[p2p-research] Towards a post-scarcity New York State of mind

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Wed Aug 5 23:25:59 CEST 2009

Michel Bauwens wrote:
> such a voucher system would achieve first of all a hyper-commercialization
> of education and a further splintering of schools .... 

In reference to commerce and hyper-aspects of behavior, here are a few 
possible failure modes of this approach and why I don't think they are so 
big as to fail the entire plan.

One failure mode is the irresponsible neglectful drug addicted parent with a 
gambling problem who takes the money and spends it on drugs, gambling, and 
so on, or in other ways just does not spend it on anyway related to the 
child. No doubt some small percent of parents (1%?) might be like that. 
There are at least three responses to this. One is that there are currently 
social processes in place to deal with neglectful parents, and should one be 
identified, the money could be automatically given instead to a private 
school through some process. Another is that the community would help with 
such children, and the community of parents with children would have much 
more affluence and free time to be helpful (granted, this is a "free rider 
problem", although there are other ways to deal with that, too). Another is 
that even if some kids fall between the cracks, that may be a lot less kids 
that fall now, given the current system where many children from functional 
families come out of school emotionally damaged. Essentially, this is the 
analogy that, just because a few children would be better off living in a 
tent than in their homes, that all children would be better off living in 
tents than in their homes.

Note that starting this payment at birth might greatly help, because that 
would give the parents several years to improve their finances and take care 
of addictive behavior (often resulting from financial stress or past trauma 
from schooling that may be expensive to treat).

Another failure mode is an arms race of consumer competition, like people 
buying more expensive watches to show status, or bigger cars to be safer as 
everyone else buys bigger cars to no net safety increase, there might be an 
arms race of spending on consumer goods instead of school. One may argue 
that on standard type of school prevents spending on flashy but ineffective 
consumer goods. This is unlikely to be a short term problem in the first few 
years though. And in the long term, this is really just a variation of 
neglect. Some kids may be effected by it, but overall, I'd suggest it would 
be less than the first. One might have public announcements about this 
problem? Some catchy slogan about this?

Another failure mode would be unequal spending across children. So, families 
that got US$20K per child per year might chose to spent $30K on one child 
and $10K on another, which might seem very unfair to the child who gets 
less. This might be called the "Cinderella" problem. I'm not sure how to fix 
that, other than to say, even $10K is a lot to spend these days on many 
private schools, so there is some room in there for such things. Dealing 
with systematic bias in families just may have to be accepted. Perhaps this 
is an area where this plan is weakest. On the other hand, one still has to 
consider, is even such a situation worse than what we have now, where 
schools themselves may be systematically biased for or against certain students?

Note that for all the failure modes above, if they exist, they are also a 
reflection that the current form of schooling is inadequate to help people 
learn to take care of their own affairs and own families, even when they 
have the financial means to do so.

Another failure mode would be, as implied above, a market-driven escalation 
for the price of tutoring or teaching. Well, that is just a function of the 
market, and in the long term one would expect a variety of affordable 
options (and free ones too) to appear.

--Paul Fernhout

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