While Republicans and Democrats battle in Wisconsin over a bill to reduce the collective bargaining power of state employee unions as a means of balancing their budget, Libertarian Party Chair Mark Hinkle points out that the problem lies with government control of activities it has no business running.
Hinkle comments, "Libertarians are neither pro-union nor anti-union. We believe that the right of association and freedom of contract allows any group of people to choose to bargain collectively rather than individually. Naturally, we oppose violence and threats of such, but unions per se can play a major role in a free society. The problem is that the battle between the Wisconsin state government and state employees isn't even remotely a free market.
"Government monopolizes many services that could and should be provided in the voluntary sector by profit-making and/or non-profit organizations. This also gives them a 'monopsony' as virtually the only potential employer for workers in these fields. Once someone has trained to be a teacher or prison guard, they are essentially at the mercy of government for their employment in that field. Blaming them for wanting collective bargaining representation would be comparable to siding with the Polish government against the union Solidarity headed by Lech Walesa that freed Poland in 1989 from Soviet rule. The problem is with the employer: the government."
Hinkle considers the education budget to be the best example of a solution only Libertarians have offered:
"Far and away the largest part of the budget of the State of Wisconsin, once aid to local governments is allocated to underlying expenditures, is in the category of education. This is true of virtually all state and local governments, so it is the best example of how freedom can provide a solution. Unfortunately, government expenditures for education are driven by political considerations rather than the needs of the students. The result is outrageous costs that are not primarily for the most important ingredient in education: the teacher.
"The U.S. Department of Education calculates that the per pupil cost of K-12 education is nearly $11,000 in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The Cato Institute, however, in a paper entitled, 'They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools,' discovered that actual spending in the districts they examined was 44 percent higher than official reports due to the failure to include various categories (such as spending financed by bond issuances). We can reasonably estimate that true spending is more than $15,000 per pupil. With class sizes, on average, exceeding 20, the total spending per classroom is probably well in excess of $300,000. Obviously, most of that money isn't going to the teacher in the classroom. In private schools that don't depend on taxpayers, it does: teacher pay and benefits averages nearly 80% of the total budget of the average private school. Not surprisingly, while private schools are often described as havens for the rich, public school spending per pupil is nearly DOUBLE the average private school tuition, mainly because it is a haven for administrators and other recipients of `education' money who never step foot into a classroom.
"The answer to Wisconsin's budget crisis, and that of governments throughout the country, is to return education to the voluntary sector. Compulsory education dominated by tax-supported schools was not established until the mid-1850s, yet literacy rates prior to that time were higher than they are today. Parents have ALWAYS valued the education of their children, and the religious and secular private schools of that time knew they'd only be paid by parents if they taught their children. Free or reduced costs for poor parents was always part of the tradition, and would be again in a country freed of massive taxation and spending.
"Returning education to the voluntary sector and eliminating compulsory funding and attendance laws, not to mention centralized bureaucratic nightmares such as the bi-partisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 championed by Republican President George W. Bush and the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, will free teachers to be responsive to the needs of their students instead of the desires of politicians. As for how to do it quickly, a case can be made for selling all the local schools and putting the proceeds into the underfunded pension and benefits funds, then leaving the reorganization of education in the hands of the buyers. But, the workers at these schools are the ones with the strongest interest in ownership. We could just give each school to its local employees and let them decide whether to run it or sell it. Either way, the teachers, the students, the parents, and the taxpayers are all big winners.
"Education is the largest item in the Wisconsin budget, but the same principle applies to other expenditures. The legitimate debate in Wisconsin and elsewhere is not about whether the politicians or the government employee unions should win. It is why we should be stuck with only one employer sucking the money from taxpayers and then complaining when their power to decide how it is spent is not unlimited."
The Libertarian Party platform includes the following:
2.7 Labor Markets
We support repeal of all laws which impede the ability of any person to find employment. We oppose government-fostered forced retirement. We support the right of free persons to associate or not associate in labor unions, and an employer should have the right to recognize or refuse to recognize a union. We oppose government interference in bargaining, such as compulsory arbitration or imposing an obligation to bargain.
Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, we would return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education.
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