status before they provide (or withhold) their services. There are only two realistic options: forego doing something, or do it [b]for all, paid by all[/b] (BTW, "for all" means as a group, not for each member individually). This society has decided, democratically, that some things are worth doing on that basis. Even the dissenters end up benefiting, and even the dissenters end up paying. Unless you think the wishes of your minority should override those of the majority, your alternative is the free market: find a better provider, i.e. move.

Jeff, Maybe I don't follow.

Jeff,
Maybe I don't follow. What is the basis for saying that I owe a debt to people who do things I never asked them to do, that affect me in some indirect way?

not forcing beneficiaries to

not forcing beneficiaries to pay for the positive externalities they enjoy leads to an underproduction of utility, and this is unjust compared to a more efficient alternative. But then we must consider the transaction costs involved

Looks like you weren't the only one beaten to the punch, because that's exactly the point I was going to make. I would say that Brandon's example actually does involve injustice, and it's not feasible to collect such debts on an individual basis, but that doesn't mean they can or should just be ignored. As I've pointed out here before, there are ways to deal with this. If you and Exercise Woman were part of the same health-insurance plan, and she got a break on her insurance for going to a health club, a thousand like you would indeed be paying an appropriate amount for her and a thousand like her to exercise. If you and she were part of the same electorate, and she got a break for that and a dozen other things she does, you and a million like you would be paying an appropriate amount for the positive externalities that she creates and you enjoy. Of course, some would still try to deny that any debt exists, but they're basically lying. It's a very small debt, with no direct link from one individual to another, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Such things do add up, and they can be dealt with in a fairer way than by ignoring them.

Brandon has redeemed

Brandon has redeemed himself.

As have you, since you spelled my name right this time.

Brandon has redeemed

Brandon has redeemed himself.

Whether you like it or not,

Whether you like it or not, if the insurance company splits a group into two and offers one a discount, that comes at the expense of the other. They’re not just going to offer a discount to half and leave the rest alone.

If the insurance company changes its policy so as to give a discount to those in good shape, and I have up until now been paying less due to subsidies from these model insurees, then my rates will go up. But if the policy has always been that way, then whether or not other people exercise should not affect my rates.

My rate is based solely on the expected cost of providing covered services to me. It does not take into account the various and sundry benefits I derive from having healthy countrymen (i.e., fewer sick days means more economic growth).

Also, the fact that health insurance is voluntary is important. If I think that my rates are too high because I'm subsidizing the obese, I can try another insurance company or opt out altogether. This tends to minimize redistribution. But when participation is involuntary, I don't have that option. How much we spend on education and who pays for it are determined by political means. The predictable result is that contributions are grossly disproportional to benefits.

There are just too many transactions, for every person every day, most of which are not currently tracked as transactions and thus require new infrastructure - like an ID that cannot be left at home, that cannot be spoofed, and that identifies a person’s “contract” status automatically so that e.g. emergency services don’t have to wait for an answer.

Fire service: Put a plaque on the sidewalk in front of your house. Yes, I've heard stories about how this failed miserably in the past. I have serious doubts about them, because it just doesn't make sense for competing companies not to work out agreements whereby they would save each other's client's houses in exchange for a payment.

Emergency medical services: These come in two flavors. In one, you must carry your card with you at all times, at the risk of being refused treatment. Or maybe they implant a chip or give you a small tattoo. In the other, they'll give you emergency treatment if you don't have a card and are unconscious, but they can later sue to recover costs if you're not a customer. If you can't repay them, they have to recover it from premiums, so this form would be more expensive.

Police: You need their help, you pay. Payment for patrolling an area is a bit trickier. Most likely neighboring homes and businesses would chip in to pay for a patrol, with those abstaining being denied protection (i.e., if your house doesn't have a plaque, the policeman on patrol can turn a blind eye to a break-in).

Again, it doesn't have to be precise. If we had a system in which the government attempted to make a reasonable estimate of the cost of providing services to each person and taxed him on the basis of that, I could live with that. But that's nothing like what we have now.

The privacy advocates, your own ilk very much among them

For the record, I'm a liberty advocate, not a privacy advocate. I advocate privacy to the extent that it is necessary to preserve liberty, and reject it to the extent that it requires coercion.

If private agencies are involved there’s a massive problem of coordination and conflict resolution to be solved.

Building a car involves massive problems of coordination, but the market handles it just fine. Arbitration can be used to resolve conflicts.

There’s fraud and corruption.

Which is different from what we have now...why?

That’s a narrow and self-serving definition of “public good” but let’s work with it anyway.

It's the one given by that last great bastion of free-market ideologues: Wikipedia.

Everyone who benefits from living amongst an at least minimally educated populace, or enjoys hiring from such a labor pool, without paying for it, is a free rider.

"Without paying for it?" You are aware, aren't you, that education correlates positively with salary? So people who want to hire educated labor most certainly do have to pay for it. Those who don't want to pay for it can, and often do, hire labor from places where education is less common.

Actually, I'm not sure that it really does benefit me to have highly-educated compatriots. If I'm the most educated person in the country, then I have a powerful competitive advantage. Each person who achieves my level of education reduces that advantage. And if everyone has more education than me, then I'm at a competitive disadvantage. It really only benefits me in the "rising tide lifts all boats" sense.

Now, the "rising tide" effect can be powerful--I'd rather be middle-class today than a 12th-century king--but in the short run, I might be better off with the competitive advantage. It's really not something you can figure out a priori, but having educated compatriots is not the unmitigated good that you claim it is.

Go ahead, compare the US to places where public education doesn’t exist. Know any where you’d want to live? Don’t ask me to believe it’s coincidence.

It's not. There's a causal effect at work. But you probably have it backwards. Most people believe that compulsory, taxpayer-funded education is a good thing. So whenever a country gets rich enough to institute it, they do. That's why they always go hand in hand.

Our success is predicated on our social structure, including schools, including social security and progressive taxation and regulated markets...

There's a more obvious example. You may claim that social security is a moral obligation (I disagree, of course), but it doesn't make us rich. Anything that redistributes wealth from savers to consumers is going to be a drag on long-term growth. And yet every nation wealthy enough to implement it has some form of it. Are you going to argue now that this proves that wealth redistribution is the key to economic growth? Or will you grant that these programs are an effect of wealth, and not its cause?

I get a lot of crap around here for behavior far less offensive than your attempt to misrepresent what I think.

If I misrepresented your position, I apologize. But I doubt very much that I did. Your protests would be much more convincing if you hadn't spoken positively of social security and progressive taxation above.

If you say that you reject all forms of wealth redistribution, and that the goal of a tax policy should be to approximate use fees as closely as possible, then I'll admit that I was wrong and apologize. If not, then I expect you to retract your accusations.

Where are the guardians of civility now, when it’s one of their own transgressing?

I don't know. I guess it might help if you gave them more than 23 minutes.

If you think that anybody who doesn’t want what you want must be a socialist...

I don't think you're a socialist. I think you're a social democrat who favors some amount of wealth redistribution. And I don't think you want something fundamentally different from what I want. I just think that your ideas about how to get there are vastly inferior to mine.