Consumer culture

For most people, a lot of their beliefs are consumption goods. The irrational clustering of political beliefs--there is no logical reason that one's views on abortion should be so tightly correlated with one's view on business regulation or nationalized health care--indicate that there is a very strong social component to the formation of allegedly principled beliefs. The anger with which opposing views are met, and the in-group/out-group social dynamic of most political debate, suggest that for most of us, fitting in with our friends and feeling good about ourselves are at least as strong a component of belief formation as careful reasoning from first principles.

In most areas I'm okay with this (I'd better be; I have no reason to believe that I'm any better than anyone else on this score). But there are some areas in which I don't think it's okay, and the views held by wealthy suburbanites about vouchers are one of those areas. They are consuming a view of themselves as caring about a common public system that is the opposite of the truth; the gap between their kids schooling experience, and the experience of a kid growing up in Watts, is much much larger than the gap between their kids school, and Groton. They have demonstrated by their own choices that they think school choice is extremely important. They then proclaim that it doesn't work for poor kids, or that poor kids need to stay where they are for the sake of the system. They are consuming a view of themselves as egalitarians at a very cheap price . . . to them. The cost to the kids, unfortunately, it having their whole lives blighted.

That they proclaim to be doing this out of care for the communities that their exit (from the schools, the tax base, and the economic life of the city) is crushing, sends me over the edge.

Moreover, this is a good that they would not consume if there were any price at all to holding it. If being against vouchers meant their kid losing 30 points on their SATs, they'd do a 180.

Empirically, I may be wrong; vouchers may not work. But we know that the current system isn't working. And poor kids should not bear the burden of making affluent liberals feel better about themselves.