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Puerto Rico's American citizens are not American enough for statehood

Kenneth D. Gough • Aug 17, 2018 at 8:15 AM

The point of going to school is to get an education. Therefore, a school is just the means to an end. Since the end is what’s important, I can’t understand why so many people treat publicly-owned and -operated schools like holy institutions, not to be questioned or criticized.

Few people, if given a choice, prefer to obtain their housing through the local housing authority or their food from the government food bank. We take it for granted that the free market does a far better job of providing these things. House builders and grocers aren’t about to declare themselves non-profit institutions dedicated to the public good. They’re capitalists in good standing. The great and good Adam Smith, professor of moral philosophy and inventor of the discipline of economics, and a whole slew of economists who followed in his footsteps, showed conclusively what our own experience tells us: That vigorous competition maximizes quality, rationalizes product offerings, and determines the minimum profit suppliers are willing to accept for their goods and services. Why would education be any different? The short answer is, it isn’t.

Just to be clear, I’m not opposed on principle to public schools. The point is that people should have the same ability to choose the venue for their kids’ education as they do to choose the person who builds their house or the grocery from which they buy their food. No one I’ve ever discussed this with or whose arguments I’ve read has been able to give a good reason why the freedom to choose is a bad idea.

Without exception, opponents of charter and private schools fall back on a near-religious belief in the righteousness of public schooling and the unrighteousness of everything else. That doesn’t cut it. Logic and reason instead suggest that we go to a system of publicly-funded vouchers which parents can use at any school they wish, be it public or private, for-profit or non-profit, religious or secular, or as compensation for home schooling.

One of the problems with bad ideas is that they often sound soooooooooo good. Socialism and its awful, evil progeny, communism, for example. Another bad idea that just won’t die is statehood for Puerto Rico. We acquired it from Spain as part of the spoils of the Spanish-American War in 1898, along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam. We cut Cuba loose quickly (that hasn’t worked out well), and, delayed by World War II, the Philippines in 1946 (with mixed results). We hang on to tiny Guam because of its militarily-important position in the Pacific. But Puerto Rico? There doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason for its being part of the U.S. at all.

But there are several reasons why it shouldn’t. First, its poverty. In spite of its name (“Rich Port”), it’s never been rich, and it’s much poorer than our poorest state, Mississippi. Full statehood would probably wind up costing the nation billions in a well-meaning effort to raise it to at least Mississippi’s level, at a time when even the most-blinkered big spenders are beginning to realize that there are limits to what we can spend. Second, its dysfunctional government, which is dominated by unions, bankrupt and apparently immune to reform.

Things are so bad that its population is crashing as its educated, English-speaking elite flee to the mainland. Third, and by far the most important reason, is culture. Puerto Rico, well over a century after the U.S. took control, is still a Latin American society, and according to Wikipedia, “ … the idea that Puerto Rico is a separate social, political and cultural entity from the United States has been repeatedly expressed.” And that’s by Puerto Ricans, not us Norte Americanos.

As for myself, I would welcome Puerto Rico as a state — once it has reformed its government, solved its debt problem, and shown its intention of becoming fully American by adopting English as its predominant and official language. And frankly, I’m not holding my breath. The political and economic problems are terribly difficult, but culture is the real rub.

It’s hard enough for immigrants to adopt the culture of a new homeland; I know of no case where a nation deliberately and willingly substituted an alien culture for its own. And for all the ham-handed mistakes the U.S. has made in its governance of Puerto Rico, one it has not made and has no intention of making is trying to force its people to become Americans against their will.

So, statehood? No, I’m afraid not. But the U.S. could do Puerto Rico’s long-suffering people a great deal of good by granting them the next thing to autonomy, freeing them from federal law and regulation so they can solve their own problems in their own way.

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