Arnold Kling  

Liberal Fascism Watch

Remembering '68... Hail Scott Adams...

Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell write

The only preschool programs that seem to do more good than harm are very intense interventions targeted toward severely disadvantaged kids. A 1960s program in Ypsilanti, Mich., a 1970s program in Chapel Hill, N.C., and a 1980s program in Chicago, Ill., all report a net positive effect on adult crime, earnings, wealth and welfare dependence for participants. But the kids in the Michigan program had low IQs and all came from very poor families, often with parents who were drug addicts and neglectful.

Even so, the economic gains of these programs are grossly exaggerated. For instance, Prof. Heckman calculated that the Michigan program produced a 16-cent return on every dollar spent -- not even remotely close to the $10 return that [its] advocates bandy about.

"Universal pre-school" is a cause that appears to be enjoying growing popularity among those who don't think that government has enough on its plate already, or that it can ever have enough on its plate.

Dalmia and Snell want to engage the LFs on what the research shows. That will not work. When you know that the state rather than parents ought to be raising kids, evidence is not going to make a difference.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (20 to date)
Paludicola writes:

I have not understood the enthusiasm for universal preschool either. One could readily impute some sinister motivation upon its advocates, but I think it might be no worse than well-meaning, but not very imaginative people offering the only sort of new idea they know how to devise, which can be rather bad indeed.

Incidentally, is invoking the risible, at best, title of Jonah Goldberg's widely castigated volume really a good idea?

Jim writes:

When you start out by assuming that the people who disagree with you are 'fascists' who don't care about evidence, then you're not doing either yourself or your readers a favour. I would have thought you can do better than this.

8 writes:

It's not the preschool, it's the universal.

Don Lloyd writes:

While not the same thing, studies of the results of school entry age may want to be kept in mind.

In the only statistic that I happen to recall, major league baseball players are 60% more likely to have been born in August, than in July, typically reflecting an 11 month higher age for every grade level.

Regards, Don

reason writes:

I thought the "universal" meant universally available not universally compulsory. Please, point to some evidence if I'm wrong.

Chuck writes:

Yes, AK has been quite cranky lately. The thread on "The Soldier and the Capitalist" was positively bursting at the seams with various types of generalizations and put downs. And of course the liberal fascist thing is silly.

In any case, I think the love of preschool specifically comes from data like this...

HERBERT (8/29/05): ''Young low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, such as recognizing letters and counting...By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind non-poor students. Across the nation, only 15 percent of low-income fourth graders achieved proficiency in reading in 2003, compared to 41 percent of nonpoor students.''

The article itself cites and expert along the lines of:

But the solid evidence for the effectiveness of early interventions is limited to those conducted on disadvantaged populations.

The article then goes on to do a lot of superficial reasoning about bad effects of universal preschool.

My kids have 3 years of preschool before kindergarten (starting with one-day-a-week at 2 years old). I think the idea is that those 3 years that many kids get but that poor kids miss don't get magically made up. While other kids are learning words, the kids that missed preschool are learning the letters, and learning them slowly since it isn't what is being taught - words are what is being taught.

Furthermore, I think the idea is to take kids from homes, as stated in the quote, with neglectful or addicted parents and give them a stable environment as early as possible. I think it is reasonable to expect that to have some benefits. Is it 16% or 1000%? Who cares, it is a return on investment, an investment that won't get made otherwise. (I think it is obvious that to get a 10x return you include savings from reduced incarcerations due to reduced criminality, etc.)

Now, universal pre-school I think is likely based on the same notion as Social Security being paid to everyone rather than just the poor. When you have the middle class involved, the program is cared about.

I think this would be a great opportunity for Libertarians to take something that has clear benefits (preschool for disadvantaged kids) that Liberals might be going overboard on implementing and saying, "Hey, why not vouchers for all instead? You get your universality, we get the obvious benefit of preschool for disadvantaged kids, and I get to keep preschool from being nationalized." Without going into too much detail, I think that would have a broad base of support with religious types (who run a lot of preschools) & people who currently pay their own money to send kids to preschool & it would be a national investment in education, which will have returns.

And seriously, the WSJ editorial page? If you believe what you read there, you believe the Clinton's murdered Vince Foster and organized a landing strip for drug smugglers in Arkansas! It is dishonest contamination, and good mental hygiene requires one to stay away from it.

Matt C writes:

I can understand the "liberal fascist" label, especially when we're talking about schooling. There is an ongoing push for universal preschool, for year round schooling, for extended hours schooling, for universal college, and more I'm sure.

It gets a little depressing if you think that kids spend too much time in school already.

Still, I'd rather Econlog didn't do the name calling. If it becomes common it will drag down the overall tone of the blog.

bgc writes:

An amazing but little known fact is that the UK introduced a voucher scheme (actually tax relief) for pre-school education - this can be 'spent'/ claimed either for state or private provision.

And it was introduced with no fuss and no opposition.

Why? Because there was no vested interest group, such as teachers unions, to protect their turf - it was new turf.

simmerdownnow writes:

The point regarding universally available versus universally compulsory is a good one. However, for every expenditure there is a revenue or debt, and Mr. Obama's proposal will surely include compulsory payments from the tax payers of the United States.

In addition, Mr. Obama's very limited executive experience to date is his role as chairman of the board for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which tried to spend compulsory tax payments to improve education. A report on the project is here:

Here is a quote from the report's executive summary:

The Challenge's "bottom line" was improving student achievement and other social and psychological outcomes. Our research indicates that student outcomes in the Annenberg schools were much like those in demographically similar non-Annenberg schools across the Chicago school system as a whole, indicating that among the schools it supported, the Challenge had little impact on student outcomes.
Brad Hutchings writes:

OK Arnold... I'm all for the LF tag for this issue, but when trying to defend it here, I cannot for the life of me avoid the automated content filter. I give up.

Chuck writes:


Maybe I'm taking your point wrong, but I think Obama deserves some credit for being in charge of a group and saying, "well, this didn't really achieve what we wanted."

That seems to me to be the opposite of what we cynically expect politicians to do.

That seems to me like the kind of guy you would want in charge of a government that's got a lot of various programs going on, no?

simmerdownnow writes:


I appreciate your comment and am not trying to belittle it with my response, but a) I haven't seen Obama say he failed (the report was not his, but was constructed by a research consortium at the University of Chicago); and b) I am hopeful that a President might have a mix of administrative failures and successes, not just one administrative failure, especially when he is a strong proponent for increasing the level of government administration. To be fair, though, I should disclose that I am not happy with the alternative. I think there is a good reason we don't often nominate and elect sitting senators as our President. With regard to Obama, I would much prefer to have seen him sharpen his tools and broaden his experience by running a state, say Illinois, before learning the ropes at the wheel of something as powerful and potentially dangerous as the presidency of the United States.

(I'm planning to search to see how Obama has framed his success in running the education project. I haven't read his books, and I don't recall reading too much in third-party analysis of his performance, so I'm looking forward to learning how he thinks it went.)

Chuck writes:


Right, good point (a), fair point (b).

Mark Seecof writes:

Even vouchers are not libertarian. They would be somewhat more libertarian if parents who didn't wish to put their kids in preschool could redeem their vouchers for cash. Of course nanny-staters would never allow that, for them the whole purpose of universal preschool is to get more (soon to be certified, licensed, and unionized) school workers employed (and voting Democratic) at taxpayers' expense (as well as to start socialist indoctrination as young as possible).

You want to do something libertarian? Remit the FICA (Social Security) and Medicare taxes of parents who have more than one child, as an income tax credit. Parents who have two children should get a credit for the FICA taxes of the more highly paid parent, parents of three or more should get a credit in the amount of both parents' FICA taxes.

John writes:

Chuck said...

"Without going into too much detail, I think that would have a broad base of support with religious types (who run a lot of preschools)..."

You would be correct about the intial support. Christian oriented groups are often looking for ways to help the poor as an opportunity to minister to the soul. However, as soon as a government run system was put into place, with or without vouchers, the current distorted views of "separation of church and state" will require that these preschools be non-faith oriented. Once this happened, then there would be no reason for Christian oriented groups to support your plan.

By that time it is too late, a bit of individual freedom disappears for the benefit and betterment of the state and there is almost no way to go back.

Boonton writes:

I can understand the "liberal fascist" label, especially when we're talking about schooling. There is an ongoing push for universal preschool, for year round schooling, for extended hours schooling, for universal college, and more I'm sure.

You can understand the label? Do you think that a label should actually be related to something that is at least a little bit like real fascism?

One of the clear signs of intellectual bankruptcy of the left in the late 70's and 80's was its eagerness to attack any policies it didn't like with hysterical claims of fascism. Kind of interesting that today it seems to be the right that is falling into that trap.

Do you think stuff like the above is really sane? There are no doubt pros and cons to, say, getting rid of an extended summer vacation but does someone who takes the pro-side (whether he is left or not) really deserve to be called a fascist? Yes I don't think pre-school should be compulsory but so what if someone did? Kindergarten in many states is compulsory and 1st grade certainly is. You're telling me the difference between an average American and a hate-breathing goose-stepping Hitler-like fascist is someone who just happens to think pushing compulsory back to pre-school? Gee I guess someone just can't have an idea that you disagree with and think is wrong....wonder who the real fascist is....

As for Arnold's actual argument....assume for a moment we are not talking about compulsory pre-school but universal access to it as part of the standard public school system. Some parents would choose to keep their kids at home with them during those early years, others would choose to take advantage of pre-school. The principle of subsidary would tell us that on average the parents would be making this choice based on their detailed knowledge of their circumstances, their children's development and their judgement of what is best. For the most part, since parents would have more options under such a policy kids would be better off. Whether taxpayers are better off is a very different question.

Boonton writes:

net positive effect on adult crime, earnings, wealth and welfare dependence for participants

Is it me or does this seem like a very odd way of measuring the effectiveness of a preschool?

Think about it, what type of results would a preschool need to be considered successful with this metric? It has to be so good that it can overcome even a crappy kindergarten thru High School education. That would be putting an amazing amount of quality into a very early year of life.

Normally, though, we don't look for the positives of something 15 years after the fact. We look for the positives immediately. I and I think most parents would consider a preschool positive if kids that go to it do good during that time and maybe immediately after. Beyond, say, 1st or 2nd grade, though, I would expect even the effects of a great preschool to fade to noise. At that point, hopefully, the parent would be looking at grade school programs that can keep the head start up that a good preschool experience gave their child.

Chuck writes:


There are ways to structure the plan so that you could send your child to any preschool you wanted. You could make it a tax credit, for example.

Mark Seecof,

Vouchers are not pure libertarianism, but they are more libertarian than lots of other options. I don't want to be libertarian, anyway.

My underlying point is that instead of standing on the sideline grousing while the country goes down the hypothetical toilet, you could try to steer things in a 'better' direction.


They way we measure the benefits of a preschool is if children learn how to line up, how to listen to and follow simple instructions, to recognize letters and numbers, the seasons of the year, hold a pencil correctly, etc.

For people who are able to send their kids to preschool, this is what they expect to get out of it, and that is enough. It is the building blocks of learning and operating in a school environment.

That's enough reason for me (and maybe you) to want to help kids who can't afford it get into preschool.

When trying to sell the idea of universal access to preschool to folks who aren't as community minded, the logical thing to do is point out the ways it would benefit other people beside the child and why it is the financially smart thing for us to fund as a society when some parents in the society can't.

John S writes:

For those of you who are attacking Goldberg's title, and the identification of the progressive education establishment as "Liberal Fascism", it would behoove you to do one simple thing. Read Goldberg's book.

In it, you will discover that the term "liberal fascism" was coined by H.G. Wells, a leading British Progressive (much better known today for his SF writing), to refer to the his Progressive platform. You will also find how enamored the various movements of the Left (Communism, Fascism, Socialism, Progressivism and Nazism) are to government mandated and controlled education. Head Start, anyone? Let's make it mandatory...

You'll discover that Fascism's historical record is the least anti-Semitic of all the Left's movements, and it has been unfairly tainted by Communist/Socialist propagandist AND its close political (not quite so close philosophical) association with Nazism (aka National Socialism. More importantly, you'll learn that neither Fascism nor Nazism are of the Right, but rather firmly located within the collectivist Left. A collectivist Left shared with Progressivism. Which brings us back to modern "Progressives" who want mandatory kindergarten and pre-school. What the post does is raise the question of the effectiveness of such efforts as measured by their proponents' standards.

If one finds it "risible" to proclaim that (and back it up), then perhaps its time to reevaluate one's standards. I realize its become quite unfashionable to actually refer to people or entities the way they refer to themselves in this day and age. So be a fashion rebel.

Julianna writes:

Universal preschool is not for the child's benefit. It's for the parents' benefit.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top