|The Future of Freedom Foundation|
The occasion was not a case of child abuse or neglect. Quite the contrary, it was a case of parents objecting to a schools asking their 7- to 10-year-old children about sex.
In 2001 the Palmdale School District, in Los Angeles County, California, had a graduate student in psychology design a survey for children in the first, third, and fifth grades. In a notice to parents, the district said the 79-question survey was intended to establish a community baseline measure of childrens exposure to early trauma (for example, violence) and to identify internal behaviors such as anxiety and depression and external behaviors such as aggression and verbal abuse. The notice told parents that they could opt out of the survey and included a letter of consent, which stated, I understand answering questions may make my child feel uncomfortable. If this occurs, then, Kristi Seymour, the research study coordinator, will assist us in locating a therapist for further psychological help if necessary. This should have been a tip-off to parents.
The letter made no reference to the sexual content of the survey, which asked children how often they engaged in, for example, Touching my private parts too much, Thinking about touching other peoples private parts, and Thinking about sex when I dont want to.
After filing an unsuccessful complaint with the school district, several parents went into federal court for an injunction and damages, charging that the school violated their rights to privacy and to control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex. The district and appellate courts rejected those claims. The plaintiffs have not decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two issues deserve attention: (1) Judge Stephen Reinhardts claim that parents freedom regarding education is limited to choosing the schools to which they send their children; and (2) the doctrine of parens patriae, under which the judge ruled that the school district has the legitimate authority to look after not only the education, but also the mental health, of children.
Imagine a Wal-Mart customer demanding, as a matter of right, that the store manager carry certain items and not others. We understand that a customers right consists in patronizing or not patronizing the store. If he enters, he takes the store as he finds it. If he dislikes the store, he can go elsewhere.
Judge Reinhardt believes that, in educating their children, parents are in the same position as the Wal-Mart customer. He writes, Once parents make the choice as to which school their children will attend, their fundamental right to control the education of their children is, at the least, substantially diminished. The constitution does not vest parents with the authority to interfere with a public schools decision as to how it will provide information to its students or what information it will provide, in its classrooms or otherwise.
This reasoning is plausible except for one large detail. Even if parents choose private education, they have to pay school taxes. The choice is rigged. Thats unjust.
Parens patriae, or father of the country, is the doctrine that the state is the ultimate guardian of children. Judge Reinhardt wrote, The questioning can also be justified on the basis of an alternative state interest namely, parens patriae.... The School Districts interest in the mental health of its students falls well within the states authority as parens patriae. As such, the School District may legitimately play a role in the care and nurture of children entrusted to them for schooling.
In fact, parens patriae is one of those high-sounding slogans (the Latin helps) that comes down to this: the state is more powerful than anyone with the audacity to disagree. Did you consent to parens patriae? If not, by what authority does it apply to your children?
Judge Reinhardts presumptuous ruling embodies Senator Hillary Clintons favorite quotation, Theres no such thing as other peoples children. Any self-respecting parent rejects that philosophy root and branch.
Leave the Oil
The chiefs of the oil companies were summoned to Congress to account for why gas prices and corporate profits are so high.
They should firmly decline and explain that, this being free country, theoretically, they have more important things to do than to be used as props before a Grand Inquisition designed to score points for aspiring presidential candidates and other unsavory characters.
Why does the price of gasoline get so much attention? Sure, most of us need gasoline and buy it more than once a week. But the same goes for milk. Yet milk prices are rarely sneered at by cable-news anchormen or darkly referred to in conspiratorial terms.
The difference is that gasoline prices are displayed on street corners. Since were human beings, we notice the price rises, but not the price falls. Thats why the news media are jumping on this story with pronounced vehemence just as the price is plunging all over the country. (Did the previously alleged oil conspiracy fall apart?) Record profits by the major oil companies have made this story especially juicy for ratings-hungry news organizations. We love to hate the oil companies.
Its a bit tiresome to have to repeat the reasons that the price of gas has risen recently: growing world demand (hello, do you see whats going on in China?) and the refinery hits from the Gulf storms are two pretty good reasons that prices rose. Problems in Iraq and Venezuela are also relevant. Theres really no mystery here, unless the words supply and demand have vanished from the language.
But what about those profits, which ignorant newscasters and others call obscene? I could point out that oil profits are mostly reinvested in risky ventures, which should interest anyone who wants gas prices to fall (even more). I could also point out that, when oil companies get richer, a lot of people of moderate income benefit, since they own stock through their pension funds and 401(k)s.
But those undeniable truths wont satisfy everyone. Lets face it, theres a strong sense in this society that oil profits are unearned. Thats why politicians favor a windfall-profits tax. We all know (or think we do) what a windfall is. It is the unexpected and the undeserved (unless its ones own). The oil barons dont deserve those profits because they didnt do anything to earn them. They just happened to be holding oil when various factors conspired to push the price up. Of course, they didnt just happen to be holding oil. They made risky decisions that resulted in that circumstance. Companies fail even oil companies. (Ask George W. Bush.) Oil companies spend money to hold inventories to be drawn on when changing circumstances, such as natural disasters, create supply shortages. Who would do that if there were no chance for profit? Would we prefer that they not hold emergency inventories? Heres a sure way to stop that: impose a windfall-profits tax.
The attack on the oil companies betrays a basic ignorance about economic value. Before the birth of modern economics, people thought that value was an objective component of things. From Adam Smith to Karl Marx, economists believed that the value of an thing was determined by how much labor went into producing it. This view was overthrown by later economists who understood that value means that human beings have decided a thing is useful and are willing to give up something to obtain it. This insight meant that market prices could change if peoples evaluations changed. If an entrepreneur risks his capital to produce a thing, he is as entitled to the profits if the price goes up as he is entitled to the losses if the price goes down.
Such a way of looking at the world bestows two worthwhile things on mankind: prosperity and freedom.
(Feedback form for both articles at the bottom of the page.)
Samuel Bostaph is head of the economics department at the University of Dallas and an academic advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation
Anthony Gregory is a policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation
James Bovard is author of The Bush Betrayal and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation
Benedict LaRosa is a historian and writer and serves as a policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation
Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.
Leave the Oil Companies Alone