Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Should Government Subsidize Education?

That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen: The Unintended Consequences of Government SpendingStaunch fiscal conservatives sometimes entertain or even fervently support the idea of subsidizing higher education. I do not entertain such ideas and neither does education expert James Stanfield from E.G. West Centre in the School of Education at Newcastle University located in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. The Adam Smith Institute published a paper today by Stanfield that makes a very strong case against university subsidies. Stanfield steals a page right out of Frederic Bastiat's playbook. In the book That Which is Seen & That Which is Not Seen, Bastiat asserted that public policy via government intervention tended to result in not just one immediate and visible effect, but a whole host of hidden effects which accrue over time. Stanfield makes his case from this framework.

The case for government subsidies is based entirely on the assumption that it will not only benefit every individual student, but the society as a whole. Stanfield vitiates this writing,

"While it is claimed that the taxpayer will benefit indirectly from his so-called £400 investment, what is not seen is that the taxpayer would still enjoy the indirect benefits of higher education if students funded themselves."

The argument against public education is nothing new. Albert Jay Nock lectured about the ills of government interference in education circa 1930. His talks were compiled into a brilliant work known as The Theory of Education in the United States. The book is made up of a string of lectures given by Nock at the University of Virginia which makes the style interesting and direct. Nock took the issue of education seriously believing it to be a matter that greatly affected the welfare of our republic.

If you have any interest in education, I highly recommend reading both the current and vintage works by Stanfield and Nock. Picking up a copy of Bastiat's classic to read wouldn't hurt either.