Krugman Says Health Care Is Like Education


Reader Jim Mack points to today's NY Times' col by Paul Krugman, which argues:

We offer free education, and don't worry about middle-class families getting benefits they don't need, because that's the only way to ensure that every child gets an education—and giving every child a fair chance is the American way. And we should guarantee health care to every child, for the same reason.

The whole thing is here (the Times did kill the subscription wall, didn't they?).

Needless to say–and as the father of two kids in public schools and as a taxpayer–I do worry about middle-class families getting benefits they don't need. Certainly it seems indisputable that the public financing of mandatory K-12 education has produced a bloated, underperforming bureaucracy that serves the least-well-off worst of all. Which is not to say that all public schools are terrible, or even that public schooling has not helped create opportunities for people who would otherwise be screwed. But given the monopoly status of tax-funded schools, it's hardly surprising that K-12 education is far from a robust market in terms of product differentiation, competing models, etc. (Indeed, higher ed in the U.S., though heavily subsidized through tax dollars, is a far more varied market largely because schools have to compete for students and funding dollars.)

Krugman is talking here about health care in his col, specifically about proposals to massively boost spending on S-CHIP, a decade-old program designed to give poor kids health care. Boosters of the program want it cover kids in households making up to 400 percent of the poverty line, as opposed to the current limit of 250 percent of the poverty line.

I am curious to readers' responses to his analogy between education and health care. I can think of various arguments against it but wonder if those readers who agree with Milton Friedman on school vouchers would agree with the same ideas transferred into health care:

Vouchers [wrote Friedman in 1955] "would bring a healthy increase in the variety of educational institutions available and in competition among them. Private initiative and enterprise would quicken the pace of progress in this area as it has in so many others. Government would serve its proper function of improving the operation of the invisible hand without substituting the dead hand of bureaucracy."…

[Friedman told Reason in 2005]: I want vouchers to be universal, to be available to everyone. They should contain few or no restrictions on how they can be used. We need a system in which the government says to every parent: "Here is a piece of paper you can use for the educational purposes of your child. It will cover the full cost per student at a government school. It is worth X dollars towards the cost of educational servics that you purchase from parochial schools, private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, or other purveyors of educational services. You may add from your own funds to the voucher if you wish to and can afford to." (I try to avoid calling government schools public schools because I think that's a very misleading term.)

Friedman on the 50th anniversary of creating the school voucher idea here.