Gary North

This will not be done. It will not be done because Americans do not really want major spending cuts.

To demonstrate my point, let us consider America's sacred cow, tax-funded education.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency's Factbook, the United States spends about 5.3% of gross domestic product each year on education. If that estimate is accurate, this means about $750 billion a year.

The United Nations estimate places the figure of 5.7% of GDP.

That would mean expenditures in the range of $800 billion a year. If we assume that about 80% of these expenditures are funded by governments at various levels, we are talking something in the range of $600-$650 billion a year.

There is no economic reason why 100% of the expenditures on education should not be paid for by the parents of students or by the students themselves, when they reach college or graduate school level. There is also nothing that says that a government has the moral authority to coerce parents who hold to one view of education, or one view of how the world works, to subsidize the educations of other families, whose children attend schools that teach a view of the world closer to that approved by the subsidized parents.

To say this is to announce one of the most hated heresies of the modern world. I mean "heresy" in the good old-fashioned way that it was meant in the Middle Ages and in virtually any society prior to the Enlightenment. This heresy involves calling into question the legitimacy of a priesthood, self-appointed and self-policed, which gains its money from the civil government.

The establishment of churches funded by tax money has been common in most societies throughout history. I contend that it is basic to the modern world, too. The modern priesthood is the educational establishment in each nation. Tax funding goes to those institutions that have been certified as reputable by the priesthood.

An educational institution that claims to be legitimate in the modern world is pressured strongly to become accredited by institutions that are run by the priests whose standards are enforced by the state. An institution that sets up a college that is not approved by one of these accrediting associations cannot issue certain kinds of degrees without breaking the law. This system of accreditation extends all the way down to infant care.

The state regulates educational establishments, even including home schools, in order to preserve control over the content and methodology of education. In earlier centuries, a similar oligopoly was run in conjunction with state funding and also state coercion. Churches policed the society, including the morals of society, by means of a monopoly granted to them by the civil government.

The state in seventeenth-century New England could legally compel church attendance by every member of the society. What is not understood is that this law was rarely enforced in Boston. In his book, Winthrop's Boston (1965), Darrett Rutman concluded that the churches of Boston three centuries earlier could contain only about 25% of the residents of Boston at one time.

The modern educational system is far more compulsory than churches were in New England in 1665. The school bus system is indicative of just how compulsory it is. On this point, read my story of the two buses.

Local governments, state governments, and even the Federal government use tax money and the threat of violence against any parent who does not agree that the state has the right to shape the content of his children's education. This has been going on for so long that most Americans accept this regime as somehow established by natural law. The irony here is that the schools teach Darwinism, and Darwinism has no concept of natural law. Darwinism destroyed the concept of natural law. If the universe is evolving in autonomous, unpredictable ways, in terms of such random phenomena as genetic mutation, there can be no such thing as natural law. No social order is permanent; no legal order is permanent. The laws change as society changes.

In the modern world, anyone who suggests that all tax money should be withdrawn from the funding of educational programs is regarded as a crackpot. I am such a crackpot. I believe that the state does not have a moral right to compel parents to support other people's educations.

If it were my decision, I would shut off the funding by the state for every school in the United States, including the military academies. This would add something in the range of $600 billion to the private sector. Governments would not be able to persuade parents and others to hand over their money at the point of a gun from one person in order to subsidize the education of another person.

One of the oddities about life is that a statement regarding a widely believed moral imperative in one area is regarded as morally unsustainable when virtually the same statement is applied to another area. What virtually everybody accepts as self-evident truth in one area is regarded as self-evident error in another area.

In order to discuss tax-funded education, I want to change the topic from tax support of educational institutions to tax support of churches. The logic that I am about present applies equally well to both forms of institutional arrangements. But the public is unwilling to accept the logic of the disestablishment of churches when it is applied to disestablishment of education.


In 1818, the state of Connecticut ceased funding the Congregational churches of the state. In 1833, Massachusetts followed Connecticut's lead. Massachusetts at that time was the last remaining state in the United States that used tax money to support churches.

Critics of the tax funding of churches had a number of arguments. I present here a brief summary of some of the more famous of these arguments, as a way of explaining the justification for the disestablishing of education. As you read these arguments, substitute the word "schools" for "churches."

THE MORAL ARGUMENT. The issues of life that are dealt with in churches are of fundamental importance. These issues are life-and-death issues. Some churches believe that there are eternal life and death issues.

There was a time when virtually all Western churches believed this. To compel someone to spread the message of a rival religion is an intolerable form of state coercion.

THE PRACTICAL ARGUMENT. Politicians rarely give much thought to the fundamental issues of life. They are too busy getting elected and reelected. They cannot devote the time necessary to sort out fundamental truths from fundamental errors. To imagine that they can select the churches that are deserving of financial support at the expense of others that do not share the same views, is to impute a degree of wisdom not possessed by government officials. Politicians can barely be trusted to run the government, let alone run the churches.

THE POLITICAL ARGUMENT. To allow this year's majority in the state legislature to set standards for what should be taught in the churches is to grant them too much power to shape the thinking of the voters. The politicians will use this power as a way to subsidize those churches and those ministers who preach a message that is congenial to the majority in the legislature.

When a majority of votes in the legislature can determine the content of what is going to be taught in the churches, a society has transferred enormous authority to politicians to shape the thinking of the next generation. This is a way for politicians to preserve their majority, despite the fact that, had they not funded those churches that are favorable to their viewpoint, they would have been voted out of office at some future election.

The politicians will use the power of civil government to extend the public's acceptance of those political views and political conclusions that are favored by the present majority in the legislature. This will turn politics into a battle zone between rival churches.

THE INTELLECTUAL ARGUMENT. Competition is basic to progress in every area of life. Churches should therefore compete apart from tax money that favors one procedure or one set of principles over another.

If tax money is used to fund churches, the quality of the preaching will decline. If preachers know that they are going to receive guaranteed income from the state, they have less incentive to preach according to the beliefs of the members of their congregations. If their income can be maintained apart from the donations from their members, then incentive to slack off increases.

There is an incentive to trim the content of the preaching in order to meet the standards of the latest political majority. Preachers who don't hold to such views have a harder time starting rival congregations, because the older congregations are the recipients of tax money.

This subsidizes the status quo. The public is kept from hearing new ideas, better ideas, and more effectively preached ideas precisely because congregations are not in control of the purse strings. A minister who has been granted certification by the hierarchy in a tax-supported denomination is granted immunity for poor performance in the pulpit when counseling. There will be a dumbing down of preaching precisely because more effective preaching does not receive its economic reward.

THE CHARITY ARGUMENT. Throughout Western history, churches have been a major source of charitable giving. Members of local congregations contribute money to the churches, and the churches pass some of that money back into the community by supporting the poor. Christianity has repeatedly preached that the support of the poor is morally obligatory, and furthermore, the success of the church will always be related to its success in charitable giving.

When the state provides the funding for the churches, the charitable impulse is weakened. Members assume that the money coming in from other taxpayers will go to the support of the poor. They more readily accept the concept of the welfare state, but they accept it as flowing through their local congregations. The impulse to sacrificially give to the poor is cut short, because the state provides the funds to support the poor.

The church then becomes a paid agency of the state, operating in terms of the latest rulebook governing state welfare expenditures. The church becomes an agency of the modern welfare state, while individuals within the churches feel less pressure to fund private programs of charity. The ability of charitable giving to become more effective is cut short, because the state's money will continue to fund the churches charitable ministries, just so long as the church conforms to the rulebook governing the distribution of tax funded welfare.

When compassionate conservatism funds church-run welfare programs, conservatism will become less compassionate. So will church members. "See this badge? See this gun? You're going to be compassionate, or else." This was not what Jesus had in mind.

THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR ARGUMENT. Whenever state funds are used to subsidize any program, the outlook of lowest common political denominator takes over the funding. The reason for this is that voters can exercise authority over politicians by putting them into offices or tossing them out of office. The politicians want to be elected or reelected. They cater to the opinions of those groups of voters that have the greatest clout at the polls.

Those voters who are most easily swayed by emotional arguments rather than by scientific or factual arguments become the swing voters who will determine the outcome of close elections. Under such circumstances, the opinions of the broad mass of voters will prevail in every area of government. To the extent that the broad mass of voters are not well informed on theological matters, to this extent will the funding of churches by the state debase the quality of the preaching as well as the intellectual content of the preaching. Churches will look to the state as their source of funding, which places them at the mercy of the lowest common denominator voter. The opinions shared by these people will determine which denominations win or lose in the arena of public opinion. This arena is not the arena of competitive preaching; it is the arena of political vote-getting.


If these arguments make sense to you when applied to churches, you should consider their validity when applied to all forms of education. As far as I can see, the same problems of tax funding that are involved in the establishment of churches also apply to the establishment of educational institutions. The same conflicts, the same temptation to the misuse of power, the same lowest common denominator principle, the same tyranny apply to the tax funding of education as applies to the tax funding of churches.

As surely as Congregationalists in Massachusetts could not understand the logic of these arguments in 1825, or 1725, so the members of the established church of political salvation do not understand the logic of privately funded education. It took decades of criticism from Baptists and Quakers to persuade the members of tax-funded churches to give up their claim of other people's money.

It is worth noting that within five years of the decision of the Massachusetts government to cease funding the Congregational churches of the state, the government began funding local schools. A Unitarian lawyer, Horace Mann, became the first major official in the new state educational system. He made tax-funded education respectable throughout New England. That heritage now is widely accepted throughout the country.

One of the best books on how tax-funded churches took advantage of their power to box out independently-funded churches is The Churching of America, by Finke and Stark. Tax funding weakened the established churches so much that they could no longer compete when the subsidies ended.

Back in the 1950s, theologian and historian R. J. Rushdoony identified the underlying commitment of tax-funded education. He wrote a book on the background of the public school systems, with extensive citation from primary sources regarding the faith of the original educational bureaucrats in the ability of state education to make mankind better. Rushdoony called his book The Messianic Character of American Education (1963). He called the public school system America's only established church. He called the employees of this church "priests."

The interesting thing is that a liberal theologian and historian, Sydney E. Mead, wrote a book in the same year that also identified the public schools as priestly. Rushdoony opposed the educational priesthood. Mead favored it. He called his book The Lively Experiment. That experiment has been deadly for competitive education, just as it was for New England's Calvinist churches.

The transfer of tax money from the churches to the schools replaced the older system of established religion. The underlying principles of tax funding have not changed. The underlying presuppositions of the benefits of this funding have not changed. The difference is this: there were a lot of Baptists in the early 1800s, and there were a lot more of them by 1890. They had the votes. They opposed tax-funded churches. They had been on the receiving end of that tyranny for too long. Unfortunately, they adopted the religion of public education with the same fervor that other denominations did in the nineteenth century.


I am of the opinion that we will continue to see $600 billion or more per year of tax money pour into America's only established churches. It would be nice, as citizens, to get that money sent back to us in the form of tax rebates, and then to see the tax codes revised in future years, so that the money would never be sent to the politicians in the first place.

I wonder if most tea party members would agree with me. I wonder how many of them would agree with me. Probably about as many as would agree that Social Security and Medicare should be abolished.

The deficits will rise. The defaults will come. Home schools will flourish

The Story of Two Buses

Picture this. You're driving down the highway with your nine-year-old son. You're in the middle lane. On your right, one behind the other, are two buses. The bus in front is painted white. The bus behind is painted yellow. The bus in front has its windows painted over. The bus behind does not.

Your son asks you a question. "What are those two buses, Daddy?" You tell him that they are two very different kinds of buses. "How are they different?" he asks. You explain that on the first bus are prisoners who are being taken to jail. On the second bus are students who are being taken to school. "But how is that different?" your son asks. That's what I'm asking, too.

You tell your son that the men on the first bus are required to get on that bus. Then your son asks you if the students on the yellow bus have a choice in the matter. You think about it. Neither group has any choice in the matter. Somebody tells the members of both groups that they must get on that bus and stay on that bus until the bus comes to its destination.

Your son says he doesn't understand. So, you try to make it clear to him. You tell that the people on the white bus have committed crimes. They are bad people. They are being taken to jail. The people on the yellow bus are good people. They are being taken to school. Your son asks: "Why do they make the good people go on the bus?" That's what I'm asking, too.

Remember, you're talking to a nine-year-old. Nine-year-olds are not very sophisticated. They need clear answers. So, you had better be prepared to provide clear answers.

You tell your son that the good people on the yellow bus are being taken to school for their own good. Your son asks if the people on the white bus are being taken to jail, but not for their own good. No, you tell him. They are being taken to jail for their own good, too. Your son asks, "Then what's the difference?"

The difference is, you explain to your son, that the people on the white bus are very bad and society intends to make them better. Your son asks: "Is society taking the people on the yellow bus to school in order to make them worse?" No, you tell him. Society is taking them to school in order to make them better people, too. "Then what's the difference?"

The difference is, you explain to your son, the people on the white bus are dangerous people. In order to make society safer, society puts them in jail. The people on the yellow bus are not dangerous. "Then why are they forced to go to a place where they don't want to go?" your son asks. "Because it's good for them," you answer. "But isn't that why the people on the white bus are being taken to jail?" he asks.

You are getting frustrated. You tell your son that they're required to get on the bus because when they are young they don't know that it is a good thing for them to go to school. They don't want to go to school. But they're supposed to go to school. Your son replies that this sounds just like the people in the white bus. But they're supposed to go to jail, you tell him. It's for their own good. They're going to be better people if they go to jail.

Isn't that right? Isn't the whole idea of sending people to jail to rehabilitate them? Aren't they supposed to become better people in jail? I mean, if they aren't going to become better people, why not just sell them into slavery and use the money to pay restitution to their victims? Why build jails? Why paint buses white?

You tell your son that the bad people have to go to jail in order to keep them off the streets. The problem is, this is one of the reasons why society requires students to go to school. People want keep the kids off the streets. They want to make certain that somebody in authority is in a position to tell the children what to do. They don't trust the children to make their own decisions. They also don't trust the criminals to make their own decisions.

This is more complicated than you thought. But you keep trying. You explain to your son that bad people must be kept from doing more bad things. Your son asks: "What are the bad things that kids do?" The light comes on. You tell your son that the children are dangerous to themselves, but the prisoners are dangerous to everybody else. The children may hurt themselves, but the prisoners may hurt other people. But your son wants to know why it is that the children must be taken to a school in order to keep them from hurting themselves, when they can stay home and not hurt themselves.

You tell your son that it's because people are not able to stay home with their children. Your son wants to know why not. You explain that both parents have to work to make enough money to live a good life. This means that somebody has to take care of their children. Your son wants to know why parents don't hire somebody to come into their home and take care of the children. Why don't they hire a teacher to take care of them? You explain that it is cheaper to hire one teacher to look after lots of students. Your son wants to know why it's cheaper to send children to school when it costs money to build schools, buy buses, hire drivers, and pay for gasoline.

This is a smart kid.

You explain that the people who have children force people who do not have children to pay for the schools. Your son asks if this is the same thing is stealing. "Isn't that what the people on the white bus did?" No, you explain, it's not stealing. Your son asks, "How is it different?" Now you have a problem. You have to explain the difference between taking money from someone to benefit yourself as a private citizen, which is what a criminal does, and taking money from someone to benefit yourself as a voter. This is not so easy to explain.

You explain to your son that when you vote to take money away from someone so that you can educate your child, this is different from sticking a gun into somebody's stomach and telling him that he has to turn over his money to you. Your son that asks if it would be all right to stick a gun in somebody's stomach if you intended to use the money to educate your child. No, you explain, it's not the same. When you tell someone that he has to educate your child in a school run by the government it's legal. When you tell somebody that he has to educate your child in a private school, where parents pay directly to hire teachers, it's illegal.

Your son then asks you if it's all right to take money from other people just so long as you hand over to the government the money to do the things that you want the government to do. You explain that this is correct. "But what if other people don't think that the government ought to be doing these things?" You explain that people don't have the right to tell the government not to do these things unless they can get more than half of the voters to tell the government to stop doing them. Your son sees the logic of this. He asks you: "Are the people in the white bus being taken to jail because there were not enough of them to win the election?" You know this can't be right, but it's hard to say why it's wrong.

Here is where you are so far. Society makes the prisoners go to jail. It sees these prisoners as dangerous. It wants to teach them to obey. Society makes children go to school. It sees these children as dangerous to themselves. It wants to teach them to obey. If it can teach both groups how to obey, society expects the world to improve. Society therefore uses tax money to pay for the operation of jails and schools. This includes paying for buses. But there is a difference. Prison buses are white. School buses are yellow.

There must be more to it than this.

So, you keep trying. Schools are run by the government to teach children how to make a living. Jails are run by the government to teach people how to stop stealing. Here is a major difference. "Do they teach prisoners how to make a good living?" your son asks. No, you tell him. The prison teaches them to obey. He asks: "Then why will they stop stealing when they get out of prison, if they don't know how to make a good living." Because, you explain, they will be afraid to do bad things any more. Your son asks if people in prison learn how to do bad things in prison. You admit that they do. "So," he asks, "we send people to prison and school so that they will learn how to make a good living? Only the difference is, the government pays for a place where bad people teach other bad people how to steal without getting caught, but in school, the government pays good people to teach children how to be good citizens and vote. So, the bad people learn how to steal from the good people without voting, and the good people learn how to steal from each other by voting. Is that how it works?"

That's how it works. Both systems use buses to take the students to school. But the colors are different.

In prison, prisoners sell illegal drugs. Students do the same in school. In prison, the food is terrible. It's not very good in school - possibly prepared by the same food service company. In prison, there are constant inspections. Guards keep taking roll to make sure everyone is present and accounted for. Teachers do the same in school. In prison, you aren't allowed to leave without permission. The same is true in school. In prison, bullies run the show. In school, they do, too. But there is a difference. Prison buses are white. School buses are yellow.

This is too extreme. The systems are different. Criminals are convicted in a court of law before they are sent to jail. Students, in contrast, are innocent. Some prisoners can get parole. The average term in prison for murder is under ten years. Students are put into the school system for twelve years. There is no parole.

Be thankful you are not in one of those buses. Either color.