2010/04/28

In Abstract

Over at Joanne's place, Harriet entered a conversation about the role of unions in education. In response to a reference to "free market fundamentalists", Harriet left the comment below.
..................................................................
The argument for policies which give to individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction parallel closely the argument for a market economy in general. Markets, the system of title and contract, institutionalize humility on the part of State actors. “What works?” is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer.

“Private property is socially defined” say my Marxist friends, trying to sound deep while stating the obvious. All legal regimes are socially defined. The system of private property combines control over resources with the authority to transfer control, to other parties on mutually agreed-upon terms.

In general, free marketeers accept that society at large benefits from a State strong enough effectively to suppress competition in the extortion business and to enforce contracts. Markets (the system of private property and contract law) combine local knowledge of resources with the incentive to use these resources in ways that please others. Markets calibrate the reward for improved answers to resource-allocation questions to the magnitude of the resources at issue and the urgency of the question. “What do people want for lunch?” is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer realistically. “What resources (including time) does it take to bring an infant to the point that s/he can contribute to society?” is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer with any accuracy. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls: a retarded experimental design.

The US State-monopoly school system lurches from fad to fad because it is a State-monopoly enterprise. Read Steven Moser’s meditation on campaigns in the People’s Republic of China in Broken Earth: The Rural Chinese. Current recipients of the US taxpayers’ $600 billion+ K-12-dedicated revenue stream have no interest in a less expensive answer to the question: “How do we prepare the next generation to replace their parents?” Thus, the continually expanding span of school attendance, the continual demands for more funding, and the systematic elimination of alternatives to schools as providers of education.

The arguments for State (government, generally) subsidy of education are weak. The arguments for State operation of school are so weak as to be nearly non-existent.

Not that it matters. It makes about as much sense for people who are not in government to argue about what governments should do as it makes for the swimming survivors of a mid-ocean shipwreck to argue about what sharks should eat.
.....................................................................

Exercise for the reader: Compose criteria which classify industries on the basis of their suitability for State (government, generally) operation. Imagine either a dichotomous classification (likely candidate, unlikely candidate) or a continuum
-1----------0---------1
from "highly unlikely" to "highly likely".

What criteria would you suggest?