Showing posts with label Individualism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Individualism. Show all posts

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens? Part 2

This is a follow up response to my original post a week ago on whether or not government has a duty to educate its citizens. I originally wrote a critique of the speech made by the first speaker, Chuck Braman, and now I'm going to write a line-by-line critique of the arguments the second speaker gave, Roberto Guzman. He writes at the blog Capitalism and Ideas and his blog post, written here, is inspired by his arguments in the debate. So without further ado:

Larry Elder makes the point that government education is similar to an item on a restaurant menu that not even the waitress would order.

Yeah, unless they can't afford private education, especially if a "free market" Republican governor like Scott Walker tries to destroy the teacher's unions.

Roughly 11% of Americans send their kids to private school, but nearly 30% of parents who work in public schools do so. In urban areas such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati it hovers closer to 40%. To reiterate, these are government education providers choosing to send their kids to the competing private schools.

I couldn't corroborate that 30% claim and Roberto does not include a source. The number I see is 19% of public school teachers send their kids of private schools, though 28% have tried alternatives to public schools at some point. This is definitely higher than the national average, but why are so many public educators sending their kids to private schools, especially in urban centers? Well, it's because many urban schools suck and teachers who work there know this. So if they can afford to send their kids to private schools, they will. The median high school teacher salary is $57,200, for middle school it's $55,860, and for elementary school it's $54,890. But the vast majority of Americans won't be able to afford this option, not when the national average for private school tuition is $10,003 a year. Even if it was half that, most Americans still wouldn't be able to afford it, not with 50% of Americans making less than $30,000 a year.

What about the government officials themselves? 37% of Representatives send their kids to private school. For US senators, that number is a staggering 45%. President Obama, himself a product of private education, made a big show of vetting DC public schools when he was elected. After all of the hullabaloo, he sent his daughters to the most elite private school in the capital. If government education is so great, why do its biggest advocates avoid it like tap water in Mexico?

Most members of congress are far wealthier than your average American. In 2012 the base salary for all members of the US House and Senate was $174,000 a year. Few than 3% of Americans earn that much. And this doesn't even count additional income from book selling, speeches, and gifts from lobbyists. People will always be able to pay for better private education than what the public system can offer. Nobody denies that. But this is not an argument to privatize all public education.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Does Government Have A Duty To Educate Its Citizens?

Last week I attended a public debate on the proposition: It is the duty of government to educate its citizens. I was and am for the proposition, but the side arguing against the motion definitely made the better case for their point of view. It was a two-on-two debate, just like my recent debate over open source information, Thankfully, Chuck, one of the two debaters arguing against the motion, whom I know and spar with regularly, put up his opening speech on his site and what I want to do here is offer my critique of it.

Chuck begins his speech arguing that "duty" only applies to individuals:

To begin, I'd like to bring some clarity to the meaning of the proposition that we’re arguing against, which is that it's the duty of the government to educate its citizens. Regarding that proposition generally, it's important to note at the outset that the term “duty” is essentially a moral term that applies to individuals. Only in a metaphorical sense can the term be applied to the government.

With the crux of the debate over "duty" it is indeed important to say what we mean by the term. I'm skeptical of objective moral duties, but as I've written in the past, I think moral obligations and duties stem from one's self in adherence to principles, in addition to our various social contracts. But this means that it's important to identify what is the purpose of government. So what is it?

The purpose of government is to ensure the rights of its citizens are protected and defended by providing a police and military force, and a judicial system to adjudicate the law. Libertarians like Chuck would agree with that. But I think governments exist for more than that. In addition to police, military, and law, the purpose of the government is to protect its citizens against the harmful natural forces of unregulated markets. If a market is like a river, you need dams to regulate against droughts and floods that naturally happen in boom and bust cycles. A completely unregulated free market will inevitably result in increased concentrated wealth in the hands of a relatively few, and will leave millions at the bottom with little ability to climb the economic ladder. Government's purpose is to recognize that and provide the necessary regulations to prevent it. This isn't to go full on socialism. This is to allow the river to flow, but implement some common sense, rational checks and balances to ensure the river flows smoothly for the largest possible number of people. The US Constitution's preamble says one of the purposes of the US government is to "promote the general Welfare". This is to ensure the society runs smoothly.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ayn Rand's Objectivism and Libertarianism

I've had several close encounters with libertarians recently and I have to be honest with you, many of them piss me off as much as, if not more, than religious fundamentalists. There is a fairly popular libertarian niche today that is quite outspoken and very ideologically driven, and it seems to have a lot of young people in their ranks. There are also quite a few atheists who are libertarians and I've been noticing them as I go out into my local atheist/philosophical meetups.

Although I am sympathetic to some of the libertarian social views like marijuana and prostitution legalization, when it comes to economics and government I have some sharp disagreements with them. Many libertarians that I've spoken to either want no government at all, or government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub, to paraphrase Grover Norquist. But mostly, they want a total "free market" economy where government regulation is non-existent, and some even want the total privatization of education, law, police, and the military.

Not all libertarians hold to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, but many do. She's the ideological darling of many on the Right. Her fan boys include Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who said that her books are "required reading" for his interns. The interesting thing is that Ayn Rand was an outspoken atheist, and it's odd how so many on the Right identify with her, given the Right's close associations with religion. As far as her atheism is concerned, we're on the same page. We both see religion as something irrational and not justified by any good evidence. But Rand's philosophy emphasizes a kind of ethical egoism, whereby she thought that we should never sacrifice anything important to us for the benefit of someone else who was not important to us, like a stranger who was suffering. She thought taxation was theft, but still believed in government doing the three basics: police, law, and military. (This would be financed by voluntary donations according to her.) All the money you make would be yours to keep and there's no concern for any kind of "greater good." Rand's philosophy is a fervent objection to utilitarianism. If fact, recently when I mentioned my concern for the "greater good" when I was debating economics with a libertarian, he literally walked out on me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are You A Capitalist?

When I talk economics with people I have a few times been mistaken for a socialist. It seems that in our country today this idea has been drummed into us that anything that even remotely curtails capitalism is immediately labeled to be socialist or communist. That means unless you are prepared to accept this label, (a la Fox News style) you must be a supporter of unobstructed capitalism. This has angered many who believe in free markets but with a fair and conscious approach to it.

When asked if I am a capitalist I usually respond that I am a liberal capitalist. Recently the idea of compassionate capitalism has struck me as more accurately describing my economic beliefs. While there is no single definition, compassionate capitalism is fair capitalism; it is conscious capitalism; it is against the cut throat corporatism that we've seen increasing over the past few decades that seeks to outsources jobs, and cut wages and benefits of workers regardless of the profits line. Compassionate capitalism is for protecting worker's rights to have fair and decent pay and benefits; it is for considering the environmental consequences of a business' actions, and it is for a fair tax code that doesn't allow those making the most money to pay a lower tax rate than those in the middle.

In an interview with, Raj Sisodia, head of the Conscious Capitalism Institute describes compassionate or conscious capitalism has having four traits as it relates to business:

  1. First is a higher purpose. There needs to be some other reason why you exist, not just to make money. 
  2. Second is aligning all the stakeholders around that sense of higher purpose and recognizing that their interests are all connected to each other, and therefore there's no exploitation of one for the benefit of another. 
  3. The third element is conscious leadership, which is driven by purpose and by service to people, and not by power or by personal enrichment. 
  4. And the fourth is a conscious culture, which really embodies all of these elements: trust, caring, compassion, and authenticity.
More or less, these were the characteristics that many businesses used to have that we have since strayed from. There was a time when CEOs recognized the value of their workers and the community in which they operated. Over the years, the thirst for greater and greater profits led many business leaders to put profits over people. And so here we are, with CEOs making 400 hundred times the average worker when it used to be 10 or 20 times; we have workers taking pay and benefit cuts while CEOs get raises and even while profits increase. Something's wrong here. It doesn't take a genius to recognize why our economy is virtually flat: the middle class carry the economy, and the less disposable income they have, the less Americans consume. 

The lack of compassion exhibited by many corporations in recent years demonstrates the inability to consider those outside their social circles. That's what it means to lack compassion. If you live your life with a mentality that only considers the well-being of yourself, your family and friends, and those basically inside your social circle, then you allow yourself to be open to economic policy that will hurt thousands or millions of people, as well as animals and the environment. 

There is much more to this than I can possibly mention in a single post. For example, how exactly would compassionate capitalism be implemented in relation to the healthy competition between competing business interests? It seems that the compassionate capitalist must strike a careful balance between collectivism and individualism. Either extreme serves many the wrong way and there is plenty of room for argument. I just want to help offer the liberal capitalist an identity that isn't between either extremes of communism and unobstructed capitalism.

So when asked if I'm a capitalist, I'd say yes. I believe in free markets and free people, I just don't think that the bottom line is above all that we should be focusing on and that there is a need to have an economic system that consciously and compassionately considers all the pieces entangled in its web. Therefore, you can call me a compassionate capitalist. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Collectivism Vs. Individualism

At the heart of our deeply divided country, between those on the left and those on the right, is the debate over economics and the role of government, and collectivism versus individualism. I lean towards the left in most social and economic issues, so I am generally for collectivism. In a modern liberal democracy, we of course are going to have elements of both in our society, but many of those on the right are simply taking the Ayn Rand-ian philosophy of individualism to its extreme.

Conservatives want a sink or swim economy, where you either succeed with what you've got, or you fail. And if you fail from being a victim of your own circumstance, don't expect government to offer any assistance. That's not government's role according to proponents of individualism. They don't support government money used to pay for people's educations. I've always felt education is an investment into the future. If someone poor is helped to receive a college education, they can get a better job, spend more money into the economy and ultimately pay more taxes. Conservatives say no. None of their hard earned income should be taxed and sent to those who cannot afford higher education. But education is not government cheese, it is not a welfare check, it is the future of this country. When we cease to graduate scientists and engineers at rates comparable to other developing countries, we cease being a superpower. The country that masters science, masters the world. Conservatives drive me sick on this point, because they do not recognize how important it is for our future that we have Americans educated in skilled professions, particularly in math and science.

Conservatives are scared of a nanny state where there is a permanent underclass that receives subsidies from the government and becomes accustomed to it, and loses motivation to better themselves. I share this worry with them, and I too fear that some people get far too comfortable with handouts. Welfare reform was the right thing to do. If you are getting money from the government, you should be forced to get off your ass and work. Government aide should be temporary, but it should exist. People who face hard times who are not lifelong welfare recipients need a little boost while in transition. This is collectivism at its finest. It suited our hunter-gatherer ancestors very well and enabled our species to conquer the world. Collectivism is at the heart of our socio-biologocal evolution, and as such, this is a great justification for its continuation. A society that helps those who are down, has a better chance of prospering in the long run.


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