Jay Greene on President Obama's Address to Schoolchildren

Jay Greene wrote a post on the President's address to America's students (is President Obama a publicity-hound or what?), and I left the comment which appears in an expanded form below.

(Jay Greene): "...compulsory education privileging government-operated schools is an intrusion of the government on this parental responsibility...As an empirical matter, government-operated schools are actually less effective at conveying that common set of ideas than are schools selected by parents."

Two points:
1) "Compulsory education" puts compulsion before education. Before anything else, schools which assemble their clientelle through compulsory attendance statutes teach children that strangers will command their time and that their parents will be powerless to prevent this. I can imagine a few lessons more destructive of families and of the values of a market-oriented democracy, but not many. Memory often treats people well, and traumas fade. This explains the widespread acceptance of the brutal custom of separating children from parents. Convenient memory does not make compulsory attendance statutes any less brutal or the effects of age-segregated, one-size-fits-all regimentation any less destructive. Parents betray their children when they surrender their children to the arbitrary authority of strangers, to school-yard bullies, and to the monotony of a standardized curriculum. This betrayal damages the beneficial bonds between children and parents. Further, compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery. For twelve years schools teach children to think as slaves, to eschew initiative, to wait for "instruction" --take that word apart--, or to rebel. The cost to taxpayers of the US "public" school system far exceeds the $500 billion+ per year which various Departments of Education spend. The cost of this system includes reduced lifetime productivity, lost income, welfare, losses due to crime, and the cost of prison for the poor minority children whose lives we trash.

2) Often, the words in which people express their arguments predispose them to their conclusions. For example, "mass transit" means literally how lots of people get around. The term could apply to bicycles and roads or to shoes and sidewalks, but proponents of centralized transportation systems pull a bait-and-switch to leap from an agreement that a "mass" of people must "transit" from home to work to the conclusion that some city or other needs a centralized transit system. Similarly, defenders of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's exclusive position in receipt of the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy pull a bait-and-switch when they confuse "education" with "school" and "public education" with "government-operated schools". Part of this confusion relates to a deep ambiguity of language. "Somewhere in Hawaii a woman gives birth every five minutes---and we have to find that wahine (woman) and make her stop!" is a comment on syntax which probably has parallels everywhere. Even with their precise notation, mathematicians have to pay attention. "For all X there is a Y such that F(x,y)..." "For all" really means "for each". Consider the attention paid to the concept of "limit".

"Parents should control the education of their own children" still leaves open the possibility that the mechanism through which parents exercise this control requires them to do so through collective action. Who composes the resolutions on which parents vote? When are the Board meetings? Who holds the gavel? Who counts the ballots?

Joel Fried
Pots and Kettles: Governance Practices of the Ontario Securities Commission
There is, however, an additional problem in the public sector that does not exist for private firms. The firm has a well defined objective function – the maximization of profits – whereas the apparent objective for the government is the maximization of some index of a (weighted) level of welfare of the electorate. An unambiguous index of social welfare has been impossible to construct and, in its absence, monitoring the public sector is further complicated because data is generally lacking on whether or not the objective was actually approached and/or achieved and what the costs are that are linked to any specific objective. In effect, because of distribution issues and public goods, the cash flows measured with traditional accounting procedures will be, at best, only superficially correlated with that objective. Thus, looking at cash flows will provide the principals an extremely poor method of monitoring their public sector agents.
Why suppose that collective decision-making processes will yield results which better represent the preferences of individuals, collectively, than will market mechanisms? What does it mean to aggregate the preferences of individuals? What would Americans eat if we voted on each day's breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu? How many people would prefer the result of such a process to the result of the current market-oriented mechanism?

Eduardo Zambrano
"Formal Models of Authority: Introduction and Political Economy Applications"
Rationality and Society, May 1999; 11: 115 - 138.
Aside from the important issue of how it is that a ruler may economize on communication, contracting and coercion costs, this leads to an interpretation of the state that cannot be contractarian in nature: citizens would not empower a ruler to solve collective action problems in any of the models discussed, for the ruler would always be redundant and costly. The results support a view of the state that is eminently predatory, (the ? MK.) case in which whether the collective actions problems are solved by the state or not depends on upon whether this is consistent with the objectives and opportunities of those with the (natural) monopoly of violence in society. This conclusion is also reached in a model of a predatory state by Moselle and Polak (1997). How the theory of economic policy changes in light of this interpretation is an important question left for further work.
My response to advocates for universal health care: "I didn't know the universe was sick."