June 13, 2006


Will Chile's President Flunk the Test? (Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Wall Street Journal)

It is critical to separate the students' fundamental gripe from the radicalism of Chile's ultra left, which seeks to destabilize democracy itself. The students' central complaint -- that public schools are shoddy -- has a certain validity in the eyes of many law-abiding Chileans and even the conservative Catholic Church. Unfortunately, Ms. Bachelet's proposal to throw money at the problem doesn't inspire confidence in a solution.

In 1982, Chile introduced a voucher system that allows children to use government funds to attend either public or private schools. The voucher system seeks to improve the quality of education by creating competition for students. Among private-school students, it has worked; test scores are up. But public schools remain disappointing.

The problem is that rather than a full-fledged voucher system, Chile has a quasi-voucher program that distorts the choice and competition effects of vouchers by subsidizing public schools directly. The rationale for the subsidy is fine: Since the cost of educating a poor child is higher than a middle-class child, extra funding is needed to support poor children. But unfortunately, that extra funding does not go into the hands of the student as a tool for choice. Instead, it goes directly to the public schools that the poor children attend. If a poor student wants to go to a private school, he cannot take the subsidy with him.

Claudio Sapelli, a Chicago-trained economist at the Catholic University in Santiago, has studied the distortions of the quasi-voucher system and written a chapter in the book "What America Can Learn From School Choice In Other Countries," (Cato Institute, 2005). On the subject of the "non-portable" funding, he wrote, "schools receive it in the form of supply subsidies, which merely accentuates the dependence of poor students on public schools." In other words, in the absence of making the subsidy portable, neither choice nor competition have had a chance to emerge.

The trouble for Chilean politicians is that the government bureaucracy and teachers' unions are powerful special interests. So although a more competitive system is needed, the incentive to feed the monster bureaucracy may be greater.

How Chile's growth skipped its schools: Students have ended three weeks of protests, but vow to push for school reform. (Jen Ross, 6/14/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

Almost 15 percent of Chilean high school kids study in fully privatized schools, 35 percent are in municipal public schools, and the remaining 50 percent attend cheaper private schools with state subsidies. But according to Vera, only a handful of subsidized schools manage to achieve the results of those in the private system. He says almost 90 percent of students in fully privatized schools will go on to university, whereas only 10 to 15 percent do so from subsidized or fully public schools. On national exams, the average scores for students in Chile's public schools are almost half that of their counterparts in private schools.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 13, 2006 8:35 AM

More Pinochet? Yeah, sure, there's nothing wrong with an educational system that a few thousand secret police murders won't fix.

Posted by: Brandon at June 13, 2006 12:51 PM

Repression of their communist Left would certainly be helpful, bu more important is that Pinochet pioneered the Third Way, both are why they have a thriving capitaliast democracy.

Posted by: oj at June 13, 2006 1:34 PM

Just remember that when OJ says an economic program is "Third Way," he often means one straight out of the Chicago School, Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, etc.: i.e. something that most people call "libertarian." I suppose he doesn't want to associate his economics with liberarian positions on drugs and such.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 13, 2006 4:32 PM


No, I am a libertarian. I just didn't realize that by libertarian you meant a group that support taking your money in the form of taxes and returning it to you in the form of vouchers that you can only spend on education, a house, medical bills or retirement all coupled with puritanical social laws.

Posted by: oj at June 13, 2006 4:38 PM

Yeah yeah yeah. Using vouchers is a very libertarian idea, even when used by "Third Way" pols. But hey, you're allowed to borrow our ideas. We encourage it. Just don't slag libertarians all the time while calling the libertarian proposals that you like "Third Way." Credit where credit is due, please, and remember that Big Tent idea.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 14, 2006 2:07 AM

No, problem. Libertarians wouldn't be such marginal kooks if they were as pro-strong government as you.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2006 7:47 AM

Well, libertarians aren't anarchists. And politics involves compromise, so I'm willing to voucherize government services as a compromise between those who think the Feds should run everything and those who think they shouldn't run anything other than the military and the courts. But I'm enough of a conservative to be more "pro-war" than many libertarians, and I think their "open borders" tendencies are wacky. (Not that I'm a nativist or racist or whatever.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 14, 2006 1:07 PM

So you aren't a libertarian--you're a papayan or something.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2006 2:07 PM

I'm sort of a libertarian conservative. Neither one alone fits perfectly.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 14, 2006 8:08 PM

You're a conservative who feels the need to pose. Makes you look silly to conservatives but they aren't who you're worried about.

Posted by: oj at June 14, 2006 8:13 PM

Be nice, OJ: my self-description isn't a "pose." My intellectual path, from childhood, was roughly: conservative to leftist to libertarian and now libertarian-conservative. I feel mostly like a libertarian who is cognizant/respectful of the real world and tradition (e.g. a strong military, redefining marriage for the sake of gay rights is a huge step not taken lightly, controlling the borders is a good thing), but who is willing to compromise with certain tendencies/concerns of the left (e.g. some small part of my income taken to "help the poor," but always checking to ensure it really does that).

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 15, 2006 2:32 AM

Yes, you describe a pose. A conservative pretending to be something more PC.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2006 7:30 AM

Actually, Papaya, the term for you is "minarchist", which is a libertarian variant. A minarchist follows the precept "That government is best which governs least". Minarchists are realistic anarchists, who would like to see non-governed societies but realize that currently we have no idea how to make such a thing work. Therefore, the best we can do is minimize what government we have.

Further, OJ is sadly correct that a return to a 19th Century USA style small government is politically infeasible and so voucherization and tax cuts is what passes for minimalist government these days.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 15, 2006 10:16 AM

That minarchism supports mandatory education, retirement, health care, etc. renmders it Maxarchism

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2006 1:15 PM

AOG: yes, minarchist would be another term, and yes, I'm not unrealistic about prospects for 19th century-style minimal government. Politics is about compromise and working in the real world.

OJ, don't be rude by questioning my sincerity. I'm not "pretending" to be anything. Why the heck would I need to? I'm posting anonymously here so that I don't have to worry about what potential employers and others might think, which means I can let it all hang out. Just because my beliefs don't fit neatly into your personal ideological categories doesn't mean I'm insincere.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 15, 2006 2:48 PM

Mr. Judd;

Minarchism doesn't support those things, it accepts them as unavoidable properties of the current political systems, a point you yourself argue strongly for. It's very similar to how you feel about President Bush signing CFR – he should be impeached for it, but that's not going to happen. It would be good to get rid of all those things you mentioned, but that's not going to happen any time in the next few decades either.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 15, 2006 3:45 PM


Yes, I support the President--you guys support Strong Government.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2006 3:55 PM


I don't question your sincerity--I think you honestly believe the terrible nonsense you tell yourself. You're a run of the mill conservative who feels the need to pretend otherwise to himself--it's strange, but hardly novel.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2006 3:58 PM

No, we support making an already strong government weaker whenever politically feasible.

I find it fascinating, though, that if I accept such programs as a currently unalterable reality, I'm a proponent of strong government, but if I don't accept them, I'm a delusional crank with no sense of reality.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 15, 2006 4:15 PM

Yes, you've grown up when you stop being a libertarian and become a conservative.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2006 4:19 PM