Thursday, May 5, 2011

What's different about K-12 education?

Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—"for free"—from its neighborhood public supermarket.

No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.

Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families' choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned. ...

...thoughtful souls would call for "supermarket choice" fueled by vouchers or tax credits.

Opponents of supermarket choice would accuse its proponents of demonizing supermarket workers (who, after all, have no control over their customers' poor eating habits at home). Advocates of choice would also be accused of trying to deny ordinary families the food needed for survival. Such choice, it would be alleged, would drain precious resources from public supermarkets whose poor performance testifies to their overwhelming need for more public funds. ...

As for the handful of radicals who call for total separation of supermarket and state—well, they would be criticized by almost everyone as antisocial devils indifferent to the starvation that would haunt the land if the provision of groceries were governed exclusively by private market forces. ...

In reality, of course, groceries and many other staples of daily life are distributed with extraordinary effectiveness by competitive markets responding to consumer choice. The same could be true of education...
--Don Boudreaux on the peculiar boundaries we draw on the private market. I would add that we organize university education closer to the "supermarket choice" model. HT: Greg Mankiw

1 comment:

works in progress said...

This has been commented on attached to the original article, but I doubt that the private sector delivers very high quality supermarkets to the areas with the worst schools (http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/01/21/us-access-healthy-idUSTRE50K5NW20090121). I'm sure others more steeped in the social science research than I could shine better light on this, but I'm skeptical...even if it's a light-hearted analogy.