What If Grocery Stores Worked Like Public Schools?

25 Apr

Excuse the late start and what is, admittedly, an imperfect analogue.  Saw this last night and thought it was worth sharing, especially as we get closer to election season.  Imagine if instead of having the choice to go to whatever grocery store your heart desires, whether it be Costco, BJ’s, A&P, Kroger, Whole Foods, Safeway, Wegmans, SuperValu, Target or Walmart, you could only go to one market.  Not only would you be limited to which market you could go to, but you could only get a certain number/quantity/variety of groceries each week; no spoiling yourself on a bag of Double-Stuff Oreos or a quart of Haagen-Dazs.

Does this seem like some sort of dystopian nightmare of epic proportions, of a totalitarian government concerned not with the inalienable rights and welfare of its citizens, but with maintaining power and control over them?  Sadly, this is not science fiction.  In fact, this is almost exactly how our government-run education system works.  Never thought of it that way, did you?

Here’s the meat of the argument, in its entirety, from Gary Bourdeaux, Economics Professor at George Mason University:

Suppose that we were supplied with groceries in same way that we are supplied with K-12 education.

Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties.  A huge chunk of these tax receipts would then be spent by government officials on building and operating supermarkets.  County residents, depending upon their specific residential addresses, would be assigned to a particular supermarket.  Each family could then get its weekly allotment of groceries for “free.”  (Department of Supermarket officials would no doubt be charged with the responsibility for determining the proper amounts and kinds of groceries that families of different kinds and sizes are entitled to receive.)

Except in rare circumstances, no family would be allowed to patronize a “public” supermarket outside of its district.

Residents of wealthier counties – such as Fairfax County, VA and Somerset County, NJ – would obviously have better-stocked and more attractive supermarkets than would residents of poorer counties.  And, thanks to a long-ago U.S. Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer; such private-supermarket families, though, would get no discount on their property-tax bills.

When the quality of supermarkets is recognized by nearly everyone to be dismal, calls for “supermarket choice” would be rejected by a coalition of greedy government-supermarket workers and ideologically benighted collectivists as attempts to cheat supermarket customers from out of good supermarket service – indeed, as attempts to deny ordinary families the food that they need for their very survival.  Such ‘choice,’ it would be alleged, will drain precious resources from the public supermarkets whose (admittedly) poor performance testifies to the fact that these supermarkets are underfunded.

And the small handful of people who call for total separation between supermarket and state would be criticized by nearly everyone as being, at best, delusional and – it would be thought more realistically – more likely misanthropic devils who are indifferent to the malnutrion and starvation that would sweep the land if only private market forces governed the provision and patronizing of supermarket.  (Some indignant observers would even wonder aloud at the insensitivity of referring to grocery shoppers as “customers”; surely the relationship between suppliers of life-giving foods and the people who need these foods is not so crass as to be properly discussed as being ‘commercial.’)


12 Responses to “What If Grocery Stores Worked Like Public Schools?”

  1. Friedman's Ghost April 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    A couple of thoughts for you.

    1. What if public schools were run like grocery stores? I argue the vast majority of people (especially the poor) would be buying unhealthy, crappy educations because they’re cheaper and look more fun.

    2. Americans love crap. No matter how bad the programming, people still give thousand$/yr for cable.

    3. Finally, I would rephrase with the folliwing: “Imagine if instead of having the choice to go to whatever grocery store your WALLET ALLOWS”.

    Not everybody in America can afford to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joes. The same reality applies to education since very few people are realistically pondering their option between Yale or a Community College.

    • The Analyst April 25, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

      1. I’ve said time and time again for years that in 2011, you have to be deaf, blind, and dumb to not know that eating mcdonalds every day, smoking a pack/day, drinking every day, etc, etc ad nauseum isn’t good for you. That “the poor” either do not accept this, or accept it but simply attach a low value to their health is largely a matter of free will, not determinism, and if we want to target a source of potential change, it arises within the home, and to a slightly lesser extent, the community.

      “Rich” kids like eating cheap, crappy food, too. Surely, with $ come opportunity, but if one wants to eat healthy, it is not necessarily expensive, especially when one’s opportunity cost of shopping and preparation is relatively low, as it is for “poor” people.

      2. No disagreement there, unfortunately.

      3. Wegmans, Trader Joes, Wholefoods, etc are not more expensive for any given item than any other grocery store necessarily. I can’t find it at the moment, but I read an article recently explaining just that. If one cares about per unit costs, I’m sure Costco, BJ’s, and the larger Value chains, which are more abundant offer plenty of choice across the food pyramid at relatively low cost.

      Hell, I was forced against my will to watch some show on TV about people who obsessively “coupon” (I’d never seen it used as a verb until then), and as a result end up saving double-digit %’s on their groceries! The point is, as I said above, that eating healthy, or eating a wide variety of foods is not necessarily more expensive, it just takes time and effort.

      About your last point: How many students are accepted into Yale but don’t attend because they are unable to afford it via any combination of cash, loans (public and private), grants, scholarships, etc? I’d guess very, very few.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, always appreciate it!

    • JonnyMuffin April 25, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

      1. What if the education we recieve now is crappy.
      Right now we have one option, which seems really silly because everyone is different and everyone has different needs that different products can meet. People respond differently to different learning styles, just like peoples bodies respond differently to different foods.

      2. True, but restricting choices doesn’t seem like a logical answer.

      3. Obviously you are concerned about the poor people, which is noble, but theft isn’t always the best solution to these problems. Have you ever considered that there is a less violent way to help the poor?

      Consider watching this with an open mind for an approach to solving social problems that may produce better results:

  2. sugarleg April 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    terrible, inflammatory, and just plain stupid analogy. if you wanted to get people thinking about how to improve schools, why not link to any one of Diane Ravitch’s excellent and well researched pieces rather than this drivel? http://www.dianeravitch.com/articles.html

    • The Analyst April 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

      Like I said, its an imperfect analogue, but its still useful none-the-less. I’m hardly a supporter of Heritage-esque policies, please, give me a break.

      Diane makes several very good points, and if you’ve read any of my other work on education over the years you’d realize that I’m not some right-wing freakazoid.

      Next time, why not provide some critiques, counter-points, and other constructive criticism instead of flinging insults?

      • sugarleg April 25, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

        not insulting you, merely the article that you highlighted. apologies if it felt personal, that was not my intention. you’ll note I pointed out the source material not you. I have not read your education archives and will have to make time for that (this is the first time I have ever seen your blog). for the sake of time (lack of) I could not lay out an entire list of counter-points so went to Ravitch instead. I am very concerned that although I agree for the need for comprehensive education reform, I cannot stand the lazy regurgitation of the “Heritage-esque policies” (great phrasing, btw) by the MSM that is whipping people (mostly parents of school aged childeren) into a frenzy to allow for the corporatization of our schools rather than address the problems collectively. bloggers and thinkers can use their voices to really explain the issues, which obviously you understand. kids are not commodities to be stacked on shelves, but that is what the corps/charter schools/private-public partnerships would churn out. obviously good for corps who want to have a pliable workforce to hire and fire at will, but not how to educate CITIZENS. poverty is the issue we need to focus on, which directly affects the school systems…

        I’m a former teacher that left the field due mainly to the inadequate pay. I miss it and was quite good at it too. I put that teacher energy into other civic work.

        and with that said, I have to get back to my day job! will check in more often now.

        • The Analyst April 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

          Glad you decided to come by and check out the site, flattered an honored.

          Nothing personal taken, so no worries there.

          I’m not a parent, but I did (do) have them, and in my experience throughout my (ongoing) education, it seems the biggest impediment to improving the U.S. education system is parents (or lack thereof). I grew up in a relatively affluent town with one of the better (best?) public school systems in the State. I had friends whose parents were well in the top 5% (if not top 1%) of earners, yet a not-insignificant number of these kids basically floated through the school system, with little (if any) academic ambition. The difference between them, myself and those in most of my honors/AP classes seemed to a very large degree be the level of involvement of parents, and to a lesser extent, their education backgrounds.

          If this is how it works in an affluent town with a good school system, surely, it must not get much if any better as you slide down the income (/wealth) scale.

          As households shifted from single working parent to dual, as some people were forced to work more hours to earn the save amount of money, I can understand how this is easier said than done, but education starts and ends at home.

          Few kids can appreciate why they should learn geometry, algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, or chemistry, biology, history, composition, or any number of subjects. It is primarily up to the parents, not the teachers, to motivate and discipline kids (to whatever level they deem necessary). It is the teachers’ job to use the motivation/discipline bestowed in the children at home as a foundation upon which to build, and just like building a house or a building, no matter how expertly-crafted the structure, it is only as strong as its foundation.

          Appreciate the comments/visits. We’re always very happy to have concerned, reasonable people with whom to discuss topics like this.

          • sugarleg April 25, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

            and thank you 😉 civility really does make it all so much more productive!

            agreed on parental involvement. critical for success for kids and as one who came from parents who expected nothing less than excellent work, I know from experience it works.

            on the teaching side, it is VERY hard to get parents to get involved, but not for the reasons you might think. by the time I was leaving school usually 2-3 hours after the last bell, I had not yet gotten to parent calls or emails, which when done and done consistently and correctly, make all the difference in the student’s school work. however, I could simply NOT get it done. having gone into education as a 2nd career, and coming from the world of film production where there are structures and schedules and results are expected, there is a person for every job and the job gets done.

            you know what every teacher needs? a full time ASSISTANT. or maybe one assistant to every 3-4 teachers. no joke. Michelle Rhee is so sure that a good teacher makes the difference, then give them the administrative support to do all the non-teaching work that must get done yet takes away from instruction time.

            then the teacher can focus on teaching and communicating with parents and parents are empowered to support their kid at home and an administrative professional is making sure all the paperwork gets done.

            okay, must run. happy writing!

        • JonnyMuffin April 25, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

          You seem concerned about the “corporatization” of our schools, which you assert would happen if we allowed a free market approach to education. But what if free markets doesn’t equate to corporatization? What if you were wrong to make that assumption, and what if the Gov run schools equates to corpatization? To me that seems like a more likely scenario since Corporations favor Gov control over free markets. Corporations, throughout history, have found it much easier to buy off polititians than to provide the best product at the best price.
          I share your concerns, but I see the corporatization occuring as a result of government run education.

  3. timeismine April 27, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    You picked an analogy that disproves your point. The failure of the private grocery system to provide adequate service or even access to the poor is well documented. Google the phrase “food desert” if you would like to be less astonishingly ignorant.


  1. Originations 4/25: What if grocery stores worked like public schools | The Basis Point - April 25, 2011

    […] if grocery stores worked like public schools (Stone Street Advisors) […]

  2. What If Grocery Stores Worked Like Public Schools? | Γονείς σε Δράση - April 25, 2011

    […] post by The Analyst var addthis_language = 'en'; Filed under 27858 ← جامعہ کراچی […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: