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September 14, 2007

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Kevin B. O'Reilly

It's a fair point, of course. Do you believe that education tax credits pose a similar problem?

R.J. Lehmann

I'd say it has not only a similar problem, but the additional problem that public policy goals ought not be pursued by mucking with the tax code. It's not popular to say so these days, but I've always been a partisan to the Georgist cause. If there absolutely must be an income tax, then it should be as broad, flat and low, and with as few adorning exemptions, deductions and credits, as is possible.

Kevin B. O'Reilly

I guess I agree in principle, but how in the world do we ever end the government's stranglehold on education, which is now one giant ghetto of superstition?

R.J. Lehmann

That's probably a topic above and beyond the scope of this post, or this blog, which I'd like to keep relatively confined in its focus. But I guess the short answer I'd give is that, realistically, you won't likely end it. And, substantively, that doesn't trouble me nearly as much as it seems to some others.

First off, because I've yet to be convinced that formal education "matters" as anything other than a signaling mechanism. For all the railing the school choice people do against teachers' unions, they so easily buy into the unions' central conceit -- that their efforts actually make a difference in determining the fate of their students, shaping them like clay. I know it sounds terribly fatalistic to say so, but I just don't buy it. All evidence I've thus far been presented strongly indicates there is little value added through the education process, that it amounts primarily to providing a forum for those talents a student already has (or does not have), and that differences in aggregate performance of various schools and school districts can be explained almost entirely by variations in the innate talents of the student body, not variations in the talents of the teachers.

To the extent there is a problem, it is one of bad students, not of bad schools. So, shuffle that deck however you like, you're not going to eliminate the low achievers.

Also, it strikes me as strange that we hear constantly these complaints about a "government monopoly" on schools, but not of a government monopoly on public parks, or police, or fire services, or roads. Like schools, these are all services provided almost exclusively by governments, and like schools, they vary greatly in their merits. I would suspect one reason we don't hear complaints about "the government" holding a monopoly on such services is that there is not ONE, single, monolithic government that provides these services, but rather tens of thousands of local, municipal and county governments that do. If you don't like the services where you live, you retain the right of exit.

Well, the same is true of schools, and as a former realtor, I can tell you that right is exercised vigorously. So why does the school choice movement pretend that THIS choice doesn't already exist?

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