Alex Massie

Krugman speaks sense on education. He just doesn’t know it.

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I have no interest whatsoever in health policy, but I am interested in education. Paul Krugman's column yesterday mocked one strand of conservative (libertarian actually) education thinking.

So let's end this un-American system and make education what it should be -- a matter of individual responsibility and private enterprise. Oh, and we shouldn't have any government mandates that force children to get educated, either. As a Republican presidential candidate might say, the future of America's education system lies in free-market solutions, not socialist models.

Isn't this a transparently ridiculous argument he suggested, before going on to say, well, that's what we currently have in health care.

But of course Krugman's ridiculous education policy is exactly what I would like to see. It's progress, I suppose, that these arguments are aired on the New York Times' editorial page, even if only to be mocked.

Brian Beutler, among others, reminded Krugman not to be quite so sanguine.

But if he assumes that junking public schools and replacing them with a private system is an idea stuck out on the fringes of the Republican mainstream, then I think he's forgotten what sort of creature the Republican party is.

Frankly Mr Beutler has little reason to be so pessimistic. Vouchers ain't arriving anytime soon (nationally at least), let alone dismantling every aspect of public education. Still, what I always find interesting about the opposition to school choice and other libertarian education dreams is the assumption on the left that you must hate poor kids if you favour this sort of "radical" scheme.

I've never understood this. Vouchers aren't a crazy right-wing notion designed to marginalise the poor; quite the contrary, they're supposed to be a means of giving the poor more choice and greater access to the best and most appropriate education for them. They're an egalitarian measure.

Perhaps that explains why countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden - not normally regarded as homes of right-wing craziness - have done more to make school choice the central plank of their education systems than any other countries in Europe.

It's a long, long struggle to give poor people the same sort of opportunity - in as much as this is possible - enjoyed by the wealthy. The idea of vouchers is not exactly new. Milton Friedman proposed them as far back as... 1955.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietyeducation