Reforming to preserve: An interview with Peter Brimelow

Added to on January 29, 2004

Enter Stage Right

Posted January 19, 2003, on

Peter Brimelow is a name
well-known in conservative circles but the sheer variety
of his positions would surprise many. Currently, he is
an editor at, he is also President of the

Center for American Unity
, a senior fellow at the
Pacific Research Institute, and, lastly, a columnist for

CBS Market Watch
(no small achievement for a

The books he has produced document
the range of his interests. In 1986, he published
The Wall Street Gurus: How You Can Profit From
Investment Newsletters
, and in 1987 he released
The Patriot Game: Canada and the Canadian Question
. His 1995 work,

Alien Nation: Common Sense About America`s Immigration
, is often sited in reference to this
painfully topical subject. Last year`s

The Worm In The Apple: How The Teacher Unions Are
Destroying American Education

has undoubtedly made him
the right kind of enemies.

Brimelow came to our shores from
England and perhaps this is the reason why he so acutely
appreciates the uniqueness of America and why its
cultural integrity must be preserved. As far as his own
personal education, he received a B.A. from the
University of Sussex and a M.B.A. from Stanford
University Graduate School of Business. He is also a
Fulbright Award winner.

BC: Mr. Brimelow, your
book from last year,

The Worm in the Apple: How the
Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education
is a powerful indictment of the current state of our
schools. For those who may be unfamiliar with your work,
how many of our problems are due to the socialist,
non-competitive structure of the status quo? How quickly
would we see our schools improve if Congress was to
enact, and the courts were to approve, a nationwide
system of vouchers for all American parents?

PB: Generally, the problem with
K-12 education is socialism and the solution is
capitalism. I used to say the real victims of the
government school system are not the kids, who are
relatively impervious, but the teachers, who are like
serfs in the Russian Empire, tied to the land with no
individual incentives or hope. But one of the things I
show in WORM is that the system results in endlessly
escalating costs, quite apart from the question of what
good its educational output is. So I`d have to say the
most important victim is the


If you`re going to have a public
subsidy to education,

are clearly a better way of delivering it.
They should result in some loosening up and
privatization of the government school system. Of
course, if you leave the

teacher union
in its legally privileged position, it
will attempt to capture any resulting private sector
schools. And there are other problems, especially with a
federal voucher program. Tax credits might be better.
But, unlike many libertarians, I still think vouchers,
while only a start, are distinctly better than nothing.

BC: Does the amount of
money we spend inversely correlate with the quality of
education provided? I ask this because of the huge
increase in

we have poured into the schools since the sixties and
our widespread dissatisfaction with its results.

PB: Sure, there`s no particular
relationship between spending and educational results.
Most "education" spending is actually on salaries, and
that`s allocated according to political muscle. Why
should it have anything to do with results?

BC: I personally am a
member of the

National Education
Last year I spent $542.20 on
union dues. I have been told that only $10.00 of this
amount is earmarked for political purposes. Do you, from
your research, believe that this is an accurate
estimate? Do we have any way of knowing how much of my
wages are spent supporting political candidates and
resisting change wherever it should arise?

PB: They`re slippery, you know?
Probably they`re referring to their actual donations to
campaigns through their Political Action Committees.
It`s hard to track because of their hydra-like
structure, but I estimate donations amounted to about
$50 million in the 1992 cycle—about one in every ten
dollars spent by all PACs, but of course only a fraction
the NEA complex`s total revenues, which are well over $1

But the real point is that a large
part of that $1 billion-plus budget is also political
expenditure. For example, the NEA itself reports to the
regulators that 33 per cent-40 per cent of its
expenditures are unrelated to collective bargaining. It

in every congressional district—the

UniServe representatives
. Much of their time is
spent directly on political organization, limbering up
the local liberals,

smearing taxpayer groups
and so on. So you`re
looking at hundreds of millions. The

Landmark Institute
in Virginia is engaged in

litigation against the NEA
on this issue, which will
tell us a lot more.

If you think about it, the entire
raison d`etre of the National Education
Association is political. It`s engaged in what
economists call "rent-seeking"—

and institutional power to extract
"rents," money, from society at large. They don`t sit
around talking about education. Text book publishers
don`t even bother to advertise at their conventions. The
whole operation is political. That`s why I argue it
should be renamed the "National Extortion Association."

BC: Do you believe that
the teacher unions knowingly sabotage measures that will
benefit students because such reforms could undermine
teacher job security? Also, is there a shortage of
teachers in this country? Is it true they are underpaid?

PB: 1] I don`t know how you`d
define "knowingly," but the teacher unions are an
interest group that acts in defense of their own
interests—which means the union bosses` interests, not
the members. It`s just systemically inevitable when you
allow unionization in a monopoly industry with forced
consumption in the shape of compulsory attendance laws.
You`ve destroyed all checks and balances.

2] There are chronic shortages and
gluts among teachers, it`s one of the symptoms of
socialism I identify in WORM. You saw the same
thing in the Soviet economy. Of course, the system won`t
allow special salaries for math and science teachers,
who are sometimes said to be in short supply, you have
to increase salaries across the board. It`s hopeless.

3] I think good teachers are
underpaid. They should be able to leverage up, using
technology, and earn multiples of what they do now. And
why can`t teachers end up owning schools, the way
waiters can open their own restaurants?

Conversely, in a free market, many
teachers would earn much less, but they might very well
be part-timers. Overall, I think we spend too much on
K-12 education a.k.a. teachers salaries. It`s the only
industry where you never see any productivity increases.

BC: In a recent
Wall Street Journal
editorial, it was suggested that the Democratic Party
are the representatives of the education providers
(teachers and school districts) whereas the Republican
Party are the representatives of the education consumers
(parents and students). Would you agree with this

It`s true about the Democrats. I
think the Republicans are subverted by the fact that so
many of their leaders send their kids to private
schools, they don`t really have the stomach for the
fight. Curiously, the unrepresented constituency is the
taxpayer. I guess this reflects the fact that both
parties are really wings of the Permanent Government

BC: You have another book
Nation: Common Sense About America`s Immigration
. I
guess the inevitable question, in light of recent
events, is whether there is any common sense coming out
of Washington today regarding this matter? Do you think
that unmitigated immigration will result, in the words

Pat Buchanan

"the death of the

PB: Well, the Bush proposals are
mad, totally nuts, they will simply flood America with
Third Worlders and result in its becoming like

. I suppose the White House thinks it`s doing
what Big Business wants, but it will lead to vastly
increased taxes—because all these guest workers are to
be allowed to

bring their children
—and my observation of
businessmen (I`ve been a financial journalist for 30
years) is that they do get worried if they think society
is going up in flames, which it will.

Of course Buchanan is right. A
nation is an organic thing. This type of mass influx is
simply too much to handle. What we`ve had already, since
the disaster of the

1965 Immigration Act
, will take a hundred years or
more to absorb.

BC: What are some possible
solutions to the immigration disaster? Are there more
than thirty senators and congressman who even have the
heart to label the flow over our borders "a crisis"?

PB: My guess is that it will break
the party system and a new party will emerge, as it did
in the 1850s – the

American Party,
which morphed into the GOP.

But it`s also true that there`s
great discontent about immigration, even among
legislators. It took a lot of lying and manipulation for
the immigration enthusiasts to defeat

Smith-Simpson bill
, quite a reasonable reduction
proposal, in 1996. I think politicians would probably
move to defang the issue, if it wasn`t for the White
House and the ethnic lobbies. That`s why immigration
enthusiasts are so hysterical, they know they can`t
afford to give an inch.

BC: What`s your assessment
of President Bush? Would you say that there is now a
tremendous amount of ideological space between whom we
refer to as conservatives and whom we refer to as

PB: I think Bush`s immigration
proposal is treason and he should be impeached. I think
the Iraq War is not particularly tailored to American
interests. I think Bush has capitulated on affirmative
action and government spending. Apart from that, he`s
OK, I guess. About the same as Howard Dean.

The American Conservative Movement
is over, partly because it`s become an auxiliary of the
Republican Party. The whole story could be told in terms
of the rise, fall and putrescence of

National Review.
But, hey,
nothing grows to the sky. There will be a successor
movement. Right now it`s nascent.

BC: You are part of an
editorial collective known as
and you`ve won yourself many readers due
to your willingness to examine politically incorrect
issues from which others run. Unfortunately, this has
made you some enemies not only on the left but on the
right as well. Tell me, where do you stand in the debate
between neo-conservatives and paleo-conservatives?
Here`s something I just though of, could there be
something of a class element behind this
intra-conservative feud?

PB: Well, the real

are the

, distressing to me because I`ve written
so much about markets as a financial journalist. I
except the paleolibertarians, such as the

Mises Institute,
they do think about the metamarket,
the cultural and other pre-requisites for successful

I regard many of the
neoconservatives as personal friends, but that`s not
stopped them and their satellites from behaving with
extraordinary viciousness towards those of us who raised
the immigration issue. They`ve made no attempt to debate
the issue in good faith or in a collegial manner. Plus,
of course, you have to draw some conclusion from the
remarkable number of political firings of immigration
critics—Sam Francis, John O`Sullivan and myself at
National Review

Scott McConnell.
I don`t know if that makes me a
paleoconservative but it`s certainly got my attention.

I`d have to think about your point
about a class element. There`s certainly a regional
element—paleoconservatives are not as metropolitan—and
of course an ethnic element.

Thank you for your time
and wisdom, Mr. Brimelow

Bernard Chapin is a writer
living in Chicago. He can be reached at