David Friedman: Education is Far Too Important to be Left to the Government
David Friedman, American economist, physicist, libertarian, and the son of renown American economists Milton and Rose Friedman, talks in defense of his father's views about getting the government out of education.
(see video at the bottom of transcript)
I am David Friedman. A few days ago I found myself in a conversation with a stranger, defending my father's views about getting the government out of education. The man I was arguing with responded that education was too important to be left to the free market. It seemed to me he had it exactly backwards. If I had my choice, I would like to get the government out of both delivering the mail and running the schools, but if I had to choose, I would leave them with the mail. After all, if the government is in charge of delivering the mail, all that means is that some of our letters get lost. If governments are in charge of running the schools, that means that some of our children never learn to read.
Education is important. It is not the only important thing. Consider the same argument applied to food. Surely food is a very important thing, so if important things should be done by government, it seems to imply that the government ought to take over the supermarkets and the farms. The experiment has been tried. In the 1930's in Russia, Stalin collectivized agriculture, the government took over the schools, and several million Ukrainians starved to death.
It reminds me of a conversation I had more than 20 years ago with a couple of Czech students in Vienna. That was the summer that Czechoslovakia tried a little prematurely to move away from communism and the Russians invaded them. The students I was talking with had been caught outside of the country at the time of the invasion and were in Vienna trying to decide whether or not they should go home. They were trying to explain to me what the Czech reformers were trying to do. As they described it, they wanted the best of capitalism and socialism. Part of that was that they wanted to have free market prices for most goods, but have the government control the prices of a few essential commodities such as bread and milk. My response, of course, was that if the free market was really better for the other things, then it was even more important to use the free market for essential commodities.
I may have misunderstood them at that point because I don't speak Czech and their English wasn't very good, but I think they said yes, that is what our professors say too. I figured at that point I knew why the Russians invaded. So, I guess what I am trying to say is that I agree that education is important and it is far too important to be left to the government.