Riddle Me This

Timothy Noah argues, in an otherwise unobjectionable Slate piece,

An orthodox belief in big government's inefficiency cannot coexist with an orthodox belief in private industry's inability to compete with big government.

Is this true? It seems to me that, despite government's inefficiency, it can still outcompete private industry, either by banning competition outright (first class mail, law enforcement, etc.) or by crowding out private industry with "free" -- i.e. taxpayer subsidized services. Public education is a perfect example of this,

Many parents reason, “Why pay for private school when public school is free?”

Not entirely free, of course – we all pay for public school through property taxes. But parents have no choice in the matter; we pay for public school whether we use it or not. Parents who want to send their kids to private school must pay twice: once through property taxes for public school and once again through tuition for private school.

So it comes as no surprise that few parents—apart from the very wealthy and the fervently religious—are willing to bear the double cost of private school tuition, while also giving up free tuition to public school.

So is it inconsistent for me to claim that private schools tend to be more efficient than public schools and at the same time claim that private schools have difficulty competing with public schools? I don't think so. The government doesn't play fair. It doesn't play by the same rules by which it expects everyone else to abide. Unlike the state, private firms need to worry about whether they are satisfying consumers and making a profit. Private firms cannot steal to make up for any losses. The state can and does.

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