Education Monopolies: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $11,
by Madeline Peltzer, Age 14
Submitting Teacher: Dawn Peltzer
Ancient Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius once asserted, "The foundation of every state is the education of its youth." The United States has long recognized the importance of this dictum. In the s, America's public schools led the world in education. Unfortunately, the current system has not adapted to the 21st century as evidenced by our low test scores, high dropout rates, and mediocre international ranking. The government claims it needs more money to solve the problem, but results have been static at best. In my home state of Arizona, the solution is one that the free market understands well: competition.
Hundreds of years ago, children were taught at home, by religious schools, or in community-run schools. In the midth century, in response to the industrial age, our government adopted the Prussian model of education that we still use today. At the time, it gave Americans a good education and equipped them to enter the workforce.
Today the opposite is true. The U.S. now ranks 30th in international math tests and 23rd in reading. Across the country, million high school students drop out annually -- one every 26 seconds. Even among those who graduate, one-third require remedial courses in college for English, math, and science. Employers find the incoming workforce lacks the qualifications necessary to meet their needs.
Why did this happen? "Because K education is a government monopoly. Monopolies don't improve," wrote John Stossel in his book No, They Can't. "While most every other service in life has gotten better, faster, and cheaper, education has remained stagnant, unchanged since we started measuring it in "
Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison was featured on Stossel's television special, No, They Can't. He claims such government failures are because there is "not adequate investment in our public education system."
"That's what the big spenders always say, about most everything government does," said Stossel. "More money and government power will fix everything."
American taxpayers have already invested heavily in education -- two trillion dollars since "For the past 45 years," said Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, "we have seen federal, per-pupil expenditures triple, and yet reading achievement is flat, academic achievement gaps persist, American students still rank in the middle of the pack [compared to] their international peers, and graduation rates are the same today as they were in the s." Burke suggested a business model that puts more power in the hands of parents and local leaders.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman agreed. He advocated for school choice for over 60 years. "Education spending," he said, "will be most effective if it relies on parental choice and private initiative -- the building blocks of success throughout our society."
In Arizona, homeschooling best embodies Friedman's objective of parental choice and private initiative. As a parent-funded, parent-directed form of education, families reject government money and the regulations that would inevitably come with it.
Home education is cost effective and produces excellent results. Parents spend an average of $ per child a year; the state spends $11, per pupil. Homeschoolers consistently score percentile points higher on standardized assessments than public school students. They also score significantly higher on college entrance tests and earn better grade point averages as college students. America's top schools actively recruit homeschoolers, and students complete their four-year degrees at a much higher rate than their counterparts. Homeschooling is the ultimate free market solution.
Arizona's private schools cost less and generate better results than public schools. The Cato Institute found that Phoenix private schools cost an average of $6, compared to the state's $11, Private school students finish 18 points higher in standardized reading tests and 13 points higher in math than government school pupils. These schools have a 90 percent matriculation rate compared to 62 percent for public schools.
How did Arizona loosen its government education monopoly? Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former Chief of Staff, famously declared, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is, it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." When the worst debt crisis in Arizona history hit in , free-market legislators followed Emanuel's recommendation and began to make previously unfeasible reforms in education.
In an attempt to save the state money on education costs, Governor Jan Brewer enacted the groundbreaking Empowerment Scholarship Account, the most aggressive school-choice policy ever implemented. Today, the program transfers 90 percent of the state's cost-per-pupil money to the parents of children with special needs, students in failing public schools, children of active-duty military parents, and foster children -- a total of over , students.
Families can only use their ESA debit cards in the private market; they may not utilize public schools of any sort. As stewards, parents have the freedom to handpick the exact courses and learning opportunities that best suit their children's needs. They can select from private school, online education, tutoring, or choose to school at home. Furthermore, the state benefits by saving 10 percent per child on education. "No victory will be bigger than Arizona's," said the National Review's Carrie Lukas, "especially if other states follow its lead."
The inclusion of the free market has motivated public schools to become more creative in competing for students. Arizona public schools now offer online, distance learning, and homeschool enrichment programs and have created charter schools, open enrollment policies, and tuition tax credits.
Arizona's financial crisis broke its educational monopoly. More than any other time in history, parents can select from a robust menu of innovative options that produce better results at a lower cost. The free market challenges everyone, including public schools, to improve their performances.
Milton Friedman once said, "Competition is a way in which both public and private schools can be required to satisfy their customers . . . competition is better than monopoly." It's time for America to take monopoly off the table and never play with it again.
‘Buy land – they aren’t making it any more,’ quipped Mark Twain. It’s a maxim that would certainly serve you well in a game of Monopoly, the bestselling board game that has taught generations of children to buy up property, stack it with hotels, and charge fellow players sky-high rents for the privilege of accidentally landing there.
The game’s little-known inventor, Elizabeth Magie, would no doubt have made herself go directly to jail if she’d lived to know just how influential today’s twisted version of her game has turned out to be. Why? Because it encourages its players to celebrate exactly the opposite values to those she intended to champion.
Born in , Magie was an outspoken rebel against the norms and politics of her times. She was unmarried into her 40s, independent and proud of it, and made her point with a publicity stunt. Taking out a newspaper advertisement, she offered herself as a ‘young woman American slave’ for sale to the highest bidder. Her aim, she told shocked readers, was to highlight the subordinate position of women in society. ‘We are not machines,’ she said. ‘Girls have minds, desires, hopes and ambition.’
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In addition to confronting gender politics, Magie decided to take on the capitalist system of property ownership – this time not through a publicity stunt but in the form of a board game. The inspiration began with a book that her father, the anti-monopolist politician James Magie, had handed to her. In the pages of Henry George’s classic, Progressand Poverty (), she encountered his conviction that ‘the equal right of all men to use the land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air – it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence’.
Travelling around America in the s, George had witnessed persistent destitution amid growing wealth, and he believed it was largely the inequity of land ownership that bound these two forces – poverty and progress – together. So instead of following Twain by encouraging his fellow citizens to buy land, he called on the state to tax it. On what grounds? Because much of land’s value comes not from what is built on the plot but from nature’s gift of water or minerals that might lie beneath its surface, or from the communally created value of its surroundings: nearby roads and railways; a thriving economy, a safe neighbourhood; good local schools and hospitals. And he argued that the tax receipts should be invested on behalf of all.
Determined to prove the merit of George’s proposal, Magie invented and in patented what she called the Landlord’s Game. Laid out on the board as a circuit (which was a novelty at the time), it was populated with streets and landmarks for sale. The key innovation of her game, however, lay in the two sets of rules that she wrote for playing it.
Under the ‘Prosperity’ set of rules, every player gained each time someone acquired a new property (designed to reflect George’s policy of taxing the value of land), and the game was won (by all!) when the player who had started out with the least money had doubled it. Under the ‘Monopolist’ set of rules, in contrast, players got ahead by acquiring properties and collecting rent from all those who were unfortunate enough to land there – and whoever managed to bankrupt the rest emerged as the sole winner (sound a little familiar?).
The purpose of the dual sets of rules, said Magie, was for players to experience a ‘practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences’ and hence to understand how different approaches to property ownership can lead to vastly different social outcomes. ‘It might well have been called “The Game of Life”,’ remarked Magie, ‘as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seems to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.’
The game was soon a hit among Left-wing intellectuals, on college campuses including the Wharton School, Harvard and Columbia, and also among Quaker communities, some of which modified the rules and redrew the board with street names from Atlantic City. Among the players of this Quaker adaptation was an unemployed man called Charles Darrow, who later sold such a modified version to the games company Parker Brothers as his own.
Once the game’s true origins came to light, Parker Brothers bought up Magie’s patent, but then re-launched the board game simply as Monopoly, and provided the eager public with just one set of rules: those that celebrate the triumph of one over all. Worse, they marketed it along with the claim that the games inventor was Darrow, who they said had dreamed it up in the s, sold it to Parker Brothers, and become a millionaire. It was a rags-to-riches fabrication that ironically exemplified Monopoly’s implicit values: chase wealth and crush your opponents if you want to come out on top.
So next time someone invites you to join a game of Monopoly, here’s a thought. As you set out piles for the Chance and Community Chest cards, establish a third pile for Land-Value Tax, to which every property owner must contribute each time they charge rent to a fellow player. How high should that land tax be? And how should the resulting tax receipts be distributed? Such questions will no doubt lead to fiery debate around the Monopoly board – but then that is exactly what Magie had always hoped for.
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is a senior visiting research associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and a senior associate at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. She is the author of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (). She lives in Oxford.