Those who favor government running the education system often seem to think that government is somehow immune form economic and political forces. They often believe that by having the government run the education system, we’ve somehow managed to avoid the common problems of free enterprise. For example here’s Downes:
I think the point being made is that education is not something that is simply bought and sold, as a commodity, but rather something a society does to advance its own objectives. That it is, therefore, something too important to be left to the whims of the marketplace. And that the content of an education cannot be determined merely by economic pressures, but by the wider set of values of a society as a whole.
Most societies have decided that the management of education is too important to be left to private enterprise, that there would be too many poison pills to swallow, and that society would be irreparably damaged as a result. That even if private enterprise were to be able to manage education more efficiently, the product offered would be harmful to society.
The fostering of an educational resources regime where publishers and academics produce, and everyone else consumes, at once promotes their business objectives and undermines our social objectives and disempowers learners as a whole.
Implicit in this argument is the belief that government acting as both regulator and service provider is somehow immune from market forces, political forces, and self-interest such that it will inherently use education resources more effectively, provide education services more effectively, and serve society’s objectives better than free enterprise would.
More specifically, does eliminating profits and the risk of losses improve outcomes? Does eliminating competition improve outcomes?
It’s basic economics. Once you strip away the lofty rhetoric, it’s easy to see that our education system suffers from common maladies that plague other areas of the economy and for the same reasons.
There’s nothing inherently different because government is providing the education services. If a private company was offering education services under the same conditions, the services provided would be equally bad and the the prices equally steep. And, most importantly, the outcomes would be equally abysmal for the same students being under-served in the present system.
Unlike Downes and others of like mind, I am not willing to sweep the bad outcomes under the rug by blaming the failures on outside forces like poverty. The majority of people who favor the present system, like Dick , recognize that reform is needed. But, they are mistaken in believing that the present system can be reformed in a way that improves outcomes.
To understand why requires a brief overview of basic economics which I’ll provide in the next post.
In the meantime, feel free to present your arguments, pro and con, on the wonders and failures of the present system and why you think I’m wrong or right. I’ll address them.