Tea Party Metaphysics (Part 2)

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Part two of my article on the relationship between economic and social conservatism is up over at Public Discourse. As promised, vouchers make an appearance:

Educational entrepreneurship is our only hope for replacing the failed 19th-century model that now reigns in both public and private schools. But social conservatives, a key political constituency of America’s school voucher programs, always oppose designing those programs in a way that would empower entrepreneurship. They want to put more kids in religious schools, but not expose those schools to the competition entrepreneurs would create. But while competition makes people uncomfortable, it is the only vital, life-giving force that can keep institutions mission-focused and drive them to be their best.

I have some tough love for the economic conservatives in there, too.

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7 Responses to Tea Party Metaphysics (Part 2)

  1. MOMwithAbrain says:

    This is easily fixed by offering TAX ABATEMENTS to homeowners.
    I’m a supporter of school choice, but if the Govt. can attach strings, you know they will.
    Tax abatements avoid that problem.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    First of all, the problem I’m talking about here is political, not policy. Any school choice policy that strongly empowers educational entrepreneurs is going to make social conservatives uncomfortable because those entrepreneurs will compete with existing religious schools. That would apply to tax abatements as much as anything else. You could try to pass the policy without the support of social conservatives, of course, but that would only prove my point – which was that social conservatives’ failure to embrace America’s traditional culture of free enterprise and entrepreneurship is an obstacle to good design of school choice programs.

    Second, I’m not sure exactly what policy you’re suggesting. You mean give homeowners an abatement on their taxes equal to the amount spent on private school tution? How, then, do you extend school choice to people who don’t own their homes?

  3. Patrick says:

    Have to comment but the social conservative movement was once aligned with the progressive movement.

  4. GGW says:

    Interesting paper. I did not know that social conservatives had a protectionist approach to religious schools and therefore had only conditional support for vouchers. Is there something else I could read on that topic?

    • Greg Forster says:

      No, because not a lot of people really want to talk about it. And in fact if this were something I were going to write about at length I would make some further distinctions. The religious schools themselves actively lobby for new voucher programs to be designed to exclude new schools from participating. I’ve actually heard of cases where they wanted an explicit ban on new schools participating, but you can’t actually write that into the legislation, so what you get instead is regulations that make it very difficult for new schools to participate. “Social conservative leaders” more broadly, however, don’t actively lobby for this and probably don’t even think about it. But if you listen to them talk about school vouchers, you can hear how their thinking is deeply structured by a desire to get kids into religious schools rather than any idea of parental freedom, competition or educational entrepreneurship. And that general mindset among social conservative leaders broadly provides cover for the religious schools to lobby behind the scenes for bad design in voucher bills in order to help themselves. What we really need is for religious leaders to say to religious schools that parental freedom and educational entrepreneurship are more important than “getting a piece of the action”.

  5. Daniel Earley says:

    Thought provoking article. As you noted, Greg, humility on both sides is certainly a precondition for such a dialog to succeed. As for social conservatives learning their way back into the “producer ethic” and economic conservatives giving a nod to the metaphysical, this may unfortunately be impaired by our void in society at large of adequate education in the classical liberal arts to supply the common foundation. How many have deeply pondered Bastiat, Montesquieu, and Locke, let alone Aristotle? Handicapped by this illiteracy in the Western canon — thanks to modern education — all sides remain perfectly poised so that after the urgency of this election they can resume talking past each other, reach an impasse and perpetuate the current dilemma. I do hope, however, that I am wrong. I sincerely do. Otherwise, I believe your analysis is spot on — and intriguing enough that I’m going to be mulling it over for some time.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Thanks for your kind words! I think you’re absolutely right that one of the (many) major obstacles we’re looking at here is a lack of serious interaction with the great minds whose writings provide some guide to integrating our thoughts across the more narrowly defined methodologies; e.g. Locke’s view of property is as much about religion as it is about economics. And of course it’s the deficiencies in the education system that allow people to become certified professional intellectuals without ever having had to seriously encounter these minds (or, at minimum, seriously encounter the minds of professors who have seriously encountered the minds of great thinkers).

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