A quick exercise based on previous post

Think about just about any government program.  Here’s one example: Public education.

What problem was it was marketed by politicians (in exchange for votes) and special interests to solve?  Public education was meant to solve the problem of giving everyone equal access to a high quality education.

Has that problem been solved? Public education has given everyone access to education, but not high quality education. In fact, the very people public education was meant to solve this problem for seem to be the very ones with limited choice in escaping low-quality public schools. 

What other trade-offs and unintended consequences has the government solution created?  Public education has many trade-offs and unintended consequences. Just a couple: It has put a high price tag on low quality education. We keep kids in school and away from more productive pursuits, like gaining on-the-job experience and learning a trade, for far too long.

Now you try it. Pick a government program and answer those three questions.  Let me know if you find any where the unequivocal answer to the second question is “yes”.


6 thoughts on “A quick exercise based on previous post

  1. I think that the original idea was that an “educated” electorate was necessary for our democracy to flourish, but that does not mean that public education (which came much later) was meant to give everyone access to “high quality” education. I agree that it was marketed as such, but I’m not altogether convinced that education (as we understand that term) was its purpose and I’m very convinced that its current purpose is NOT education, but rather (1) appeasing parents who would otherwise feel guilty if they admitted that their kids are not getting a quality education, and (2) tp promote the ideology of the left.

    Politicians aren’t really concerned about your child getting an education. They’re concerned about getting your vote and they do this by attempting to make you believe that your child is getting a great education – if you will just pay more tax dollars so they can spend more on education. Admitting the obvious – that our public schools are not educating our kids – would cause too many parents to feel too guilty about “neglecting” their children. So, they participate in the lie that our public schools are great even as they read stories about schools revising the standards for passing because too many students would otherwise fail:


    And I’m sure many parents will simply shrug off the following as inconsequential bias on the part of the teacher rather than recognizing the fact that we allow (and encourage) illiterate and uneducated people to “teach” our kids. (I use the term “teach” only in the sense that her job title is “teacher” as it’s obvious that the kid she’s arguing with knows more she ever will):


    I’m sure many parents will be offended by her obvious bias, but they should be outraged that their tax dollars are being wasted on public schools and ashamed that they are wasting their kids time and future productivity by sending them there.

  2. I really want to play but I can’t come up with much. National security? Treaties with foreign governments? I really should assume you mean activities outside of those specified in the constitution…

    I did just listen to a Cato podcast that says the goal of homeownership has many positive externalities which could make the case for the government promoting it, but the government’s activities limiting the supply of homes is what really screws up the true market. It was an interesting case. Want me to dig up the link?

    What about some other situations with significant negative externalities? Pollution and waste? I don’t know why those would necessarily need to be federal programs, though.

    What about airwaves? Did I bring that one up a year ago (or do) when you first started this game? What alternative system could replace the FCC stopping just anybody from broadcasting from their homes with high-powered transmitters and not letting me hear a station clearly? I’m sure there could be another way, but I can’t think of a market that’s all that similar… Noise pollution? That’s pretty effectively managed by local governments. Could airwaves be managed similarly?

    • I’m not just limiting the exercise to the federal government.

      Was general defense or foreign treaties something marketed by politicians to solve a problem in exchange for votes? I don’t believe so. I believe those were identified as the legitimate functions of a sovereign government, just like collecting homeowner’s association dues from me and fellow homeowners to maintain my subdivision’s pool and monuments were identified as legitimate functions of that body.

      Pollution controls is a great one. If you have visited areas without them, you might be quick to say that they have solved the problem. So I’m open for discussion on that one. Though, I would consider while some of the ‘clean-up’ came from regulations, I think a good deal came from social norms changing. We grew richer and didn’t mind paying the extra price for cleanliness.

      I agree the FCC could probably have a private and/or local equivalent. It may not be perfect, but neither is the FCC. But, at least the FCC deals with property rights and served a similar role as government when land was originally parsed out. But, I’m not sure if politicians really marketed a case for a problem to be solved by the FCC to voters and I’m not sure what good they do, other than enforcing property rights (which solves the problem you mentioned). I personally don’t need the FCC dictating which words I can hear on the airwaves. I’m not a child. I can turn the channel if I don’t like what I hear.

      I was really thinking more along the lines of social programs — maybe I should have specified that — that were marketed and continue to be marketed specifically to buy votes like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, college education for all, emergency medical care act of 1986, home ownership for all, unemployment insurance and things like that.

    • Also, send me the link to the podcast. Certainly, there are lots of programs that have cost-benefit analyses that sound good on paper. The problem is that they are often wrong. They mess up cause-effect, over state positive effects, ignore negative effects and unintended consequences and ignore what happens when you change the incentives.

      Are the positive externalities from home ownership or from people who have developed responsible habits to meet the test of trials of qualifying for home ownership (in the old days) and having a substantial equity stake?

      • Yea, you’re right, I took a few liberties with your question and applied my own interpretation. But I think you could say that national defense is something republicans have promised to “fix” for us…

        http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=8940 Here’s the link to the podcast I listened to. They have video too but I can’t watch that at 3x in the car. It’s a book forum and the speaker is Randall O’Toole, author of “American Nightmare: How Government Undermines the Dream of Homeownership”.

        You might verify from the podcast but he was saying the benefits do come from the actual process of ownership, things like being invested in the community, I believe.


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