Monday, January 18, 2010

Some Thoughts on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I was reading this article from the December 17, 2009, issue of The New York Review of Books and came across this quote from an article by Dr. Tony Judt, professor of European History at New York University. The article was entitled "What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy?" It's a great article outlining two opposing mindsets regarding social organization and public investment: The Austrian School of Friederich Hayek versus the approach advocated by John Maynard Keynes.

The quote is as follows:

As in the eighteenth century, so today: by eviscerating the state's responsibilities and capacities, we have diminished its public standing. The outcome is "gated communities," in every sense of the word: subsections of society that fondly suppose themselves functionally independent of the collectivity and its public servants. If we deal uniquely or overwhelmingly with private agencies, then over time we dilute our relationship with a public sector for which we have no apparent use. It doesn't much matter whether the private sector does the same things better or worse, at higher or lower cost. In either event, we have diminished our allegiance to the state and lost something vital that we ought to share--and in many cases used to share--with our fellow citizens.

The crux of Judt's comments are aimed more toward the privatization of government services, but I found elements of the quote interesting and especially salient as I think of Dr. King and education. Dr. King helped extend the franchise to a broader range of Americans and education is the one service overwhelmingly provided by the state through local school districts. I don't subscribe to the theory that the state should provide everything or that it is infalliable in the services it does provide, but it is something that should ideally be an expression of our common identity as Americans, Minnesotans, or local government entity.

Looking ahead, as we tackle the budget challenge facing Minnesota, hopefully Dr. Judt's words will be heeded. Arguments as to what the size and scope of government are appropriate, but we should seek to strengthen our commitment to our shared identity in that process.

Further, education is the government service that all consume either directly or indirectly. Students obviously receive the direct benefit, but all of us are served daily by those who have graduated (hopefully) from some educational institution. Our future depends on a strong and effective education system. It is the one item provided by government that touches everyone and hopefully the year ahead will see a continued commitment from the state that will ensure that all children, as the SEE mission statement so eloquently states, "will have access to a high quality education regardless of where they live in Minnesota."

Enough pseudo-intellectual prattling. I'll be back again tomorrow.

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