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.