Education Needs a Shot of the Free Market

It might seem strange to suggest that the American educational system look to bourbon, but maybe that is just what they need. Maker’s Mark had a little lesson in free market economics this week, and schools should take note. 

Earlier this month the Kentucky bourbon company, Maker’s Mark announced that they would reduce the alcohol content in their signature whiskey from 90 proof to 84 proof to meet unexpected demand for their product. If the product stayed the same, they said, there would be occasional shortage of the bourbon. They made the decision they thought would be best without checking with consumers. Woops!

Within a week, they reversed their decision, saying in a statement “While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision,” the company said in a statement released today. “You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.” Clearly, they learned that it is the consumer who is in charge in a free market economy. What does this have to do with education? 

Like Maker’s Mark, the educational system makes changes based on what they think is best for the consumer (or, in this case, families) without consulting them. The difference is that they aren’t held accountable or expected to respond to backlash because there is not a robust free market for education. If Maker’s Mark had no other competition in the marketplace would they have cared what consumers thought?  No, they could have watered down their product with no fear of losing their customer base or profits.  

What we have now in America is a public education monopoly and it’s failing. This is slowly changing as the school choice movement grows but we’re still sending children to schools based on zip codes and not based on the needs of the child. Once there are real options easily available for parents, they will be able to switch schools just as bourbon lovers can now switch brands. Once students start leaving for other schools, the American education system will have to sit up and listen. 

Our public education system has already been watered down to the point where it’s unpalatable.  Now it needs to take a shot of free market values if it wants to be desired again.