“Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”
― Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Maybe I am a simpleton in many ways, but then again oftentimes I believe the simple solution is the best. Keeping that in mind, today I came across something which I had often heard quoted or paraphrased in the past known as “Pascal’s Wager.” Basically, Pascal presents a situation where an individual is trying to decide whether there is a higher power or not. As a means to make this decision, Pascal decides to examine the consequences of either position and to follow them to their conclusion to determine if one is preferable versus the other. If divinity exists, the person with faith will have eternal life. If divinity is nonexistent, the person with faith will simply cease to exist (the same as the person without faith). Thus, if one were simply going to wager with a decision about whether God exists, then the consequences of faith are at least equal to and at most infinitely better than not having faith. It is an interesting argument to say the least. Based upon conflicting actions with conflicting positions one is to examine the consequences to determine which action might be best. Naturally, my mind eventually wondered to our current political situation and the uncertainty many individuals may feel as they decide which way to vote on the upcoming Initiative 42 school funding proposal. Based upon our current conflicting advertising and opinions about the proposed Initiative 42, what might be a way to apply this type of logic to decide which way to cast one’s ballot?
In this effort, let us see if we can summarize the consequences many of the opposition point out to Initiative 42’s passage. Most of the consequences center around a loss of total control of the education budget by the Mississippi legislature with a review of adequate funding potentially being given to the judicial branch should the legislature not adequately fund education in accordance with the Mississippi Adequate Education Program law. This failure to follow their own funding formula would result in a potential lawsuit where the state’s courts could examine the situation and potentially make the legislature follow their own formula. Now, I do not believe the most outlandish consequences of such a court case, but we still should list them here. I have heard it suggested that the “one judge” could potentially bring back Common Core, consolidate schools, consolidate school districts, disband local school boards, get rid of football or other sports, or possibly give money from certain districts to “delta” districts. Again, I do not believe this to be the case, but the argument is that the “one judge in Hinds Country” could make all decisions on education and take this power away from our representatives, the legislature. All of which is by virtue of Initiative 42 being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” attempting to take over our state schools and put the power to run them in the hands of the “one judge in Hinds County.” Additionally, according to those opposing it, the money will have to be appropriated to public schools all at once which will result in mass layoffs of workers in the prisons, highway department, colleges, etc. and/or higher taxes.
Now, let us examine the consequences of Initiative 42’s passage according to those supporting it. They propose that Initiative 42 will require the legislature to fully fund public schools based upon the formula passed by the legislature in the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). This money will be used to repair/replace old buses, repair school buildings, hire teachers, lower class sizes, provide new textbooks, and increase technology available to students. The money will not be spent on administrator salaries since administrative pay, according to state law, does not come from MAEP state funds and is set by local school boards. According to proponents, these things will increase opportunities for all Mississippi students to have a successful learning experience in school, help them to reach their full academic potential, and open their eyes to greater opportunities as productive adults. The legislature has proven in the roughly eighteen years since passage of the MAEP funding law that they have no intention of actually following the law without some ability to enforce it. By allowing a case to be brought in courts should the legislature continue to either not follow the MAEP law or change the MAEP law to some other formula, this can insure the law is followed. Initiative 42 gives the legislature some accountability via this system of checks and balances. Such court cases would start out in Chancery Court, but could be appealed to higher courts and ultimately to the Mississippi Supreme Court (which are all elected not appointed) to insure no single judge can go out into left field with some outlandish, radical judicial activism without being overturned by the higher court. There are no need for job cuts to other state agencies since the proposal itself has a “phase in” plan to simply fund it from a percentage of future growth (no growth for a year means no education funding increases that year).
In “Pascal’s Wager” the list would end here, we would examine the potential consequences of Initiative 42’s passage and see which one was the most risky. In truth, it might seem from the list that those opposing Initiative 42’s passage might have the upper hand in this regard with the list of ominous and downright frightening predictions based upon its passage. However, in that situation Pascal was talking about death coming before either outcome could be realized. With the finality of death, there is no opportunity to go back and to relive one’s life by going down the alternative path, instead the consequences of the chosen path are fixed. Would it not be a significantly different argument if at the end of life one had the opportunity to go back and change things? What then might be the effect, if I told you that at any time after the passage of Initiative 42 it could be changed to alter any potential problems, even if they are unforeseen? What might be the effect on our decision, if we knew that we could completely undo Initiative 42’s changes if it did not deliver the promised benefits? Would that not be incredibly significant in regards to our decision on whether to vote for it or not?
Fortunately for us, all Initiative 42 does is change our state constitution, and while this is significant enough to make the legislature actually fund education, it is something that can simply be undone should those who support Initiative 42 be wrong and things turned out badly. Remember the prohibition of alcohol passed by the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution? It was passed in 1920 and significant amounts of people decided afterward that they did not like it and wanted to return to legalized alcohol. What happened? As we all know, in 1933 the 21st Amendment was passed repealing the 18th Amendment. Voila! No more 18th amendment and alcohol once more flowed freely. The Mississippi Constitution gives us the exact same recourse should any amendment passed to it ever become a problem.
In fact, the change to Initiative 42 should be something that is familiar to all who are currently in legislative offices and oppose it because it begins with them, the house and the senate. You see Initiative 42 went one route to amend the state constitution where the people themselves (over 200,000 of them) signed a petition to place the proposed amendment on the ballot. However, the preferable way to repeal it, should there really be the scary consequences mentioned by its opponents, would be to simply have a 2/3 vote in the Mississippi House of Representatives and a 2/3 vote in the Mississippi Senate to add the new amendment repealing the old one passed by Initiative 42. On the very next ballot, the people would vote again and if over 50% favored the new amendment doing away with the Initiative 42 amendment, then Initiative 42 is gone and the legislature can go back to the old way of funding education and simply do away with any changes done by the supposed “one judge in Hinds County” in the meantime by passing regular bills into laws. It really is rather simple and all of the power rests in the legislative branch simply voting with 2/3 majority and the people passing it with a simple majority vote. Either option should be easy if Initiative 42’s amendment does all of the scary things they are cautioning about. After all, is not the entire point of the scariness that the people and legislature will be outraged with “one judge in Hinds County” ruling against popular will?
So now let us examine the present situation. We currently leave public education funding in the hands of the legislature. The legislature has passed a law promising to fully fund education using their own formula, but every year almost without fail finds other things to spend the money on. Education in Mississippi is currently at or almost at the very bottom relative to the rest of the country in every measure. So we see that not fully funding education coincides with results in education which are quite less than we would desire as a state. Now since the legislature chooses to not even follow their own law, how might we as a state be able to just experiment by actually fully funding education for even a few years? I mean just a few years to see if fully funding it makes a difference? Well, we can pass Initiative 42. We pass it and we just see what happens. If things go bad, we just repeal it. If things go well, then we all reap the benefits. How else will we ever know if fully funding education will give us positive results unless we try it?
Using this logic, Initiative 42 has the potential to improve education by taking a totally unheard of tactic in relation to Mississippi schools, actually funding them fully. State legislative leaders such as our Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House who oppose Initiative 42 are more aware than anyone that it could be repealed if their doomsday scenarios play out after its passage and it turns out to be some liberal “Trojan horse.” So what exactly is the downside? Knowing it can be repealed quickly if the awful things begin to happen they are saying, why then would they not give it a shot? Could it be that they actually know Initiative 42’s changes will not have the frightening consequences they have been talking so very much about? Could it be that they know getting everyone upset and afraid without cause is the only hope they have to defeat this change to the state constitution because after it passes and we see positive results, they have no hope of ever repealing it? Could it be that all of the scary talk is just that “scary talk” without a real wizard behind the curtain with the real motivation being the continued pile of tax money that those in power can dish out however they choose? My friends, I feel pretty good about taking what I will refer to as the “Initiative 42 Wager” as it has an extreme upside for the children of our state for generations to come and literally no downside which cannot be reversed via a simple vote of the legislature and the people to change it. Are our children’s futures not worth simply seeing what would happen? After all, we all know what will continue to happen if we leave things as they are.