If monopolies are bad, what about traditional public ed?

Many of my friends who defend public education are also the political type who are very worried about monopolies. They often point to the damage that companies with large market shares—think Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Google—can do. These friends point out how these companies’ large market presence allows them to squeeze out competitors, exploit employees, and hold customers captive.

Those points, of course, are debatable, but what really troubles me is that while these friends decry monopolies in commerce, they defend a huge monopoly: public schools. All the same criticisms should apply—but never seem to.


Since Amazon dominates online retail, imagine that the government makes them an offer. If Amazon agrees to supply citizens all with “free” stuff to satisfy our wants and needs, then in return, Amazon will gain its revenue exclusively through tax money. Another term of the agreement is that Amazon will not ask us what we want or allow us to individually request items but will give us all a predetermined package of goods that the political process (politicians and bureaucrats in conjunction with Amazon) say we should have.

You want to opt out of this great deal? Not to worry, say Amazon and the government. You can choose to shop at other retailers. Just fill out a set of forms explaining why (to our satisfaction) and recognize that your tax money still goes to Amazon. You’ll just have to pay those other retailers out of pocket.

Amazon would no longer have great incentive to offer us products that satisfy our (as opposed to its’) wants.

I doubt any of my anti-monopoly-public-school-supporting friends would accept this arrangement. They would immediately recognize the problem. Amazon would no longer have great incentive to offer us products that satisfy our (as opposed to its’) wants. The government would be forcing people to support a company they may not want to support, and while there is an illusion of choice, those who can’t afford to “pay twice” (a tax to Amazon and money to other retailers) would be left out. And if anyone wanted a job in retail, they would have one real option: Amazon.