In my last post, I mentioned certain “positive rights” that Americans have come to assume are part of the social contract. Public education is perhaps the least controversial example of a positive right in America. As a society, we generally believe that every child has a right to a high school education, regardless of his or her parents’ income level. However, with the recent upswing of right-wing extremism, some (generally Ron Paul supporters) question the right to a public education because it requires redistribution of wealth throughout a community. Many extreme libertarians view government taxation for any kind of social program, including public education, as theft, and advocate a system of government where any redistributive program do not exist.
Consider for a moment the implications: if such libertarians had their wish, many children could not to attend school because their parents could not afford the required tuition. Eventually, a large segment of the American public would consist of fully or partially illiterate adults with no marketable job skills, causing poverty to proliferate. American companies would also struggle to survive in such a situation. The robust post-World War Two U.S. economy would implode because there would no longer be an adequately educated workforce and many high-skilled jobs would eventually move overseas or disappear altogether. The U.S. economy thrived in the post-WWII era in part because of a well-educated work force that could compete with countries around the world to produce high-tech goods and services.
Everyone is better off, especially the “one percent,” when there is a more highly educated public. CEOs of America’s most successful companies would not be in their positions if it were not for a well-educated work force. Relatedly, the unsustainable cost increases for higher education and burgeoning college student debt do not portend well for our future if they are not promptly addressed.
We have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that children in all families have an opportunity to be educated. The United States was founded by a group of people who felt alienated and disadvantaged in aristocratic European societies and desired to create a country where everyone would have a chance to succeed. Positive rights, especially the right to a basic education, help ensure everyone has an opportunity for success.