THE GREAT GERMAN THINKER Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once observed, “No one is as hopelessly enslaved as the person who thinks he’s free.” Goethe’s words might sum up the plight of the American people, a plight that was recently reflected in a secret report that emerged from the U.S. embassy in Guatemala, which is headed by U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell.
The report, which was exposed and criticized in a Wall Street Journal op ed entitled “A Guatemalan Free-Market Reformer Is under Fire” by Mary O’Grady (8/3/01), harshly criticized one of the world’s leading advocates of free-market thinking, Manuel Ayau, and the prestigious university he founded in Guatemala 30 years ago, Francisco Marroquin University.
The embassy document took Ayau to task for his uncompromising devotion to free-market principles and criticized the university for emphasizing the economic philosophy of such ardent free-market economists as Friedrich A. Hayek, a Nobel Prize winner, and Ludwig von Mises.
The report also suggested that Ayau and the university were anti-government, anti-democratic, and anti-freedom because they questioned such things as income taxation, welfare, and public schooling, all of which are of course well-established governmental institutions in the United States. The implication is that since the United States is the model of a free and democratic society, anyone who criticizes these core elements of the American way of life must be an opponent of freedom and democracy.
The controversy raises important questions about the nature of freedom and control and the differences between a free-market economic system and a socialist one.
Consider public (state) schooling. I challenge anyone to show me a better model of socialistic central planning than public schooling. A central board of elected or appointed government commissars, whether at a national, state, or local level, plans, in a top-down fashion, the educational decisions of thousands or even millions of people. School attendance is mandatory by law, and school funding is based on the Marxian principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Students are taught by government-approved schoolteachers using government-approved textbooks following a government-approved curriculum. I repeat my challenge: Show me a better model of socialistic central planning than public schooling.
Most everyone would agree that Cuba is a good model for a socialist society. Guess what they have in Cuba. That’s right — public (state) schooling, all the way through college! In fact, public schooling is one of Fidel Castro’s proudest accomplishments.
Now, is public schooling an island of freedom and free enterprise in Cuba or is it a socialist institution within a socialist society? If we were to ask Fidel Castro, he would unquestionably respond, “Every socialist knows that state schooling is an essential element of a socialist, centrally planned society.”
How would U.S. governmental officials respond to that same question? They would undoubtedly answer that public schooling is instead the backbone of a free society.
But how can public schooling be both free-market and socialist? Or as the famous advocate of unfettered capitalism Ayn Rand would have put it, how can A be non-A? And if public schooling is free-enterprise, how would we label a way of life in which school and state were separated, in which compulsory-attendance laws and school taxes were repealed, and in which the state was prohibited from establishing education or abridging the free exercise thereof?
This confusion over freedom and socialism has been manifested by Bushnell’s boss himself, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. In testimony before Congress last April, Powell praised Castro for having done “some good things for his people,” referring to Castro’s having provided public schooling to the Cuban people.
If the U.S. government permitted Americans to travel to Cuba and spend money there, they would find, in addition to public schooling, the following government institutions: income taxation; social security; national health care; welfare; occupational licensure; economic regulations; travel restrictions; drug laws; and gun control.
The words of Goethe raise a troubling question, especially with respect to the relationship between indoctrination and state schooling: Who are more enslaved — the Cuban people, who know that they’re living under socialism, or Americans, who think they are living under freedom?