Friday, August 28, 2009

The Old Radical

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

I used to have a friend who was very politically involved, as an Anarchist.

He was a Wobbly -- a dues paying member of the International Workers of the World, the IWW. History books call them an anarcho-syndicalist labor organization. He was radicalized in the Army during the Korean War, as an enlisted Army Intelligence operative. When the war ended he joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).

When I knew him he was a typesetter and I was a printer. He lived in a modest abode with wife and daughter in North Oakland, just below the Berkeley line. He and his wife were New Yorkers who had moved west.

When they married, Paul Krasner (of Realist fame) conducted the ceremony. He got into graphic arts in the CPUSA to help spread the word. He quit the CPUSA because of Stalin’s ruthlessness, and more fundamentally because of his resistance to authoritarian structures and joined the Wobblies, a membership he continued for the rest of his life.

During much of the time I knew him I was vice chairman of the Alameda County Libertarian Party. I used to stop by to visit, and we would talk politics.

He called Libertarians “White Anarchists” as compared to Black Anarchists, such as himself.

Black Anarchists are populists, antagonistic to corporate institutions. White Anarchist Libertarians are free enterprisers who trust individual sovereignty regardless of structure.

There was once an Anarchist gathering in San Francisco. It was really some kind of adolescent anti-globalist mob that demanded more government intervention in peoples’ problems. He couldn’t stop laughing.

Severe times stimulate political radicalism. We are at the beginning of the latest wave, and conservatives are at the leading edge. It is my opinion that the tipping point has already been reached, and the plethora of tax increases and Orwellian attempts at micromanaging our lives is antagonizing the public against a government establishment that is putting itself first before the people for whose benefit it ostensibly exists.

What next? Unless elections are suspended due to the “national emergency,” a referendum on the public’s relationship to the government will be held next year.

I typically expect ambiguous results. Vut there’s plenty of time to build a watershed. My calculation is that changing people’s minds (beyond what actual circumstances are doing) involves the slaughtering of sacred cows.

A clich├ęd defense too often used by big government types (a.k.a. “state-ists”) is that people want the services that government offers, but they’re reluctant to pay for them. The truth is that most services were invented for marginalized constituencies so they could be politically manipulated come election time, but there’s seldom much of any necessity or broad support for these sacred cows.

The recent slashing of the California budget has left many in politics scared to death: what if the sharp decrease in government spending goes largely unnoticed among the electorate?

The activist media will, of course, trot out carefully selected “victims” of fiscal responsibility, but we’re already tired of such obvious stunts.

The most sacred of all cows is government-run education. Immunity from competitive forces has led to declining performance in basic requirements. In plain English (for those of you who went to government schools), they’re doing a crappy job of teaching children.

There’s no magic pill that government schools can swallow that will change this. The only reason we still let the government run the schools is that they alone have the power to tax and thus dislocate the money stream from the client-provider interface.

We are currently watching the government attempt to complete the same dislocation in health care. It's a classic example of reach exceeding grasp.

School vouchers represent a workable compromise between education reform and the government’s power to provide the money stream. It merely adds competition, both for faculty and students.

Critics wonder where poor people will go to have their children educated -- only because the critics have no imagination (and habitually think poor people must be stupid). Everybody gets the same voucher. Many private schools do better work with less money than government schools.

The critics also contend that not all private schools are good. That is both in the eyes of the beholders and subject to the influences of competition. And it implies that consumers can’t be trusted to consume properly and require the assistance of a preponderance of bureaucrats to steer them straight.

Competition works for colleges. Public and private institutions compete directly with each other for students and faculty.

The final liberal whine about vouchers is that government schools are mandated to perform services to the community that private schools don’t do.

But most of these mandates are inhibitors to the educational process, such as mainstreaming “special needs” students at tremendous expense while never relieving them of their special needs. Some special needs students can be mainstreamed -- others cannot.

They’re individuals just like the rest of us. With vouchers, ambitious entrepreneurs can target under-served types of students and benefit both their own bottom line and the students and their families.

One time, when I was visiting my Black Anarchist friend he gave me some really big news: He had just been elected president of the Wobblies. He didn’t even know he was a candidate.

Also, he had just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Now you see why I’ve referred to him in the past tense. But I know that he would agree with vouchers as stated in this essay because he was an old radical.


  1. Vouchers will not cover a decent school's tuition. My children's school is into five figures a year. Vouchers do give better off families a nice discount on their children's private education, though. I think education past the eightth grade is a waste of money, unless the child shows outstanding intellect & drive. Teach the little dickheads a trade.

  2. Well put. I'm just looking at allowing competition. Annnnd acceptance of the reality that there's little if anything worth saving from the system in place.