Having your public schools and eating them too

(Well, okay, replacing “cake” with “school” doesn’t really work here, but hey! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

I wanted to post a quick rebuttal to one of National’s policies here, as Katie reminded me about it in comments and I think it’s actually really important to talk about why it’s “privatisation by stealth”, to steal a turn of phrase from Mr. Key.

I’m talking specifically about National’s idea that all taxpayers deserve the funding they pay for public hospitals and schools, even if they choose to use private businesses instead. While I’d love this to be practical, it simply ignores the point of public funding. (Part of the reason I think this policy’s heart is in the right place is that I agree with the principle that every individual should get the most possible gain from the taxes they give to society that is consistent with a fair overall social policy. The Nats just seem to have no care with the “fair overall social policy” part of the principle.)

The point of public education and healthcare is to provide “enough and as good”1 education and healthcare to those who, due to lack of privilege, did not have adequate opportunity to pay for it directly. This is especially important in the case of education, as otherwise poor parents are going to guarantee poor, uneducated children. It has to be well-funded, because unlike private businesses, if a public school or hospital doesn’t get the revenue it needs, people miss out on the opportunity for these basic services. If a private business goes bust or has to cut services due to revenue loss, on the other hand, its customers are far more likely to be able to afford to take their business elsewhere.

So, being able to transfer your taxpayer dollars to a private institution (presumably via some sort of voucher) only works if we deliberately overfund the public institutions in anticipation of people transferring funds away from them, or if we don’t care that public schools might not have the money to properly educate kids, or we don’t care if public hospitals might not be able to afford important surgeries or preventative health initiatives.

In short: There’s a very good reason the state “double-dips” people who choose private health or education by taxing them for the public stuff. It’s because you’re paying for the people who can’t afford it. You’re buying them civilisation. Which is pretty cool, and very patriotic. Good on you. ๐Ÿ˜‰

1Locke, in many ways a forerunner of libertarianism, believed you’re allowed to take whatever resources you want from the world as long as you leave “enough and as good” for everyone else- meaning that if you come across an apple tree, and know there are three other people who could conceivably find it that like apples, you can only take a quarter of the apples, and you have to take bad ones as well as good ones, so that other people can get apples just as good as the ones you took. While it has problems in terms of encouraging over-consumption, it’s a good principle for public services.


2 thoughts on “Having your public schools and eating them too

  1. You seem to make the assumption that state-run institutions are less efficient than private ones, as they need more funding to do the same job. You say that state institutions must be over-funded with regards to public facilities providing the same service.

    If you are correct, we really do need the ability to shift our state funding to private institutions to ensure it is used more efficiently.

    If the same state funding is available for everyone, such as The Family Party proposal to have funding following the child in education, then even poor families can choose where to send their children. They can keep sending their children to state schools, or send them to private schools if they prefer. It is also possible for someone to set up a private school in a poor area, as they have a guaranteed level of state funding per child and can budget on this, rather than the current situation where only state schools will be set up in poor areas. Funding following the child will most benefit poor people, and make little difference to the wealthy who can already afford private education.

    Arguing that state institutions need more money does not justify giving them more, rather it justifies giving the money to private institutions.

  2. State-funded institutions cover people that can’t afford it, which often means they need to do harder work, and need to be involved with other social services that deal with the most disadvantaged.

    But yes, to a degree, the job of state services isn’t to be perfectly efficient. (although aiming for a good level of efficiency is a great idea) Why not? Because perfect efficiency is mutually exclusive with covering everyone. The most efficient services are those that cater to specific subgroups of the population. The public education and health systems cannot afford to do that.

    And no, I don’t argue that state institutions need more money. I argue that they’ll need more money if we let people take away their existing funding, like National is planning to do, but still expect them to provide adequate coverage to anyone who wants it.

    Also- does your proposal include mandating that private schools charge no more than the state funding level? Even then the competition wouldn’t exactly be fair due to historic funding advantages and asset disparity, but at least this would keep an uneven playing field from getting worse.

    Funding following the child only benefits the poor if the poor can get their children into any school. If private schools can freely reject anyone they like, then we potentially have a problem. As it is, why would anyone go to a public school if they could go to a private school for free and benefit from the fact that they’ve procured better funding from parents in the past?

    Essentially, my point is this: It’s only fair to transfer money from public services to private services if private services have the same “public service” mandate, cannot turn people away, and are not already better-funded. I should point out also that transferring funding to where patients and students are going creates a “whoever has more gets more” situation, where people always want to go to the most popular school/hospital.

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