The Corner

What if it Worked?

Speaking of Head Start, it’s always an interesting question to ask folks on the right, If X worked, would you be for it? X can be socialism or the minimum wage or the drug war. The answers from conservatives and libertarians can often be more surprising than you might think. Personally, I’d obviously prefer such programs be run from the local level for all the philosophical and practical reasons. But if you could prove to me that Head Start really and unambiguously did what its advocates claim it does, and the only way to see it done was with a federal program, I’d rather that than nothing. The problem of course is that it doesn’t come anywhere close to doing what it’s proponents claim. Its chief role — much like many of the gun control measures being considered in Congress — often seems to be to make the advocates of government action feel better about themselves and to reward the bureaucracies and other constituencies that form the backbone of the Democratic Party. 

Update: In the comments section below Gene Smith writes:

Of course I would be for it – I’m not conservative for the express purpose of being “against” progressives; rather, I am conservative because time and again conservative programs prove they work (when tried) and progressive programs do not. Give me a progressive program that works, and I’m all for it; give me a conservative program that doesn’t, and I’m against it.

I think Mr. Smith misses the point. Even if Headstart worked, there would be principled and non-sinister reasons to oppose it as a federal program. You might believe that education is a local matter and the feds should just stay out of it as a matter of principle. You might believe that even if it worked at the federal level the locals could do it even better. Etc. Other federal programs that “work” might be objectionable because they violate ones conscience or the Constitution etc. I wasn’t trying to say that conservatives should be against something just because progressives are for it. Rather I was trying to illuminate that people come to the right from many different paths. For example, many on the right are against socialism for rigid moral reasons, “it’s just wrong”. Others are against socialism for strictly empirical reasons, “it just doesn’t work.” Most are against socialism for a mix of the two.  When National Review turned against the drug war, for instance, it was because William F. Buckley and others concluded it failed, not so much that it wasn’t worth trying. There are other opponents of the drug war whose opposition is rooted elsewhere. Even if the drug war could work, most of the folks at Reason would still be against it, I’m pretty sure 



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