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This is the blog equivalent of drunk dialing, I had promised myself not to do this.

Let’s talk this out.

There is perhaps no sector in the U.S. economy that is more comprehensively controlled by the government than schooling. I suppose you might say National Defense, but given the large amount of expenditures that are put out to contract (yes, not an ideal setup), education has it eclipsed.

Not only does the government fund the education system (which, if you ever cared to make a market failure argument in support of intervention would be the logical conclusion you would draw), rather it controls every aspect of the education system. Teachers, coaches, janitors, construction workers, bus drivers and more are all employees of the government.

Spending per student at government schools is the highest in the world and far higher than the spending per student in the (small) private sector.

Spending per student in many struggling areas (e.g. the Rochester City School District) far outpaces the spending per student in the well-performing areas nearby (e.g. the Brighton and Pittsford schools).

Teachers are unionized.

Teachers can achieve tenure and have a terrific array of workplace protections.

Teachers have to have a license.

Teachers must graduate from government accredited educational institutions.

All people are forced to pay for government schooling, via property and state taxes, irrespective of whether you go there.

Schooling is compulsory. That is right, everyone must “consume” your product.

Curricula must be approved.

State testing is required.

The activities of the schools are themselves exempt from taxes and the schools are exempt from paying property taxes.

I suppose you can go on.

Yet, it is widely “agreed” that our education system is “broken” – that not only are there gross injustices, massive inequality, deteriorating physical infrastructure and intellectual infrastructure, but that even overall “we” are underperforming relative to the navel gaze countries like Finland (more on that some other day). Almost no intervention made by the government has “worked” and if they have been successful they have been too small to scale up or have a meaningful impact on life outcomes.

I’ll make this simple. Education is government. People think the education system is awful (it may not be but I am not permitted to leave the reservation on this issue, am I?), yet there is not an iota of self-reflection about the role of government here or about the limits of government not only here but in all areas.


None at all.

Is there anything resembling cognitive dissonance anymore when people are chanting and feeling the Bern or rallying around the Trumpster or any of the other disasters that they are getting excited about.

ASIDE, sort of: this is the exact definition of socialism – government ownership and control of the means of production. If you support government schooling, it is pretty clear that you are a socialist. I do not mean that in any way to name call or to draw analogies, it has to be quite true by definition. I do not think many people would consider themselves socialists in name. I suppose you can be a quasi-socialist and argue that you believe in government ownership of some of the means of production – I’d just like to see, therefore, a logical distinction between why it is cool in education (for you) and not somewhere else (like peaches)?


As I said, this post is the intellectual equivalent of drunk dialing.

7 Responses to “Removal From Polite Company: Education Edition, Redux”

  1. Trapper_John says:

    I had the same thought reading the CNN article about the TSA. In an undercover operation, they missed on 67 of 70 attempts to smuggle banned items past their checkpoints across the nation. Think about that. Flying out of LGA or BOS or ATL or ORD there is no way to accurately anticipate how long it will take to get through security in time to make a flight, so the true cost of this program (beyond TSA salaries, equipment, dogs, etc.) is literally millions of wasted hours daily (8 million people fly every day), on top of the stress and humiliation. All of that cost for a success rate that doesn’t reach 1 in 20. How can people look at this and think it’s a good idea to have the government run ANYTHING?

    One more aside that I cannot post on Facebook lest I, too, be excused from future dinner parties. I have seen posts on the show trial of “pharma bad boy” Martin Shkreli in front of Congress. I am no fan of Mr. Shkreli, but to watch these Congressmen cluck their tongues at him and talk about how some little old lady can’t afford her meds turns my stomach. A) The system that allows Shkreli and his ilk to profit off old ladies is enforced at gunpoint through laws passed by that same august group that pillories him. The drug in question is off patent. Anyone can make it, except that the FDA prevents it without their permission. B) These hypocrites sit there in judgement, but have done NOTHING (beyond threatening and cajoling) to help the people who need drugs. If some old lady is suffering, perhaps rather than shaking a finger at Mr. Shkreli, one of these Congressmen could build his own factory, get FDA approval, and price the drug how he sees fit. But, no, one cannot build anything when sitting on a high horse. C) Google “drug shortages”. Nope. No connection and nothing to see here.

    Who needs a drink?

  2. Gabe says:

    Great post, a point lost on any opponents of charter schools and one Noah Smith.

  3. sherlock says:

    Hope your drunk on something good!

    Trapper John,
    As a fun little side note: In order to prove to the EPA that your product is a disinfectant against Staphylococcus aureus (i.e. kills 100% of the Staph), your product has to have no growth in 57 out of 60 carriers. For example, they’ll have 60 different carriers with Staph in them. Each carrier is then treated with your product. After 48 hours of incubation, if there is no re-growth of Staph in 57 out of the 60, you can claim that your product is a disinfectant against it.

    They’ll do 3 total rounds of the 60 carriers and some other organisms have different levels:
    For Salmonella enterica to “pass” a 60 carrier test at least 59 of the surfaces must demonstrate complete disinfection, for each batch tested.
    For Pseudomonas aeruginosa to “pass” a 60 carrier test at least 54 of the surfaces must demonstrate complete disinfection, for each batch tested.

    I guess the nitty gritty is besides the point but I’m wondering what 67 fails out of 70 says other than the TSA is a complete failure?

  4. Todd Kuipers says:

    I have this conversation with a few folks on a regular basis. The educational near-monopoly is a weird issue for even people who would be nominally free market or libertarian.

    The responses I get generally fall into two camps:
    1) The get-with-the-program response that “this is the way it works” and if you support things like charter schools or privatization that you’re just trying to screw the taxpayer who funds the wonderful system and good kids that participate in the grand process.
    2) The don’t-compare-education-with-peaches response that suggests that only a coordinated effort via central planning and control could manage to deliver such a complex service. If you don’t like it, clearly you don’t understand how talented teachers and administrators are, and you probably have a hate-on for the poor to boot.

    I use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to ask that if education is too important to be left to emergent order, then housing, and food production and distribution should be effectively nationalized to ensure quality, nutrition, comfort, effectiveness and social justice. Responses to this are generally type 2, above.

    Mostly I think that it’s been so long since government delivery of education has dominated western nations that people lack the imagination to even have the conversation without a lot of warm up. Challenging the concept has to dig through the social contract, care for the underprivileged, creating good citizens for the melting pot, civics lessons for democratic participation, standards for minimum skills, complexity (“education is way more complex than making bananas appear in the grocery store”), union sympathy, the most-people-aren’t-competent-to-raise-their-children-without-guidance-but-that-doesn’t-include-me stance, the veneer of innovation that teachers’ conventions seem to propagate, and on and on.

  5. pjt says:

    Speaking from Finland, which you mention, I don’t understand the navel gazing comment. To me it seems that the US is navel gazing regarding schools, in the sense that the school curriculum and what the teachers know is more centered on themselves and their own country, not reaching out to the outside world. The unions seem particularly self-centered and selfish. Finland, on the other hand, is a small nation heavily dependent on foreign trade, so it has much more interest in learning about the outside world. It has to. Even the teachers gaze the outside world more.

    Though I admit that over here, we often spend too much time thinking what others think about us. But navel-gazing is perhaps not quite the right word for that.

    • wintercow20 says:

      Goodness, no, I meant that many in the US find Finland to be the most attractive country on Earth. We are the navel gazers!

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