Thursday, September 23, 2010

Civil Discourse and the role of government

Boyes blogged earlier this week on the specific topic of the role of the government and the example of education was employed in an effort to illustrate the costs and benefits of command v. spontaneous orders. Earlier this week I was listening to a classic EconTalk podcast with Ed Glaeser from Harvard. That podcast dealt with Paternalism and I was reminded of the analysis that Dan Klein makes of the morality of an institution (k-12) that is 70-75% dominated by the state. Looking at this differently, only 20 - 25% of k - 12 education is private, subject to the liberty and responsibility of the market order. Even that is an overly optimistic view, given the myriad regulations, laws and state mandates that govern all education. If one basic consideration of a moral and virtuous person is the liberty and responsibility that parent exercises in parenting, the immorality of allowing the state to usurp that role leads one to the conclusions of Plato. Platonic argumentation for state child education was the model for a number of 20 century "experiements" in state education that reasonable observers would label horrific violations of "the good".

My point is not to argue for private v public education, although the unintended and perverse consequences of centralized, state controlled, command k - 12 "education" are apparent in my classroom daily, but to weigh in on the central issue of civility in discourse.

As Boyes points out, both the right and left demonize opposition in a manner that really is reminiscent of the Jeffersonian era of politics (recall the personal attacks on Hamilton), Jackson (the attacks both ways), FDR (perhaps the master of modern attack politics) and all of our recent presidents. These individuals are mere symbols for the broader social shift away from a free, spirited and civil exchange of ideas to a narrow, vitriolic, mean spirited effort to avoid ideas and instead engage in attacks.

So, the use of the term loonies to describe those who advocate smaller government in the form of a reduced or eliminated federal department of education exemplifies this point.

Rather than a free, spirited, and civil exchange of ideas/positions/arguments the media, the elite and those who have a vested interest in the iron triangle of teachers unions/state government/school boards obfuscate the issue by personalizing attacks of the lowest order.

This fault is not limited to those on the left. The right in current and past debates is equally enthusiastic in their creativity in unleashing the dogs of war.

I recall an aborted discussion during the last presidential election with a colleague who, in misreading Hayek and my comments, considered me a fellow traveler in the party of Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover. He described Ron Paul as a nut, intent on destroying the fabric of the country.

I am no longer stunned, although I did speculate to this colleague - how does one know another's intent?

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