Bottoms up experimentation — update

After writing this post about how nice it is to have 50 states doing things differently so we can find out what works better, it occurred to me that I should note that this competition among government exists at even more local levels.

My parents, who are sometimes prone to believe that there should be just one way of doing things (the ‘right way’) and the Federal government should just do it that way, once benefited from competition among public school districts.

As I wrote about here, I also benefited from this competition.

My parents decided to move from the school district where they were educated to a competing school district seven miles away so my brother and I could get a better education. They felt that their school district had shifted priorities away from education toward political agendas and didn’t like it.

They could have organized campaigns to elect better board members. They could have run for the school board themselves. But those actions were long shots. Even if they got on the school board, they’d still need to battle the other school board members who wanted to use schools as a social experiment.

Moving to a district that was working was a surer bet and it involved no conflict. They could go about their lives and their kids could receive a good quality education at the same price. It was good and practical for them to have that choice.

This competition is a key element that folks ignore when they ask questions like, “we’ve socialized roads, police, school and fire departments, why not health care?”

The roads, police, school and fire departments are all little experiments. They all do things a little differently. If they do their job poorly, the residents — like my parents — can choose  to move to place where they think does it better. If one department discovers a way to do things better, the other road, police, school and fire departments can choose to adopt those innovations. If they don’t, they might lose citizens.

In this sense, “socialized” roads, police, school and fire departments are much more like businesses competing in a free market than anything socialized.

They compound their mistake when they use these localized, competing government departments as an analogy for something that would be truly socialized like a single, government-run medical system.

It was easier for my parents to move seven miles than to fight the bureaucrats of their local school district. When folks argue for a single, government-run medical system they’re arguing for removing choices like that.


4 thoughts on “Bottoms up experimentation — update

  1. Seth, it’s likely that your education at a higher quality public school did NOT come at the same price. To borrow from Bastiat’s title, “That Which is Seen and That Which is not Seen”, the costs that were seen in regards to your public school education may have been the same (or similar), but a recent Brookings Institute study shows that the unseen costs (such as the price of the house in the better school district) were most certainly greater. While I’m sure that these higher costs were offset by a better education – otherwise your parents would not have been willing to pay more – it’s important that we not dismiss them when we examine the real costs of government run enterprises.

    • Good point Mike. That’s right. I was only thinking about the property tax rate and education spending per pupil when I wrote that. Indeed my parents did pay more for the house in the new neighborhood and part of that higher price may have been due to the market demand driven by families looking to settle there.

      But, a good investment is a good investment. That higher price was also offset by the fact that that home maintained its value and appreciated with inflation. The old home lost value against against inflation — partly due to people moving from the district.

      So, to steal one of your lines, they really couldn’t afford not to move — and the higher home price isn’t really a ‘cost’ if it maintains its value.

  2. Pingback: Innovation welfare | Our Dinner Table

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