CLICHÉS OF PROGRESSIVISM #51: ‘The Free Market Cannot Provide Public Education’

20140414_Clichesofprogressivism

The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) has been proud to partner with Young America’s Foundation (YAF) to produce “Clichés of Progressivism,” a series of insightful commentaries covering topics of free enterprise, income inequality, and limited government. This is the final installment in the series. 

(Editor’s Note: For 15 years, the author was editor of The Freeman, the journal of the Foundation for Economic Education. A version of this essay was originally published there in June 2000.)

Sheldon Richman writes: Can the free market provide public education? The short answer, of course, is: yes, look around. Right now, private enterprise and nonprofit organizations provide all manner of education  —  from comprehensive schools with classes in the traditional academic subjects, to specialized schools that teach everything from the fine arts to the martial arts, from dancing to dieting, from scuba diving to scrutinizing one’s inner self.

If we define “public education” as “what the government does now,” then it’s a trick question. Every school serves members of the public. For the sake of this discussion, we can ignore that the word “public” has been corrupted to mean “coercively financed through the tax system.”

Summary

  • As long as government can tax its citizens and then provide educational services to them at a marginal price of zero, much private education will never come into being.
  • Most parents would no more make educational decisions without consulting knowledgeable authorities than they would make medical decisions without consulting doctors.
  • We don’t use the small number of neglectful parents as a pretext for government control or finance of religion. Nor should we use it as a pretext for government control or finance of schooling.
  • Government domination of education assures that the entrepreneurial innovation and creativity we are accustomed to in, say, the computer industry will be missing from education.

The free market — and I include here both for-profit and nonprofit organizations — would provide even more education than it does now but for the “unfair competition” from government. Since government has a resource that private organizations lack — the taxpayers — it’s able to offer its services for “free.” They’re not really free, of course; in the government context, “free” means that everyone pays whether he wants the service or not. Clearly, as long as government can tax its citizens and then provide educational services to them at a marginal price of zero, much private education will never come into being. How ironic that government vigilantly looks for predatory pricing in the private sector when it is the major offender.

[Read the full text here, at The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education]

There is certainly nothing about education that should lead anyone to doubt that the market could provide it. Like any other product or service, education is a combination of land, labor, and capital goods directed at a particular objective — instruction in academic subjects and related matters demanded by a class of consumers, primarily parents.

Here’s where things may get contentious. Critics of market-provided education are uncomfortable with education’s being treated like a commodity, subject to supply and demand. In the marketplace, consumers ultimately determine what is produced. Entrepreneurs take risks to serve them. And fickle consumers show no mercy when something new and attractive comes along. Ask the shareholders of Boston Chicken or Kodak, among others.

Why should parents alone determine what is and what is not acceptable education? But why not parents? To whose hearts are the interests of children closer? Besides, most parents would no more make educational decisions without consulting knowledgeable authorities than they would make medical decisions without consulting doctors. The uninformed-consumer argument against free-market education is a red herring. Read the rest of this entry »


‘Look! Squirrel!’ Redskins Controversy: Does Trademark Law Violate First Amendment?

Supreme Court Affirmitive Action

Regulatory adventurism–an arm of government being misused for a political, narrow, misguided agenda–naturally raises legal questions. Can you imagine so much effort on the part of a tyrannical minority of activists about a ruling that most Americans, and most native Americans think is a pointless solution to an imaginary problem?

For Brietbart.com, Ken Kuklowski writes:

Yesterday’s decision from the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to cancel the trademark protections of the Washington Redskins professional football team, ruling that the word “redskins” is disparaging to Americans descended from indigenous people instead of immigrants, has sparked an energetic conversation raising serious legal and constitutional issues.

“To be clear: the federal government is not banning anyone from using the term ‘redskins.’”

Trademark law permits PTO to reject trademark protection to terms that PTO finds disparaging. Specifically, PTO may deny trademark registration under 15 U.S.C. § 1052 when a term, “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”

“…Instead, PTO is saying they no longer have the right to use the term exclusively to retain all financial benefits from its use.”

Lawyers for the Redskins argued that the trademark is (1) old and (2) well used, and (3) has tremendous financial value as a brand name. And one judge on the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dissented from the decision to revoke the Redskins’ longstanding trademark protection. Read the rest of this entry »