kitchen table math, the sequel: Middle Class Entitlement

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Middle Class Entitlement

Children can't survive in our modern world without shoes. It would be a catastrophe to be in a child growing up in the 21st century without shoes. These children would be deeply impoverished, backward, and their futures would be horribly limited.

That's why the government makes and distributes childrens' shoes, because how else would children all be able to have shoes?

What? You suggest that companies should make and --gasp-- SELL shoes? How could you? You must be against the children having shoes to wear! And WHO would supply children shoes if the govt stopped doing so? Which people? How many shoes stores? How would the shoes stores be capitalized? How many brands would there be? What materials would they use? What pricing arrangements would be in place? WHO WOULD REGULATE THE SHOES TO MAKE SURE THEY MET OUR STANDARDS? How would those stores be sure to meet our requirements on sizing and stitching and hiring of shoemakers! How would poor children ever get a pair of shoes?! Suppose a poor person didn't have the money to buy a pair!

I'm paraphrasing and borrowing from Murray Rothbard in For a New Liberty. He isn't speaking of public education per se at this point, but just what happens when someone tries to suggest that the government should get out of a certain services and let the private sector handle them. These questions are absurd about shoes. We KNOW that we have more shoes now, at lower prices, than ever before, and that WalMart, Costco, and Target alone mean that even the poor can afford to buy comfortable stylish shoes for their children.

But what if we applied this to education?

Children need an education! They can't survive without it, and how else would all kids get an education?
What??? You suggest companies could SELL education? Private schools? Private tutors? Who? Which people? How many schools? How would they capitalize them? But but but...what standards would they have? How would we be sure they were teaching what the govt says should be taught? Who would regulate them? How could a poor person ever get an education then! You want to deny the poor an education!

Public schools were created in an era of industrial growth and immigration when a) states wanted to inculcate certain values into all of their populace, including the immigrants' children; b) parents by themselves, particularly poor parents, were viewed as not valuing education on their own enough to educate their children out of poverty; and c) there was an interest in stopping or discouraging the use of child labor (thereby remove competition from the workforce for adults); and d) there was no other entity (but the Catholic Church) massive enough to be able to create a system to educate as widely and deeply as was desired.

The public schools of the current middle class have nothing whatsoever to do with that model. We don't need them to inculcate values--or the values being inculcated don't match up anyway. We absolutely, positively, value education without question. We have moved as a culture to a place where child labor is practically unthinkable. And there are dozens? hundreds? thousands? of entrepreneurial and technical resources now in the private sector that could educate children, even on a massive scale.

Why then do we need public schools at all?

We don't. They are middle class entitlements. The middle class doesn't want to pay for schools, and doesn't feel it should have to. Yet, of course, some of them ARE paying for them, to the tune of 20k plus per student in Irvington and St. Paul, MN, but exactly who bears that burden is probably disproportionately those without school aged children. For others, it's simply the daycare issue--they want taxpayer funded daycare, and schools provide that. How else would they manage? How else could we all conceive of functioning!

The existence of the govt schools at such a low cost drives out the private money. It drives out low cost private schools, and in the end only leaves the boutique ones standing. The same as govt shoes drive out any competition, and leave only the Fendis of the world to purchase. If we had no govt schools, the private sectors--the Green Dots, the Kumons, etc. would still exist, and would expand. The religious schools would exist, and be affordable, too.

But but but! The poor! Who would educate the poor! We need vouchers, see!

No, the private sector could educate the poor; the Church did it in the past; other orgs could do it now. WalMart has done more for the poor getting good shoes than welfare vouchers ever did. If WalMart taught math and reading in DC, do you think poor kids would learn better than they do now? Even so, vouchers for the POOR are a vastly different claim than vouchers for EVERYONE. There is no place else except medicare healthcare, another entitlement for the middle class) where everyone gets covered.

The main argument of school vouchers boils down to this: the government is bad at making shoes that I want! They have the wrong style and they fit badly. They are ugly to boot. I want better choices in shoes!

I know! let's have them still make shoes and give them away, and then also have vouchers so I can buy real private market shoes that aren't ugly and aren't terrible but make the taxpayers pay for them, because they are SOOO expensive, I don't want to do it on my own!

I'm not suggesting we can actually abolish govt schools. And I'm willing to give DC vouchers just because they've got nothing else, even though I see general vouchers as a middle class entitlement that needs to die. But recognizing that the reasons public education was needed in the past have little to do with our current culture can help us to see the real problems we create for ourselves when we come up with convoluted solutions that leave the govt in charge of schools, and keep them in charge of the funding.

Charter schools are a different issue. Charter schools are more like Medicare. More on that later.


Paul B said...

Even more ironic than Allison's wonderful take on irony is that my 'poor' children have as many as three pairs of shoes. One pair is for going to school. One is for classes and the third is for gym.

OBTW none of them go for under a hundred bucks. Just another manifestation of entitlement. This, in a 'failing' district that periodically runs out of pencils and paper.

Crimson Wife said...

Except that if someone buys a lousy pair of shoes, nobody suffers except for the individual wearing them. We all suffer if children are not educated well enough to be productive members of society as adults.

I do believe in choice in education, but I'm not willing to hand it over entirely to the free market.

I'd like to see it more like food or housing, where there is a certain amount of government oversight (i.e. FDA regulations, local building codes, etc) and assistance programs for the poor (WIC, food stamps, Section 8 rent vouchers, etc). But for those presumed to be able to afford them, the responsibility is on the individual families.

le radical galoisien said...

Well theoretically education would be an underallocated service, so the theoretical remedy is to afford a degree of public subsidy on those private enterprises providing said good.

I kind of believe in picking our battles. School vouchers and responsible use of education funds first, then we can work on tweaking the amount we allocate to education later. Only when education funds use is efficient can we work on reducing universal funding.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to what you may think, there are a lot of poor kids who can't afford shoes or food in, GASP! the US... which kind of ruins your entire argument

Allison said...

No, it doesn't. Poor kids get vouchers. Food Stamps, EBT, WIC, housing vouchers. Transfer payments exist. And they could exist for schooling, too.