The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Quick Response To Jay

This will be brief, and perhaps I will expand on this theme later, but I feel an immediate response is necessary.

Jay Bullock responded to my earlier post about the lack of a coherent philosophy supporting the notion of government-run schools with this post. He made one good point that I should address.

Schools do in fact produce secondary benefits for society, a point which I should have made more clearly. The problem with freeways is not that they produce secondary beneficiaries, but that they produce only secondary beneficiaries. With regard to the education of your child, there is a strong incentive for the primary beneficiary, (or at least the 1a beneficiary, the parent), to seek out a great education. This is an important distinction, and I should have mentioned it.

Jay then takes up the unenviable position of arguing against competition's ability to supply quality goods to nearly everyone. He tells a tale of a quality tractor, and of the decline in quality of the electronic sector. Let's deal with the TV first.

In the year 1975, the finest television set that could be purchased at Sears cost $750.00, or, adjusted for inflation, $2,655. A black and white TV was $488 adjusted for inflation.

Today, you can get a state of the art TV for that price, and some nice looking smaller sets for the price of a black and white. Old TVs aren't even in the same league as modern HD sets, or even modern basic sets, and we have competition to thank for it.

Jay never addressed my central point. He made no defense of the current set-up of the public school system; he merely attacked the market. (And I should point out that I didn't even advocate a truly free-market solution. I'm OK with government funding, as I wish to see all children attending school. I am against monopolistic, government run schools. I'd like to see the K-12 system more closely reflect the college/university system.)

He also makes a faulty analogy regarding lawn mowers. I'm happy that Snapper makes a quality lawn mower, but Snapper does not operate apart from the market. They likely would not have developed absent competition. And Jay is trying to imply that many schools under my system would be cheap, throw-away schools. However, the incentives for schooling would exert different pressures than those for lawn mowers. It's good that some lawn mowers are "disposable." Some people have smaller lawns, some people might not want to be locked into a lawnmower long-term in case it becomes obsolete, and some might not be able to afford a Snapper lawn mower. It's good that Snapper exists, but it's also good that the cheapies exist.

And it would be nice to have a variety of schooling ideas exposed in a market setting, because it would produce a wide variety of choices, most of which would likely be superior to the status quo, just as all modern televisions, even the extremely cheap televisions, are superior to old-fashioned televisions.


  • Exactly. I would have had similar objections as Jay did were it not for your clear statements that narrowed the scope of your analogy.

    Did Jay even read your disclaimers and not get them or is he so set in his view that he latches on to any weakness and ignores how applicable it is.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 10:19 PM  

  • A Quick Response To Jay
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    Schools do in fact produce secondary benefits for society,

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