Proving Too Much on Education

With John Stossel’s recent report on the failure of American public schools, libertarians are coming out of the woodwork talking about the need for competition in public schools and the failure of public education. I don’t disagree, but there’s more to it than what they say.

If Bulgaria is stomping the crap out of America in high school mathematics, science, and foreign languages, the first question is “Why do their public schools work so much better than ours?” Libertarians seem to ignore that the countries embarassing American students don’t have a free market in education. Their public schools are whipping ours.

Secondly, there may be cultural problems underlying American educational failures. A free market expresses people’s preferences and beliefs; it does not change them. If American parents think that the schools are currently doing a good job, will they demand anything better in a free market? To overuse a common example, in a free educational market, a number of parents will make sure their children are ignorant of the centerpiece of modern biology. A free market won’t solve these underlying things.

It is true indeed that a free market in education is the only moral educational system, but let’s not kid ourselves that it answers all questions.

7 thoughts on “Proving Too Much on Education”

  1. If Bulgaria is stomping the crap out of America in high school mathematics, science, and foreign languages, the first question is �Why do their public schools work so much better than ours?� Libertarians seem to ignore that the countries embarassing American students don�t have a free market in education. Their public schools are whipping ours.

    I don’t know if there’s any other answer than “They have a different culture than us”. Even state socialism can work for a while if really smart and dedicated people work very hard on it, so why shouldn’t the same be true for public schools?

  2. If American parents think that the schools are currently doing a good job, will they demand anything better in a free market?

    Yes, of course they will! “It’s the supply, stupid.” In a free market, consumers are exposed to a more diverse set of choices, virtually ensuring the survival of increasingly superior products over time. Most people aren’t producers of product X, and so the appearance of a “new and improved X” on the market is their only way of knowing that a better X can be made.

    I hear this argument from my leftist friends all the time. What’s it doing on a libertarian web site?

  3. Why do their public schools work so much better than ours?� Libertarians seem to ignore that the countries embarassing American students don�t have a free market in education.

    Why should I as an individual accept collective results as a standard? The only education problem I have is that I’m compelled to pay for a public school system.

    A free market expresses people�s preferences and beliefs; it does not change them. If American parents think that the schools are currently doing a good job, will they demand anything better in a free market?

    I cannot doubt that they will shop differently with their own money than they do with other people’s money.

    To overuse a common example, in a free educational market, a number of parents will make sure their children are ignorant of the centerpiece of modern biology. A free market won�t solve these underlying things.

    How is that a problem for me?

  4. How is that a problem for me?

    It’s conceivable that the quality of goods and services in the economy will go down if people make dumb decisions, like not teaching their kids math and science. I suppose it’s not directly a problem for you, but I don’t think you can maintain that public goods don’t concern you period.

  5. It’s conceivable that the quality of goods and services in the economy will go down if people make dumb decisions, like not teaching their kids math and science.

    And if those inclined to make bad decisons are compelled to decide such issues in the public sector rather than the private, what improvement should I expect?

  6. Josh,

    Libertarians seem to ignore that the countries embarassing American students donâ??t have a free market in education. Their public schools are whipping ours.

    Holy shit, Bulgaria has better socialism than the US! To the barricades!

    No, on second thought I’ll just decline to get involved in the whole who-can-make-the-best-central-plans game, because it’s a lose-lose proposition. There’s no reason for me to care about the state of public education in the US. There’s reason for me to care about my own education and the education of loved ones, but no amount of effort expended in bringing Bulgaria to Bakersfield is going to help that.

    To overuse a common example, in a free educational market, a number of parents will make sure their children are ignorant of the centerpiece of modern biology. A free market wonâ??t solve these underlying things.

    Who cares if people want to raise their kids to be ignorant of things you think they ought to know?

  7. Who cares if people want to raise their kids to be ignorant of things you think they ought to know?

    Furthermore, the people who choose to be ignorant and not learn things will create a need for skilled and properly educated people. An incentive will be created for people to willingly satisfy this need (ex., higher wages for the skilled/educated worker) and more people will be encouraged by these incentives to educate themselves, rather than remain ignorant.

    Just like how it works today, with high-school dropouts working menial jobs for menial pay, while college grads typically work more sophisticated jobs for more money. How would this suddenly change just because people have a choice in their education?

    Millions of children are forced to attend school every year in our current publicly-funded system… unfortunately(?) there remains no possible way to force children to learn anything once they show up. It’s all about choices, even in the current system.

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