Tough on education, tough on the causes of education

Everywhere I look this week, I find arguments on education funding. From legitimate political organisations to tasteless and puerile satirists, everyone’s talking about how to pay for education.

Now, “choice” in education (other than adult education) is patently a nonsensical concept – the consumer, being a child, can’t make a rational choice. This is why the state needs to be involved.

Any economically rational person would take the amount of education required to give them basic reading/writing/numeracy skills; the vast majority would take more. Unless a person was an extremely proficient sportsperson or skilled manual worker, they’d be willing to pay a great deal for this.

Since children aren’t economically rational people, this doesn’t work. And while their parents may be rational, it’s not clear that a parent’s interests in this sphere are necessarily exactly in line with the child’s. Many – indeed, most – parents both understand the value of education and are willing to make major sacrifices to ensure their child receives it. But not all.

This means that in the absence of external intervention, any education system will benefit children whose parents meet the “value” and “sacrifice” criteria above far more than those whose parents don’t. Assuming a lack of perfect capital markets, parents with ready cash will also have advantages (you can’t borrow the fees for Eton – or to hire a private tutor – using your child’s prospective earnings if they become an erudite merchant banker as collateral).

So state intervention in education has two important functions: to force reluctant parents to invest in their child’s education; and to permit parents who wish to invest in their child’s education but are restricted by financial constraints to do so.

The most efficient way to ensure this happens is to:

1) establish an enormous centralised bureaucracy to run all schools
2) ensure that parental income, above any other consideration, is the main determinant of education quality
3) ensure that the system’s biggest beneficiaries are parents who both wanted to, and were able to, fully fund their child’s education anyway

Wait, no. That’s just what actually happens in the UK and (+/-) the rest of the developed world. Maybe that’s why this is such a hot issue…

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2 thoughts on “Tough on education, tough on the causes of education

  1. Interesting to determine who education is supposed to benefit.
    I can see 3 alternatives:
    1) Education is for the benefit of children; this will provide the best possible starting conditions for a happy adult life (which may well include earning power). Children do not pay for education so money is no object. Unfortunately children have no voice and have to represented by their parents.
    2) Education is for the benefit of Parents; this will be similar to 1 except that they will try to limit the cost of education (except for their children) as they are paying.
    3) Education is for the benefit of the State; The majority will get just enough education to be productive, a select few will be given more expensive education in order to be leaders.

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