October 15, 2010 10:09AM

Hooray for Fordham — Oooh, Wait

On many, many occasions I have taken the Fordham Institute to task for its big-government conservatism. Well, for about 90 percent of my time reading the latest from Fordham president Chester Finn, I was preparing to celebrate a conversion story of timeless proportions. It seemed Finn had finally gotten it, as he railed against the myriad failures of Washington and the foolishness of looking to government to solve our problems. I thought Finn had finally grasped that life and society are far too complicated for any puppet master of group or puppet masters to micromanage. I thought, at last, he'd fully appreciated the huge problem of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs, which give special interests so much power. I thought maybe he'd read that copy of Government Failure: A Primer in Public Choice  I'd sent to Fordham VP Michael Petrilli a few years ago.

And then I read Finn's concluding paragraphs:

Even modest-seeming promises don’t get kept. Arne Duncan sensibly wants us to focus on turning around the lowest-performing 5 percent of U.S. schools. Seems far more doable than NCLB’s labeling more than half our schools as needing surgery. Yet who really believes that the Education Department’s program of School Improvement Grants will yield this result? Nobody from Washington is flying out to turn around individual schools—as if any of them knew how—yet practically nobody outside the Beltway has a clue how to do it, either. Another dashed hope and unkept promise? Another issue for the Tea Party? Part of the reason for the (idiotic) calls to eliminate the Education Department altogether?

Government, in short, finds it difficult to fulfill its current responsibilities, coordinate its various parts, and honor its core obligations, many of which are vital just to keep us healthy, safe, and alive. How many more things should it try to do? Are not more promises by government a formula for failure and disappointment? A boost to libertarians who would have government cease and desist from just about everything? What if we just settled for scrambled eggs that don’t make us ill?

So let me get this straight: In light of constant, failed, bankrupting federal overreaching. In light of seemingly non-stop federal power-grabbing. In light of the Constitution's very clear limits on federal authority that proscribe federal meddling in education -- but, as most libertarians will tell you, rightly empower Washington to do some things -- it is libertarians whom Finn implies are a bit crazy, and it is calling for elimination of the Department of Education that he concludes is "idiotic"?

Unfortunately -- and amazingly -- you read that right.