Occasional Notes: Stuff I Too Easily Agree With


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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9 Responses

  1. Avatar Freddie says:

    Ditto all that to health care.

    That’s a joke, right? I mean what with the whole discussion of the important of nuance and individual difference in what you quote, and then you saying “Ditto all that”? That’s got to be some arch, dry joke, right?Report

    • The things I quoted are almost entirely applicable to health care. Consider:

      There is a persistent tendency among [health care providers], and left-leaning folks in general, to claim that [health care] is a distinct type of good, so that unlike other goods, a competitive market is an inferior way to produce it. [Personal anecdote deleted — admittedly not applicable.] But I have yet to hear one of these folks make an argument for why [health care] is so distinct. It’s rather remarkable how persuasive they find the words, “it’s just different,” to be.

      And [health care] is different in some ways. Quality assurance is just really damned hard (and standardized testing doesn’t do it). And it is primarily a private good, but one with substantial positive externalities. But neither of those make it peculiarly appropriate for monopoly production, or even for wholly (as opposed to partially) public production.

      Seems about right to me.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        If you see price as a signal, and you see price’s relationship to supply/demand as a rule analogous to laws of physics, it’s very easy to start seeing price signals in places like health care, education, and so on.

        The wacky thing is that if you start doing this, you start noticing that the government’s one and only response to a price signaling greater growth in rate of demand than the rate of growth in rate of supply is to increase demand.


        And the general response to “that’s a bad policy that will make things worse” is some variant of “you don’t care” with a dash of “at least making things worse is doing *SOMETHING*”.Report

  2. Avatar David Hovis says:


    I’ve been trying to find the time to respond here properly. I thought about replying to James directly on Positive Liberty, but I know you.

    I need to preface this by mentioning that I am part of a group that is actively working to start a charter school in my neighborhood of Cleveland for the fall of 2011. Which puts me in a good position to talk about charter schools and public schools. We’ve been studying them intently and we have many people in our group who have been working on these issue for years.

    Most of the charter schools in Cleveland have something important in common. They suck. Badly. There are a few exceptions, but I can list them on one hand, reserving one finger for a charter that I’m unaware of. Most of the charter schools in Cleveland underperform the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), itself an incredibly low bar.

    James and You seem to think that the free market system will eventually shake out the bad charter schools and the good ones will thrive, but we aren’t heading in that direction. The crappy cookie-cutter ones that are little more than test-prep programs (and the kids still fail the test) are multiplying. The few good ones find expansion slow and difficult because they are concerned about quality.

    The reason for this is actually pretty simple, once I learned the answer. The incentive structure is twisted. Academic quality is not the driver that causes parents to send their kids to charter schools. In fact, the priority list for choosing a school typically looks like this:

    1) Safety
    2) They care about my child

    If academic quality comes into it, it is a distant third. Worse, parents typically have no idea how to judge a school’s academics.

    So to get parents to send their kids to a charter, all you have to do is convince them of #1 and #2. Since the default perception of CMSD (like most urban districts) is that the schools are not safe, you don’t really have to do much. Unfortunately, it also incentivizes charters to inflate the perception of unsafety of the public schools. Whether it is true or not, it is good for business. Charters (particularly for-profit ones) also have a nasty habit of just pushing out the kids that are in any way problematic and just dump them back on the public system.

    Anyway, my primary point is just that the incentive structure for charters does not lead to a good education in a free market system. It just leads to schools that a perceived to be safe, where the kids are cared for, but anything else (such as actually educating), can be cut for profit.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Well, I did call it stuff I “too easily” agree with.

      It’s clear you can’t say “charter schools are good” with no qualifications. The policy of having charter schools is good only insofar as these schools encourage individual initiative and the development of new approaches to learning, and then to the extent that these new approaches succeed. It stands to reason (a) that these approaches are out there, mostly undiscovered, thanks to rapidly advancing technology and (b) that public schools are ill-equipped to find them.

      Will charter schools do better? A lot depends on the rules permitting them to come into being, which vary from one system to the next. Cleveland’s may just not be all that good, but I’d want to make a very detailed study of the problem before I concluded anything.Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I often feel like I’m way behind the tech curve because I have no cell phone and only understood what an IPod is about a year ago (my wive has owned one for three years). The reason there will continue to be street signs is for people like me, who actually went to a wedding last summer and after getting driven all over Brooklyn by friends said to my wife, “It was the damnedest thing! They all had these things in their cars that told them where to go! I have no idea how it knew that.” Happily for me though my wife was also unfamiliar with GPS.Report

  4. Avatar Louis B. says:

    The fallacy here is that charter schools = a competitive market.

    What’s fishy is that the whole witch hunt against Toyota comes hot on the trail of calls by the new Japanese government to end the occupation of Okinawa.Report