Privilege Seeking within Government

Charles Murray is unhappy with Frederick County Maryland’s interference with parents’ attempt to implement their new charter school (a school designed to emphasize a “classical curriculum”).

From the beginning, the administrators of the Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) were openly hostile to the idea of a classical curriculum and threw up one frivolous bureaucratic roadblock after another. Now, in the last months before the school is finally scheduled to open this fall, the FCPS has informed these parents that they can’t hire the nine teachers that they had selected after vetting 300 applications. Instead, under Maryland law, the school can be forced to accept teachers on the county’s “to be placed list”—in other words, teachers who the FCPS would otherwise let go. Furthermore, the parents running the school cannot even interview them—nor learn their names, nor have any other way to get an idea whether these teachers have any understanding of the classical curriculum or the ability or motivation to teach it. The FCPS can simply force placement of the teachers it can’t use in any of its other schools.

This is a perfect example of the problem of interest groups, this time the teachers’ union, receiving special privileges via political process. See my study of privilege-seeking in political process and how it affects prosperity along New Mexico’s border. By guaranteeing a monopoly “privilege to government’s resource providers,” “provision of core functions (are) more costly than they otherwise would be.” (p.7)

Murray concludes with an indictment of our loss of liberty that should wake us up. This example:

is representative of the kind of naked display of power that increasingly happens throughout government—in the schools, the regulatory agencies, the tax authorities, at the county, state and federal levels alike. Americans who are acting in ways our civic culture has traditionally celebrated—harming no one, just trying make a living or build a business or, in this case, collaborate to educate their children—find themselves balked, forbidden, and in some cases prosecuted, by bureaucracies that increasingly exist to protect themselves and their own interests, and have gathered unto themselves the power to do so. This is not a partisan issue. It represents a betrayal of what America is supposed to be about.