I’m only kidding, but Bryan has responded to my challenge for him to provide a conceivable story where more vouchers and charter schools lead to an education system that is more “statist” than the status quo, and I’m afraid his reply raises more questions than it answers. Here is his story:
Once vouchers create a massive industry that is almost entirely dependent on vouchers, the industry incessantly propagandizes and lobbies for ever-larger subsidies? Public schools, teachers’ unions, etc. already do this, of course. But I’m worried that the private sector’s public and government relations would be slicker and more energetic.
This is not an implausible story. But it sounds like a ringing endorsement for pushing for more choice. If the only blowback that occurs comes after reform has been more successful than anyone would dream, then I would say Bryan’s precautions about pushing for choice are not important here. This is like telling a kid it’s not worth trying to be an astronaut when he grows because he’ll be bored on the moon. “What? So the only possible downside to trying occurs once I’m on the moon and have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams?”
Even if Bryan’s right it’s not too much blowback if you ask me. If you don’t educate your youth properly you end up paying for it later with higher crime rates, lower human capital, and expensive government efforts to fix these things. So I wouldn’t mind spending too much money on an effective school system rather than just the right amount of money on an ineffective one.
In the end Bryan recognizes his “blowback” scenario would be an improvement over the current system and summarizes his position, thusly:
Given a choice between choice and the status quo, I’d still probably choose choice. But given a choice between choice and austerity, austerity’s the way to go.
I’m glad to see Bryan agreeing at least that more choice and free market reforms are good things, which is a healthy step back from his suspicion that “‘constructive’ free-market reforms like Social Security privatization, school choice, Medicare vouchers, etc. are largely a waste of libertarians’ political capital.” If austerity isn’t on the table and choice is much more likely to succeed, than it’s not a waste of political capital to push for something that Bryan agrees is better than the status quo and won’t result in any blowback until it has succeeded far beyond any reformer’s dreams.
An interesting implication is that if Bryan prefers austerity over choice then surely he must be willing to buy austerity at the cost of choice, which sounds more like Ezra Klein that Bryan Caplan and, yes, just a little bit like a socialist. Would Bryan be willing to accept a completely government run disbursement of food for the poor in exchange for a 10% decrease in food stamps? Shouldn’t he also support a public option for health care? Would he sacrifice all existing charter schools, which only account for 3% of students in the U.S., for a 3% decrease in public school spending? In what programs would he be willing to trade less choice for more austerity?
Overall I think Bryan needs to walk his claim back even further and state that sometimes austerity is better than choice, but sometimes choice is better than austerity.