Tuesday, June 16, 2015

From the Founder: Between the Ideal and the Possible

The ultimate goal of our efforts can be started simply: reduce the role of government in order to increase individual freedom. The tough part is agreeing on the specifics. What's the size and scope of government that's desirable? By what means do we get there? What is the right balance between accepting the need for incremental change and advocating for core principles?

First we must establish a vision of limited government, but we have to do so recognizing the electorate will ultimately decide to what extent they'll accept that vision.

Therefore we must devise messages that are convincing to the majority of citizens and find distribution channels that reach millions. The millions on which we focus are students who are still forming their vision of a just world. 

The second challenge relates to the first. People are naturally "conservative" in their behavior; once they've formed an opinion they are resistant to change. Bring them a radically new insight and they are likely to refuse to give it any consideration. But with young people, this isn't always the case.

Consider two aspects of Milton Friedman's thought: his definition of the limited role of government and his advocacy of school choice. He thought government had only three functions: 

"The basic functions can be listed very simply. They are, first of all, to prevent one man from coercing another- the internal police function. They are, second, providing for external defense. These two are really part of the same: to prevent coercion- to prevent coercion from within, to prevent coercion from without, and beyond this to promote voluntary cooperation among people by defining the terms under which we are going to cooperate together and by adjudicating disputes." 

Providing education was not included, yet Friedman did not join Marshall Fritz's effort to abolish compulsory state-funded education. He agreed with Marshall in principle and applauded him for outlining the arguments in favor of taking education out of the hands of government, but he thought to push for immediate repeal of tax-supported education was a push too far.

Instead Friedman conceived the concept of school choice, leaving compulsory education in place. He felt that it was unrealistic to expect to counter 150 years of entrenched government control of education in one stroke. So he devised an approach that would lead to competition between private and government schools, resulting in improved outcomes- thus setting the stage for future repeal of tax based school funding.

We grapple with this kind of decision every day. Whether developing material for our prime audience of 6 -26 year olds or public TV viewers, we must decide how far we can take them on the path to awareness of the power of free markets, the effectiveness of market-based solutions to public policy problems, and the increased well-being from reducing government's role in our lives.

I am saddened when I hear someone accuse Friedman of being a statist because he put forth ideas for incremental change. We need to constrain our tendency to demonize those who opt for less than complete and immediate realization of ideal. We need both; those who set forth a vision of the ideal society and those who can formulate the steps that can get us closer to it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

India Awakes: A Report from the Field

On Location India Awakes: Report from the Field by James and Maureen Tusty

One of the three stories featured in India Awakes involves property rights. After India gained independence in 1947, the Forest Department took control of millions of acres of forestlands across the country. The local tribal people were seen as a hindrance and they were told they had no right to farm, hunt or forage. The government left them landless and impoverished, resulting in near-starvation living conditions for decades. 

A recent property rights law has allowed tribal people to obtain deeds to their land, and in this new program we show how GPS technology and Google Maps were instrumental in their property rights victory. Such a high-tech solution may not seem extraordinary at first, until one realizes that Sagai village (where we filmed) has no electricity or plumbing. One of our crew members had to drive 90 minutes each night to the nearest electrical outlet to charge our camera batteries. In a world without electricity, using a GPS unit to solve a problem was bold and unexpected. No electricity also means no television. The villagers invited us to film their story not fully understanding what a television documentary was.

One goal in our filming was to recreate how the villagers mapped their land with the GPS units. So we recruited three or four villagers to demonstrate what they did for our camera. However, our volunteers did not quite know what to expect since they knew little or nothing about television. The GPS mapping process involved holding down a button on  specially programmed GPS unit, then walking the perimeter of the land plot.

We asked one of our villager actors to plot his neighbor's land since it was more accessible and photogenic than his own land. He agreed and started walking the perimeter of the plot. After he had walked around 50 feet, we asked him to start over to get a second angle of the same scene. However, he spoke only his local language, so our English had to be translated first into
Hindi and then to his dialect. Besides wondering why we were stopping him from mapping the very land we had just asked him to map, the language barrier between us made communicating quite confusing.

To find out more about this new program, being released in the fall of 2015, visit our program website.