Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

A Free Market in Education?

by Paul Gessing

David Brooks of the New York Times has never been my favorite columnist. I've never really thought that he "gets it" when it comes to limited government and personal freedom.

Recently, for example, Brooks wrote a column in which he called himself a "Hamiltonian." While I don't dispute his claim -- he's certainly no 'limited government conservative' -- another statement has me shaking my head:

If you are reading this column, you’re keeping company with somebody in group No. 2. We Hamiltonians disagree with the limited government conservatives because, on its own, the market (emphasis added) is failing to supply enough human capital. Despite all the incentives, 30 percent of kids drop out of high school and the college graduation rate has been flat for a generation.

Just when it needs a more skilled work force, the U.S. is getting a less skilled one. This is already taking a bite out of productivity growth, and the problem will get worse.

How exactly is the educational system in this country a "market?" The answer is it is not a market in any way, but a government monopoly with only a few inroads having been made by charter schools, private schools, voucher programs, tax credit programs, and home-schoolers. While these groups all are attempting to break out of the top-down, government education model, they are a distinct minority.

In other words, Brooks doesn't seem to know what the word "market" really means. If Brooks and other "Hamiltonians" want to create a better-educated work force, perhaps we should create a genuine "market" in education. Until then, calling it a market is absurd.