Saturday, April 11, 2015

Message to Paul Krugman: public education is a public good

DEFINITION of 'Public Good':  A product that one individual can consume without reducing its availability to another individual and from which no one is excluded. Economists refer to public goods as "non-rivalrous" and "non-excludable".
Public schools are a public good while exclusive and privately run charter schools are not. 

The privatization of the public school system, with charters and voucher ideas leading the way, have been a result of a surge of neoliberalism, which argues for privatization of as many public institutions as is feasible - and coming from all quarters of the political spectrum -- and I include many of our own union leaders here (for me, their support for charters - as long as they are unionized -- but still privatized is my bellwether.)

Even our ostensible allies, like NY Times columnist Paul Krugman, when making the case for "public goods", as he did in his April 10 (here) column, never seems to venture anywhere near the education-as- privatization issue. My sense is that he can't go there because he would have to lump in most Democrats with Republicans - in fact, with the right wing joining the left in the revolt against common core and testing and with both arguing for local control, Republicans are looking better than Democrats like Cuomo and the majority of Dems in the NY legislature.
Like all advanced nations, America mainly relies on private markets and private initiatives to provide its citizens with the things they want and need, and hardly anyone in our political discourse would propose changing that. The days when it sounded like a good idea to have the government directly run large parts of the economy are long past. Yet we also know that some things more or less must be done by government. Every economics textbooks talks about “public goods” like national defense and air traffic control that can’t be made available to anyone without being made available to everyone, and which profit-seeking firms, therefore, have no incentive to provide.
One of the oldest public goods in this nation is public education -- an innovative idea 170 years ago -- and also an instrument of local government. Has the concept of public education been successful? Hell yes! For all? Hell no -- but we know that that can be fixed without turning to privatization.

Now Dems like Cuomo term public education a monopoly that must be broken - unlike all the other public goods.

Krugman argues that Government Excels in areas like social security and medicare -- I know some of you don't buy the medicare angle but I trust my wife who did that kind of work in a hospital and says it is more efficient and well-run than any private company (and I love having it - everyone should). Krugman should have included the post office, which if it were viewed as a public good that should be fully funded instead of having to earn a profit, would be in fine shape -- hey, I get my mail 6 days a week and can walk to a post office. Here he deals with health insurance.
But are public goods the only area where the government outperforms the private sector? By no means.
One classic example of government doing it better is health insurance. Yes, conservatives constantly agitate for more privatization — in particular, they want to convert Medicare into nothing more than vouchers for the purchase of private insurance — but all the evidence says this would move us in precisely the wrong direction. Medicare and Medicaid are substantially cheaper and more efficient than private insurance; they even involve less bureaucracy. Internationally, the American health system is unique in the extent to which it relies on the private sector, and it’s also unique in its incredible inefficiency and high costs.
 And I will argue time and again that when looked at the nation as a whole over time public education is more efficient and well-run than any privatized system, including charters -- as we are seeing daily. Why? Because over time someone is held accountable. The problem with public education is the absolute lack of democratic functioning systems, where stakeholders like teachers and parents and students get to have a say. But they have even less of a say in any privatized system.

Read it in full:  Where Government Excels

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