Bad Socialism Comparison

November 1, 2009

A writer of a letter to the editor in a local newspaper makes a common mistake in equating our public education system with socialism and with the proposed changes in health care:

While attending parent-teacher conferences for my sons recently, I marveled at the dedication of their professionally trained teachers. I considered all that my kids had learned, amazed at their progress. I thought about how convenient it was to have a bus that picks them up in front of our house to take them to school. I pondered the school lunch program and how it also provides free and reduced-price meals for low-income children.

Having mandated free, quality public education has been key to keeping the United States a major world power. Now I understand that some school districts have had challenges. But most deliver a quality product.

I then thought about the raging health care debate going on today. If public education were just now being proposed, would it also be shouted down in defeat as a “socialist” concept?

How is education a right but health care is not? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I’ve seen this mistake made numerous times with other services such as fire, police and sewers.  It usually goes something like this letter, “the Police in my area do a good job, socialism isn’t so bad.”

There are several problems with these comparisons.  The main problem is that none of these things – public education, fire, police and sewers – are true socialist models.   It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.P

People putting forth such arguments assume these services are socialist because they are funded through taxes and controlled by a government.  What such people miss is that socialism is the ownership and control through a centralized government, or one government in a country- the Federal government.

That’s not true for these services.  They are owned and controlled by many, many local government-like groups that are checked and balanced by other government groups.

Consider public education.  In my home metro area, we have dozens, if not hundreds, of school districts that provide public education using the property tax-Board of Education model.  Each of these school districts, while considered a governmental body, are separate from other city, county and state governmental bodies.

So what?  Why is this important?  It’s important because this system leaves a considerable amount of important competition and checks and balances in place that a true socialist system would remove.  If I don’t think the school district that I live in is good quality, I can move to a better one.

My parents made that decision when I was in third grade.  They moved primarily to get my me and my brother into what they considered a better district.  When I purchased my home, I chose a community with a good quality school district for my children.  Good school districts attract families, bad school districts repel them.

What would it be like if we didn’t have that choice?  What if all schools were run by the Federal government?  Then, if your local schools weren’t that great, you wouldn’t have much choice.

In addition, controlling school districts bodies separate from other governments brings in another level of check and balance.  Just consider one example.  What if the police and schools were run by the same agency?  Think about the things that might happen.  In fact, we’ve seen this very thing happen on college campuses with campus police forces.  Since the same group of people control the schools and police, some crimes go unreported and unpunished.  Having police and schools controlled by separate entities reduces this risk.

So, not only are there many local school districts which keeps competition in the equation, but there are also a number of other checks and balances that could go away if a true socialist (i.e. centrally run) model were adopted.

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