Independent Institute Speech - Part 2
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Peter Brimelow and John Merrifield spoke at the Independent Policy Forum Thursday, February 20, 2003. We're economically posting the Brimelow portion of the forum. For John Merrifield's remarks, click here.

David Theroux

Thank you very much, John. My next speaker is someone who has been a friend of mine for many years. Peter Brimelow is currently a columnist for CBS Marketwatch. He's a former senior editor at Forbes. His new book is this one right here, called The Worm in the Apple, which I highly recommend to anyone here and beyond.

Peter was born in England. He was educated at Sussex. He received his MBA in the Bay Area here from Stanford University. He's also been a media fellow with the Hoover Institution. He was a recipient of a Fulbright Award and also a Stanford scholarship.

He's received numerous awards, including the Royal Bank/Toronto Press Club Award. He's also had quite an extensive career in the media. He was a staff writer for the Financial Post in Toronto, business editor at McLean's, economic counsel for Senator Orrin Hatch, associate editor at Fortune. He's a senior editor at National Review, contributing editor at Barron's, and so forth.

He's the author of many other books, and his articles have appeared in many top newspapers and magazines. I'm very pleased to introduce Peter Brimelow. [Applause]

Peter Brimelow

Columnist, CBS Marketwatch

Thank you, David. Thank you, John. When do you want me to stop?

David Theroux

Half an hour from now.

Peter Brimelow

Half an hour! [Laughter] These people want to go to bed. OK.

David Theroux

Central time. Oh, you're on Eastern time.

Peter Brimelow

You know, at the time of Nation of Risk, as John mentioned, in 1983, I was at Fortune magazine. And they came to me. Fortune's kind of a top-down operation, and they came to me and said, "We have to do something about the public school crisis, and you have write the story." And so I said this was a very poor idea because I hadn't gone to an American school, obviously. And at that time, we didn't have children, so I had no first-hand experience. And finally, it was summer and the schools were shut. They replied, "This will make you objective." [Laughter]

And guess what? They were right. I approached the school system as a financial journalist would approach any industry—the baked bean industry, it doesn't make any difference. It's a question of input versus output, which is, what's the best output to what the input is?

Now this is completely and totally antithetical to the way the education industry looks at itself, and for that matter, the way most education writers that write about it. Their attitude is: education is good, more education is better. Education spending is good, more education spending is better. They have no sense of margin utility. Is that the term, John? Thank you. [Laughter]

So in the 20 years since Nation at Risk came out—you can argue about results, which are basically flat. The test scores, as far as we can tell, there's been no dramatic improvement since the Nation at Risk. But one thing you can't argue about is that the system is now fantastically more expensive than it was 20 years ago. Costs have gone up, in real terms, per pupil sort of spending, has risen, adjusted for inflation, by something like 40 percent. There are various ways of measuring productivity, it's an interesting concept. The productivity is down 35 to 40 percent in this system in just 20 years.

Now, this is unique in the American economy. There's no other area where you see this continuous productivity decline. There are never any productivity increases in education, in spite of typewriters, television, computers, and videos, which your children spend more time watching in public schools than you may think. There's never any kind of productivity increases.

John's making the point that the experiments—and they are experiments that are being conducted in vouchers—at the moment don't have clear results on the qualitative side as far as the quality of the testing, the output goes. Except maybe for African-Americans. There's some evidence it's helped them.

But there's a secondary issue here, which is one of the principle points I'm making in my book, These experiments are cheaper. The kids are being turned out at lower cost, and that's an end in itself to me, as a financial journalist, if you can get the cost down.

The Public School System as a Socialist Industry

But the problem—as soon as you look at the education system in this context—what you realize immediately, of course, is that we're looking at a socialist industry. I used to compare it to the Soviet farm system, which as you know, turned Russia from being a grain exporter to being a grain importer, and they experienced 70 years of bad weather at harvest time. [Laughter] Then the Soviet farm system went away, so we're left with American school system, which is still very much here. And there are certain symptoms which you can always find.

One, there is the politicized allocation of resources—decisions about what's going to be spent on are made through a political process, not through any kind of a market process. And that's a big problem in terms of efficiency. For example, generally speaking, for political reasons we now mainstream handicapped children. That's fantastically expensive. It's responsible, all by itself, for about a third of the cost increase. And it's not clear that's the best use of resources, or that that environment is best for the children.

The second symptom of socialism is proliferating bureaucratic overhead. I've got a lot of numbers about this in The Worm in the Apple. Fifty years ago, there were three teachers in the school system for every adult who wasn't a teacher. In other words, administrators, guidance counselors, whatever they are, who weren't in the classroom, there were three teachers. Now the ratio is almost one-to-one. There's almost one non-teaching adult in the system for every teacher. There are about half a dozen states in the country where I find there are more adults out of the schools in the education system. They're in the central headquarters and so on. They never see a kid from one day's end to another because they're entirely in the headquarters.

Another symptom of socialism, the third symptom, is the chronic mismatching of supply and demand. And in Russia, this used to take the form of the left boot factory producing more than the right boot factory did. [Laughter] In the teaching system it's gluts in various things, followed by shortages. We've had a teacher shortage, and there's some evidence now we're going to have a teacher glut in California. It's an endless cycle of chronic mismatching of supply and demand.

A fourth symptom of socialism, which you are all familiar with, is the constant quest for top-down panaceas. There are no solutions coming up from the bottom, so solutions have to be imposed from the top. In the Soviet system it took the form of plowing the virgin lands or using more fertilizer, preferably financed with Western bank loans, all this sort of thing. All these panaceas usually involve more input.

In the American school system, the government school system, it takes the form of various fads that go through the system, such as whole language, or open classrooms—or closed classrooms, or just ajar classrooms, or any kind of classroom. [Laughter] There's an endless series of fads like this. And this is inevitable in the system, because that's the only way you can get any change.

I have to say I think the President's plan of No Child Left Behind is in itself a type of a fad. It's equivalent to sort of going out and shooting a few peasants to make them work harder. And it will produce results in the short run, but in the long run, I don't think it is going to produce results.

And a final symptom of socialism is qualitative and quantitative collapse, and that's what we see in the system, particularly on the quantitative side, on the cost side. This is my contribution to the school debate, we should be worrying more about costs. Forget about the output. Let's assume the output is constant, let's just get the cost down. And if you are a California taxpayer, you're going to be thinking this a lot in the next little while, because basically over half of local spending is the schools. And about 70 percent of that spending is teacher salaries. That's what's driving the budget crisis across the country.

The Teachers Unions

Now, having taught about the apple, the education system, I'm going to turn to the worm, the teachers' union—the teacher unions. You know, about 100 years ago, a number of muckraking journalists, on whom I model myself, made the discovery that there were these national corporations starting to come into existence, and they were essentially acting like monopolies. And they were monopolies. Standard Oil and so on. And this was a bad thing. And they called them trusts. In those days they used to call monopolies trusts. Now what we have here is a teacher trust. The way the union works is it attempts to monopolize and restrict the supply of labor in order to get the prices up. The teacher trust.

Now, it was said back in the 19th century that the tariff is the mother of trusts. Very important point. What it means is if you could get imports, cheap imports coming in, they would undermine a domestic monopoly. So the tariff is a public policy that makes it possible for the trust to come into existence. Similarly, I think the government school system is itself the mother of the teacher trust. It's a political system, and it responds to political action. And that's what the teacher union is good at.

The National Education Association has been around since the Civil War, 150 years or something. But it was literally a National Education Association most of its existence. It only became a union in the 1960s. It was actually illegal for public employees generally to unionize until the 1960s. And that the reason it was illegal is that even labor advocates like FDR and George Meany at the AFL/CIO thought that it would simply create a situation of impossible power, that you would have a monopoly on top of a monopoly. You'd have a monopoly supply of labor to a monopoly service.

In the case of education, there's actually a third level of the monopoly, which is the compulsory attendance laws. The consumers are forced to consume. So for that reason, they felt that public employee unions, and particularly teachers, were a bad idea. And they were right. It turns out that 30 years later, this has been a disaster. It's created a monster.

But you know this often happens in the economy. When you have a very dynamic and fluid but also structured system like the U.S. economy, it happens from time to time that there's kind of an institutional glitch and some group gets itself in a position where it can extort rents. How would you define rents, John? Basically, it's money. They can extort money from the rest of the system.

John Merrifield

Excess profit.

Peter Brimelow

Is there such a thing as an excess profit? Let's not get into that. [Laughter] Anyway, I mean, I'm old enough to remember when this was the case with stockbrokers. Are there any stockbrokers in the room? There was a time when you couldn't negotiate sales commission rates as a buyer of stock. So these big institutions, like the insurance companies, were buying these huge blocks of stock and paying retail commissions on them, so it made a lot of institutional salesmen very rich for a while, until they were forced to start negotiating commissions.

I would say another example—before deregulation, airline deregulation. Another example, I would say, is the plaintiff lawyers right now. The interaction of contingency fees, on the one hand, and the tort crisis on the other, the liability crisis on the other, has made a lot of trial lawyers very rich. But the interesting thing about all these glitches—eventually people figure out what's happened, they do something about it, and they go away. And that's what's going to happen with the teachers union, the teacher trust.

There was actually nothing inevitable about this development, that teachers would go to a sort of industrial union model of organizing. At the very moment that they did it, it turned out that the union movement was entering an historic decline. Fewer and fewer Americans are involved in unions in the private sector. It really is the public sector that's keeping the union movement going.

That's a big problem for the unions right now, by the way. They're having trouble keeping their membership growing. And one of the reasons for it is that the Generation Xers simply can't relate to the idea of solidarity forever and all this stuff. Some of the things that the union is supposed to be protecting them against they just don't believe would ever happen. There was a time, for example, way back in the '40s and earlier , when teachers used to have get permission to marry, and things like that. Now no Generation Xer can even believe this could exist. They think that's out of the Stone Age. So the union can't very well pretend they're going to protect them against that. That's the least of the things that—well, best I don't get into that. [Laughter]

The final point I'd like to make about the teacher union, the teacher trust, is it's absolutely critically dependent on legal privileges. It doesn't come into existence in a vacuum. Those legal privileges—I mean, the most important was to be allowed to unionize at all in the public sector. But basically you could divide them into collective bargaining laws, on the one hand, and agency fee laws. Collective bargaining means that if you're in a collective bargaining state, if you get enough teachers together, you can compel the school board to negotiate with you as the exclusive representative of all teachers. That's what collective bargaining is. You've got it in California.

There's also agency fee. That means that once the teacher union has got itself recognized as the monopoly bargainer, it can then turn around and demand fees from even teachers who don't want to join the union. It can't compel them to join, but it can compel them to pay the fees, except for some of the political contributions. That's called agency fee. You've got that in California, too. In fact, it's mandatory in California. It's not even negotiable here, that the CTA has got itself into a position of extraordinary power. But was done recently. When I came here in 1970, it wasn't the case. Jerry Brown was responsible for passing collective bargaining in the public school sector.

And the result of all this is that the inmates are running the asylum. [Laughter] I have somewhere a quote from the Hoover Institution's Terry Moe about rules. Oh, here's the one I used this morning. The California legislative analyst discussing the California situation. He said, "Districts that enter into collective bargaining share power with the unions over a wide range of decisions that affect district education policies and the distribution of district resources." In other words, they just get control of every aspect of life.

Let me draw back a minute and raise another question about the education system. Apart from the cost numbers, which I think are really fascinating, there's another interesting number about the way in which the government school system works, which tells us a lot about what's going on, and that's the dropout rate, or rather the inverse of the dropout rate, the graduation rate.

Way back in 1900, about 6 percent of all 17 year-olds graduated from high school. It was very unusual to graduate from high school in those days. Most people dropped out, went to work. After that it starts to go up, looking from left to right, an exponential curve. By the Second World War, about half of kids in that group, 17 year-olds, were graduating from high school. But still, the fact is that Hitler was defeated by a nation of high school dropouts. The graduation rate continued to soar until 1968 or '69. It reached 77 percent, and at that point it stalled. And it's never gotten higher than that. Twenty-five years later, it's actually significantly lower now. It's declined to below 70 percent—68 or 67 percent.

Now this is a fascinating datum, I think, and it can only be explained in two ways. One is that there's something absolutely chronically wrong with the system because it can't do what it's trying to do, namely, graduate all the kids from high school. Or the second possibility is that, in fact, the kids can't be graduated from high school. There's a limit to the number of people you can actually expect to graduate from high school.

I have data in The Worm in the Apple which suggests that in the early 1990s, of white kids with IQs below 75, nearly half of them are graduating from high school. Now these kids are on the verge of being technically retarded, but they graduated from high school. What does this say about the high school degree? That's a really fascinating question to me.

I mean, what it means is that there's never been a golden age in American education where everybody graduated from high school. The attempt to keep people in these big comprehensive high schools until they're 18, and get them out at 18, has never, never worked. It's responsible for a lot of curious things. Occasionally you'll see people say that the quality of high schools was much better back in the 1900s and so on. That's probably true, because the kids who were getting out of high school were an academic elite. There weren't attempts to keep all these other kids in the system, and generally having them stink up the halls and have fights and all this sort of thing.

But there's another side of this as well, by the way. A teacher once said to me that compared to when he and I went through school—150 years ago—the big difference today, he said, with his kids, was that kids are constantly falling asleep in class. And the reason they're falling asleep in class is they're working in the malls. The labor force participation of 16 to 19 year-olds for Americans is staggering. It's like 60 percent. It's three or four times what it is in France or Germany.

Now it seems to me that's something that should be encouraged. They should be sent out there to work if they want to work, and maybe drop in and out of education later. Maybe we should focus on getting the kids out of school earlier and allow them to come back and to top up their schooling later as they see fit. Now that's exactly the kind of thinking that the teacher union will not allow, because they want more victims in the system. They would like you all to be in high school right now. [Laughter]

And there's another aspect of this, which is the great expansion in home-schooling. There's somewhere between half a million and a million-and-a-half kids being home-schooled at the moment. It's very hard to get exact numbers, but it's clearly vastly larger than it was 30 years ago.

Now that's come about because laws have been changed, which goes to the critical importance of the legal framework in education system. Parents had to be given the right to educate those kids at home, and yet conform with the compulsory education laws that exist in every state.

Now, I have small children, and it's impossible for me to imagine educating these two children at home without murdering them. [Laughter] Or, in the case of teenagers, being murdered by them. [Laughter] But the answer is in home-schooling they're often not actually taught for very long. Home-schools make it work because they teach the kids for a couple of hours a day. In other words, the moral of the story is, the substantive content of education can be delivered much more efficiently, both in terms of the hours of the day, and probably the years in the school kid's curriculum than it is right now.

Now, I'll quickly say something about what's to be done. I see two aspects to this problem. That's your book, isn't it? I'm sorry. One of them is, we've got to clean the apple. The answer is, clean the apple with market forces. There are lots of proposals. John's discussed a few. They're both an end and also a means, because they undermine the power of the teacher's union, the worm. If it can't keep you from marching in lock-step, and it doesn't like organizing lots of small units, its power is going to be weakened.

But the second aspect of what's to be done is the worm itself has to be extracted and exterminated. That means the teacher trust has got to be busted. You've got to go to the legal framework that governs that, in which the teacher trust is rooted. In the end, in the last chapter of Worm, I have about 25 proposals where this can be done, ranging from very grand ideas to small ones. For example, I don't see why you couldn't apply antitrust theory to the teacher union, break it up into separate states so it can't mobilize across state lines. Curiously enough, one of the things that the NEA actually did when it became a union was to unify its dues to compel teachers everywhere who joined any branch of the NEA to join the national union. And it was very, very unpopular. In fact, the Missouri teacher's union actually seceded from the NEA over it.

But there's a lot of other things that can be done, too. In the end, it goes down to the collective bargaining laws. The collective bargaining laws have got to be removed, weakened, so that teachers don't have to accept the leadership of the union. At least so there's competition among representatives. In Texas, there's actually a profit-making organization that bargains on behalf of teachers.

It happens that in there are still two states in the union—North Carolina and Virginia—where school boards are prohibited from bargaining collectively. They're not allowed to bargain with teacher unions. Of course, you still have a socialist system, and the union still exists, and it confers, and it lobbies, and so on and so forth, and people in Virginia think it's very strong, but it's nowhere near as strong as it is here. And that's something which ought to be thought about.

Someone was saying to me earlier, is there any hope for the system? It seems to me there's a lot of hope. I mean this is not a stable system. It's something that's happened by accident. It can be swept away. And if you have any doubts about it—well, let me just tell you a story. In the town in Connecticut where I live, recently they had a lot of trouble getting the peasants to vote for a tax increase, and so it kept getting voted down. And at one point, the teachers actually picketed the commuting drivers, and they had big notices, holding it up, saying it's about the children. Now of course, it's not about the children, it's about the teachers. Specifically, many teachers that don't realize they belong to a union, by the way, polls show. And the grander reason, I would adduce, for being hopeful, is the Soviet Union collapsed. Thanks very much. [Laughter] [Applause]

David Theroux

Thank you, Peter. We have time for questions. And Carl will bring the microphone by. How about the lady right here?

Audience Member #1

I wish the panel had been a little bit more balanced. I found it very much on the Right, and I just want to mention that there are words you said nothing about —

David Theroux

By the way, one question—was Bismarck right wing or left wing?

Audience Member #1

I'm just commenting about contemporary politics. There are languages other than the market for assessing policy questions, for assessing what is to be done. I'm not saying the Oakland schools are in great shape, but I work there all the time as a researcher, and so does my colleague here, and I don't think the two of you have spent very much time on the ground where the battles are being fought.

David Theroux

Do you have a question?

Audience Member #1

Yes, here's my question. What about democracy and the history of the ideal, at least, of the common school which—in which children from varied backgrounds, not just immigrants, but social class has not been mentioned here, would come together and learn democratic discourses in citizenship? What about the ideal of a sense of the public and of children as a collective responsibility and resource? What about questions of inequality? We have wider income gaps now than ever before in U.S. history.

So my question is the following: Since the Reagan era, public provisioning for families for caregiving and for public services have deteriorated radically, funding for parks and rec as well as schools, for example, and market dynamics have expanded. There are some areas of the world—and issues of care and education are some of them—where markets don't work as well as they may, for example, in manufacturing. And my question is, what about these wide inequalities? And if you were to have a total market mechanism, as you are proposing, what would happen to the 25 percent of children in Oakland who live below the poverty line? Thirty-five percent in LA County? The rich always get richer. They're doing fine.

John Merrifield

They'd go to functional schools.

Audience Member #1

I don't think that would be the case. I'd like you to address inequality and justice and democracy issues.

John Merrifield

Well, I mean I don't really know what her question is, but there's nothing worse for poor children than the system that we have now. [Applause]

Audience Member #2

Here, here.

Peter Brimelow

I think the question is a fine illustration of what I said about the way in which educators think. I mean essentially they don't view education as a business or an industry, they view it as a religion. Somebody noted here that the fact is that public schools are a relatively recent invention in the U.S. They're not more than just over 100 years old. For most of the first 100 years of the Republic, there weren't public schools, there were private schools. And they seemed to be pretty good about being democratic. So I'm inclined to think that these things can be delivered.

But we're not talking here about a pure market system. We're talking about a system in which there's a very substantial government subsidy to pupils, to students, amounting, as John says, to somewhere up to $8,000 a year. That subsidy exists, the question is what is the most efficient way to deliver it.

David Theroux

By the way, one book you might want to consult is a book by Joel Spring called Education in a Corporate State, which is basically about how the state system is designed to turn out cogs in the corporate-state wheel for military adventurist purposes, which is not exactly in a right wing position. Other questions?

John Merrifield

Just one other thing about the battle she's fighting. The whole idea of this is to not have those battles. Most school things can be decided individually between parent and school proprietor. We don't all—we can't, and we don't all have to agree on what should be taught and how it should be taught.

Peter Brimelow

Well, yes, I just did address an issue on that. I said there's a substantial subsidy to every student who is in the public schools. The problem is most of that subsidy right now goes to salaries. Maybe it should be spent some other way.

John Merrifield

You have administrators.

David Theroux

There's also, I think, a certain question about whether collectivism and equality can go hand-in-hand, or whether it's basically a system of an elite ruling the masses and forcing them to participate whether they have any choice or not.

Audience Member #3

I may be unique here. I have attended private and public school. I have home-schooled. I have children who went to private school and children who went to public school, so I did it all. And I must say that I'm very impressed with both of you two gentlemen and all that you had to say.

I also serve on the school board in my district. And I deal with collective bargaining in a very real state, and it's horrible. I did not realize how difficult it was to deal with the teachers union until I arrived with a majority of teachers union supporters on my board.

My question is you said that Texas was able to get rid of collective bargaining, and that they have gotten rid of compulsory fees or that they have a profit-making institution that fights on behalf of the teachers. Did I understand that correctly? And how can we in California get rid of collective bargaining? Right now, it's almost impossible with a Democratic-controlled legislature and governor who's passing almost every bill they can. We dealt with about 500 education bills, last year, at least that they passed for us to deal with in education. So it's an overwhelming task for us. But I want to hear how we, in this room, and including board members, what can we do—because there's another person that's on the school board with me that came. How can we get rid of collective bargaining?

John Merrifield

Now, before Peter answers that, let me just point out the contrast between these two. She's talking about battles, and she just named them. How can we survive in a system where we pass 500 new pieces of legislation? Of course those are battles, and that's exactly what's destroying our school system. The whole idea is to avoid that. I'm sorry. Peter, go ahead.

Peter Brimelow

Texas is a state where there are no collective bargaining laws, and there are no agency fee laws—and you can't strike as a teacher. So the union is very weak in terms of its legal power. And there's a very large Texas independent educators association, which is not a union. What I think you were thinking of was North Carolina and Virginia where laws have been passed that actually prohibit collective bargaining. North Carolina prohibits the school boards from engaging in collective bargaining with a union. As to what can be done here, it's really just a mirror image of what happened in the 1980s when they put collective bargaining through. I mean, most people don't even know what collective bargaining is. It has to be identified as the enemy. It has to be made into a political issue. That means that whoever does it, for example, the Republican Party, is going to have to show some backbone, which is a problem. [Laughter]

But on the other hand, I grew up as a kid in England, where all the major industries were nationalized. And they're now denationalized. And none of us expected that to happen. It was just done because there was a strong political leader, and because the economy was cratering. And the education system was cratering, so we just need some political leadership. And I recommend that you provide it. [Laughter]

Audience Member #4

This teacher, I have to thank her for bringing up a term, democratization. I have a real issue with that term in education because I've done all private school, public school, home-school, and my goal as a parent is to nurse my children's mind and intellects, and I'm really more concerned about civilizing my children instead of socializing them, which goes along with democratization, because socializing is to put them under the control of a government.

But when I go out and I talk about school choice, having written the school choice initiative with Milton Friedman, I find that there are so many people that don't even have a concept of what education is. There is no definition. And isn't that one of the first problems we have to attack? What is education, and by whose standard are we going to go along? Isn't it in the end going to have to be the parents who decide what the standard is for their children?

John Merrifield

Right, but that's why we don't want to politically decide that question. We want to leave that up to individuals and families.

John Merrifield

We can't politically decide, it's not going to happen.

David Theroux

People, by and large, who are interested in the concept of democracy in education or any field, want basically to have a system that's responsive, that's accountable, that they have a say in, that is functional, and is one that will reinforce the bonds of cooperation and community and so on and so forth. Does this system do that? That's the question. How about the gentleman right here?

Audience Member #5

Please don't throw hard objects, but I am a union steward, and I have the distinction of going to one of the worst school districts in probably the country, the Richmond Unified School District, and one of the best in Benecia, California. So I've seen both sides of the coin. And I have a three-part question. I think you both gave a pretty cogent explanation of the problem, but your solutions were pretty far off.

First, as far as the union, one possibility you didn't consider, what do you think of union empowerment? Because I think it's kind of a tired old fallacy that you've trotted out, that the unions are these all powerful organizations who are controlling the weather and everything else. They're actually not very powerful, especially on the local level.

My wife is a teacher and she has no control over what goes on in the classroom. Things are fiated to her by the school district, not by the union. The problem with our school system is the peer culture in the school, and it's not the teachers. Your teachers have gone to school for an average of five years. How would you deal with the peer culture? That's one question. And would you advocate empowering teachers to kick out the one or two students in every classroom, even in the good districts, that take up all the teacher's time?

The second part of my question is, could you please, especially Mr. Brimelow, explain to me —how does spreading yet more taxpayer money to the private sector, instead of just the public sector, how does that increase the sort of capitalist laissez-faire system that you seem to be promoting?

And my third part is—well, I guess, I said it—the union. How would the further empowerment of the union and the union being given a chance hurt these reforms? You might not actually have the enemy you think have.

Peter Brimelow

I'm not sure what you mean exactly by union empowerment. As I said earlier, I do think that is a big problem for the system—that it's trying to keep too many kids in school too long who should perhaps be out somewhere else. And that goes to the compulsory attendance laws, and the length of time they require kids stay in school. I think that we should definitely be looking at that.

I don't know that this is what the union wants, though. It seems to me they want people to stay in school because they want more clients. I've never seen a union representative advocate that school attendance be actually reduced.

Now your other question, I mean it's just a question of economics here. What we have here is subsidy that's delivered by the state to students. At the moment, it is delivered in the form of government-owned buildings, and curriculum, and so on. This is the direct equivalent of instead of giving food stamps to the poor, having free government-owned supermarkets. And it would not be efficient. It's more efficient to give out food stamps and let the supermarkets compete for them. That's the essential argument for vouchers. There is the subsidy given by the state, and the question is, what is the most efficient way to deliver it?

John Merrifield

Interesting contrast. You pointed out they're not so powerful. They're powerful enough to keep the politicians making the choices and the policies, but it's true, the politicians keep making bad choices and policies, which you described. That's the problem.

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