Sigh

This is why Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed national education service, even while its Maoist overtones are so strong, is so impressive. It starts with a principle that sounds like common sense: education is a public good.

No, no it isn’t. It is rivalrous and excludable, it is not a public good.

It is entirely possible that the effects of education are a public good. Adam Smith certainly argued that being part of a generally numerate and literate society is such and advocated public support of primary education as a result. This does not mean that tertiary education is the same though of course.

And yes, this is important. Public goods may be righteously subsidised. Private goods very much less so. And it’s also true that subsidy might not be the correct method of promoting public goods.

We’ve all an interest in the public good of innovation. But we don’t promote that through subsidy, we do it through patent and copyright.

Zoe’s starting the economic argument in entirely the wrong manner.

27 comments on “Sigh

  1. You’re at it again, Tim.

    You’re talking about a Public Good, which has a clear and agreed meaning. They’re talking about public goods, which means whatever they want it to mean.

  2. When I floated my mouse pointer over “No, no”, why wasn’t I surprised to see that the link is to The Graun?

  3. I think the argument is really that education is a “merit good”, but in layman’s terms this is being called “public good” despite that having a technical meaning that is quite distinct.

    Haven’t heard economists talking in the media about “merit goods” lately, is that term out of vogue now?

  4. Another case where a word in English has two distinct meanings & one is conflated with the other. “To care” in the medical world where emptying bedpans implies actually giving a toss about those waiting, not so patiently, to be given one.
    “Investment” seems to now qualify, to make spending virtuous.
    Any others?

  5. A “public good” is some aspect of life the Guardian thinks the State should control, exclusively.

  6. I’m not sure I entierly agree with Tim here. An education at Oxbridge New University is not a public good, but if they were to devise a foolproof internet course to provide an education (I’m generalising wildly here, but I am a Physics teacher) then surely the result of having done that course would be a public good? In other words, what if ‘education’ refers to the outcome, not the means of attaining it?

  7. A demos taught to learn the meaning of “public good”, not to mention all the other shoddy economics in the Guardian (public choice theory, opportunity costs), might produce better results at election time.

  8. Fisking Corbyn’s piece, I discovered that he knows long words like “productivity”:

    > “A better educated society […] will close the productivity gap”

    But is that true? If I could improve my productivity (i.e. my earnings) by taking a training course, I would already do so. If my left-wing values meant I could only take courses sanctioned by the state, I’d enrol at the Open University. So we already have a solution, and there’s scant evidence that the problem exists in the first place.

    (There is an interesting economic problem wherein a lot of the adult education on offer is of low quality. However it’s hard to judge the quality beforehand, so high-quality training is driven out the market. The state might be able to help e.g. by linking up with HMRC’s datasets to prove that Bogcaster Training College’s graduates really do earn x% more after graduation. Yes to better-informed markets; no to state-run providers.)

  9. “We’ve all an interest in the public good of innovation. But we don’t promote that through subsidy, we do it through patent and copyright.”

    In reality, it’s done through both, but all things being equal, I’d rather the subsidy route; I’m more comfortable paying with my money than my liberty.

  10. In reality, it’s done through both, but all things being equal, I’d rather the subsidy route; I’m more comfortable paying with my money than my liberty.

    You’ve just invented something mindblowingly innovative. Quick! How much are you going to want to sell the IP rights over it to the state? Because that’s effectively what you’re doing if you go the subsidy route rather than the patent one.

    The patent protection at least leaves the valuation of the invention to the market, and the inventor can still cash out if he chooses.

  11. Bloke in Wales

    Completely wrong on a number of points, not least of which, if there were no IP rights in existence, the state couldn’t own any IP rights.

    However, thank you for replying.

  12. I’m well aware of the reasoning behind patent protection to incentivise innovation.

    What I’m asking is, how would a subsidy system work in practise? Are you suggesting a fixed rate per formerly-patentable idea?

  13. Bloke in North Dorset

    “You’re talking about a Public Good, which has a clear and agreed meaning. They’re talking about public goods, which means whatever they want it to mean.”

    Well, I think it does have a specific meaning to them, anything they thing should be funded by others taxes is a public good, regardless of what it is.

    I recall having an argument with someone a while back who was claiming reading glasses where a Public Good.

  14. “Plainly she means that having a well-educated population is a public good – everyone benefits.”

    Depends what they are educated in. If it’s wall-to-wall sociology, gender studies and the like then society absolutely does not benefit. I wouldn’t classify someone with such a degree as “well-educated” though.

    On a more serious point though, the assumption is that society would benefit because educated people are more sensible and make better, more informed decisions. I disagree with that too – the groupthink amongst the ‘intellectual’ class is colossal and a university education is no bar to holding crazy opinions – just browse Twitter for half an hour.

  15. A good is something which is produced and consumed to provide a benefit to the consumer.

    The benefit (effects) of a good is subjective – not all people perceive the same benefit from a good. (A radio is no benefit if you are deaf, ballet lessons are no benefit if you want to play football not dance. )

    A benefit (effect) in itself cannot be manufactured, nor consumed. It is not a ‘good’.

    Innovation is an abstract. It cannot be produced… where does one buy it, Fortnums?) and is not a good.

    Goods that provide benefits to third parties… the knowledge that enters the public domain as a result of someone educating themselves, for example… and who have not paid for them, are positive externalities… are they not?

  16. Why has the number of universities risen while the number of Public Conveniences has fallen? The latter are more useful.

  17. They’re confusing “public good” with “good for the public”. The exsistance of newspapers are good for the public, therefore they’re a public good….? Quick, nationalise the Guardian!

  18. SJW: “Plainly she means that having a well-educated population is a public good – everyone benefit”

    Pouring socialist shite into the ears of the young is not educating them.

    “National Education Service”? Corbyn needs to be publicly hanged.

  19. I did once have some Guardian readers tell me that The Guardian should be nationalised because it was a public good. Literally so much wrong with that idea I did not quite know where to start with the counter-argument…

  20. dearieme: public loos have handy sociology degree dispensers which is so much more convenient than spending three years at Gasworks Street Polytechnic.

  21. JohnB – ballet can help a footballer too.
    Not least with fitness and agility.

    Not all lessons are beneficial in all circumstances, true. Oh and a deaf person can happily listen to the radio. Quite a few aids these days to help.

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