Government Spending Reduces Education Productivity

Published April 28, 2014

According to Politico, “Innovation has been slow to reach classrooms across America in part because the federal government spends very little to support basic research on education technology, a senior White House official said.” Really?

Does federal research spending really determine an industry’s rate of technological progress? Was federal spending a driving force in the leap from cathode ray tubes to flat-panel displays? Was it responsible for the birth of the “brick” cell phone of 1984 and its astonishing progress from a pricy dumb radio to an inexpensive supercomputer/GPS device/entertainment center? Is federal research spending the reason desktop laser printers went from a $15,000 (inflation-adjusted) plaything of the rich to a $100 commodity?

No. If anything, the rate of technological progress in various fields seems negatively correlated with federal spending—and indeed with government spending at all levels. As illustrated in my recent study, State Education Trends, education has suffered a massive productivity collapse over the past 40 years. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is the only nation’s only sector that is dominated by a government-funded, state-run monopoly.

Andrew Coulson ([email protected]) is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. This article is reprinted with permission. Image by Kitty DuKane.