Bryan Caplan over at EconLog, in addition to giving this rookie a lovely welcome into the world of blogging, has raised a good point about the arguments that I made in my earlier post. The state of play right now is as follows. We start from the highly oversimplified premise that kids are either going to be influenced by commercial advertisers or by public school teachers. Our positions are:
Me: To a first approximation, the harm done by unregulated advertisers is fixed at the level that arises from profit-maximizing advertising practices; any advertiser who refrains on principle from a bit of profitable but socially harmful advertising will be replaced by someone who has no such qualms. In contrast, the amount of harm that teachers will do depends much more on the characteristics of the people who select into the teaching profession, as well as on the professional ethos in which they are trained and supported. This raises the possibility that people with a natural affection for kids will be the ones doing the teaching, supported by an institutional infrastructure and set of professional norms that are themselves set by pro-kid people.
Bryan: The very same things that make it possible that teachers will be better for kids than are commercial advertisers also makes it possible that they will be worse. They might end up being ideologues who are committed to passing along dangerous nonsense or ex-jock gym teachers who have nothing but contempt for the unathletic (in fairness to gym teachers, I think there has been some progress on this front in recent years) or just jerks who like to make themselves feel big by pushing little kids around.
Bryan’s is a very powerful objection. The more-or-less fixed level of damage done by commercial advertising is not the worst possible outcome. A world dominated by vapid consumerism is a lot worse than the Enlightenment utopia I dream about, but it is a lot better than some other things. So one might argue against public education on insurance grounds: there is always some chance that the really bad guys will get to be in charge of’ public education, and to insure against that we need to keep power out of the hands of teachers. But I don’t think that’s Bryan’s claim. I think he is saying some combination of (i) the damage done by commercial advertisers is not that bad; and (ii) the influences of public education are really bad as things stand right now. And this seems wrong to me.
I also enjoyed that lunch at GMU. We hadn’t know each other five minutes before we were all hollering at each other. What’s not to like?