If there is one thing that is clear, it is that Javier Milei does not need anyone to come to his defense, both because of his character and because of the strength of his ideas, whether others agree with them or not. In a recent report he is criticized on a specific point: public education.
The discussion on this topic usually turns into a typical Chicana-based polemic, so common among us, presenting Milei as an ogre without social sensitivity, who would not hesitate to leave all the poor children on the street. Equivalent to that would be to ask those who criticize him to take out their wallets and show how willing they are to finance the education of the poor, following that common saying in English “put your money where your mouth is”. Otherwise it is doing charity with the money of others, which does not seem to have much moral support. It does not open the “doors of Heaven” for us or for the officials of the Ministry of Education.
Milei proposes two different scenarios: one, ideal, where there would be no State and everything would be financed voluntarily; another, with a small state, which he calls “minarchist”. The idea of a society without a State may seem bizarre to some and not worthy of the slightest attention when Milei says it, but I don’t know if they would say the same when none other than Jorge Luis Borges said it:
“…for me the State is the common enemy now; I would like – I have said this many times – a minimum of State and a maximum of individual. But, perhaps it will be necessary to wait… I don’t know if it will be a few decades or a few centuries – which historically is nothing – although I certainly will not reach that world without States. For that an ethical humanity would be needed, and also, a humanity intellectually stronger than it is now, than we are; Since, without a doubt, we are very immoral and very unintelligent compared to those men of the future, that is why I agree with the phrase: “I dogmatically believe in progress.” Jorge Luis Borges & Osvaldo Ferrari, In Dialogue I (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1998, p. 220.) “I think that in time we will deserve that there are no governments.”, Jorge Luis Borges, The Brodie Report, Complete Works II (Barcelona: Emecé Editores, 1996), p. 399.
In the scenario with a small State, or to reach that small State, Milei proposes a solution known as “vouchers”, or vouchers, which is not something “extraterrestrial” either. It can be found in countries as “politically correct” as Sweden, Denmark, Holland or the Czech Republic, where those who receive these vouchers can then use them to pay for the school, public or private, of their choice. In Sweden they have been in force since 1993, when it was established that all local governments had to finance the schools chosen by parents, subject to space limitations, assigning a budget per student of 85% of the cost of public schools. They can choose from any public or private school that participates in the system, including for-profit companies in the latter. In case of excess demand, priority is given to neighboring students in public schools; private schools are on a first-come, first-served basis, with the exception of Stockholm, where high schools are admitted based on performance. In 2016/17 20% of primary schools were “independent”. Also 32% of secondary schools. Two companies running such schools are listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange.
But these are tax-financed vouchers. Those proposed by Milei are “private vouchers”, that is, financed with private voluntary contributions. The idea is not so strange either and we know it here and around the world as “scholarships”, which are awarded by people or companies so that others can study. It is nothing more than that.
Of course, there are several issues to discuss. For example, if the money would be enough to cover expenses, which would clearly be lower because now all educational establishments, public and private, would be subject to competition, and would receive their funds not from the ministry, but from their ability to convince parents and students about the advantages of that particular establishment. Teachers and directors could set their own salaries, without depending on an official or a union.
If the amount of the scholarships is sufficient, it also has to be seen if they are “deductible” from the taxes that taxpayers currently pay.
Would few people choose them if they had the choice between paying, say, earnings or personal property, or giving that money as a scholarship to poor students? It is their money, only now they have the possibility to choose their destiny, although not yet to free themselves from the imposition.
Already in 1994, together with Alberto Benegas Lynch (h), we proposed a complete reform in this sense (The right to teach and learn, Libertas Magazine 20, 1994), turning the current teachers and directors into owners of the schools, but now called to compete. And not only in terms of price or services, but fundamentally in terms of content, since there would be no minimum or maximum curriculum that indoctrinates children from early on and each school would be free to choose it, as well as its teaching methodology. In that competition we could see which one is better, which one is more suitable for modern times or for the preferences of parents and students.
In that other Borgesian scenario, there would no longer be the State or taxes and education would be offered as is the case today with so many other services, and with the advances of modern technology who knows what they would be like, but surely with a lot of variety: face-to-face, virtual , hybrids, with religious content or not, with an emphasis on languages or technology or art and creativity or production.
Meanwhile, state education is what we have (since all education is “public”, that is, for the “public”, also what we call “private”). It is expensive and it is not good, it has been co-opted by the unions for their benefit, not the children’s. Not bad, then, to have bold ideas.
Professor of Economics, UBA and Ucema, Academic Council, Fundación Libertad y Progreso