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Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Voucher Advocates, Take Heed

Where There Is Government, There Is Control

As if we needed more proof that with government money come regulations, the U.S. Department of Education says that colleges and universities may not use standardized admissions tests that have a “significant disparate impact” on any race, sex, or national origin. Unless a test is indispensable—a matter to be decided by the department—its use will be regarded as invidiously discriminatory, resulting in loss of federal money.

The premise is that admissions tests on which particular groups do relatively poorly—the SAT and ACT—must be culturally biased. The assertion that these exams somehow give a cultural advantage to white males of European ancestry and Asian males is bunk, but that’s inconvenient to the social engineers. The tests must be biased.

The consequences of the prohibition are predictable. Students will be admitted to schools for which they are unqualified. Then they will flunk out. There’s benevolent social policy for you. After California’s state colleges and universities were forced to stop using race as a criterion for admission, it was pointed out that minority groups lost “representation” at the top schools, UCLA and Berkeley. But Thomas Sowell noticed that there are now more blacks, Mexican-Americans, and American Indians than previously at other schools, such as the University of California at Irvine. The opponents of quotas were right: instead of going to Berkeley, for which they are unqualified, minority youth who are not top students, like their white counterparts, will go to schools where they have a chance to succeed.

David Friedman, the economist and author of Hidden Order, once formulated Friedman’s Law: government is so incompetent, it can’t even give something away. Government may promise to give all students a shot at a top college, but clearly it can’t make unqualified students qualified simply by forcing their admission to top schools.

Government should not be dictating who should be admitted to which schools. It shouldn’t be operating schools. Period. Where there is government, there is control. Voucher advocates, take heed.

* * *

September is back-to-school month, a fitting time to again put government control of education on the examination table.

Private schools are better at educating children than government schools. But why? Because they’re private? Marshall Fritz thinks that answer misses a big point and distorts the school-reform movement.

The rule about pipers, payers, and tunes is endlessly cited in the analysis of government policy. But it’s curiously neglected in discussions about what to do about the “public schools.” Jacob Huebert reminds us that it’s applicable there too.

The logic of government education leads inexorably to wider intervention in the economy. The “School-to-Work” program of the Clinton administration shows that only too well. Gary Wolfram explains.

Government schools are reliable for at least one thing: teaching children the government’s line on everything from taxes to war. Daniel Hager says this is nothing new.

Higher education is also increasingly a creature of public policy. Through loans and grants, government helps a lot of people go to college who otherwise wouldn’t be there. Russell Madden is not so sure this is a good thing.

The battle in the Balkans is a reminder that governments, never trustworthy, are least credible when they go to war. H.L. Mencken knew this well. Unable to write about war, he found a more subtle way to comment on the state’s lack of veracity and the people’s inclination to believe whatever it says. Wendy McElroy explains.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of perhaps the greatest achievement in economics in the 20th century: the publication of Human Action by Ludwig von Mises. Richard Ebeling explains why this book and this occasion are so important.

It was Mises who pointed out that socialism would have no way to intelligently plan an economy because the abolition of the market would eliminate the tools of calculation: prices. Manual Ayau revisits the calculation debate and notes that it applies to any system other than laissez-faire capitalism.

Most of us are taught that before the Europeans intruded, American Indians lived communally with individuality submerged in the tribal soup. Amy Sturgis writes that, on the contrary, Indian life was yet another source of the freedom philosophy for the European settlers in North America.

Nothing could be more different than the way business and government account for their activities. James Bovard demonstrates that in each case, form follows function.

One of Washington’s hottest ideas is to invest some of the Social Security tax revenue in the stock market. Great idea, right? Not so fast, says Deroy Murdock.

Our columnists have been busy the last month. Donald Boudreaux finds the government’s method of detecting victimless “crimes” horrifying. Lawrence Reed sees nothing but bad news in the coming explosion of bogus liability suits against business. Doug Bandow revisits the U.S. bombing in Sudan. Thomas Szasz warns that speaking truth can land you in trouble. Dwight Lee examines the relationship between speculation and risk. Mark Skousen looks back at anticommunism. Russell Roberts imagines a world without the FDA. And Michael Cox and Richard Alm consider the claim that wealthy people hurt the middle class, concluding “It Just Ain’t So!”

In the book section, reviewers provide the scoop on works dealing with liberty, socialism, protectionism, and FDR.

—Sheldon Richman

  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.