Karl Weber responds to my voucher post:

Where I now live, I pay a water bill. In my previous home, water was covered by city taxes. It varies from place to place.

You could come up with almost any comparison you want. Almost any public service (paid for by taxes) can be supplemented with a private version (paid for by individuals). My point is that individuals who choose the private version should pay for it themselves rather than expect public support.

The public pays for roads; if you want to use a private toll road, you don't get a voucher for that.

The public pays for parks; if you want to visit a private park, you don't get a voucher for it.

The public pays for police officers; if you want private security, you don't get a voucher to pay for it.

I don't see why education should be any different. AND THIS DOESN'T MAKE ME A HYPOCRITE.

I don't think this quite works.  Parks are nice, but I don't think they're an entitlement--I could deliver a stirring paean to the joys of public parks, but a UN campaign to provide more playgrounds in the third world wouldn't move me the way that a plea for education or malaria eradication would.

Police and roads, on the other hand, generally are viewed as public goods.  (Yes, yes, anarchocapitalists--I know.  You may excuse yourself to study hall for the rest of the period with a copy of Anarchy, State and Utopia and two cans of Red Bull.)

But they are public goods that the affluent actually use.  There are no wealthy people, even ones living in gated communities, who never share highways with the hoi polloi.  No matter how wealthy you are, you still rely on the police to ensure that you don't get mugged walking into a restaurant, or smashed by a drunk driver as you motor out to the Hamptons.  That's because they are true public goods, as economists use the term:  something from which it is impossible (or in the case of public streets, impractical) to exclude others.  Once they exist, everyone, including the affluent and the powerful, benefits from them, and benefits from improving them.

On the other hand, wealthy people can and do send their kids through sixteen or so years of private education.  One can make a good argument that in the long run, education is a public good--that the network effects of a highly educated populace benefit everyone, including the affluent.  But protecting people from muggers is a tangible benefit in a way that protecting them from a 0.0001% fall in GDP thirty years hence is not.

Politically, education is less of a public good than a positive right.  (A positive right I endorse, by the way).  And that positive right is to a minimum standard of decency, which America's largest school districts are not providing.  If the government is unable to provide that service, then the poor should have the same right as the rich:  the right to look for a better option.  I find myself struggling to understand why so many people think that exercising school choice through a tax-subsidized real estate purchase is "supporting the public schools", while exercising it through a voucher is horrible and destructive.

Will it be perfect?  No it will not.  And if it does work, it will take a long time for the system to adjust to competition.  But we've been doubling down on the current system for 30 years with no result.

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