When Employees Would Rather Pay Full Price at a Competitor
This post by Mark Perry makes a point that should be considered carefully. My favorite part:
What would you conclude about the quality of product or service X under the following circumstances?
1. The employees of Airline X and their families are offered free airline tickets as an employee benefit. The employees refuse to travel with their families on Airline X and instead pay full fare on Airline Y when flying.
2. The employees of Automaker X are offered a company car at a substantial discount and they instead buy a car at full price from Automaker Y.
3. Employees at Health Clinic X and their families are offered medical care at no additional cost as a benefit and yet most employees of Clinic X pay out-of-pocket for medical services at Clinic Y.
In each case, the employees’ willingness to pay full price for a competitor’s product or service and forgo their employer’s product or service at a reduced price (or no cost) makes a strong statement about the low quality of X. What makes the inferior quality of X even more obvious is that the employees at Firm X, since they work in the industry, would have better information about product (service) X and product (service) Y than the average person. What then should we conclude about the quality of public education in the United States given the following facts?
Public school teachers send their own children to private schools at a rate more than twice the national average–22% of public educators’ children are in private schools compared to the national average of 10%.
My take: before government schooling became prevalent in this country, literacy rates exceeded 90% (except among slaves in the South legally prohibited from learning to read and write). Much higher than today. Parents have always cared about their children, and communities about their members: virtually every child who wasn’t legally prohibited from doing so learned their 3 R’s (and it didn’t take 12 years). Absent taxes to support schools, most parents could afford the cost of a voluntary education, and those who couldn’t benefited from the willingness of churches and schoolteachers to allow them to attend for what they could afford (even if it was nothing). Tithing then, like tipping now, is ample proof that people don’t need to be coerced to do things that social norms deem appropriate.
So why did the government get involved? It started in Massachusetts in the 1830s, and the debate was very open: the Protestant majority was upset because Irish Catholic immigrants were educating their children in schools that taught Catholic values, and the majority wanted to “Christianize the Catholics.” They didn’t feel they could actually prohibit Catholic schooling, but by making government schooling free, they hoped to drive it out of existence, and when that didn’t work, they made education compulsory (starting in 1852), which gave them full authority over the Catholic schools to determine if they qualified as an acceptable substitute. For a long time, the argument was that free and compulsory education was needed to make children good and obedient citizens: nobody made the argument based on literacy problems, because it would have been absurd.
Education IS important: that is the biggest reason not to trust it to a government monopoly. Apparently, public school teachers, especially in the inner cities, know that, at least when it comes to their own children.
In any event, there is no reason to make education compulsory. By removing that part, the government won’t be able to dictate to parents who prefer to either home school or private school their students. We already know that students who are determined not to learn won’t learn: you can make them sit there (maybe), but schools ought to have to earn the attendance of the children, and teachers should be allowed to try different methods that have to pass the test of teaching and inspiring children enough to earn the continued enrollment by their parents. I have many friends who are public school teachers: their demoralization, especially since No Child Left Behind turned them into nothing but full-time standardized test preparers, is killing the educational system.
Education should be free, as in free market.