by Don Boudreaux on April 24, 2011
Suppose that we were supplied with groceries in same way that we are supplied with K-12 education.
Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. A huge chunk of these tax receipts would then be spent by government officials on building and operating supermarkets. County residents, depending upon their specific residential addresses, would be assigned to a particular supermarket. Each family could then get its weekly allotment of groceries for “free.” (Department of Supermarket officials would no doubt be charged with the responsibility for determining the amounts and kinds of groceries that families of different types and sizes are entitled to receive.)
Except in rare circumstances, no family would be allowed to patronize a “public” supermarket outside of its district.
Residents of wealthier counties – such as Fairfax County, VA and Somerset County, NJ – would obviously have better-stocked and more attractive supermarkets than would residents of poorer counties. Indeed, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in determining people’s choices of neighborhoods in which to live.
Of course, thanks to a long-ago U.S. Supreme Court decision <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierce_v._Society_of_Sisters> , families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer; such private-supermarket families, though, would get no discount on their property-tax bills.
When the quality of supermarkets is recognized by nearly everyone to be dismal, the resulting calls for “supermarket choice” would be rejected by a coalition of greedy government-supermarket workers and ideologically benighted collectivists as attempts to cheat supermarket customers out of good supermarket service – indeed, as attempts to deny ordinary families the food that they need for their very survival. Such ‘choice,’ it would be alleged, will drain precious resources from the public supermarkets whose (admittedly) poor performance testifies to the fact that these supermarkets are underfunded.
And the small handful of people who call for total separation between supermarket and state would be criticized by nearly everyone as being, at best, delusional and – it would be thought more realistically – more likely misanthropic devils who are indifferent to the malnutrition and starvation that would sweep the land if only private market forces governed the provision and patronizing of supermarket. (Some indignant observers would even wonder aloud at the insensitivity of referring to grocery shoppers as “customers”; surely the relationship between suppliers of life-giving foods and the people who need these foods is not so crass as to be properly discussed as being ‘commercial.’)
Does anyone believe that such a system for supplying groceries would work well, or even one-tenth as well as the current private, competitive system that we currently rely upon for supplying grocery-retailing services? To those of you who might think so, pardon me but you’re nuts.
To those of you who understand that such a system for supplying grocery-retailing services would be a catastrophe, why might you continue to count yourself in the ranks of those who believe that government schooling (especially the way it is currently funded and supplied) is the system that we should continue to use?