There is nothing unique about education that distinguishes it from the many other human needs which are filled by private enterprise. If, for many years, the government had undertaken to provide all the citizens with shoes (on the grounds that shoes are an urgent necessity), and if someone were subsequently to propose that this field should be turned over to private enterprise, he would doubtless be told indignantly: “What! Do you want everyone except the rich to walk around barefoot?” But the shoe industry is doing its job with immeasurably greater competence than public education is doing its job.

—Nathaniel Branden. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 1966.

Public education undermines the family

A parent changes thousands of diapers, makes thousands of bottles and corrects a child’s pronunciation thousands of times. These and innumerable other cares make the raising of a child the most time-consuming, involved, protracted, and rewarding investment anyone can make. It is only by pouring devotion into raising a child that parent and child reach the full depth of the family bond. That is why a father who abandons his family is nothing more than a curiosity to his children compared to their mother who raised them. Public education destroys part of the bond between parent and child.

The one thing that comforts people on their deathbed is the thought of the children they brought into the world and raised in accordance with their beliefs. Public education robs parents of much of that fundamental accomplishment. This is because a huge component of raising children is their formal education—whether they are home schooled or educated at a school chosen and paid for by their parents. Public education strips parents of this achievement in the same way surrendering your child at birth to a government-run orphanage would.

Who pays for free education?

The truth is, the word ‘free’ as applied to public services contains the grossest, and, I may add, the most childish of fallacies. I marvel at the public’s extreme gullibility in being taken in by this word. People ask us, “Are you against free education? Free stud farms?” Quite the contrary! I’m for them and I would also be for free food and free housing … if these were possible. But the only thing that is really free is what does not cost anyone anything. Now, public services cost everybody something; the reason they cost the receiver nothing is that everybody has paid for them in advance.

—Frédéric Bastiat. Economic Harmonies, 1850.

Who should pay the taxes that support the bounty of ‘free’ education?

  • Should it be young people just out of school (aged 17 to 24)? But if you confiscate their pitifully small incomes, it will take them longer to save to buy a house. They will then have children later, resulting in fewer children.
  • Should it be parents of young children (aged 25 to 45)? But they need every cent of their income to pay for diapers, bottles, clothes, and pay off their mortgage. If you are merely taxing them to pay for their own children’s education, they would get more bang for their buck if they kept the money and chose their own schools. These taxes, added to their other burdens, will mean they have fewer children.
  • Should it be people with no children (aged 25 to 45)? But if you stop them from saving, if you take what belongs to them, they become bitter, introverted, selfish, and less likely to have children.
  • What about people over childbearing age (aged 45 to 70)? Are they suitable sacrificial lambs who can be bled with impunity to fulfill the dream of free education? But if you tax them out of their ability to save, they will need to resort to welfare in their retirement. That means more taxes on younger salary earners and fewer children.
  • Can the rich be plundered to pay for public education? The reality is that most millionaires are just ordinary people who spend less than they earn and invest their surplus income. If you tax them, they will still spend the same parsimonious amount on living expenses, but will be forced to reduce the amount they invest. That means less working capital, less jobs for everyone, lower wages, and fewer people able to afford children.

Thus even if it were moral for the majority to plunder a minority to pay for their children’s education, no such convenient minority actually exists. The natural order of 4 to 8 children per family has been replaced with socialism, the most effective force in history in reducing the headcount of mankind. Throughout socialist Europe, especially where they have the most ‘enviable’ standards of ‘free’ education and ‘free’ healthcare, they also have negative birth rates. Thus, socialism is quietly achieving what no war, epidemic, tyrant, or natural disaster has ever been able to do: driving gullible sections of the human race into extinction.

Education should be paid for by parents

Should the government be permitted to remove children for-cibly from their homes, with or without the parents’ consent, and subject the children to educational training and procedures of which the parents may or may not approve? Should citizens have their wealth expropriated to support an educational system which they may or may not sanction, and to pay for the education of children who are not their own? To anyone who understands and is consistently committed to the principle of individual rights, the answer is clearly: No. There are no moral grounds whatever for the claim that education is the prerogative of the State—or for the claim that it is proper to expropriate the wealth of some men for the unearned benefit of others.

—Nathaniel Branden. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 1966.

A child’s education should be paid for by his parents. Other possible sources are relatives, religious institutions, charities and friendly societies. Low-income parents will only be able to afford basic schooling. Those with high incomes will be able to afford schools with highly-qualified teachers, swimming pools, uniforms, auditoriums, laboratories, planetariums, quadrangles, playing fields, orchestras, indoor gymnasiums, boat sheds, trips to Europe, ski lodges, drama classes, theaters, and so on. Those who denounce such disparities as ‘obscene’ and indignantly insist that “every child deserves the best possible chance in life” are simply mouthing communist slogans—and communism never delivers.

A non-communist education system is no different from the non-communist automobile market. Thanks to modern technology, even the cheapest cars today reliably and safely get you from point A to point B—the rest is just bells and whistles. Whether you drive an $8,000 second-hand Toyota or a $340,000 brand new Mercedes Benz, the practical difference is negligible. Both have excellent handling, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, airbags, and adequate acceleration. Both drivers are subject to the same road rules. The Toyota driver is not a social outcast, nor is the Mercedes driver a privileged aristocrat—both can go anywhere they wish. It is the same with education, thanks to the leverage provided by modern technology.

Quality of education

There is only one way to drive the quality of education ever upward and that is to: allow market forces to work. As Herbert Spencer explained,

But no one would ever expect the salaried state-teacher, answerable only to some superior officer, and having no public reputation at stake to stimulate him—no one would expect that he should study the character of each of his scholars, and vary his ordinary routine to suit each case; no one would expect that he should be continually improving, and ever endeavouring to perfect his moral machinery. We may rest assured, that in education as in everything else, the principle of honourable competition, is the only one that can give present satisfaction, or hold out promise of future perfection. (The Proper Sphere of Government, 1842–1843.)

True community spirit always emerges when the taint of extorted money is lifted. There were hundreds of religious and charity-run hospitals in Britain before the socialists came along and swallowed them up into the NHS. Hardly any have since been established. This is hardly surprising—after all, what pride is there in helping your fellow man when the government forcibly opens your wallet and does it for you?

Home schooling

To be thrown upon one’s own resources, is to be cast into the very lap of fortune; for our faculties then undergo a development and display an energy of which they were
previously unsusceptible.

—Benjamin Franklin

Imagine the pitiful scenario, of a poor single mother with three young children, working her fingers to the bone as a waitress. Her meager earnings are barely sufficient to keep a roof over their heads. Let us further imagine that no religious institution will offer her children free schooling, and there are no assisted places (scholarships or bursaries) available to assist her. Thus, we have a woman thrown entirely upon her own resources.

The woman, electrified by necessity, rather than being paralyzed by welfare, searches the Internet and finds a charitably run website that puts her in touch with ten other single mothers in her neighborhood. These women pool their resources and arrange their employment so that once every two weeks each can be designated teacher for a day. They then arrange for several of the women to live together in a large rented house that functions during the day as the children’s school. They use comprehensive home schooling programs, provided free of charge by charitable or religious groups over the Internet. The programs consist of streaming video lessons, multiple-choice exams, source materials, exercises, and facilities to submit essay papers to qualified volunteers to grade. Thanks to charitably provided Wikipedia, there is not a single question which even the most inquisitive youngsters can ask that the designated teacher cannot answer. Thanks to charitably-provided Google Books the children’s virtual library is millions of books richer than the physical library of even the most privileged private school in the world.

Meanwhile, liberated from onerous taxes, realizing they do not live in a cradle-to-grave communist country, people can achieve deep personal fulfilment by assisting with the education of the next generation. They may:

  1. Sit on the board of governors of a school;
  2. Donate computer equipment to the local school;
  3. Repair a leaking classroom roof;
  4. Research and track the movement of pedophiles in the area and keep local parents informed;
  5. Act pro-bono as an on-call substitute teacher for the local school;
  6. Provide computer support services for free;
  7. Provide free after-school care for working parents;
  8. Establish a scholarship in memory of a dear departed loved one;
  9. Take an evening course and become certified to grade papers over the Internet;10.hold an annual gala ball to raise money for a school building fund.

Meanwhile, the home schooled children of the single mothers, seeing the work and effort their mothers are going through to educate them, will not speak back, will not take drugs, will not play truant or vandalize their school. Instead, taking their cue from their mothers, they will aim to get ahead by strenuous, consistent, and honest effort. They will be taught from an early age that nothing in life is free and that everything they receive must be worked for. They will grow up self-reliant and with virtuous morals.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove