LP03: Libertarians Debate Vouchers

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LP03: Libertarians Debate Vouchers

by Ari Armstrong, May 7, 2003

On Saturday afternoon (April 5), Keith Hamburger, Paul Gilbert, and I argued about vouchers and tax credits at the LP Convention. I touched on some of the points I've made previously.

Hamburger described vouchers as "the art of the possible." Instead of remaining with the status quo, vouchers offer a "real and possible achievement."

Gilbert argued tax credits are different and superior to vouchers. He said vouchers aren't popular and they may violate the constitution. In addition, a voucher program is likely to be restrictive and therefore limited in effectiveness.

A tax credit, explained Gilbert, offers a "dollar for dollar reduction for taxes." Anybody would be able to designate dollars to a fund for children to attend private schools. Credits more easily avoid the church/state issue, and models are already in effect now.

Gilbert also pointed out tax credits are currently supported by the national LP. The publication "Libertarian Viewpoint" says Libertarians will "[e]nact a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for any individual (or company) who pays for a child's education. Such a program in Arizona allows taxpayers to donate up to $500 for scholarships and get that money back, dollar for dollar, at tax filing time."

But, as I've pointed out previously (following the criticisms of Marshall Fritz), such a "choice" still isn't compatible with the free market. Here's a simple analogy. Let's say a criminal walks up to you, pulls a gun, and says, "Give me your money or I'll kill you." Obviously, we would not grant this "choice" is an acceptable one. What, then, if the criminal said, "Either give me your money, or your shoes, or I will kill you"? Our range of choices has expanded by 50% (from two to three), but that doesn't change the fundamental nature of the predicament. Similarly, politicians who say, "Either give me your money, or give your money to an education welfare fund, or I will throw you in jail," are not thereby doing us a favor. The payment is still fundamentally coerced. Thus, because tax credits involve state force, they too will bring cries for more government regulation of now-private schools.

Of course, politicians won't want to cut spending in other areas to cover the loss of tax dollars to the education fund: instead, they will try to increase taxes in other areas.

Another problem with vouchers and tax credits, I argued, is that they create a new special-interest group with an incentive to increase the amount of dollars forcibly taken from others. This applies to the families that get the state-transferred money as well as to the now-private schools that might grow dependent on government subsidies. Thus, both vouchers and tax credits come with built-in long-term problems.

What is the solution, then? Until we can do something like what Boston suggests, we must strive to expand the current pool of homeschoolers and private schoolers -- currently around 10% of families with children. Currently, that group of people constitutes a very strong pro-liberty constituency. Vouchers and tax credits threaten to make that group dependent on government welfare.

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