California's Young Pioneers

The Californians are going to vote on universal preschool for children over 4. The projected costs are $2.4 billion a year, but that's a miscalculation; it's going to cost a lot more. (Don't ever trust government estimates.) Who will pay? Well, isn't it obvious? The rich! The rich are always available as a convenient resource for whatever slick socialist scheme the government wants to implement. Far be it from them to have any authority or gravitas for contributing so the economy or, God forbid, rights; no, they are tools, things to be used, whenever fancy strikes the social engineers. Soaking the rich is ever popular; how dare they be better off than the average Californian slob!

Some warn that shaking down the wealthier part of the population has its limits; the money could dry up during an economic downturn. Taxes may have to be extended to the upper middle class, as well. No matter, accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way; what do numbers matter when it's about the children! Maybe a raid on the neighboring states could supply the needs of the state government, although I hear that the chieftain, Conan the Barbarian, has a weak heart.

Now explain to me why the public in this day and age would want universal anything. Aren't public schools a sufficient disaster? Why extend the failed model to preschool? The propaganda talks about "quality" preschools. Of course, it does. Each socialist promises to the masses lives of plenty that will far outstrip what capitalism can offer to them, as long as he is elected dictator. Everything will go exactly according the well-intentioned central plan that the socialist has dreamed up. But that's the very problem. Will government-run and government-subsidized preschools (those that will meet the state's "standards") be the best means of providing preschool education to the children of California? Or are there better ways?

First of all, there seems to be no realization that government preschools, just like government schools, are a danger to children. They are not goods; they are economic bads, like trash or pollution. Children fare much better when their moral and intellectual education takes place at home or at certain especially successful private facilities. Public schools will actually damage your child's mind and heart. I expect the state preschools to do the same. Except that it will be worse, because children will be given over to their wardens at an especially tender age. My own personal view is that even fully private preschooling is a controversial idea, because in them, children are not loved. Parents should think long and hard before "tearing their children from the bosom of the family," as Mises put it.

Then there are the government "standards." In the marketplace all methods and standards of instruction and learning tools and teacher training evolve to satisfy the consumers -- the children and their parents. There will be no such evolution in government preschools. Free from competitive pressures, they will not innovate nor improve nor meet changing market demand. Things will change in them, alright, but only for the worse. Very soon, in the poorer districts, there will be many cases of neglect and abuse. The present politically correct climate of public opinion will make it difficult for preschools to be selective about their customers, which means that their services will be hampered by bad students.

Even in the better preschools there will be no incentive for these government overseers of the future privates of the industrial army to raise children properly. (The overseers will be well compensated, and in fact the teachers unions support the initiative, because preschool matrons will be paid salaries similar to those of public school teachers. But that will not help the children.) The costs will constantly rise, while the quality of service will decline, as with all near-monopolies.

What little competition will remain will be put at a significant disadvantage. For example, the measure will also crowd out successful private firms like the Montessori schools, which, if they want to remain in business, will have to change their curriculum and teaching methodology in order to become "acceptable" to the bureaucrats.

Further, different children and parents will benefit from different kinds of preschools. What is agreeable to one consumer may not be so to another, and the market allows numerous seemingly irreconcilable consumer preferences to be satisfied. Yet all preschools under socialization will be one-size-fits-all. What's more, the "size" that is supposed to fit all will likely actually fit very few. Why do people trust the government to adopt any sort of reasonable standards and practices from some scientifically valid point of view? The era in which the government attracted the best and the brightest is long gone. After a brief period of time this will become another political problem, about which people will talk incessantly without ever conceiving of the superiority of private provision of education. It will be yet another failure of the human race to arrange its economic affairs properly, generating among the Californians only cynicism and self-contempt.

The program is said to be voluntary, but for how long? We should expect calls to make preschooling mandatory shortly after the measure passes. If it's good for schools, why not for preschools, as well? And the government knows better how to deal with the kids than their parents do anyway, or so the statists will argue.

Again, why the coercion? The market has worked to make preschool available to a great majority of the population who want to take advantage of it, if it is indeed an advantage. Well, some very poor families are unable to afford it. And preschool is now taken to be a necessity of life. So, since no one (people feel) ought to be deprived of necessities, even temporarily, that allegedly justifies redistribution. But at best, this line of reasoning calls for some sort of negative income tax, a bad idea but at least not an obviously insane one. If we wait just a little bit, then the preschool industry, if left free and private, will develop to such an extent that even the poorest will be able pay for their children to go to their centers. Is the vice of impatience a good reason to ruin preschools for everybody right now? Must all children suffer because economic progress is not fast enough?

And please don't give me the public goods argument for preschools. The idea is that a better educated public is more likely to support democracy and to make wise decisions in public affairs. Look, if children as young as 4 in preschools will be exposed to government indoctrination, I fear for their sanity. And, once again, the end of the public's being well-versed in economics and political philosophy is not at issue; the problem is the best means to achieving that goal. If you laughed at seeing the words "economics" and "philosophy" in the same paragraph as "public schools," I am not surprised. Maybe it's time we tried freedom in education.

The universal preschool measure is education socialism which will shortly prove to be a failure and an embarrassment to California. Unfortunately, at that time it will take some imagination to see what private enterprise would have built if the government had not nationalized the industry. It will take imagination to see how the "rich" could have invested the money (perhaps even into private preschools) that was taxed away and thereby created jobs and furthered prosperity in California.

The voters will be well-advised to torpedo this wickedness at the polls.

June 6, 2006

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