One of the most oft-cited justifications for the state is the “what of the children!” plea. It employs what I call “the fallacy of the isolated example” and it goes something like this: parents are humans, humans are imperfect, therefore at any given time there will exist some set of human parents making imperfect choices, sometimes those choices will negatively impact their children, ipso facto these negative impacts can only be prevented by compelling the enlistment of others via that entity which possesses the exclusive legal right to engage in unilateral violence within a defined geographical region: the state. No other possible remedy is considered. Further, the state must intervene on behalf of ALL children, as we certainly can’t predict who might be harmed. This argument is fallacious because there always exists isolated negative cases in any system. In order to justify any action simply find a singular example you believe your “solution” will remedy.
Given the prevalence of this child-based state apologia it should come as no surprise that Melissa Harris-Perry (of MSNBC fame) last week uttered these words in an MSNBC promo: “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children: Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children. So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility… then we start making better investments”
Setting aside for the moment the bizarre notion that “communities” somehow have a non voluntary obligation in children within that community (most likely in order to establish a basis for that same community extracting its “fair share” of their earnings in the future) the listener is left to wonder exactly what dream world does Harris-Perry live in? She says, “we have never invested as much in public education as we should have…” As the kids say today “Are you serious?!?” We spend three-times the inflation adjusted amount on K-12 public education today as we did in 1970 with ZERO change in reading, math or science scores. If you pump air in a tire and the pressure does not increase, the problem isn’t the pump. Time to look elsewhere. She then says, “Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the households…” Alas, it is already everyone’s responsibility. That’s what the “public” in “public education” means. Our collective (everybody’s) taxes pay for public education. Public education means it is incumbent upon the community to pay for the education of all the children, or more to the point, it is incumbent upon some people to pay the (inflated) educational costs of other people’s children, particularly the children of those who exercise no reproductive restraint as those parents bear little of the actual cost in raising them – that’s society’s job after all.
In a follow up statement over her original comments she says “This is about whether we as a society…have a right to impinge on individual freedoms in order to advance a common good.” On this she is correct – that is exactly the question we should be asking, because the answer to that question is a resounding NO. “No” must be the answer not merely for utilitarian reasons (i.e. competition would more effectively solve problems than a monopolistic government) but also for ethical reasons (a society that justifies theft because it might increase the “common good” is a fundamentally unjust and morally bankrupt society).
So as shocking as her comments were, they were merely a bolder rewording of our current public educational system, a system, I might add, both the left and right strongly support. If you took issue with the sentiments she expressed, then to be intellectually honest you must begin to question the legitimacy of any government having any hand in education at all. If you would like to take the next step on that journey I invite you to read Rothbard’s “Education: Free and Compulsory”.