Where Does Your Vote Really Count?
By Walter E. Williams • April 2009
Americans cast millions upon millions of votes—that is, they make decisions—in the non-political arena where individual votes do count and where there is a much higher probability of being satisfied with the outcome. Moreover, what they get in return for their vote does not come at the expense of another. That arena is the marketplace.
In our wallets we have what amounts to ballot slips; we can think of them as dollar votes. When we take, say, nine of them and “vote” for two pounds of steak, we are fairly certain about the outcome. We get the two pounds of steak. If we don’t get the outcome we voted for—we get, say, steak of poor quality—there is swift retribution. We can simply fire the seller by taking our business elsewhere. We act unilaterally and don’t have to bother with costly organizing. Very often simply the threat of taking our business elsewhere is enough to get some kind of remedy.
An individual’s threat to vote for a politician’s opponent as an expression of dissatisfaction with the politician’s actions, on the other hand, is not likely to carry as much weight.
There is another contrast between the market arena and the political arena that can be appreciated by asking what draws the greatest public complaints: Is it market-provided goods and services, such as computers, televisions, clothing, and food? Or is it government-provided services, such as public schools, postal services, and motor vehicle departments? In the case of market-provided goods and services, the prospect of profit gives providers an incentive to please customers. The government sector, however, is not-for-profit, so it suffers no losses when it fails to please “customers.”
Imagine any company having a customer service department like the BMV. When we look around us all of the products that we love are furnished by the private market.
He also had this to say on schools:
Better for Poor People, Too
You might say, “That’s okay, Williams, if you have enough dollar votes. But what about poor people?” Poor people are far better served in the market arena than the political arena. Check this out. If you visit a poor neighborhood, you will see some nice clothing, some nice cars, some nice food, and maybe even some nice homes—no nice schools. Why not at least some nice schools? The explanation is simple. Clothing, cars, food, and houses are allocated through the market mechanism. Schools are allocated through the political mechanism. By the way, if you are a member of a minority, it is in your interest to minimize those decisions over your life made in the political arena, where the majority rules.
I remember Thomas Sowell talking about how buses were not segregated until politics crept into the fray. Bus owners didn't want to tick off bus consumers or trigger boycots of their product. The only reason buses were segregated wasn't the private market, segregation happened when the government stepped in and made it law.
There is another unappreciated feature of the market arena. It reduces the potential for human conflict. Different Americans have different and intense preferences for cars, food, clothing, and entertainment. When is the last time you heard about Chrysler lovers fighting with Lexus lovers? It seldom if ever happens. Why? Those who love Chryslers get what they want, and those who love Lexuses get what they want, and each can live in peace with one another.
It is a different story in government-provided education. Some parents wish for their children to recite a morning prayer in schools. Other parents are repulsed by the idea. The fact that education is produced by government means there is either going to be prayer in school or no prayer in school. Parents must enter into conflict with one another. Why? If, for example, the parent who wishes for prayers in school loses the political battle, that parent will not have his wishes met. Of course he can send his child to a non-government school that has morning prayers, but through the tax code he is forced to continue paying for school services for which he has no use.
It is only natural that parents will battle over the content and the values that are taught in our schools. How could it be any other way when the government has a monopoly in the education market, with over 90% of the students attending government schools?
That made me think about a different passage from Milton Friedman's FREE TO CHOOSE:
"Public schools teach religion, too-- not a formal, theistic religion, but a set of values and beliefs that constitute a religion in all but name. The present arrangements abridge the religious freedom of parents who do not accept the religion taught by the public schools yet are forced to pay to have their children indoctrinated with it, and to pay still more to have their children escape indoctrination." - Milton Friedman, Free To Choose, pg 164.
I am a firm believer in the quote above. You can't get religion out of schools, it is only a matter of who's religion and worldview you are teaching. As long as government has a monopoly on schools we will be fighting the same culture wars forever.
Imagine how tolerant we all could be if the government just left people to their own devices. I may not want the public school religion and set of values taught to my children. You may not want my values taught to yours. In a political arena we would fight this out, with one or both of us losing and going away bitter about what is being taught to our children. In the private arena we would wish each other the best and go forward with our own choices.
The time has come to free the people.
added link on public education: The Parent Trap Sphere: Related Content