The policy illusion
Kain is right that many school choice advocates want a single-payer, government voucher system. But he’s absolutely wrong to imply the libertarian preference is for a single-payer, government voucher system in education. [Note: I look at ideologies as structures reflecting what people think is valuable, what works and why in politics and society.]
In education, we begin with an almost fully socialized system unlike anything else in American society. So its no surprise that education reform discussions produce ideological confusion.
Vouchers, because they move the means of production out of the hands of the government, into the hands of private providers, and afford the consumer some decision-making powers, are improvements from a perspective that advantages individual liberty. But the single-payer, government funding, and regulation inherent in a voucher program remain massive defects from the libertarian perspective.
Our health care system is crippled by government regulation and single-payer (private employer and government) distortions. But it is not fully socialized or government-funded like our education system. A single-payer government health system would make matters worse from the libertarian perspective.
I think somewhere in the comments I mentioned that libertarians would, if confronting a truly socialized medicine system such as the UK’s, support a move to single-payer because it would represent a shift toward greater individual liberty. So the direction we’re headed from one policy to the next is really important, but often I think people stake out their positions based on tribalism rather than making directional choices.
The point of my post was really to try and drive home how absurd some of the dividing lines in our political discourse really are. Depending on the starting point, which policy preferences we may prefer could categorize us as libertarians or liberals or conservatives. The direction our policies take us is much more important than the teams advocating those policies, or the labels they are associated with in popular culture.
Our silly rhetoric often reflects this. Somehow single-payer healthcare is a great progressive achievement, yet single-payer education is the privatization and corporatization of public education. I don’t think many people actually consider how this double standard works, or why they support the one but not the other.
In any case, I understand that for many libertarians at least, single-payer education is not their best-case-scenario. It’s simply a step in the right direction. Depending on your brand of libertarianism you might support a move to for-profit education, or at least private-only education maybe with a safety net or maybe funded solely without government help. Or you might support devolving public schools into teacher/parent cooperatives or a move toward much more home-schooling. Or some mix of all of the above.
I’m okay with these ideas, honestly, because I want education to evolve far, far beyond the classroom model we now have in place. The more I think about education, the more I realize how foolish we’d have to be to leave our children’s education up to any large bureaucratic entity, public or private. Even if we leave our children’s schooling up to the school system, we should take their education into our own hands as much as possible.
How to get from here to there, as I so often say, is the trick and where I think many libertarian ideas run into trouble (if not trouble because they are too “Utopian” than trouble because politics is too dystopian). For an example on how not to go about it, you need look only so far as the private for-profit college industry, an industry wholly reliant on the largesse of the state. But there is a preschool cooperative in my town that is really cool, and I could see this as a good alternative to traditional public schooling.