Government Accountability is an Oxymoron  

The most powerful force on earth is a consumer armed with a free choice.   

Government Accountability is an Oxymoron  

By: George Noga – December 1, 2019  


Since founding the school choice movement in Florida 25 years ago, I have debated many apologists for government schools. Invariably, their go-to argument is that private voucher schools are “unaccountable“. When everything else fails, they trot out this moldy canard. It’s time for me, once and for all, to demolish this fairy tale.  


            Everyone wants accountability for the products and services they consume. In free markets businesses compete to provide accountability for quality, safety and value. There is no such thing as an unaccountable free market. The most potent force on this planet is a consumer armed with a free choice; or, as Von Mises so eloquently put it, “Markets are a daily plebiscite in which every penny confers the right to vote“.  


          Markets deliver safety, quality and value in many ways. Foremost is branding, by which companies stake their reputation on products. When you vacation at Disney or buy an Apple computer, the reputations of the companies are on the line. Markets also deliver quality and value through franchising. If you eat at Wendy’s, you know what to expect. There also are third party rating firms like Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, Underwriter’s Laboratories and BBB. Lastly, social media confer enormous power on consumers; a few terrible reviews can sink nearly any business.  


          Markets are accountable from the bottom up, with consumers exercising control directly. Government accountability is an oxymoron; to the limited extent it may exist, it is from the top down. Consumers can exercise limited control through the political process only once every four years. With government accountability, voters select candidates with positions on numerous issues; with markets, consumers make a choice about one specific good or service. In many jurisdictions accountability is impossible due to political domination by interest groups and voting blocks. With government schools there is no branding, franchising, independent rating agencies or social media.  


        Contrast market accountability (Uber) with government regulated taxis. With Uber, consumers get location, name, photo, driver rating, fare and arrival time. They get a spotless car, pay via credit card and rate the driver. With taxis you get none of the above; you get an unkempt driver with poor English who drives aggressively. The taxi has a musty odor, blares obscene music and costs triple Uber; complaints are futile. Which is more accountable, the market (Uber) or government (taxis)?  


           An independent review of Providence, RI schools with 25,000 students found peeling lead paint, brown water, leaking sewage, rats, frigid temperature, classroom chaos, bullying, no discipline and rampant violence. Only 5% of students were at grade level. Unions protect failed teachers and principals, who at worst are placed in rubber rooms with full salary and benefits. Government blamed lack of funding even though spending was $18,000 per student – 50% above the national average. Not one person ever has been held accountable and these horrors have been going on for decades.   


         In sharp contrast, Providence charter and voucher schools are successful. Instead of expanding charters and vouchers, government and unions want to impose more regulations on them in the name of – you guessed it – accountability. They are trying to turn charters and vouchers into the same veritable hell holes parents are fleeing.  


         Lack of accountability in government is endemic just like waste, fraud and abuse. The only way to reduce these evils is to slash government spending; there is absolutely no other way.  We can increase accountability and simultaneously reduce cost, waste, fraud and abuse by giving every parent a 100% school voucher.   


        The next time you hear that voucher schools are unaccountable, remember Uber, taxis and rubber rooms. Remember that free markets always are accountable and that government accountability is an oxymoron. Above all, remember the Providence schools; how much of that kind of accountability do you want for your children?  

Medicare for all? Next, we take on the Canadian national health care system.   


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