Steve Jobs on benefits of competition in education (Korea Herald)

I have the following article in today's Korea Herald:

Steve Jobs on benefits of competition in education

There seem to be as many political solutions to education problems in South Korea as there are people thinking about them. Thus, there is endless controversy about which policies should be implemented. A major reason for the controversy is the biggest difference between political and market-based polices: In politics, a situation that captures public attention is seen a problem or crisis; in the market, such situations are seen as opportunities.

Some of the world’s greatest, boldest and most aggressive entrepreneurs have avoided tackling education problems. Instead of being “innovative disrupters” in the education world, entrepreneurs have been relegated to being surrogate parents tutoring kids. Wealthy people are welcomed ― as money trees who donate money, expected to celebrate wildly like cheerleaders regardless of the results. Is there any doubt that education would look different today if youngsters weren’t just using iPODs or iPADs but also were in schools established by great innovators and entrepreneurs who were motivated by the profit motive rather than altruism?

Steve Jobs has passed away, but his 1996 interview with Wired Magazine is a reminder about the negative consequences of sticking with a political model that funds producers rather than a market competition model subsidizing consumers. To cut to the chase, Jobs’ main public policy suggestion was to have a “full voucher system.” In his early days he had spearheaded initiatives getting computer equipment into schools, but he later changed his view that technology could help education. “What’s wrong with education,” he argued, “cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent.” He pointed to the “political problem.” He was blunt: “The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy.” He made similar comments at a 2007 appearance with Michael Dell.

Jobs’ proposal to put education dollars in the hands of parents rather than schools is not exactly new. Classical liberals like French economist Frederic Bastiat (1801-50) and American Milton Friedman (1912-2006) have noted that the quality of education is undercut by the lack of a private motive in education and by parents not paying directly. Some libertarians go so far as to suggest that there needs to be a full-blown free market in education. Jobs was being more pragmatic but pointing to the same age-old problem: The lack of concern about efficiency and cost when others pick up the tab. As Jobs said: “They feel like it’s free, right? No one does any comparison shopping.”

Education was on Jobs’ mind just as he was about to return to Apple. Imagine that: Steve Jobs could have spent the last 14 years of his life developing the iPOD equivalent for education if there had been a market model in education. That could have truly changed the world, even more than the iPOD has. In 1996, he told Wired: “I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students.”

That would mean real change ― schools could no longer rely on compulsory education laws and truant officers to deliver customers to them. That’s where we have the choice between remaining with the current political model or having a market-oriented model in which parents would seek out schools they believe are most appropriate for their children, regardless of school boundary lines.

His second reason for a full voucher program that would lead to the market model: “I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting. I’ve suggested as an example, if you go to Stanford Business School, they have a public policy track; they could start a school administrator track. You could get a bunch of people coming out of college tying up with someone out of the business school, they could be starting their own school.”

He then gave a final positive result of a universal voucher program: “The third thing you’d see is I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years.” Naturally, reporters, activists and educators would focus on those painful stories, but families would be better off eventually with a wider range of choices, educators who must cater to them, and the power to easily exit schools they aren’t satisfied with.

The “discovery process” that guided Jobs is impossible in the political model where education is a problem rather than an opportunity. Jobs could have been wrong, not everything he touched turned to gold, but as almost all education systems (including South Korea’s) are currently structured, there is not a chance to find out. For at least three decades, private institutions (“hagwon”) have been targeted for destruction by the intellectual and political elite in South Korea. Unfortunately, South Korean politicians are pushing for giveaway programs that don’t enhance private enterprise and instead strengthen government power. It is likely that the education status quo will remain in place, with the usual tinkering and internal reforms that frustrate more than they improve things.

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Casey Lartigue, Jr., director of international relations at the Center for Free Enterprise, is co-editor of the book “Educational Freedom in Urban America: Five Decades after Brown v. Board of Education.” He has a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. ― Ed.


"Intellectual Shock" in Seoul

‘Intellectual shock’ in Seoul
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Dearest Casey, You did it. You left America again to return to Korea, where you lived and worked during part of the 1990s.

Because this is your second journey abroad (12 years apart), people often ask you what has changed about Korea. You first mention the obvious things ― the country has developed; Koreans seem more globalized and your fellow expats seem more educated. But there is the less obvious one that is more important: You’re different.

Casey, you enjoyed some moments in the sun as an education researcher in America. As you began to approach the age of 40 you began to tell family and friends that you felt free to do as you pleased because you realized you would never be Martin Luther King Jr. (assassinated at age 39) or president of a country. One of the things you realized that you wanted to do was to live abroad again. And so you have.

You never suffered from culture shock while abroad ― you expected things to be different. You were never interested in a traditional 9 to 5 job. During the 1990s, as an English teacher, you occasionally wrote in the local newspapers ― about America. You weren’t ready to comment on Korea very often.

As you heard another expat say later on: ``When in China for a week, you feel you can write a book about the country. When in China for a few months, you think you might be able to squeeze out an article for your community newspaper. When you are in China for an extended period of time, you put your head down and mutter.”

Now that you are a working professional in Korea, you often find yourself putting your head down and muttering to yourself. It may be ``intellectual” shock. South Korea is rushing to establish a universal welfare state with politicians of both parties trying to one-up each other in ``freesomething” giveaways. Your side for limited government is losing the public policy and political debate in South Korea ― and prospects in the near future don’t look bright.

In the 1990s, when Koreans you talked with wanted to blame America ― and you ― for (fill-in-the-blank), you could honestly say, ``Hey, I don’t care. The president would never accept my calls so you need to find someone else to complain to about this.”

Now, one arm is tied is behind your back because you are an American who doesn’t speak Korean very well trying to engage a populace that fundamentally sees Americans as being imperialistic. You have even been warned by friends that it might be dangerous for you, as an American, to attend rallies against the free trade agreement between America and Korea.

You believe in individual liberty but you are now living in a population with a collectivist mindset ― and they were doing quite fine before you ever showed up. When you talk of individual freedom, people are skeptical, preferring to have someone in charge of the economy and culture.

Welfare redistributionists have the upper hand now but that won’t deter you in your push for individual freedom. Your side may not be winning, but that won’t stop you from doing what you do. Both you and South Korea are different from the last time you were here. Perhaps both will go through positive changes in the future.

The year 2012 has now begun, and it should be a big year for you as well as the country. Korea will have elections for the National Assembly and presidency. Things are sure to get heated. Will you have an impact? Will your voice be heard?

I Remain,

Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Casey Lartigue, Jr., is Director of International Relations at the Center for Free Enterprise in Seoul, South Korea. He may be contacted at cjl@cfe.org or www.cfekorea.com. 

This article was originally published in the Korea Times on January 20, 2012.


Quoted in today's Korea Herald

I am quoted in today's Korea Herald about the prospect of South Korea adopting a welfare state.
Kim’s colleague at the CFE, international relations director Casey Lartigue argues that helping the less well-off is a matter of government doing not more, but less.
“Instead of focusing on social welfare spending, why shouldn’t Korea, for example, follow Sweden’s historical model of having free markets, free trade, and its policy of universal school choice?”

But whether a program or system is fiscally sound or not, Lartigue says the principle off hands-off government is important in itself.
“The right not to have the government take half of your money to set up programs gets ignored in the rush for welfare policies. So focusing on the big government scheme is a distraction from the relationship of the individual with the state. In the age of globalization, it may not make sense to be creating a Swedish model, thereby giving citizens less control over their money and lives,” he said.

Korea Herald illustration by Han Chang-duk