You may have seen articles discussing this shocking development in the news last week. Yes, the Wilcox County High School in Georgia has a segregated prom, a segregated limo rental service and tuxedo rentals. Not in the 1950s—right now, as in this year. I’ll let that sink in for a second…
Ok. So, how can this happen? Segregation has been illegal in schools for over 50 years. Ah…but since the Wilcox County High School prom isn’t school sponsored, the parents who do fund it have the final say. And they say that they want to continue to be racist and ignorant.
Now, it would be easy to rant about this wacky and morally repugnant occurrence, but that isn’t why I write this post. I want to talk about larger issues of government and privatization, and what the Wilcox County High School prom means on a bigger scale.
I used to believe a bit more in privatization. I happened to buy the argument that most things worked better without government intervention. This idea can also extend to social issues. Why force people to donate money via taxes to help others? Couldn’t they just donate to local institutions like churches and shelters? After all, these community institutions are actually situated in the communities that they are helping. Surely, they know the people of their area better than Uncle Sam does, right? Right?
Well…kinda. While that church may be better able to understand their community than a government agency can, there is also the little issue of bias. What happens when a person is in need of help, but their lifestyle does not jive with the private institution providing aid? What happens when the unwed mother who recently had an abortion comes by in need of food and a place to stay at that Catholic Church providing assistance? What happens to the black family that goes to the food bank sponsored by the KKK?
Ok…my examples may seem like crazy hyperboles. And they are. But the point is, things like this can happen when you have potentially biased institutions providing social help. What the government version of welfare programs provides is an equitable hand. The intent is that judgment and bias are removed. Will tax dollars getting funneled into government programs ever be as efficient as a bunch of community members donating taxes to that church down the street would be? Probably not. But the loss of efficiency must be accepted in order to gain fair treatment for all.
But, but, but, what about the people that don’t support these programs? Why should people HAVE to pay for things they don’t approve of? Plenty out there don’t want to support welfare programs.
Two words—tough shit.
I don’t want to support an offensively based military force, which spends more money on unnecessary tools of death than the next 13 countries combined. But don’t worry, it only ends up being about 2.2 million dollars per minute. That’s the way democracy works, though. There is an ebb and flow. We all pay for things we want, don’t want, and don’t care about. Deal with it.
Back to the racist Georgia prom—a perfect example of privatization gone wrong. I’ve long seen it argued that if McDonalds (or whatever major chain you want) randomly decided that it would stop selling food to say, Asian people, the public backlash and free market would quickly force them to change. Therefore, we don’t need protections under law for people; we just need a free market. But what happens in the case of a prom? Black students can boycott, but the prom isn’t a business. What can we do?
We can fund schools, first and foremost. Things like this shouldn’t happen. And they won’t happen as long as we give schools the funding they need. While it can be argued that prom isn’t essential, it is a rite of passage for young people. When it gets “privatized” like in Georgia, we get Wilcox County. We get the 1950s all over again.
See, economics relies on rational actors. We hope and think that we live in a world in which people are past this. I’d imagine that in some places, we are. However, situations like this story show just how far we have yet to go.
I write this post to point out just why we need government. There are people out there that continually make arguments against things like affirmative action, equal pay for women, and legal protection of sexual preference, among others. We may like to believe that inequality is a forgotten relic of the past, and that the free market can sort out injustice, but it simply isn’t true. And if you don’t think so, you can head down to Wilcox County for living proof of social injustice.