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The Burden of Education on Students Grows but It Shouldn't

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The problem is that public goods are not the same as private ones--goods whose consumption excludes rival consumption, and for which there is a one-to-one correspondence between payment and consumption. Thus, if I purchase a Coke--apart from the property rights implicit in the transaction--and consume it, I effectively prevented someone else from consuming it. By contrast, given its public nature, the acquisition of an education does not generally exclude others from getting one. But it can! Yet, if education makes me a viably, productive member of society, it enables me to make contributions--intellectual, artistic, technological, creative--to that society, and from these contributions to pay taxes, and to save to enable the funding of investment that will grow the economy going forward. I alone enjoyed the Coke, but society collectively benefits from my education. Since society benefits from education shouldn't society pay for it? This is more than a rhetorical question. But what appears to be going on here is an effort to discount the value of education and its accessibility--recall that 300,000 education jobs vanished, the student-teacher ratio is up by at least 4.6 percent, and the interest rate on student loans might double to 6.8 percent on July 1, 2013. Any love affair with public education in the United States is being tested.

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Seymour Patterson received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oklahoma in 1980. He has taught courses and done research in international economics and economic development. He has been the recipient of two Fulbright awards--the first in (more...)
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