Public Goods and Education

Education can be a private good or a public good. The fact that one person’s education can have spillover effects on other people is often taken to be an argument for government intervention in the market for education. But public financing of education can produce negative externalities by creating perverse incentives, and a public monopoly on the delivery of education can discourage experimentation and turn schools into an outlet for intellectual fads and political propaganda. I review the arguments for thinking about education as a public good, and the associated arguments for giving the state a role in educating citizens. I conclude with a note of skepticism about the desirability of direct government involvement in education, even if it plays a limited role in financing it through vouchers, grants, or loans that can be redeemed at accredited schools.

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