Homeschoolers: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

My eight-year-old daughter and I recently read about the Salem witch trials. She had heard about Salem from a friend who visited the nearby town during its popular Halloween festivities, and she was curious about the witches. We went to the library to get some books on the topic of how 20 innocent people were put to death for “witchcraft” in 1692, with scores more accused and jailed.

What struck me most about revisiting the Salem Witch Trials with my children was the fact that these English Puritans who had recently settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony had no presumption of innocence. Those accused of a crime at the time, both in the New World and elsewhere, were guilty until proven innocent. The presumption of innocence in trials, with court defenders and impartial juries, would take centuries to catch on. The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” was coined by an English lawyer in 1791, but even then it took a long while to become the legal precedent we all now take for granted.

A Pattern of Privacy Invasion

Of course, this legal designation is still imperfectly applied, particularly in cases of fear and bias against certain groups. The US PATRIOT Act, for instance, allows law enforcement agencies the authority to conduct surveillance on individuals and groups by monitoring personal phone calls, emails, and financial documents without a court order. First passed in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and reauthorized since, it is intended to root out the evils of terrorism but does so by violating individual liberty and presuming guilt over innocence.

We see this pattern of privacy invasion by the state and presumed guilt in other areas, as well. In the United Kingdom, for example, there has been such a dramatic rise in the number of homeschoolers that the state believes it must regulate and monitor the practice. Estimates suggest that the number of homeschoolers in the UK increased 40 percent in just three years, and it is thought to be the fastest-growing education option in the UK, with approximately 60,000 homeschooled children in 2018.

The rapid growth of parents taking back control of their children’s education has led to calls by government officials to create a “compulsory register” of homeschooled children and to monitor their education. The UK’s Department of Education told the BBC through a spokesperson this week:

Where children are being home educated, we know that in the vast majority of cases parents are doing an excellent job. We also know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be.

The idea that all homeschooling families in the UK must now be presumed guilty of neglect because a “very small minority” might be is not a legitimate reason to violate the privacy and personal freedom of law-abiding citizens. There are already laws to protect children from abuse and neglect in the UK and elsewhere, and those laws should be duly enforced; but subjecting all homeschooling families to regulation and oversight because of fears of a few is a blatant example of state intrusion.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Families often choose the homeschooling option because they are especially attentive to their child’s well-being. As The Guardian reported last fall:

Many parents who opt to homeschool their children say they are avoiding bullying, exam pressure and stress. Others have concerns about special educational needs, not getting a place at the school of their choice, or the school environment.

In other words, most of these homeschooling parents are going above and beyond to provide the best education for their children and should not have their decisions questioned and educational approaches monitored.

Supporters of homeschooling regulation, both in the United States and abroad, frequently say that it’s really no big deal. If you’re one of the vigilant homeschooling families then you shouldn’t mind state oversight. But that’s like saying if I have nothing to hide, it’s okay for the government to search my house and read my emails—without a warrant. It presumes guilt over innocence.

Intentions may be good. The Salem Puritans wanted to root out witchcraft and what they saw as the work of the devil. The PATRIOT Act aimed to prevent terrorism through government surveillance. Monitoring homeschooling families is presented as protecting children. But in all cases, innocent people are suspected of guilt and must prove themselves worthy. It’s antithetical to the values of a free society.

I wanted to tell my daughter that we’re so much better now than those Puritans, that “innocent until proven guilty” now prevails. But I’m honestly not so sure.

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School Security Is Now a $3 Billion Dollar Annual Industry

US taxpayers spend nearly $700 billion each year on K-12 public schooling, and that eye-popping sum shows no sign of slowing. In fact, as more non-academic programs are adopted in schools across the country, the price tag for mass schooling continues to swell even as achievement lags.

The Cost of School Security

One ballooning school expenditure is the vast amount of money allocated to school safety. US schools now spend an estimated $2.7 billion on security features, from automatically locking doors to video surveillance and facial recognition software. That amount doesn’t include the additional billions of dollars spent on armed guards at schools. Federal spending on school security is also rising, with the US Department of Homeland Security recently awarding a $2.3 million grant to train high school students how to act like first responders in the event of a mass casualty, like a school shooting.

These enhanced security and training mechanisms may seem justified, particularly in the wake of deadly mass school shootings like the massacre in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. But school shootings are exceedingly rare. As Harvard University instructor David Ropeik writes in The Washington Post:

“The chance of a child being shot and killed in a public school is extraordinarily low. Not zero — no risk is. But it’s far lower than many people assume, especially in the glare of heart-wrenching news coverage after an event like Parkland. And it’s far lower than almost any other mortality risk a kid faces, including traveling to and from school, catching a potentially deadly disease while in school or suffering a life-threatening injury playing interscholastic sports.”

Still, it’s natural for us to want to protect children from harm—and to get angry when our preferred method of protection doesn’t gain traction. Advocating for increased gun control measures, reporter Nestor Ramos writes in the Boston Globe: “In a nation unwilling to take even modest steps to prevent the next Columbine or Parkland massacre, schools have begun training students to patch up their classmates’ gunshot wounds.”

Gun control is only one possible policy prescription—and even respected researchers doubt that it would do much good in halting gun deaths. There are other “modest steps” we could take, aside from increased regulations and restrictions, that may more effectively reduce gun-related mortality in children—and they cost much less than current school security measures.

A Simple Solution

In states with generous school choice options, like charter schools and vouchers, the teen suicide rate was lower than in states without these options.

A simple but powerful step in saving young lives is to expand school choice options for families. If children feel trapped in an assigned district school and are subjected to daily bullying or humiliation with no escape, it can lead to severe depression and suicidal tendencies. Let’s remember that mass shootings and suicide are intertwined. Compelling research by Corey DeAngelis and Angela Dills shows a striking correlation between more school choice and better mental health. They found that in states with generous school choice options, like charter schools and vouchers, the teen suicide rate was lower than in states without these options.

When parents have greater access to education choices beyond their assigned public school, their children are happier. This is good news for those children—and for the rest of us who don’t need to worry that their depression may turn deadly.

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On the Violence Inherent in Voting

At some time or another, we were all taught how government works. We learned about the three branches of government and their relationships to each other. We were also told that “we are government” since each citizen over the age of 18 has the right to vote for a chosen candidate or on ballot initiatives.

That’s what we were taught.

What they didn’t tell us about was the deleterious effects of voting… the victims of voting. The fact that each voter puts their individual needs, opinions, and desires above, and to the detriment of, others.

The voter believes their actions to be benevolent or caring, but nothing could be further from the truth. Their acts of voting instead cause innocent people to be considered criminals, increases in the surveillance state, increases in the police state, punitive taxation, more war, more prisons, separation of families, et cetera.

They vote because they think they know what’s best for their fellow citizens. What the voter doesn’t know is that they are culpable. They are personally responsible for the victims of their act of voting.

The recreational pot smoker who was sentenced to prison, the hard working couple forced to pay more taxes, the young soldiers who will die on foreign battlefields; these are the victims of voting, among many others, and the “patriotic, god-fearing, tax-paying, Americans” need to realize this fact.

Voting may seem like a responsible, benevolent act, but as Frederic Bastiat wrote, “there is the seen and the unseen.” By that he meant, before you act, consider the repercussions of acting. Your decisions have consequences.

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Voluntaryist Solutions to the Public Benefits and Immigration Problem

December 2018: I read this essay and added commentary for Editor’s Break 119 of the EVC podcast.

Ours is a world filled with organized crime, you may call them “governments.” These governments often, in their quest to legitimize and maintain their rule, offer benefits back to those they victimize on a continual basis. Some governments offer more than others. The United States government, and its many smaller federated governments, have created many different benefit programs for those it considers its citizens, and otherwise.

The funds for these public benefits programs ultimately come from citizens and residents. When people from other parts of the world move into the United States, they have more or less the opportunity to obtain these public benefits for themselves. If too many people move into the United States and exploit these public benefits (and eventually vote for more of them), this will have the very real effect of bankrupting governments if they don’t act to either limit public benefits or increase revenue generation, such as by what is euphemistically called “taxation.”

What’s a voluntaryist, who is a person who recognizes the criminal nature of governments, to do about the problem of immigrants exploiting public benefits? There are several possible solutions to this problem, many of which are consistent with the voluntary principle, that all human relations should happen voluntarily, or not at all, and many of which are not. As a voluntaryist, I do not care to consider or defend solutions that require the violation of the voluntary principle. Here are some which qualify as anti-voluntaryist:

  • Having governments maintain or increase its crime against its citizens in order to fund the building of a wall or other technological barriers to immigrant entry.
  • Having governments repel peaceful immigrants by the threat and use of violence.
  • Having governments increase its surveillance of its citizens in order to monitor for their aiding and abetting of unwelcome immigrants.
  • Having governments coercively interfere with its citizens voluntarily trading with unwelcome immigrants.

I could go on, but I’m sure that’s sufficient to give you an idea of the sorts of solutions that government brings to the problem of public benefits to immigrants. None of these obviously coercive and aggressive solutions appeal to me, nor are any of them compatible with my principles as a voluntaryist. All of them are totally unjust and necessarily violent against peaceful people. So what can be done about this problem? Here are some solutions which are compatible with the voluntary principle:

  • Having governments severely limit or abolish its public benefits programs. No public benefits, nothing for immigrants to exploit.
  • Having governments reduce its aggression against free markets and free trade with people in other places around the world. This would increase the economic opportunities for would-be immigrants at home, decreasing their incentive to leave.
  • Having governments abolish their wars on drugs and other illicit trades. These policies have had major negative effects on poorer places around the world.
  • Having governments end their foreign wars and occupations. These interventions have had major negative effects on poorer places around the world.
  • Having governments abolish gun control so that its citizens have the legal right to defend themselves from attacks by unsavory immigrants.
  • Having interested parties form voluntary education centers to expose immigrants to voluntaryist thought.
  • Having interested parties open their homes, churches, and community centers to immigrants for the purpose of befriending them and showing them how to survive in their new land without the need to exploit public benefits.

I’m sure if you really put your mind to it, you too could discover all sorts of peaceful solutions to this problem. It’s not difficult. At some point, however, you will realize that your enemy is not the poor immigrant trying to find a better life for himself and his family. Your enemy is organized crime, government. Should those who value peace, liberty, and justice pray to their enemy to coercively protect them from the non-enemies their enemy has incentivized in the first place? Seems stupid to me.

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Liberty in America During the Great War

There’s always plenty for libertarians to complain about in our troubled world, but in many respects, things could be much worse. I’m thinking particularly of how the U.S. government punished dissent before, during, and even after America’s participation in World War I. Although it will be a few years before we observe the centenary of Woodrow Wilson’s idiotic decision in 1917 to plunge the country into the Great War, this seems like as good a time as any to review his administration’s, Congress’s, and the courts’ shameful conduct.

My source here is David M. Kennedy’s Over Here: The First World War and American Society (paperback, 2004), especially chapter 1, “The War for the American Mind.” (Also see Joseph Stromberg’s “Remembering with Astonishment Woodrow Wilson’s Reign of Terror in Defense of ‘Freedom.’”)

Wilson of course was reelected president in 1916 after a campaign that reminded voters, “He kept us out of war.” But as Kennedy tells it, most of the public did not need to be dragged into war. (Germany’s resumption of submarine warfare must have had something to do with this.) Resistance did not appear widespread, and efforts to suppress dissent (and activities having nothing to do with dissent) were more virulent at the grassroots level than in Washington. At some point, American nativism kicked in with a vengeance, and the prowar fever was easily exploited to turn up the heat on immigrants and workers.

The propaganda campaign was remarkable, the repression more so, as though the policymakers feared that a little dissent could turn the whole country antiwar. “Woe be to the man or group of men that seeks to stand in our way.” That was Wilson’s warning to the war opponents two months after he asked an obliging Congress for a declaration of war on Germany. “They had no small idea, as yet, just how much woe was to befall them,” Kennedy writes.

Kennedy believes that suppression of dissent was made easier by a traditional American striving for agreement. The government’s public school — known in the 19th century as the common school — won favor out of a desire to homogenize the religiously and ethnically diverse population. The “melting pot” was a popular notion. “Those deep-running historical currents,” Kennedy writes, “darkly moving always beneath the surface of a society more created than given, more bonded by principles than by traditions, boiled once more to the surface of American life in the crisis of 1917–1918.” Social stability was seen as requiring “sameness of opinion … commonality of mind.”

It was in the preparation for war and during the war itself that the notion of “100 percent Americanism” was forged, Kennedy adds, and most people were suspicious of anyone who seemed less than 100 percent American.

Kennedy notes that Wilson was well suited for the role he assumed:

He had all his life been a moralizing evangelist who longed with a religious fervor to sway the public mind with the power of his person and his rhetoric. The war furnished him with a wider stage for the ultimate performance of the act he had long been perfecting.… He subverted the more or less orderly processes of politics by stirring and heating the volatile cauldron of public opinion. Therein lay both his great political genius and a major source of his eventual downfall.

But Wilson’s public reversal on the war caught many people by surprise — particularly the Progressive intelligentsia, which, led by John Dewey and the New Republic, converted to war-boosterism with relative ease — to Randolph Bourne’s horror. (See Murray Rothbard’s classic “World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals.”) But, Kennedy adds,

some of those persons of sensitive conscience would indeed find the passage from neutrality to war impossible to negotiate. The steadfast pacifists — like those who held to the original anti-war principles of the American Union Against Militarism — increasingly found themselves isolated in a wilderness of opposition from which nearly all their countrymen had fled by the end of 1917.

Just as the Eastern Progressives hoped that they could harness the unpleasantness of war to their reformist aims (Progressives further west were skeptical), conservatives and others also “sought to invest America’s role in the war with their preferred meaning and to turn the crisis to their particular advantage,” Kennedy writes. “All, of course, mantled their activities in the raiment of patriotism. But that loose garment could be stretched to many sizes and shapes, and the struggle to define the war’s meaning often cloaked purposes far removed from Wilson’s summons to a crusade for a liberal peace and democracy.”

Thus the demand for solid support for the war bolstered groups that were already suspicious of immigrants and workers showing an interest in unions. Thus opponents of war could be further stigmatized as foreigners and socialists. (Recall that avowed socialists condemned the Great War as a “capitalist war” in which the world’s workers had no interest.)

Washington’s efforts to disseminate a particular view of the war — democracy versus German authoritarianism — reached into the schools, and local school officials obliged by stepping up the effort, for example, by outlawing the teaching of German. “Ninety percent of all the men and women who teach the German language are traitors,” Kennedy quotes one Iowa politician as saying.

By executive order, Wilson created the innocuously named Committee on Public Information, a propaganda mill headed by Progressive muckraking journalist George Creel. Kennedy portrays Creel as a man who believed that the American way of shaping opinion “shunned coercion and censorship.” But apparently not everyone agreed.

Kennedy finds parallels between the American propaganda effort and themes found in George Orwell’s 1984.

The American experience in World War I … darkly adumbrated the themes Orwell was to put at the center of his futuristic fantasy: overbearing concern for “correct” opinion, for expression, for language itself, and the creation of an enormous propaganda apparatus to nurture the desired state of mind and excoriate all dissenters. That American propaganda frequently wore a benign face, and that its creators genuinely believed it to be in the service of an altruistic cause, should not obscure these important facts.

At the grassroots level, vigilantism — including lynching — was not uncommon and too often was more or less countenanced by people in power and prominent members of the of legal community, including a future U.S. attorney general, Charles Bonaparte.

The Justice Department under Attorney General Thomas Gregory encouraged citizen surveillance through its link to the American Protective League, “a group of amateur sleuths and loyalty enforcers,” in Kennedy’s description. Said Gregory, “I have today several hundred thousand private citizens — some individuals, most of them as members of patriotic bodies, engaged in … assisting the heavily overworked Federal authorities in keeping an eye on disloyal individuals and making reports on disloyal utterances.” Kennedy says that by the end of the war, the APL had 250,000 members.

This was also the period in which the United States got the Espionage Act and amendments known as the Sedition Act. Under the authority of the Espionage Act, Postmaster General Albert Sidney Burleson banned publications from the mail or stripped them of their second-class mailing permits for even suggesting that Wall Street or the arms industry controlled the government. Criticizing the government was regarded as aiding the enemy.

Wilson, Kennedy writes, meekly and privately objected to the heavy-handedness of his underlings on occasion but never did anything about it. His true feelings were revealed after the war, when he advocated a new sedition act to take the place of the soon-to-expire wartime amendment.

The courts were no friendlier to dissenters and government critics. Kennedy says “the courts construed the [wartime censorship] laws broadly, convicting persons, for example, for even discussing the constitutionality of conscription, or, as happened in New Hampshire, for claiming ‘this was a Morgan war and not a war of the people’ (a remark that earned its author a three-year prison sentence).”

An antiwar speech could get you indicted, tried, and sent to prison. Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs went to prison for delivering a speech against the war, although he did not call on young men to defy conscription.

“The Supreme Court,” Kennedy writes, “did not review any Espionage Act cases until after the Armistice. By then, of course, the damage was done.”

When District Judge Learned Hand ordered Postmaster General Burleson to stop closing the mails to dissenting magazines, an appeals court overturned the order and the Supreme Court let the appellate decision stand. In 1919 the high court heard three cases brought under the Espionage Act. In one, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. declared that in wartime, speech or written work that is “such a hindrance” to the government’s effort may be prohibited.

It was in this opinion that Holmes enunciated the “clear and present danger” standard for when speech and press may be controlled. But Kennedy notes that Holmes and his fellow justices violated their own standard. For example, the court refused to overturn the conviction of a German-American “who had published articles questioning the constitutionality of the draft and the purposes of the war.”

Holmes also sustained Debs’s conviction, writing ominously, “if a part of the manifest intent of the more general utterances was to encourage those present to obstruct the recruiting service … the immunity of the general theme may not be enough to protect the speech.” Kennedy found only one case in which Holmes, in dissent, used the “clear and present danger” test to oppose a conviction.

Holmes, strangely, has a reputation as a great civil libertarian. One perceptive observer was not fooled; H.L. Mencken demolished the renowned jurist in a 1930 book review that reminded readers of Holmes’s wartime opinions.

We are indeed fortunate that speakers, writers, and publishers who today communicate antiwar messages are no longer treated as they were during World War I. That they were not so treated after the 9/11 attacks — considering the other appalling policies and practices the Bush administration engaged in — we might chalk up to the devout respect for freedom of speech and press that is nurtured by hardworking organizations and civil libertarians dedicated to protecting those freedoms.

Kennedy ends his chapter on a note that today’s progressives ought to heed. Eastern Progressives supported Wilson’s war hoping it would advance reform while avoiding the domestic excesses that war can produce. They miscalculated, however. Dewey was wrong. Bourne was right.

The devotees of Barack Obama, who has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the same Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined, still have not learned their lesson.

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The IMF Fears Cryptocurrency; It Should

The International Monetary Fund refers to cryptocurrency only once in its 215-page World Economic Outlook for October 2018, but that reference is telling: “Continued rapid growth of crypto assets could create new vulnerabilities in the international financial system.”

Ironically and counter-intuitively — but in my opinion not accidentally — that sentence is grouped in a paragraph  with worries about the potential of cyber warfare to “undermine cross-border payment systems and disrupt the flow of goods and services.”

Cryptocurrency, of course, is the perfect solution to “cross-border payment systems.” In terms of both movement and accounting, it simply ignores borders.  A Bitcoin is a Bitcoin is a Bitcoin — in Minneapolis, in Mumbai, in Moscow. And it can be moved between those three cities in a tiny fraction of the time and with a fraction of the effort  it takes to set up wire transfers between bank accounts and to exchange dollars for rupees, or for rubles. All without government permission, too.

The “vulnerabilities” the IMF worries about are its own. Cryptocurrencies are, to varying degrees, resistant to supervision, surveillance, and regulation by entities like the IMF and its 189 member governments (the so-called “international financial system”).

Those governments (and their intermediary institutions like the IMF) fear money they can’t control. Who can blame them? The long history of central government banking is a history of money and markets easily subjected to taxation and political manipulation. Its purpose is to shear the sheep — that is, to clothe the ruling class at the expense of those who produce goods and services of actual value.

The brief history of cryptocurrency, on the other hand, is a history of emerging financial (and, ultimately, political) freedom for the productive class. That’s its philosophical genesis and its technical goal: Putting wealth beyond the reach of the thieves and extortionists who call themselves “governments.” Crypto is, as the anarcho-syndicalists like to put it, “building the new world in the shell of the old.”

Some players in the crypto sector seek co-option by the existing “international financial system” — for example, seeking regulation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and its global equivalents.  They’re backing the wrong horse. The old “international financial system” will be replaced, not reformed.

The IMF’s purpose is not to facilitate “cross-border payment systems and … the flow of goods and services,” but to control them.  Fortunately, the time when that was even remotely possible is coming to an end.

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