David Schmidtz at the University of San Diego on “Markets in Education”

A quick note for those of you in the San Diego area. The political philosopher David Schmidtz, with whose work many readers of this blog will be familiar, is going to be giving a public lecture at my institution, the University of San Diego, next Monday, February 9th, at 6:00 PM. The talk is free, and there will be a reception beforehand at the lovely Garden of the Sea, overlooking Mission Bay.

The title of David’s talk is “Markets in Education.” Here’s the blurb:

Should education be bought and sold on the market? Markets sometimes produce inequalities. But what matters more – that people have equal access to education, or that they have adequate access? Food is at least as important to human well-being as education, and we generally trust the market to handle the production and distribution of food. Why should different standards apply to education? If our system of education were as private as our system of supermarkets, what would be the problem?

More details on the Facebook page for the event, or here for you non-FBers.

I hope to see a lot of you there! Feel free to come up and say hi before or afterwards.

  • Drew Stonebraker

    Will the event be recorded?

  • Jerome Bigge

    If the objective is to educate children, we should pay for success, not failure. Establish a voucher system that only pays for success that is open to everyone, not just educational professionals. As Yoda said, “There is no Try…” The three skills every child has to learn is “To be able to read grade level”, “To be able to do math at grade level”. To be able “To write” at grade level”. Everything else is secondary to this. I’d add the requirement of a public library card and weekly transportation to the library to access the books there.

  • Sean II

    I doubt this’ll be part of the discussion, but it should be:

    An up-to-date understanding of A) Heredity, and B) Signaling suggests that we should NOT go around comparing freed education markets to supermarkets.

    People like groceries, and groceries mostly work. Plus it makes a big difference to human health whether you eat or not. None of this holds for education. People don’t like school, schools rarely work, and for most people it makes no difference whether they learn what is taught there. With grocery stores you must actually eat the food to gain the benefit. With schools, you just need the receipt as proof of purchase. These are not trivial differences.

    A better analogy would be fitness centers. These are quite useful to a handful of people who were blessed with good bodies to begin with, and who merely wish to sharpen them up, or show off what they have. For everyone else, fitness centers are at best indifferent, at worst humiliating. The indifference is for those clever slobs who figure out the place isn’t for them. The humiliation is for those poor saps who believe a gym membership can really be transformative, and who put themselves through the dual shame of sending a check in every month, just for the right to appear half-naked in the presence of their physical betters. The saving grace is, most of them quit before Valentine’s Day.

    So the real prediction we should be making about a freed education market is: there’ll be a lot of confused optimism driving enrollments in August, but by late September, the suckers will stop showing up, and the smart kids will pretty much have the place to themselves.

    • cstory

      A fitness center does make for a better analogy, but your prediction that enrollment will be driven by confused optimism underestimates a well designed market place. Just as there is an optimal exercise regimen for every body type there is an optimal education for every mind.

      • Sean II

        Right, but for many people the best exercise regimen they’re able to follow is just some mundane physical activity, consistently performed – walking the dog, saying no to the golf cart, etc. I’m talking about those guys you meet who, even in their wedding tux, manage to look like andromorphic clumps of dough.

        The analogous people in an education market would be those for whom the optimal from of schooling is: K –> 8 + get a job.

        Most people would consider that not schooling, so it seems weird to call it an “optimal education of every mind”. Because what we’re really saying is: for some minds the optimal amount of education is just enough to warehouse yo’ dumb ass until Burger King has need of it.

        I realize that sounds bad, which is probably why Schmidtz prefers to tell his audience a weird lie to the effect that “markets sometimes produce inequality”.

        Yeah, no‚Ķthe inequality that counts when it comes to education has jack to do with markets. It’s been here long before they were. The only thing a market could do with that inequality is REVEAL it. As if, that is, it weren’t obvious enough now.

      • Farstrider

        “Just as there is an optimal exercise regimen for every body type there is an optimal education for every mind.”

        This may be true, but the problem is no one knows their “optimal education.” And without perfect knowledge, as we all learned in economics 101, the hypothetical efficiencies of the free market go unrealized.

  • cstory

    Equal vs. adequate is a false dichotomy in this case, an equal understanding of a history, language, and body of law is essential to political equality and social stability. Whereas access to a pedagogical market place in all other fields serves us well.

    • Sean II

      People differ far too much in cognitive ability for there to be anything resembling an “equal understanding of history, language, and body of law”.

      It follows: if that really is “essential to political equality and social stability”, we can go ahead and stop holding our breath for either.

      • Farstrider

        Yeah, I think cstory meant an adequate understanding – still probably a pipe dream but at least a less crazy one.

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