I was speaking with some people from Carleton Students for Liberty on Thursday. During the discussion, someone mentioned that there are people in his class that support public education. He called them “socialists”. Now when I asked him about this he did say they were socialists for various other reasons, not just their support of public education so this post is not really about this incident.
I think this may be a problem for some people in the liberty movement: jumping too quick to pigeon-hole someone politically based off particular opinions they hold. I mean, because someone holds viewpoint x, we tend to assume, without any real evidence, that they also hold viewpoint y and z. After doing so that person is considered a “lost cause” as far as converting them to more libertarian beliefs goes.
It is just false that people that support public education are socialists. Take someone like Mitt Romney. Now, I have not done research into this, nor do I plan to, but I am certain that Romney is in favour of state funded schools. (Did I just disregard my own advice?) Does that make him a socialist? I think not. If we want we can expand the definition of “socialist” to include anyone who favours public education, but that would be, in my opinion, unpractical. It seems just as true that not all socialists favour public education. There is a long tradition of anarchist socialism, regardless of what you may think of it, that has a strong opposition to the state.
When libertarians do something like label an opponent in a discussion “socialist” I think they are severely harming there chances of getting people interested in their cause. Asides from being unaware of the finer points in economic theory, socialists, at least the good ones, are typically: anti-war, anti-corporatism, and pro-civil liberties. Knowing someone who is all three of these things is great! Really, I don’t think that most people know what corporatism means. Three out of four is not bad. Surely, they can be forgiven for not understanding economics. That is where we step in, right?
So yes, someone can favour public education, but they can also be a vigorous opponent of the wars abroad, the resulting evaporation of civil liberties, the war on drugs, and the bank bailouts. Is that your definition of a “socialist”? Maybe, maybe not. But I think people like that are already well set to be brought over to the libertarian side. Why discourage them with unnecessary rhetoric?