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When Capitalism Fails (Why Won’t Anyone Think Of The Children?)

The question of how to address poverty in the United States is complicated. Steven Horwitz, chair of the department of economics at St. Lawrence University, and Jeffrey Reiman, professor of philosophy and religion at American University, debate the level of government assistance that should be given to help the poor.

In this clip, professors Horwitz and Reiman discuss how children who are poor can best be helped. While adult poverty may, in many cases, be due to some fault of the adult, should children have to suffer their parents’ mistakes? Both argue in favor of improvements in the education system, especially in creating more choice. While Prof. Horwitz suggests this can be done outside of government, Prof. Reiman argues that government will still have to be involved, even if only to create the vouchers.

Prof. Reiman also turns the question on its head, suggesting that perhaps the children of successful parents should not benefit from the parents’ success any more than children of poor parents should not be punished for their parents’ failings. Should all children start out on an equal footing, financially as well as educationally? What should be done to improve education opportunities for the poor? Is the government the best provider of education? What are your thoughts?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/31/world/asia/for-indias-poor-private-schools-help-fill-a-growing-demand.html?_r=0 [article]: Vikas Bajaj and Jim Yardley explain the importance of private schools for India’s poor students and communities


http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/06/markets-and-the-economic-condition-of-the-poor/[article]: Steve Horwitz breaks down the economic condition of the poor and whether markets work to benefit the least advantaged


http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/school-choice#axzz2l6ZMf1W8 [article]: Walter Williams explains the idea of School Choice and refutes many of the common arguments against it


Reiman, Jeffrey. (1995). The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Crime and Criminal Justice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.


http://reason.com/blog/2012/12/13/in-michigan-more-poor-families-taking-re [article]: Scott Shackford of Reason Magazine breaks down Michigan’s right-to-choose debate dealing with the state’s charter schools.


http://www.law2.byu.edu/lawreview/archives/2008/2/90WOLF.FIN.pdf [journal]: Patrick J. Wolf answers a number of important policy questions surrounding school vouchers and whether they benefit students


When Capitalism Fails (Why Won't Anyone Think Of The Children?) 
JEFFREY REIMAN: Well I mean look, let's address this question. What do you say about the children of people who have made bad economic decisions or have had bad luck, got sick, signed up for education in a field that disappeared. I mean, I hope none of you is planning to be a travel agent or a photo enlarger: those things are gone. And if you oriented your education toward that, you made a big mistake. Well, maybe you should pay for that mistake. But what about your kids, who enter the market at a disadvantage compared to the kids of people who were luckier? How are you going to deal with that?
BRANDON TURNER: Steve…
STEVEN HORWITZ: How are we going to deal with the children of parents who made really good decisions and benefited them, right? I mean, it seems to me that if there’s some kind of case that one is problematic then the other should be problematic, too. But at the end of the day, it’s parents who are in the best situation to judge what they believe is best for their kids. If they make mistakes, they make mistakes. We do, I think, have processes and mechanisms in civil society to help those who have fallen into that situation. I think that we also want to be sure to make sure we have an education system that offers even the children of the poor opportunities to improve themselves, because perhaps their parents have made mistakes.
But we can't prevent people from making mistakes, and we can't prevent those from having consequences for their children. The question then is, sort of, empirically what do we do, right? How do we try to make sure that the kids of the parents who have made those kinds of mistakes still have the best opportunities possible? I just don’t believe that government is necessarily the best way to do that, and I think we’ve got evidence to suggest that as well.
REIMAN: Look, I mean you want to have better education. Well, it’s going to be hard to do that without government. And you want to have some kind of system that helps those people who fall into a bad situation for reasons outside of their control. Maybe you can do that without government. I suspect that you’re going to need government for that. So I think government is unavoidable. I am suspicious of it myself, but I think just saying, well, something else will work better—maybe. It’s highly speculative.
HORWITZ: Then why do you think so many parents of poor kids are choosing to opt out of the public schools and want opportunities like school vouchers and school choice?
REIMAN: School vouchers are still provided by the government, I mean—
HORWITZ: There’s multiple ways you can do it.
REIMAN: Sure. But, I mean, it’s not going to come from the poor people's own money, because they’re poor. And so you’re going to have to do it in some way that’s mandated. And that’s going to require you to use government. I’m not saying government is the best provider of education; I’m just saying government is very hard to do without.
HORWITZ: There’s some interesting examples of places across the world, India for example, that have opportunities for private schooling that poor folks are easily able to take advantage of that. I’m not so convinced that you can't get it done if you think creatively and if the barriers, the competition—
REIMAN: I think it’s an empirical question, but one that I think raises the serious question of whether you can do without government at all. Let me just throw one other thing: I’m sure we’ll disagree about this, and that is, I don't see that it’s so bad to take away some of the unfair advantage that rich kids get. What’s wrong with that? I mean, I’m sorry about that because I know that they’ll  be disappointed. But if we think that people ought to start off on a similar baseline, then make it happen. Why allow the bequeathing of millions of dollars from one generation to another?
NOTE: This clip is not a subsection from the “full debate” video. That is, this discussion is absent from the longer video.
This makes the “Watch the Full Debate” link that appears at the end of the video a bit misleading. Unless there is a different “full debate” video than the longer video that is in the LL Google doc.

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