Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — a phrase so commonplace in American society that it doesn’t need attribution. However, while invoked often, Americans rarely think about what the phrase actually means and how to apply it faithfully to federal, state and local public policy.
On the surface, the line seems quite self-evident — pun intended. Americans should have the ability to pursue freely what they believe to be most advantageous for their families, as long as their actions don’t hinder the ability of others to do the same. But when we apply this principle and logic to government policies, it becomes very difficult to remain loyal to our founding ideals.
For example, the topic that I spend a great deal of time on is education policy — an area where freedom is lacking considerably. The combination of an entrenched and expanding bureaucracy, along with powerful unions and other interest groups, has systematically restricted educational opportunity for years, and the structure is holding our children — and our educators — hostage.
State and local governments take a considerable amount of our hard-earned money — usually through income, sales and local property taxes — in order to increase funding for public schools and their lackluster results. They often go even further by forcing students to attend these schools, unless the family is fortunate enough to afford a private institution. In a perfect world, taxpayer dollars earmarked for education should follow the students, not the other way around.
Thankfully, the rise of educational choice programs is supplying students and their parents with more educational variety than ever before. These alternative choices are injecting much-needed competition into the education market — giving parents and students the ability to access higher quality education at a manageable cost.
The state with the most educational choice for families is Arizona. Many families can access private schools through Arizona’s five school choice programs — where taxpayer dollars follow students to the private institutions of their choosing. Additionally, Arizona families enjoy great access to charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated. This era of educational opportunity in Arizona has led to better test scores and improved college success rates.
While introducing choice and freedom into our education system is the best way to expand freedom and opportunity at the state and local level, it’s also important to inject these same principles into federal government policy as well.
The tax code is one such instance. High tax rates essentially strip the decision-making power away from businesses and individuals on how to use their money most effectively. For example, instead of a small business being able to use its income to invest in new equipment, Uncle Sam denies that opportunity by effectively confiscating those funds and spending it on government programs.
Fortunately, we’re also making inroads on this front. Federal tax rates for both individuals and businesses were significantly reduced earlier this year with the implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The legislation has already allowed more than 400 businesses to distribute the tax cut induced savings to more than 4 million employees, while also reinvesting it back into their businesses through expanding operations, buying new capital equipment and hiring more people.
Recent economic histories have reported that giving all people access to freedom and choice has led to tremendous gains in human dignity and well-being over the last 300 years. And while freedom and choice are increasingly being woven into state and local K-12 education, as well as federal tax policy, much work remains to be done.
It’s time we give people more control over their own lives. Everyone will be the better for it.