While Friedman has wanted the poor to have a choice, he foresees vouchers as improving education nationwide. He would give all parents vouchers, thus establishing a market in education. In commerce markets provide improved and diversified products at lower costs. In education a market would do the same. Writing in the November issue of The American Spectator, Friedman notes the evolution of cars and TVs in our market economy. At first they were only purchasable by the well-off "at high prices [that] thereby supported production while the cost was being brought down, until what started out as a luxury good for the rich became a necessity for the poor." By introducing competition among schools, vouchers would create educational curricula for different needs and at a lower cost.
The problem with today's voucher system is that it is too limited. It does not really establish a market in education. Thus public education remains rigid and unresponsive to students' needs, namely the needs demonstrated in the report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the need to teach young people to read and do math. Though Milton Friedman and his wife, also an economist, Rose Friedman, have been campaigning for vouchers for years, neither has given up. They are in their nineties now, but their faith in human nature is as boundless as their energy. When they first argued for vouchers in the 1950s, few thought vouchers had a chance. In fact few thought market solutions applicable to public problems. I recall the conventional mixed-economy economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, sneering in debate with William F. Buckley Jr. that markets do not even exist.
The Friedmans have lived to see most of the world accept the existence and value of markets. Doubtless in time markets will exert their force in education also, and to education's gain.
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