Social Problems and the Solution

If we look at any number of social problems, we find numerous similarities. No matter the issue–education, energy, infrastructure, pollution, and much more–Americans look to government to provide the solution. These issues provoke heated political debates, with Republicans and Democrats alike proposing a new program. In each instance, the proposed solutions are more taxpayer money, more controls on individuals and private companies, or both.

Consider government schools as one example. Between 1962 and 2009 the amount spent per pupil increased from $2,808 to $10,441 in constant 2008-2009 dollars. Despite this massive outlay of your money, government schools continue to languish in mediocrity. And we are told that more money is needed to rebuild schools, to hire and train better teachers, and to pursue the latest reform put forth by educational bureaucrats.

Or consider the nation’s energy policy. While decrying our dependence on foreign oil, both Republican and Democratic administrations have declared large portions of America off limits to drilling. From offshore to ANWR, the federal government has prohibited energy producers from developing known resources. And when drilling is allowed, energy producers must deal with a mountain of regulations that add to their costs, delay production, and increase the price of energy.

Each of these problems is met with the same “solution”—more government. And more government means more taxes, more inflation, and more controls on the private sector. Despite the fact that government has been attempting to solve these problems for decades (or longer), politicians and pundits would have us believe that more government control is the solution. Despite the abysmal track record of government in educating our children, promoting energy independence, and delivering the mail, we are to believe that this time Congress will get it right.

In truth, the private sector can solve these problems without resorting to the coercive power of government. And history proves this to be the case.

Prior to the Civil War, there were virtually no government schools, yet children were well-educated. Most children could read before they entered school, and the private sector provided a wide variety of options for those seeking an education. Prior to the Revolutionary War, more than 125 schoolmasters operated in Philadelphia alone, offering courses in Latin, Greek, mathematics, surveying, navigation, accounting, bookkeeping, science, English, and more. A student could choose the school that best offered the courses that he desired. And the poor were not excluded from educational opportunities—education was a favored form of philanthropy for many groups, such as the Quakers, who offered free education to the poor.

Today, government schools are a monopoly of the government. Taxpayers are forced to support government schools, whether they have children or not, whether they agree with the curriculum or not. While surveys show that most parents would prefer to send their children to private schools, most cannot afford the cost because of the onerous burden placed on them to support government schools. And they are often forced to subject their children to ideas that they find repugnant or immoral.

As I write this, many are predicting that gasoline could soon reach $5 or more per gallon. Between 2001 and 2010, energy prices in America doubled. The government’s response has been to prohibit drilling in ANWR, place a moratorium on deep-water drilling (since lifted), to deny permits for the Keystone pipeline, and to throw billions of your dollars at bankrupt “green energy” companies. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Until the nineteenth century, nighttime illumination differed little from the times of the Greeks and Romans. For many Americans, the cost of candles and oils was prohibitive. But the discovery of oil and improved refining techniques brought illumination to the masses. Kerosene became an affordable means of illumination, and between 1865 and 1874 the price of a gallon of kerosene declined by nearly 83 percent. Because entrepreneurs were not stifled by government regulations, controls, and prohibitions, they were free to act as they judged best. And the result was a better quality of life for millions of Americans.

These problems cannot be solved by government. Government is an agency of force, and everything it does involves coercion. Whether it is taking your money to finance schools, subsidize “green energy,” or bail out Wall Street, you are compelled to act contrary to your own independent judgment. Whether it is dictating the educational curriculum, prohibiting drilling, or mandating the purchase of health insurance, government forces you to act as politicians and bureaucrats think best. Your judgment, values, and desires are irrelevant.

The solution to our social problems is not more government controls or more tax dollars. The solution is freedom.