For the Good of us All, Just Focus on Yourself
It took some time, but I think I've come to understand why so many people favor school vouchers. I was hung up on the separation of church and state and worried about decreased funding for inner- city schools. But I've seen the light. My only question now is why vouchers are proposed only for schools.
The thinking behind vouchers is obvious. Choice is good, and the market will lead to overall improvement. People will get what they're willing and able to pay for.
We've been overdoing that feel-good, liberal community stuff for too long. We're trying to live like those weird Europeans, who in some countries actually pay the same taxes and insurance premiums no matter where they live! When you share the burdens of catastrophes like that, the people who experience losses do fine, but those who don't get penalized.
To justify such silly sharing, you must rely on warped thinking, like "there, but for the grace of God, go I." Real wimpy.
And some of those countries even provide health care to everybody, and a good, free education --- including college --- to everybody who qualifies. It would just lower us all if everybody got good education. Sure, we'd be a better educated country, but we'd all suffer for it.
So I'm convinced. But I don't see any reason to limit this great idea to education. Why should I be paying for the fire department? I've never had a fire at my house. I'm really careful about it. I'd prefer a fire voucher, so I can contract for the service outside of government.
I could get a contract, but without a voucher, I'd be paying twice --- you know, paying my taxes and then paying again for the private service. The government should send bills to people who use fire engines.
This would really lower taxes. Let's include the library (want a book? pay a share of the total costs for libraries), street maintenance (pay when your street is fixed) and so on.
I don't know why people without kids in school should pay taxes for education at all. Taxes should be treated as a bill for the government services we want to buy because they benefit us.
And how about the police? I live in a good neighborhood, and I pay for a home security system, so why should I be footing the bill for those who are too cheap and then get robbed? We should get police vouchers, or government should send folks a bill for each use --- maybe double the amount if it turns out there wasn't really an emergency.
Real Americans don't need anything from government. Nor do we have any personal stake in anybody else's education, or well-being for that matter. This country would be just fine if we return to values, and the top value is look out for yourself. Don't worry about others or the "community," whatever that is. The market will take care of them.
The trick is to fight those soppy sympathies that don't really help anybody. Stop yourself whenever you start thinking about others.
This may sound harsh, but it's for our own good. We should treat everything, and maybe everybody, as a commodity. You get what you pay for. This is the direction we've been taking at least since President Reagan, who was so good at helping us understand the intrinsic nobility of single-minded self-interest. Sure, sometimes it seems like nothing holds us together as a nation, no common understanding or goals or any sense that we're in this together, rather than just happening to inhabit the same area of the world. But freedom --- not having to answer to or care about anybody else --- is so fulfilling.
It may sound ironic or just plain wrong to some, but selfishness and greed build community well-being and raise the spirits of all. We need to stop thinking about others and get back to consuming and praying.
David Kairys, a law professor at Temple University, is the editor of the 1998 edition of "The Politics of Law." He wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where it was published on July 15, 1999.