Anarchy Without Bombs

Cooperation Without Coercion

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.


Written by Less

November 17, 2008 at 1:36 am

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4 Responses

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  1. Great post but I believe literacy rates today are much higher than 90%.

    Robbie Clarken

    November 17, 2008 at 4:44 am

  2. Thank you for the link: I would urge everyone to read the article, and carefully note the outrageous flaws in the Census Bureau study cited by Jonathan Kozol that I’ve cut and pasted here:


    Jonathan Kozol, in his book Illiterate America, states that there may not be any intentional deception in the literacy figures. He goes on to explain[7] that the Census Bureau reported literacy rates of 99% based on personal interviews of a relatively small portion of the population and on written responses to Census Bureau mailings. If the interviewees or written responders had completed fifth grade they were considered literate. In the 1970 census, for example, 5% of those surveyed had less than a fifth-grade education. The Census Bureau considered 80% of those with less than a fifth-grade education as being literate and thus calculated a 99% literacy rate. In the 1980 and 1990 censuses, most of the Census Bureau calculations of literacy were based upon grade completion. They used written questionnaires and a small number of home visits and telephone interviews. If a respondent stated that they had completed fewer than five grades, they were asked if they could read and write, and their unsubstantiated answer was recorded as a fact. Kozol asserts that this method of determining literacy is certain to underestimate illiteracy for the following reasons:

    * Illiterate people would not respond to written forms and their family members — also likely to be illiterate — would not either.
    * Illiterate people are less likely to have telephones than the general public, because of unemployment or low paying jobs.
    * Illiterate people may distrust anyone knocking on their door or calling on the telephone and seeking information because they are often hounded by bill collectors, salesmen, and others because of their financial condition and because they may have been cheated as a result of their illiteracy. Therefore they cannot be expected to give accurate answers to questions asked by Census Bureau workers they do not know, especially if the answers are embarrassing.
    * Grade level completion does not equal grade level competence.
    * Those who have no permanent home address, no telephone, no post office box, and no regular job — a condition shared by more than 6 million adults, most of whom are illiterate — cannot be found by the Census Bureau in time to be included in the count.


    Most studies place the rate of American functional illiteracy at around 20% today, and that is the item that was below 10% in the early 1800s.

    It is true that my thesis would be the same if literacy rates exceeded 90% in both the earlier and current periods, since it would still be consistent with the position that tax-funded compulsory education was not established to deal with a problem of educational quality and that public school teachers today are twice as likely to pay good money to keep their own kids out of public schools. Still, I think the case that literacy has dropped is pretty strong, and it is hard to believe that the crisis leading to No Child Left Behind was that “only 99%” of all children were learning effectively.


    November 17, 2008 at 1:52 pm

  3. Less, thank you for sharing Mark Perry’s post. He presents a well articulated argument.

    Aaron Starr

    January 10, 2009 at 8:36 am

  4. Interesting post. Stumbled on it after just happening to do a Twitter search for “compulsory schooling”, after addressing it my own blog post ( New book by John Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction, addresses this directly (


    January 25, 2009 at 10:17 am

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