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The state’s education monopoly increases prices and destroys choice

by Ron Paul

Whenever the state intervenes in a market to restrict entry by sellers, it results in higher prices. Customers are not able to buy the kinds of goods and services they want, at a price they are willing to pay. So the producers who would otherwise have entered the market are forced to enter other markets. These markets are less profitable than the restricted markets. Customers in the regulated markets are worse off, and so are marginal suppliers who leave those markets.

We can see this principle at work in the market for education. The supply of education is limited by government restrictions on academic certification. Teachers must go through a specified regimen at the college level in order to be eligible to teach in the nation’s tax-funded school systems. This reduces the supply of teachers who can legally be hired by local school districts. Furthermore, restrictions on school construction by private entrepreneurs limit the amount of competition tax-funded schools face.

So, parents are compelled to send their children to school, but the state restricts the number of schools available to parents. This creates a near monopoly of education, kindergarten through twelfth grade, for the state. The state uses tax funding to build schools, and it uses the regulatory system to restrict the creation of rival schools. This is the classic mark of a monopoly.

The free-market solution is open entry and competition. Competition may be in the form of quality. Some parents want very-high-quality education for their children, and are willing to pay a great deal of money to purchase it. They would not have to pay as much money if there were open entry into the local market for schools. Other parents cannot afford the best education for their children, because they do not have enough money. So, they want price-competitive education. This is also made available by entrepreneurs in the field of private education. These entrepreneurs can decide which programs are affordable for which parents, and which programs will meet the demands of specific parents. As more schools come onstream, the range of choice for parents increases. This is the standard definition of what constitutes economic growth. Economic growth takes place when customers can buy more goods and services than they were able to buy prior to the increase in economic growth …

Bureaucrats in the field of education, which is almost exclusively nonprofit education, have a bias against price-competitive academic programs. They assume that these programs are of low quality. They think it is a good idea to close the market to sellers of any kinds of curriculum not certified by educational bureaucrats. They have greater control over the content and structure of education when they can restrict entry into the marketplace. In the name of helping children, these promoters of self-interested restrictions on entry conceal the fact that they are able to exercise greater power over education and then charge more for the privilege of doing so.

This is why libertarians believe that there should be open entry into the field of education. They do not trust state bureaucrats to act on behalf of parents, especially parents who have a particular view of the best methodology and content for the education of their children. The bureaucrats operate in their own self-interest, which is to expand their power and income. …

There should not be anything resembling a government monopoly of education. Standards that govern the public school system locally should not be imposed on parents who decide to remove their children from that system. Without freedom of parental choice in education, the state will pursue a policy of extending its monopoly over education. Tenured, state-funded bureaucrats will then use this monopoly to screen out ideas that call into question the legitimacy of government interference in many areas of life, including education. The government does not have to burn books in order to persuade the next generation of voters of ideas that favor the government. The government need only screen out books and materials that are hostile to the expansion of the state.

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