Compare and Contrast: American Public Schools and Supermarkets

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal written by a GMU prof-for-sale named Donald Boudreau, funded by one of the Koch brothers’ far right-wing think tanks, recently tried to make the case that the public has no more business funding and running public education than the government should be running supermarkets. Boudreau asked, rhetorically, what if supermarkets were run like our public schools?

I read the article, and was incensed. Here is what I wrote (or wished I had written… I’ve edited this a bit since I originally wrote it):

Having lived in various lower-income regions and mostly-black ghettoes in Boston, DC, Manhattan, and Chicago, as well as in poor rural areas of VT, NH, MO, and MD, as well as in nicer parts of various cities, towns and suburbs, I can say that yes, American supermarkets ARE a lot like our public schools. 

When I lived in those low-income, segregated regions of some of our great American cities and countryside, and I would walk or drive to the local supermarket, guess what: I found that they sucked. There were rats, roaches, and mice; the tiles on the floor were coming up; the shopping carts wouldn’t work; the refrigeration often was broken; you risked getting robbed walking home with your bags in your arms; the food was old, of poor quality, and almost guaranteed to give you high blood pressureand to make you obese. Plus, numerous studies showed that the prices for this crappy merchandise was often higher than at fancy supermarkets in more well-to-do neighborhoods. Any laws to prevent this sort of nasty racial and economic discrimination are and were toothless and/or gutted by business interests.

And yes, that’s very comparable to the situation with our public schools. So I guess that the author of this pro-education-DEFORM writer hasn’t actually spent any time in our urban or rural ghettoes, or he would have known this already.

It’s basically a management decision to leave the poor folks (often of color) in the poor neighborhoods with crappy, nasty supermarkets. After all, it leads to higher profits! Such conditions are not the fault of the sometimes-unionized supermarket employees, though supermarket management often do their level best to convince the public that the reason for high prices and inefficiencies was solely due to those evil unions… Similarly, in the field of education, we see that billionaires and their paid-for policy wonks are currently trying to blame all of the faults of public education on those who are actually trying to do the teaching. Just imagine. The folks who are actually teaching in those urban and rural ghettoes, working their butts off for really not very much money, are getting blamed for pretty much ALL of America’s problems — especially if they happen to belong to a big bad union.

But wait a second. I thought the reason we are in a crisis  right now, and that so many folks are out of a job, is because the billionaires who run the big banks and Wall Street …

(a) Shipped all the good manufacturing jobs to low-paid, seriously exploited workers overseas and are doing the same thing with a lot of high-tech jobs as well;

(b) Played such incredibly irresponsible gambling games, for their own benefit, that they have brought the entire world near the brink of bankruptcy, not once, but repeatedly;

(c) Changed the tax and regulatory and legal climate over the past 20 years so that the super rich have gotten an ever larger part of the national (and world) pie, while the rest of us get less and less and have to pay more and more for everything;

(d) Are doing their very best to organize an all-out attack on workers’ rights, pensions of all types, medical plans of any sort, and all of the rest of the ‘social safety net’, by blaming us, the working class, the  middle class, and the poor, for our own problems!

(e) Have ushered in an era of nearly endless war and foreign interventions and invasions, violating just about all of our own Constitutional protections and international laws, and justifying each and every one of those violations.

Meanwhile, yes, you can go to another, better supermarket, if you have a car or are willing to take a taxi or public transportation to get there and back. Just as it is possible — particularly here in DC — to enroll your kids at out-of-boundary public schools for some reason or other. Which is what my wife and I certainly did with our own kids. But what we really need to do is to improve the conditions in the poor neighborhoods, at those public schools, and at those dilapidated supermarkets. 

Not to wait for gentrification. Or for Superman.


A little background:

From:   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Thu, May 5, 2011 8:31:01 AM
Subject: Re: [EDDRA2] If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools

Mr. Boudreaux is professor of economics at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center.

The Mercatus Center was founded and is funded by the Koch Family Foundations. According to financial records, the Koch family has contributed more than thirty million dollars to George Mason, much of which has gone to the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit organization. (SourceWatch)

A brief history of the Mercatus Center: 
The Mercatus Center was founded as the 
Center for Market Processes by former economist Rich Fink, executive vice president of Koch Industries and former president of the Koch Foundations, who went on to found Citizens for a Sound Economy. Fink heads Koch Industries’ lobbying operation in Washington. In addition, Fink is the president of theCharles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the president of the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, a director of the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation, and a director and co-founder, with David Koch, of the Americans for ProsperityFoundation. In the early 1980s the center moved to George Mason University. It merged with the Center for the Study of Public Choice during 1998 to become the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy. The Mercatus Center brand was developed in 1999 from the JBC. (SourceWatch)

The Koch Brothers are funding many of the attacks on public employees across the country (Lipton, Eric “BillionaireBrothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute” New York Times, Feb. 21, 2011).

Boudreaux is certainly not going to bite the hand that feeds him.

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 2:14 am  Leave a Comment  

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