Saturday, November 08, 2003


Thursday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press featured an editorial by Deborah Locke about the latest round in the seemingly endless battle over Minnesota’s social studies standards. The editorial is so full of inanities that a head-to-toe fisking is in order, but I’m going to focus on Locke’s appalling inability to grasp basic economics.

First there’s this:
More than 800 comments were submitted to the state education Web site; nearly all were critical. Many of the opponents who identified themselves on the education Web site as teachers complained that the standards were age-inappropriate. For example, first-graders as miniature free-market advocates will be expected to "define scarcity as the condition of not being able to have all of the goods and services that you want." Additionally, the 6-year-olds "will recognize that because of scarcity they need to make choices."
I happen to be the father of a six-year-old child, and I don’t think the proposition that you can’t have everything you want is too sophisticated for her. I wish I could say the same for Locke. She apparently believes that teaching the law of scarcity can be nothing but propaganda designed to trick students into becoming “free-market advocates.” But that’s absurd. Does she think that the law of gravity is just propaganda designed to trick students into becoming advocates of physics? Or that scarcity is something that collective or command economies don’t have to face?

The imbecility continues. After noting that “[t]he history standards received sharp criticism for ignoring the 1970s altogether, with little or no mention of anti-war demonstrations, the War on Poverty or Watergate,” she throws off this little parenthetical:
(On the other hand, perhaps the standard's authors did deftly cover their interpretation on the War on Poverty with this sneaky standard: "Students will understand that a government policy to correct a market imperfection is not justified economically if its expected costs exceed its expected benefits.")
Put aside the fact that this critic of history standards is placing anti-war demonstrations and the War on Poverty in the decade of the 1970s rather than the 1960s, and ask yourself this: What exactly is so “sneaky” about the proposition that the economic justification for a policy depends on its costs and benefits? Shouldn’t this be self-evident to any sentient person? Nowhere does the standard say that an economic justification is the only possible justification for a government policy, so why does Locke imply that it does?

The only sneaky author here is Locke. She is so busy looking for “free-market advocates” under every bed that she seems to deny two of the most fundamental and inarguable principles of economics. I say keep the proposed standards and send Locke back to first grade until she masters them.


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