RE: Paying for Schools (was: SOCIETY: Re: The privatization ofpub lic security)

From: Miriam English (
Date: Sun Aug 26 2001 - 00:49:57 MDT

Let me say first, that I admire the way your mind works Reason, and regret
having to disagree with you.

At 12:33 PM 24/08/2001 -0700, Reason wrote:

>--> Miriam English []
> > Again, I mention that this might work if we were motivated by economics
> > alone, but it isn't so. People develop allegiances and cartels and
> > anticompetitive practices like price fixing. They use marketing
> > tactics to
> > push shoddy merchandise. They propagate false information using
> > advertising
> > and misleading labels. Companies don't work very well to regulate each
> > other... that is why we have government-funded investigations
> > into illegal
> > operating practices of some companies.
>Your implicit assumption here is that customers are powerless and clueless.
>Why are they powerless and clueless?

Not powerless and clueless... we are very easily duped due to our peculiar
psychology, but there is plenty of evidence to show that we can move beyond
that -- we just have to work at it. Most individuals have traditionally
been fairly powerless against large powerful groups. (It doesn't matter
whether those large groups are governments, corporations, religious groups,
or fashions.)

Happily, the smarter we become and the more effective our communication
then the more powerful the individual becomes. This augurs very well for
the future.

>Because they have been taught to be so
>from birth by a government that reinforces the message "you are powerless
>and clueless" with every new piece of legislation that assumes people can't
>make educated decisions.

Ummmmm... you are right and wrong here. Yes there is some effect there, but
I think the larger part is attributable to a tendency by most people to
acquiesce to the group and its leaders. Remember that the group can be
government, or corporations, or religious groups, or fashion, or tribe,
etc. There is nothing magically malevolent about the government. It is in
fact another group. Its difference is that it is *supposed* to have a
direct responsibility to the people it represents in a democratic
society... sometimes it really does, sometimes it doesn't.

>In a completely free market in which the government performs no oversight,
>the role of oversight and monitoring becomes open to for-profit concerns,
>who will spring up and compete for the dollars that acting in that role can
>bring. Because a corrupt oversight organization is one that will shortly go
>out of business [unless of course, it happens to be the government :) ], you
>have your free market model for self-regulation right there.

OK. We come to the core of our difference here. You have a faith that pure
free market will somehow deliver the most efficient result, and that the
government is singularly ineffective at delivering that.

Remember, when reading this, that I am actually in favor of using the
market. I just don't believe it is *The Answer* alone. Here is a list of
some market failures to show what I mean:

  - The qwerty keyboard was designed by Mr Underwood to slow typists so
that they wouldn't jam the keys of old mechanical typewriters. Now, with
electronic keyboards the qwerty keyboard is a terrible obstacle. The Dvorak
keyboard is very easy to learn and makes it possible to type much faster.
Why hasn't the market taken up the more efficient system? Because it would
be crazy for a secretary to develop their dvorak keyboard skills when they
could be working for another boss soon who demands qwerty skills. That is
not the only cause... but the others are related.

  - The Amiga computer and IBM home computer were developed at around the
same time. The Amiga is a very elegant machine, far ahead of its day. The
IBM was developed with old technology and a stunted operating system. Those
machines grew to dominate the computer scene not because of their
efficiency but because the early adopters of the IBM were the businessmen
and accountants who believed that something from IBM *must* be good. I can
still hear them speaking sneeringly of the Amiga being like a toy because
it had high speed, high resolution, full color graphics and stereo, 4
channel sound with computer speech when the IBM had only 16 color text and
simple beeps and not even a mouse.

  - The internet was almost stunted by market forces in its early stages (see ).

  - how wonderful it would be for the whole world to use universal, easy to
use metric measurements instead of miles/feet/gallons/ounces. In Australia
the government forced that change while businesses whinged about the
short-term pain. In USA, where business interests are more powerful, that
change was never made.

There are many other examples I could give, but you get my point.

The market, while powerful and often a force for good, is not always so.
There are innumerable examples of corrupt businesses and corrupt business
practices. And the market can't be relied upon to eliminate them either, in
fact it can actually entrench them... no matter how inefficient they are.
Money is only one of the motivators for people. Corruption entrenched in
business can be even more difficult to remove than in other groups. It is
worsened by the fact that corruption can enable one to accrue terrific
economic power.

>One would also assume that a completely free market would "evolve" more
>aware, responsible and proactive consumers -- a very good thing in my mind.

You mean one would *hope* that. :-)
People are becoming more aware and responsible. I see little connection
with the free market though. It has some involvement, but doesn't seem to
be central... so far.

As we become smarter and communication improves we become more powerful
individuals. One nice result of that is we need groups of all kinds less
and less (governments, corporations, national groups, racial groups,
intellectual groups). It is the kind of future I hope for one day... but I
think it will be quite a long time in coming... decades, maybe even
centuries, after the singularity. Until then we need to tread a practical path.

Best wishes,

         - Miriam

Q. What is the similarity between an elephant and a grape?
A. They are both purple... except for the elephant.
Virtual Reality Association

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