My ex-boss outlines his public education voucher proposal for North Carolina, which of course is far too sensible to become policy but nonetheless is quite appealing. Money grafs:
Now, it is true that not all charter schools are so successful, though it is also true that even the worst charter schools are no worse than the lowest-performing public schools. But think about it: what happens to a charter school that parents aren’t satisfied with? It closes, because its enrollments fall below the level required to secure sufficient funding to continue. What happens to a traditional public school that parents aren’t satisfied with? Nothing, because public schools are not just the last resort, they are the only resort for parents who are denied a choice.
Now, you can say that everybody has a choice. After all, there are private schools. And there is home-schooling. Both of these options have been selected more and more often in the past decade. Those choices are not enough, however. Private schools are not plentiful, and they are very expensive. Home-schooling is expensive too, in its own way, and not everyone is able to teach bright students the challenging material they need to know to succeed in the 21st century workplace.
Prof. Munger also responds to critics of his choice to use Amtrak to get to a conference in Charleston, a response that I suppose applies equally well to my choice to commute most days via Metrolink (even though it takes twice as long as driving and is a pain in the ass).
I will, however, add two minor quibbles: First, to the extent that our country’s involvement in the politics of the Middle East and other unstable regions of the world is driven by demand for oil, the critique that this involvement is tantamount to a subsidy to driving is only half-correct, as the other forms of transportation that are alternatives to driving either also require oil as a fuel, use a substitute fossil fuel (like coal or natural gas) whose price is dependent on the price of oil, or depend on electricity generated from fossil fuels. If Amtrak were run on electric power outside the Northeast Corridor, and the bulk of U.S. energy needs were supplied by renewable sources or nuclear power, my esteemed ex-boss’s account of implicit subsidies to passenger cars and airlines would be more convincing.
Second, highway fuel taxes account for a larger share of the funding of highway construction and maintenance than Mike’s account suggests; indeed, at the federal level the 18.4¢ per gallon tax is used almost exclusively for transportation—the bulk goes to highway construction and maintenance, although significant chunks of the money are diverted to the mass transit account and to “transportation enhancement projects” including non-motorized-vehicle projects and historical preservation. At the state level, however, Mike is correct that many states siphon money from their fuel taxes—typically of similar magnitude as the federal excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel—into general spending programs.
I suppose the moral of this digression is that I should start doing more transportation policy stuff in my research, since clearly I know far too much about it for it to be a healthy hobby.
* If I get a job in North Carolina (hint, hint). And Mike turns out to be the luckiest third-party candidate for a state governorship since Jesse Ventura.