Unholy Coalition

At the 2:40 mark of this video, Milton Friedman says this about government programs:

There are always…two groups of sponsors.  There are the well-meaning sponsors and there are the special interests who use the well-meaning sponsors as front men.  Who, almost always, when you have bad programs, have an unholy coalition with the do-gooders on the one hand and the special interests on the other.

The do-gooders focus on the intentions of government programs and either do not pay attention to results or are quick to explain away bad results as a problem that can be fixed if we just spend more money or find the right people.  It never seems to occur to these people that perhaps the incentives are poor and the system is broken.  Maybe we should change those incentives before doing anything else.

The special interests are the folks who get a paycheck from public education — or benefit in other ways (like tenure with bad results)– be they teachers, administrators, consultants, business owners who have the custodial contracts — just about anyone feeding off the public school district funding.

As commenter Lane Meyer pointed out when he replied to this post, the special interests who benefit from economic rents created by the public school system have incentives to keep getting those rents, which provide political barriers to changing the system for the better.

We expect those in the private sector to practice full disclosure.  If a business commentator mentions a stock he owns, we expect him to mention that so we can take his comments with a grain of salt.  I find it amazing that we don’t have the same expectations in the public sector.

When the do-gooders and the special interests combine into their unholy coalitions” we get a political force that’s tough to beat.  And we may get a lot of creative, consultant-inspired rhetoric to the question, why should any student have to settle for a neighborhood school that’s awful?