Public Choice and Education Reform in Georgia

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All around the world, there are hundreds of ongoing discussions on how to improve education and its outcomes. Some people suggest to increase financing, others – setting priorities straight. Some try to prove that mathematics and science are of utmost importance, while others put emphasis on language. However, we, as free marketers, believe the key problem with education lies not in not enough financing, or that there is no one clear priority, but rather in the fact that the incentive for people to find enough funds, identify these priorities, or to maintain personal control over the educational costs and the very quality of education is missing. And this incentive may be created only if education is private.

The examples from the poorest African nations show us that it is, indeed, worth trying to privatize education, since the public one is failing. One of the greatest Georgian thinkers, Ilia Chavchavadze, already in the 19th century warned the aristocracy: “why are you waiting for the government to pay for your education while the poorest already decided to pay their own money for theirs”.

Even though politicians keep asking “how can we bring about freedom of education?”, this idea is usually immediately opposed by not only the leftist forces, but also by the society, which suddenly starts the outcry for the “right” of the poor to free(-of-charge) education, while at the same time giving our governments more power to brainwash the youth according to their own agendas and implement extremely statist education system. The efficiency argument is dismissed and political necessity easily wins.

But then, it inevitably fails. Why then people cannot see this and stop the parasitism? Because of the Public Choice. The New Economic School based in Georgia has attempted to introduce this new approach which underlines government failures to the people from our region. Our efforts, in the form of the Public Choice School, prove that the government indeed lacks the most important incentives to do its work well and cheap. The current political system in Georgia directs the resources towards public demands despite higher costs and lower quality of the state sector, shortage of resources and economic crises.

Nevertheless, most political systems still encourage politicians to promise people to solve the problems at hand with the same tools which created them in the first place: by more spending and more intervention. This, in turn, results in eliminating personal incentives and responsibilities.

Let us, however, conduct a simple experiment and assume that a nation was so wise that it chose a good (or libertarian) government. Let us imagine that the chosen cabinet is the best there is. Moreover, that not only is the minister of education the best education expert there is, but also that he has the best views and the best values and as such is not interested in politics but rather in doing the right thing. Get the idea? So now, let’s follow the plausible actions of our fellow minister.

1. After a few months, the minister realizes that his/her plans for an education reform will mean a long-lasting process, the results of which will be visible only in the long run. The tangible results will most likely come after the end of the term of the current government. Any political cycle is shorter than the time need for the voters to notice the results of a conducted education reform. As a result, the politicians are more likely to for something other than introducing educational reform in order to show their voters that they deserve to be re-elected.

2. After a while, the minister starts to understands that his/her government is looking for such tangible and quick results to announce the much needed success. The next elections may seem to be quite far away but, in fact, any campaign starts immediately after the previous elections end. And so, the opponents are more eager than ever to seek any possible mistakes and shortcomings of the new government, and keep pestering it for quick results. Meanwhile, the minister faces a great challenge: he/she must try to figure out how to balance the short- and long-term expectations.

3. Further down the road, the minister also begins to understand that the government needs immediate success stories to advertise and promote its actions, to attract voters and supporters as quickly as possible. It desperately needs evidence-based developments. So, all ministers who fail to join in in this race are warned that they need to get their priorities straight and contribute to creating a positive image. If any minister fails to comply, the governing political party needs to make visible and promising changes.

4. Our minister notices the paradox of his/her situation. The cabinet is very progress-oriented and wants to support the reforms, but it also wants to ensure its survival. Needless to say, without it, the planned education reform of our fellow minister most likely also can’t survive if the government were to change after the next elections. But the minister is also aware of the fact that even if his/her cabinet was to find itself in trouble, what it would need to attract the support of prospective voters would be a visible and immediate success – thus something a newly introduced education reform cannot offer. So, his cabinet can choose to stop his plans and his position.

5. This situation pushes our minister to think about the future more carefully – a new plan could therefore include postponing the major reform and orienting everything towards immediate outputs and short-term projects. He/She starts to think that in order to keep the planned comprehensive reform floating, it is necessary to keep the current government in power. Otherwise everything might be lost

6. Our fellow minister’s next move forces him/her to surrender own better judgement and values to achieving the overall political goal: the current government must win the next elections. Therefore, all the resources must serve this goal – and our minister might sometimes be forced to turn a blind eye on waste, politicizing, etc.

7. Our minister is already an experienced politician. He/She thinks not only about the reforms, but also about the political outcomes. At this point, the monister is also able to politically prove that black is white and the other way around, whenever necessary.

If we understand the cyclical character of a political system, we may easily guess what kind of people will be attracted by it. Intellectuals who are still naive enough to think that values are more important than immediate political outcomes might try to get rid of the system, but to no avail. In real life, and as history has tought us, even the harshest opponents of such politicization, parasitization and interventionism of the government (e.g. President Reagan or PM Thatcher) were usually faced with huge criticism from political and bureaucratic systems.

Georgia, my homeland, having already undergone numerous educational experiments in the past, was also a playground for trying out various tools many libertarians would dream of introducing. None of these, however, worked. What is more, the results were far worse than we could have imagined.

So, is there a solution for this particular public choice problem? It is obvious: privatisation, decreasing tax rates, cutting the educational programs and limiting regulatory and administrative functions of the government. The only question that remains is whether we are ready to say no to the government and take over the responsibility for education

Gia Jandieri
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