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First Class and Coach in Public Schools

May 31, 2012

Nick Kristoff’s column in today’s NYTimes deals with the thorny question of how to balance capitalist markets with morals. He offers several thought provoking examples of how markets contribute to disparity, drawing the column from a book by Mark Sandel called What Money Can’t Buy, which asserts that “…in recent years we have been slipping without much reflection into relying upon markets in ways that undermine the fairness of our society.”

Kristoff’s column includes the following citation from the book:

“The marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives,” Sandel writes. “We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.”

And follows that citation with the following sentences a couple of paragraphs later:

It is one thing for Delta Air Lines to have first class and coach. It is quite another for government to offer first class and coach in the essential services that government provides.

This inconsistency led me to submit the following comment:

You write that government shouldn’t “…offer first class and coach in the essential services that government provides” yet government has historically offered one essential service– public schooling– in two tiers for decades. Look at the per pupil costs differential between NYC and Scarsdale and you’ll see that differential… and that differential exists in every urban area in the country. If we ever hope to close the divide in our country we need to close the divide in funding for public education.

While I’m not sure I’m crazy about the term “skyboxification”, I think it does capture the difference between, say, Hanover NH and Canaan, NH as well as Scarsdale and New York. But is also accounts for an emerging differential between cities with college educated and non-college educated residents as described in this NYTimes article. Given the choice between Dayton and NYC, more and more college educated folks are choosing urban areas where college educated folks congregate… This is the vicious cycle that only some kind of government assistance can break.

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