David R. Henderson  

Does Schooling Create Positive Externalities?

Your Public Education at Work... Liberal Puritanism...

Last night, I was a guest of San Jose State University's economics department on a bus ride through Pebble Beach, complete with drinks and hors d'oeuvres. The reason for the event: the annual Public Choice meetings are being held in Monterey. I live about 10 minutes away.

The conversation jumped from topic to topic, as conversations do, and the issue of externalities from education came up. Also, as happens when that issue comes up, even with free-market-oriented economists, education quickly gets equated with schooling. There's a distinction between the two, as that noted education theorist, Mark Twain, once pointed out.

Then someone said, "As Walter Williams says, there are public externalities up through third grade. By then, kids have learned to read the sign, 'Keep off my lawn.'" (Quote sanitized for public consumption.)

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

As David Friedman is fond of pointing out, there are negative externalities to education too. Most of the rent seekers lobbying legislators are better educated than average.

Compulsory attendance policies create significant negative externalities. See:...

West, E.G.
Schooling and Violence.

Clive Harber
"Schooling as Violence"
Educatioinal Review, p. 9 V. 54, #1.
"Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it."

Linda M. Raffaele Mendez, Howard M. Knoff;
Education and the Treatment of Children, V. 26, #1, Feb. 2003.
"Results showed that the over-representation of Black males that has been cited consistently in the literature begins at the elementary school level and continues through high school. Black females also were suspended at a much higher rate than White or Hispanic females at all three school levels."

Hyman and Penroe,
Journal of School Psychology.
"Several studies of maltreatment by teachers suggest that school children report traumatic symptoms that are similar whether the traumatic event was physical or verbal abuse (Hyman, et.al.,1988; Krugman & Krugman, 1984; Lambert, 1990). Extrapolation from these studies suggests that psychological maltreatment of school children, especially those who are poor, is fairly widespread in the United States...."

Roland Meighan
"Home-based Education Effectiveness Research and Some of its Implications"
Educational Review, Vol. 47, No.3, 1995.
""The second study, by Thomas Smedley (1992), used different test instruments but comes to the same conclusion, that home-educated children are more mature and better socialized than those attending school...So-called 'school phobia' is actually more likely to be a sign of mental health, whereas school dependancy is a largely unrecognized mental health problem...."

A statistician in the office of the attorney general, State of Hawaii, gave me these charts. In Hawaii, juvenile arrests fall in summer, when school is not in session. Juvenile hospitalizations for human-induced trauma fall when school is not in session.

Eduardo Zambrano
"Formal Models of Authority: Introduction and Political Economy Applications"
Rationality and Society, May 1999
"Aside from the important issue of how it is that a ruler may economize on communication, contracting and coercion costs, this leads to an interpretation of the state that cannot be contractarian in nature: citizens would not empower a ruler to solve collective action problems in any of the models discussed, for the ruler would always be redundant and costly. The results support a view of the state that is eminently predatory, (the ? MK.) case in which whether the collective actions problems are solved by the state or not depends on upon whether this is consistent with the objectives and opportunities of those with the (natural) monopoly of violence in society. This conclusion is also reached in a model of a predatory state by Moselle and Polak (1997). How the theory of economic policy changes in light of this interpretation is an important question left for further work."

Richard Rhodes
Why they Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist.
"Criminal violence emerges from social experience, most commonly brutal social experience visited upon vulnerable children, who suffer for our neglect of their welfare and return in vengeful wrath to plague us. If violence is a choice they make, and there- fore their personal responsibility, as Athens demonstrates it is, our failure to protect them from having to confront such a choice is a choice we make, just as a disease epidemic would be implicitly our choice if we failed to provide vaccines and antibiotics. Such a choice-to tolerate the brutalization of children as we continue to do-is equally violent and equally evil, and we reap what we sow. ..."

"I'm sorry I have so much rage, but you put it in me." --Dylan Klebold

Brandon H. writes:

I personally believe that education and schooling creates many positive externalities that are enjoyed by the entire population. They range from higher literacy to voter knowledge the positive effects/outcomes that result from being educated. And as Walter Williams stated educated children do learn respect and how to obey rules as well.

Schooling creates a more knowledgeable society and with knowledge comes respect and responsibility. People who are educated can make informed political decisions, good economic decisions, and add to economic performance by getting jobs that have higher salaries or becoming entrepreneurs.

The entire public also benefits from these externalities created from being schooled because they aren’t in anyway privatized. It’s not like only the smart people benefit from the right person being elected, or the economy doing well

Paul Wilson writes:

I agree with Brandon about many of the positive externalities but think the money allotted for schooling is entirely mismanaged.

To have an functioning knowledgeable society you need to be taught certain topics. The problems are that the important topics of basic society (basic things to me anyway) such as economics, history, and math are not taught the way they should be. No emphasis put on them.

If you don't understand what I'm talking about, look at our current deficit and government spending and ask yourself why are we doing this? Basic ideas such as economic growth, import vs exports, unemployment, and job creation are not taught in our schools. We end up with a society who believes in charge it today and don't worry about paying it until the bill comes in.

Brittany writes:

I think that education does create positive externalities in our society. The more educated someone is, the more money they are likely to make. This means that they will pay more in taxes, which helps generate revenue to have public structures such as parks.

Also, the more educated someone is, the higher the chance that they will make a good educated decision when it comes to politics. I know this is not always the case, but I would like to think that for the most part it is. The more educated people that vote for certain officials, hopefully the better job they would do to help the most people.

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