A Convo on Monopolies and Public Education

Dr. Dan Abbott a.k.a TDAXP, PhD. is one of the oldest of the ZP blogfriends, perhaps one of my earliest readers. At TDAXP, Dan’s highly creative intellect roams widely, and while he delights in playing devil’s advocate and skewering sacred cows, his colorful observations are frequently ingenious. Even when I think Dr. Abbott is wrong, he is moving issues outside their tired, old, boxes and challenging conventional authorities to provide better answers.

On and off, for the past year, Dan and I have been discussing and debating public education and corporate ed reform on several social media platforms, including Twitter. It has been an interesting conversation, partly because conversations with Dan are always stimulating and partly because we draw different normative conclusions while agreeing on most points of fact, second order effects and political dynamics. Twitter’s 140 character limit and Facebook threads sometimes truncate arguments to caricature or one-liners, so recently Dan responded to one of my tweets with a post.

I suggest you read TDAXP, PhD. in full before reading my rebuttal so that you get a fair and coherent impression of his argument:


My friend Mark Safranski leads a dual life online, running the fantastic honest-broker site Zenpundit that focuses on military-security issues, and critiquing education reform on twitter from the perspective of a labor activist. Recently on twitter Mark made thefollowing comment [edited to account for twitter’s telegraphic character limit):

There will be no evaluation of test quality, barring a PR disaster. Education publishers are dividing the market – i.e. forming a cartel – not competing.

I think the general principle behind this comment is that any organization in a monopoly position is unconcerned with quality. This viewpoint is generally held, and wrong.

Monopolies differ from other competitors in three primary ways:

1. They are able to exploit massive economies of scale

2. They are able to extract an “economic profit” from their business

3. They are regulated by the political-economic system, rather than just by its subset, the economic system

“Economy of scale” refers to the decreasing per-unit costs experienced when a given fixed cost is split over a larger production run. This is a well known concept, and I won’t talk more about it here….

Read the rest here.

I do treat posting and moderating at ZP differently than commenting elsewhere or, especially, on a site like Twitter which is better suited for demonstrations of wit or making quick connections than depth. ZP is deliberately open to different POV by design, so a Clausewitzian is as welcome to guest post here as a Boydian, left of center commenters can talk with conservatives. Generally, the comment section here is remarkably intelligent, civil and positive, even when people disagree sharply.

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