Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ontario Teachers? Bill 115? Who? What? Someone Explain This

Also available at mises.ca

A spectre is haunting Ontario's government schools - the spectre of... collective bargaining?

"The public doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the current debate is about," says John Wright, Senior Vice-President of Ipso-Reid, "half of them think it’s about wages, the other half think it’s about bargaining."

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation are protesting the Ontario government's Bill 115, which outlaws strikes and purportedly strips their "right" to collective bargaining. Premier McGuinty heated things up last week when he called the planned one-day strike by elementary teachers "illegal."

There are a lot of aspects to this issue and I could get into minute details about the whole fiasco like the extra-curricula activities, wage freezes, something about retirement funds, etc. etc. But there's a common thread to all of this and it is this: the state should stay out of education. Granted, the state should stay out of everything and ideally it should abolish itself. But for now let's just focus on state schools.

One of the many problems of "collective ownership" of things like schools is that when everyone owns it, nobody owns it. The current debate between teacher unions and McGuinty's government is just another version of the tragedy of the commons.

Wikipedia defines the tragedy of the commons as, "the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one's self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group's long-term best interests." If the "shared resource" in question is the taxpayer, then this about sums up the teachers vs. government fight.

Unlike the market, the state uses coercion to get its funds. Prices are an objective expression of the subjective valuations made when two or more people voluntarily exchange. This indicates the costs of using the traded resources for whatever end is in mind. The act of forcing money out of an individual destroys this cost calculation and thus destroys or greatly distorts the price system. All this talk over Bill-115 simply ignores the primordial fact that without market prices, any discussion of "cost," "value" or the "best interests of the child" are void.

By being taxed to support the "public" system, taxpayers erroneously believe that they have a property interest in how "their" schools are run and by whom. In contrast, the owners of a private school announce their decisions and then parents make their own choice as to whether to patronize the school with their money. That is to say, parents either voluntarily enter or don't enter into contract with the school for the education of their children. Privately-owned schools experience fewer of these kind of conflicts simply because there is no illusion as to who owns the school. If teachers and administrators of a private school were fighting like this, I'm sure parents would have long since pulled their children out and put them into better schools, thus causing bankruptcy for the school that cares more about financial goodies than offering a legitimate service.

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