Monday, March 4, 2013

Coerced by Clan

Friend of EE, blogger, and personal pal Adam Gurri brings up a good point in a fb discussion thread I hadn't given a whole lot of thought to. Cultural enclaves.

There's a lot of ink spilled on how it is some ethnic minorities outperform their immediate neighbors. There's also some interesting dynamics in how a) elites handle ethnic minorities and b) how majorities handle minorities in both economic and political arenas. For elites, having highly productive minorities around is a great boon: in flush times, they promote the general welfare by enabling gains from, eg. trade, innovating, investing, and educating the youth. When a rough patch hits, ethnic minorities make handy scapegoats.

But what about the majority constituency? What about the median voter? How does the regular dude in the street think about the Amish proclivity to pull their kids out of schools at age 14? What drives the moral sentiments of the typical European villager towards Romany communities? How is it that this odious tripe can be published in 1889 and a century later, the conversation is flipped on its head, with concerns over whites falling behind Asian-American students in the classroom leading the discussion?

I'll ask bluntly: when is it morally acceptable for the state to coerce children into activities against the collective will of their sub-group?
  1. always
  2. never
  3. sometimes
Forgive the conceit, but I'll assume most folks would pick c. Anyone but the most grievous totalitarian would be loath to, say, ban headscarves in public schools (okay, bad example), but I think even your run-of-the-mill libertarian would have favored early state intervention in Jonestown had they known what was coming. The default position in the US seems to be to leave ethnic enclaves to their own devices, even if their habits can be construed by reasonable folks as coercive. It takes a lot to overcome this default, including letting little kids play with rattlesnakes as part of religious ceremonies (well, at least in West Virginia), but it can be overcome. 

Where does educational liberty fall here? Is education euvoluntary? We're more or less comfortable coercing children into education because they're too uneducated to know better. Regret aversion by proxy at its most functional. If (majority) Group A insists on righteous coercion and (minority) Group B disagrees, how strongly should constitutional minority protections bite? Is there some sort of generalizable rule? Should this be left to the common law? Do you imagine this conflict might intensify as MOOCs and homeschooling become more popular? Is there a single consistent position for euvoluntarists? 

Who retains residual rights of coercion? Why?

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?