General Commentary (May be military related) email: Kudzuacres1@juno.com

Tuesday, July 09, 2002
Government and society are funny things. They have the nasty habit of restricting what we can do. For example, I am perfectly capable of safely driving in excess of 100 MPH. I lived in Germany for eleven years and did so regularly. Didn’t kill myself or anyone else. But I got a ticket for doing 80 in a 75 zone in Northern New Mexico at eleven at night. The situation was so absurd as to be funny. If you have ever been on I25 in NM at night, you know that there were only the trooper and I for miles around. I paid my $38 without arguing. I got caught breaking the rules and I paid. A couple of hours later, I was home in my bed in my house which I had paid for and which my friends and neighbors in Colorado let me keep until I sold it. Overall a pretty good deal, I obey the rules and I get to keep my stuff. I break the rules and some of my stuff is taken from me.

Now we can talk forever about property rights, but the fact is, my property rights are secured by an agreement between my fellow citizens and me. In return for obeying the rules, they will let me keep my property. The option has always been the same. If I had lived a thousand years ago in a remote village, my fellow villagers would have let me keep what I produced as long as I contributed to the general good and obeyed the other rules. My option was to arm myself and defend my family and property alone or with others I convinced to be on my side. Guess what? In order for us to function, we would have established a set of rules by which we agreed to live. If I were very convincing and could come up with enough arms, I could become the ruler of a larger area and maybe even declare myself King. That’s pretty much how it works. If you are strong enough, you can rearrange society and its rules to suit yourself. If not, then you are dependent on government to protect your stuff from those who are stronger than you.

In the US the system generally works well. Even the very wealthy cannot really change the rules. OK, they can break a lot more than you or I can, but if they get too far out of line, they are reeled in by the system, if for no other reason than their fellow billionaires don’t want a good thing ruined. Most of the problems occur at the local level when some politician, policeman or judge decides he can do whatever he pleases. This generally lasts for only a short time until the state or feds step in and set things right. It works the same wherever there is real functioning government and civil society. That generally is the western world and those other nations that have adopted western styles of society.

Can I opt out of the system? Not unless I am strong enough to defend my position against the full force of the government. In the US, that means defending against 280 million people give or take a few hundred who might agree with me. Since I think that I am one party in a pretty good contract, I have no desire to terminate the contract. There are things I would like to change about the contract such as the speed limit on I25 in NM. But only a year before I got my ticket for five over, the speed limit had been 65 and just before that 55. Parties to the contract wanted changes and worked through the rules to get those changes made.

Now as I understand it, there are people who want to limit the rules and others who want to have more rules. Some are called conservatives and others are called liberals. Which is which. Well it depends. Each group wants to add to the rules when doing so enhances their own position. Each wants fewer rules when fewer rules enhance their position. It is much like pigs at the trough, a lot of pushing and shoving to get the best position and the most slop. Where I stand on the issue of rules regarding pushing and shoving at mealtimes depends on whether or not I am getting enough slop. If not, then I want a rule that says no pushing or that moves me to the front. If I am a successful pig, then I don’t want any changes unless they increase the amount of slop available.

Next: Life is a zero sum game and the number of players is growing, so we all lose.

Monday, July 08, 2002
About a decade ago I was residing in Colorado; a wonderful state with an excellent referendum system that politicians of all stripes are constantly trying to kill. Anyway, the people of Colorado were presented with the opportunity to vote for School Vouchers. My son was a high School senior at the time. One day he asked me if I were going to vote for the voucher plan. I answered “No”. He then asked me why not? Well, I am the product of public schools, my children attended public schools and I expect any grandchildren to attend public schools. At the time of the voucher referendum, we were attending a church with its own K-12 school. I could have easily afforded to send my children there. In fact, we were the only family in the congregation whose children did not go there. However, there were several public school teachers who were members.

My explanation to my son went something like this. We are all in this together. Students whose parents care tend to do well in school. By care, I mean more than bitching about the quality of the football team or how incompetent the teachers are. I mean actual involvement with their child’s education. If we have a universally available voucher system, then the public schools will tend toward only those students whose parents cannot be bothered. I know this assumes that private schools are better which I do not believe. But since that is the underlying premise of vouchers, I think any analysis of a voucher program must include the idea of private equal better.

So what we soon have with a voucher system is private schools with the kids of the concerned and public schools with all others. Well, how many do you want to support and how many should your child be saddled with.

If you really care about the quality of education in your community, get involved with the schools. Learn the names of the school board members and what makes them tick. It is often not concern for the students, but power in the community. If you think private schools are better, figure out why. My son attended 11 different public schools in four states and the Defense Department school system. He graduated with honors and scored a 33 on the ACT. He never had a bad teacher. Some who were a little strange, but all were dedicated to doing a good job. Most were underpaid and overworked.

I remain opposed to vouchers. If the public schools are bad, let’s fix them not trash them. If you want to send your child to a private school, go for it, but private means private, not almost but not quite public.