I find it difficult to have a reasoned political debate in San Francisco. This is, as far as I have seen, the most liberal area in the country, to the point where people don’t even understand the idea that non-Democrats might actually live amongst them. I am not a Democrat, nor do I count myself as a member of the increasingly zealous, emotionally charged Republican party, despite what I might tell the unfortunate Democratic volunteers tasked with asking me for money. Instead I am for limited government. This is not because I don’t think government can be a force for good in the world, or because I believe that privatization of all things will yield better results, I just believe that the government is horribly inefficient and not truly accountable. Governments can only be held accountable when the electorate is well informed, and most (including myself), are willfully uninformed. Without accountability, we should limit government to those things that will consistently result in an ever improving society. For domestic issues, I think this boils down to two specific areas that need fixed: immigration and education.
Educational opportunity for allOftentimes domestic government policy is oriented around helping those that cannot help themselves. If we grant the premise that government is bad at things, then it goes without saying that they’re bad at helping people that can’t help themselves. I believe that education is the great equalizer, with access to education available to all, then it is up to the individual to seize those opportunities and achieve whatever they are able to. One of the greatest crimes we can allow to continue as a society is to deny people the opportunity to help themselves, and yet without the ability of each citizen to access the best possible education affordably, we are doing exactly that. Fixing this situation doesn’t even seem that hard, all that needs to be improved is access and affordability.
Fixing access is the harder part. Access to education means at a bare minimum permitting a person to get an education. I genuinely believe this is mostly solved. Whether you are black or white, male or female, gay or straight, you are allowed to enter any school in this country. This took us over 150 years to get right, but I believe that we are well on our way. Good job team!
The other parts of access relate to quantity of quality education. Without enough quality education available, we are forced to limit access through either price, lottery, or geographic location. I had a quality education because I lived near a wealthy suburb that paid good teachers well and was pleasant to work at. In San Francisco, there is a lottery to see who will go to what school. Some are good, some are, generously, less good. Most cities just do not have quality public schools and the only way to escape that is to pay ridiculous sums for a quality private education.
To fix this we need more good teachers. The current system does not encourage good teachers. I do not really care how we fix this, we just need to do something, and do it quickly. Making it easier for highly educated professionals to go and teach is one way. This means the regulatory requirements need to be lessened, with more control given to the school systems to determine who would and would not make a good teacher. It also requires paying teachers better. When teachers are seen as martyrs instead of professionals, we have a problem. Not everybody can afford to be a martyr.
Politically, increasing teacher quality through sweeping reform is difficult. The teachers’ unions are quite powerful and seem to be opposed to all kinds of constructive reforms. This is why I am a supporter of school vouchers. If we cannot make public schools better in an expedient fashion, then we must try something else, and vouchers are a good way of pumping more money into a system that might be able to fix these issues. I understand a lot of the arguments against vouchers, but they all fall, in my mind, to the simple need to do something.
Affordability can go hand in hand with access, but tends to apply more to higher education. A quality higher education is necessarily expensive, and is not necessarily the right choice for every person. Not everybody needs to go to Harvard, but everybody that wants to go to Harvard and has the qualities Harvard is looking for in students should be able to do so. There are currently many programs to help students gain a higher education, but I feel that we need to be much more aggressive about it. A student should go through their entire primary education with the assumption that they can afford whatever college they desire so that they may focus on deciding which college will help them achieve whatever goals they may have. This means aggressively expanding the Pell Grant system. Pell Grants are laughably small for anybody that does not go to a state school. This means lower interest rates on student loans, and longer periods of time before it’s required to pay them back. This means more programs that forgive student debt, whether it be Peace Corps, Americorps, becoming a public defender, or even going into teaching. This means matching a student’s part-time pay. This means providing travel vouchers. This means providing free child care. This means tax breaks for everybody that helps an individual achieve a college education. This means bending over backwards to make sure those that are able to make an impact are given the education necessary to do so.
Immigration ReformIn addition to making our own population more able to advance our society, we need to allow others to freely do so as well. America may be losing some stature on the world stage, but it is still largely seen as a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity, if only you can get there. Without enough educators, doctors, nurses, engineers, and innovators, we are fools not to throw open the gates and announce to the world that if you think you can make it in America, we are going to let you try. The process should be as easy as getting a drivers license, which itself should be a whole lot easier. The only thing that seems to be preventing this now is a fear of low-cost migrant workers taking jobs, and in my mind the cost of that fear is far too high. Competition is good, it makes us strive to be our best when we’re winning, and forces us to change our approach when we’re losing. Immigrants oftentimes don’t have the preconceived notions of comfort and well-being that so many Americans have, many of them will work extremely hard to make it here. They will start businesses that will provide millions of new jobs and bring innovations to our country that will bring trillions of dollars to US shores. The best and the brightest should know that America is where they can have their dreams realized, without the hassle of convincing America that it wants them at all.
And that’s it. After that, I really just want government to leave us alone. The issues of the day pale in importance to these issues. Healthcare, Social Security, the next Keynesian jobs bill, they are all politically easy and ultimately problematic, band-aids for a society afraid of its diminishing promise but unable to make the hard changes necessary to reverse course. My far right agenda is simple: do less and allow people to achieve more.