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The Children of the Welfare State Letter to a Liberal

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Parable of the Swim Team

by Christopher Chantrill
December 28, 2003 at 7:00 pm


IN THIS COMPLEX world, how can an ordinary person cope without instruction from the experts? That’s the rationale for liberal colonialism, under which the average American is ruled by a colonial administration of liberal experts. Just like the colonialists of the nineteenth century, liberals find themselves called to minister to the natives of the inner cities and suburbia of America.

Without the tutelage of experts, after all, many people will stumble, and we can’t allow that to happen.

Or is it possible that ordinary people are perfectly able to run their lives without expert supervision?

The real problem with colonialism only surfaced once the European imperialists had lost their nerve and gave up their colonies. They had imposed a foreign system upon an aboriginal people and destroyed their aboriginal culture. Unable to replicate the colonial culture, and unable to return to the Garden of Eden of their aboriginal culture the former colonies collapsed in ignominy and shame.

What will happen when the liberal colonial masters lose their nerve and withdraw from the schools and the welfare offices of America? For over a century they have relieved their colonial subjects from all responsibility for educating their children and living a responsible life? Will the suburbs and inner cities of America collapse into disorder like the former colonies of Africa? Perhaps not. We’ve learned from the school choice movement and the welfare reform of 1996 that ordinary people can be responsible for their lives. Indeed, there is a hint that they may turn out to be better at running their lives than the experts.

Now comes the heart-warming story of the Mighty Marlins, the Marysville, Washington swim team.

It used to be that the swim club in Marysville was run as an extracurricular activity by the Marysville School District. But a couple of years ago, the parents got fed up. The swim coach supplied by the school district wasn’t up to the job and the good kids were leaving for other, better swim programs.

So the parents went to the school district and offered to take the program private. They would hire their own coach; they would rent pool time at the Maryville-Pilchuck pool; they would collect the fees. No problem, said the school district; the program was losing money, even though it charged the members of the swim team extra.

Of course, under private management the Marysville Marlins Swim Club thrived. There are now over 90 kids on the swim team, even though the club has to pay for their coach and pool time.

And even though the monthly fee now covers the expenses of the swim team for each student, the program is now making money.

Recently the school district expressed an interest in taking over the newly profitable Mighty Marlins Swim Club.

The great conceit of the twentieth century was the notion that we should turn over the commanding heights of society to the rational control of the experts, and thereby reap a bountiful harvest from their knowledge and efficiency. Ordinary people just weren’t educated enough, or wise enough to know enough about education to know where to send their children to school or understood enough about investments to be able to save for retirement. So the best thing would be to turn the responsibility over to experts. Instead of the higgling of the market, economic affairs would be rationally organized by the state. Instead of the down-at-heel dame school, children would be educated at the well-staffed, well-equipped common school. Instead of the chaos of private charity, the poor would be served by helping professionals. Instead of the second-rate lodge doctor, people would have health insurance and be treated by the best doctors available. Instead of venal insurance companies and stock jobbers, the people would be served by an efficient government pensions scheme.

Why didn’t it work? The experts have a number of reasons. Mises wrote that the experts would fail because they couldn’t compute prices. Hayek said that they would fail because a few hundred government planners can’t outperform millions of consumers. But maybe the answer is simpler than that. Maybe what you really need is a bunch of people who care enough to make a difference. Like the good people at the Mighty Marlins Swim Club.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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