Government worsens problems

Chris Talgo

When it comes to solving social and economic problems, the private sector invariably outperforms the public sector. In other words, private individuals, not government bureaucrats, are better at properly defining and fixing societal issues.

A great example of this phenomenon is the age-old “problem” of educating children. For decades, there has been a clear delineation between private sector education (home schooling, charter schools, parochial schools, etc.) and public sector education (government schools).

Without a doubt, private sector education is superior to public education. Private school students consistently outpace their public-school peers. According to the Council for American Private Education, “Average ACT scores for 2015 graduates of private schools well exceeded the national average. The ACT mean composite score for 2015 private school graduates was 23.8, compared to 20.7 for public school graduates.”

Moreover, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (a government organization), “In grades 4 and 8 for both reading and mathematics, students in private schools achieved at higher levels than students in public schools. The average difference in school means ranged from almost 8 points for grade 4 mathematics, to about 18 points for grade 8 reading. The average differences were all statistically significant.”

Boatloads of studies show private school students routinely outclass public school students. This is especially remarkable because private schools do so with far fewer resources than public schools.

In 1979, the Department of Education was established “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” Unfortunately, the department has failed miserably in this mission.

Despite a budget of more than $68 billion and 4,000 employees, the Education Department has done little, if anything, to improve student achievement. According to the most recent results from the Nation’s Report Card, only 12 percent of 12th grade students scored at or above proficient in U.S. history. The results were not much better for science (22 percent), math (25 percent), and reading (37 percent).

On a comparative basis, students in the private sector are thriving. For instance, 55 percent and 44 percent of 8th grade students in Catholic schools scored at or above proficient in math and reading, respectively.

No doubt, there are many reasons for this gap. First, private schools do not possess huge centralized bureaucracies. These institutions largely operate independently, which allows them to be more responsive to individual needs and unique circumstances. Second, the private sector incorporates competition, which drives innovation. On the contrary, public schools are giant monopolies immune from competition, which stifles innovation and limits freedom.

The situation is made worse by the public school “one-size-fits-all” approach to education. Unfortunately, this repressive method is a staple of government programs. It fails to address the distinctive needs and circumstances of individuals. The “one-size-fits-all” strategy is draconian and inevitably leads to unintended consequences.

But that’s not the only reason the private sector is more capable to address social issues.

Private citizens, unlike public servants, are generally more attuned to the intricacies of problems. Therefore, members of the local community are better prepared to address problems in schools (or any institution, for that matter).

The truth is that private citizens, not bureaucrats, have a better grasp of problems.

Additionally, they have more skin in the game. Obviously, parents are inherently more concerned about their children’s educational attainment than bureaucrats. The incentive for private individuals to solve societal problems is much greater than distant (geographically and emotionally) bureaucrats.

Ronald Reagan once said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I could not agree more. Despite their best intentions, government bureaucrats are simply too far removed from classrooms (and all other institutions) to adequately understand, let alone properly address, most problems.

This is true not just for education. It holds true for nearly every “problem” the government has tried to “solve.” Since the government declared the “war on poverty” in 1965, the poverty rate has remained stagnant. Since the “war on drugs” was launched in the 1970s, drug use has continued to increase. Even worse, the government’s health care “solutions” have been atrocious. Generally speaking, Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare and Veterans Affairs are ineffective, rife with corruption and headed toward insolvency.

Clearly, education isn’t the only issue that has been worsened by government intervention.

By definition, the private sector is more flexible, responsive and agile than the public sector. On the other hand, the public sector is a bureaucratic leviathan unable to address the sophisticated nature of complex problems. Adversely, government exacerbates problems while creating new ones. We are all better off when the private sector, not government, addresses problems.

Chris Talgo is an editor at The Heartland Institute. He wrote this for

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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(13) comments


How does one make a judgment about public education by comparing its results to those of private schools, which can pick and choose their students? And those students' parents have the means to pay private school costs. No comparison is possible. The writer should know better, but obviously doesn't. That or he thinks readers are idiots, willing to swallow his garbage.

And public education as an example of governmental failure, showing the need for smaller, less-intrusive government? Come on.

Worth noting that op ed writer is affiliated with The Heartland Institute, a so-called think tank supported by big industry like the Kochs and Exxon Mobil. Oh, and The Heartland Institute is a major climate change denier.

I've read some lousy op ed articles. This one is brain-dead.


A bit simplified but I do like where the article is going. It won’ we have seen already, sit well with the ultra liberal left but the writer is going down a proven correct path. The dumbing down of education is getting worse here in good ole New York. The free tuition program is already helping private institutions. It forces these people to innovate in their programs of offering and will continue to help them land high level students. I am a state u. Guy. Now more than ever I try to give back as we dumb down what was a great system! But dandy andy has all the answers. I promise he would never send his child to Oswego state...


College was free in New York State for Baby Boomers. Nice try though.

Holmes -- the real one

Let's recall that Reagan quote in light of his Alzheimer's.

That comment was a toss off and and with any reflection at all can be seen as remarkably ill-considered -- especially in light of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth."


He was reflecting the philosophy of Milton Friedman.


The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Ronald Reagan


Government can do things poorly therefore government always does things poorly and must be abolished. It's raining therefore it's always raining therefore we must never go outside. "I'm from a profit seeking corporation and I'm here to help" can be just as terrifying. And furthermore government, like business, often serves us passively, not "coming to help," but being there when we seek it out. What's really frightening is those who come knocking, whoever they may be. But Reagan's adage only depicts government as doing this because government makes sure almost nobody else CAN. I would imagine government saying, "You're welcome."


Yes, Ronald Reagan's government was so incompetent it didn't accomplish anything other than making a huge debt for future generations to pay off.


So the private sector is a one size fits all solution? If we are using education as our test case, let's look at it. Before modern times there was only private education, and most people couldn't read and write. In China, there is only public education, and most people can't read and write. Ergo, a mixture is the best for society as a whole. Also, a simple alphabet is better than thousands of characters. For many people an off the shelf public education fits the bill. For others, if they can afford it, a private education is better. But we all benefit when public education exists, and we should all support it, including those of us without children and those who choose to send our children to private schools. Putting all your eggs in one basket is the problem, not government and not capitalism. The only question is how to divide the eggs up, and how to do the division of labor. If only we could do it without "one basket" ideologues trying to grab the steering wheel.


The for-profit aspects of the pharmaceutical industry drove the prescription drug crisis. Imagine writing that "for-profit" is better overall in this climate.

Children who have parents rich enough to send them to private school do better? Tell me more, education expert! in 2008 a baby food company in China didn't have to deal with tiresome regulations, and 800 babies were poisoned. Remember the poisoned dog food with melamine? This guy makes sense, as long as you don't mind babies and dogs getting poisoned once in a while.


Obviously, your grasp of educational principles and practices far outstrips mine, but very humbly let me make this point: Private schools can pick and choose their students. Public schools must be available to all. Parents who can afford to send their children to private schools generally have high expectations of them. So when ACT scores are totted up, why would anyone be surprised when a relatively small number of private school students perform better on average than the vast numbers of their public school counterparts? So why are comparisons of public vs private results valid ground on which to condemn public education?

hermit thrush

reality is a wee bit more complicated than mr. talgo seems to realize.


To denizens of the far right, there are simple answers to all problems.

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