the national interest

Biff Shrugged

Another victim of big government overreach. Photo: Universal Pictures

Noah Millman Smith wrote an interesting post a few months ago arguing that libertarianism, while purporting to stand for freedom, often in practice advocated letting powerful people dominate others. Explaining how weak government often allowed “intermediate powers like work bosses, neighborhood associations, self-organized ethnic movements, organized religions, tough violent men, or social conventions” to impair people’s practical freedom, Millman Smith called his item “The Liberty of Local Bullies.” Somewhat comically, Nick Gillespie of the libertarian magazine Reason wrote an essay in the Wall Street Journal this last weekend defending … actual schoolyard bullies.

Actually, Gillespie doesn’t defend the bullies. Instead he argues, in a piece headlines “The Panic Over Bullies,” that they’re the subject of a massive overreaction, with legislation and school campaigns to stop kids from victimizing each other. The crux of Gillespie’s argument is that “there is no growing crisis,” which is almost certainly true, but misses the point. The campaign to stop bullying doesn’t hinge on the premise that things used to be fine for kids, and now they’ve gotten bad. The point is that bullying has always gone on, and schools have permitted it by taking the view that relations between kids isn’t something they have to pay much attention to.

What horrors has this anti-bullying crusade led to? Gillespie names very few. The worst he can come up with is New Jersey, which he calls the most stringent anti-bullying state in the union:

In surveying the effects of the law, the Star-Ledger reports that while it is “widely used and has helped some kids,” it has imposed costs of up to $80,000 per school district for training alone and uses about 200 hours per month of staff time in each district, with some educators saying that the additional effort is taking staff “away from things such as substance-abuse prevention and college and career counseling.”

Does that district  sound like horrendous big government? Let’s assume that his “up to $80,000 per district” figure is actually $80,000 per district, which I doubt. My quick calculation, based on statistics from the New Jersey state Department of Education, finds that, with 603 school districts and 1.35 million public school students, this comes out to $35 per student to implement anti-bullying policies. Is that really a vast sum? Is longtime drug-legalization crusader Nick Gillespie truly concerned that portions of that (up to) $35 per student is being diverted from crucial anti-substance-abuse programs?

Gillespie concludes his piece by insisting that trying to stamp out the problem somehow makes it worse: “Our problem isn’t a world where bullies are allowed to run rampant; it’s a world where kids like Aaron are convinced that they are powerless victims.” The victims should just take care of it themselves. “Fight your own battles, don’t tell the teacher” also happens to be the position of bullies everywhere. The bully is in favor of what he and a libertarian like Gillespie would define as “liberty.”

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