Cui Bono? Bachelet’s Anti-Profit Education Takeover

Many parents and university students are waiting on Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and for <em>other</em> people to pay for their studies. (<a href="" target="_blank">Wikimedia Commons</a>)
Many parents and university students are waiting on Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and for other people to pay for their studies. (Wikimedia Commons)

EspañolOfficials in the Michelle Bachelet administration have gotten themselves into a standoff, as they attempt to roll out a series of education reforms. In the face of pushback, they have stated two goals: (1) “quality” instruction for the masses and (2) the criminalization of profit and “discriminatory” selectivity in admissions. This is on the march to the eventual establishment of tuition-free education at all levels.

Bachelet has explained that the intention is to stop subsidized schools from profiting — those institutions that receive state funding, so that parents can send their children to the public or private school of their preference. The president said the plan is to force the managers to reinvest the resources provided by the government into improving education quality, as opposed to keeping the money for their own benefit.

With an emphatic voice — as if she possessed the highest of moral values — Bachelet said “it is not fair that the resources of all Chileans, rather than enriching our education, enrich only an individual. Because the provision of education has a public dimension that cannot be treated with market logic … we want all those establishments that receive public funds to bring forward an educational project with a passion and genuine vocation to educate their students, without pursuing profit.”

In fact, her words demonstrate that not only do university administrators and managers of subsidized schools act according to “market logic,” any rational person does.

As a consequence, she does too. The same goes for those who have mobilized in recent years, on a quest to end profit in education, in favor of statism and a return to “free” education.

To understand the reasons behind the acts of individuals, or how the real world works, there is no better place to start than public-choice theory. James Buchanan offered a glimpse into this school of thought with his definition: “the observation of politics without romance.”

The main thesis of its proponents is that there is no great difference between the way people take personal decisions in markets, and the way they behave when in politics. In both cases, they act in a self-interested manner and seek to maximize their profit (which is not always economic; it could be prestige or power).

Public-choice proponents observe an enigma: for some reason there is a prevailing view that behavior in politics differs from elsewhere in the economy, despite the fact that the psyche of each person doesn’t magically change.

Buchanan emphasized that, when speaking about the state, fantasies — rather than daily experiences — prevail. The clearest manifestation of this is the assumption that politicians and bureaucrats work only to promote the common good, when there is nothing to confirm this belief.

What is evident over and over again is that those in power seek to satisfy their own interests, and the interests of the groups that side with them, even though this damages the rest of the society. They speak a lot about alleged “market failures,” and not so much about governmental failures.

Nevertheless, the truth is that the intervention of the state rarely fixes the targeted social problems. On the contrary, the situation is likely to worsen where the state gets involved.

Bachelet’s education reform emerges from the student mobilizations that took place during her first administration (2006-2010), and which continued with higher intensity under Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014). The main demands were those that President Bachelet promised during her electoral campaign of 2013, and that she is now trying to implement.

The public policy is marching to the drum of special interests and their main actors. At the top, Bachelet sought reelection as president of Chile, and the most popular student leaders achieved seats in parliament, with all the privileges that come with those positions. Meanwhile, many parents and university students are waiting for other people to pay for their studies, and politicians and bureaucrats are seeking to increase their state budgets as much as they can, as key beneficiaries.

Why aren’t these actors mentioning their personal “profit”? And whatever happened to improving teaching quality? Does anyone believe that more money extracted from society and handled by politicians and bureaucrats is going to be used efficiently?

How can more top-down education, with less diversity, mean higher quality? Removing parental choice in education is hardly going to boost Chile’s development. Likewise, removing autonomy from school directors will not bring a more open and egalitarian society, but will drive everyone towards generalized mediocrity.

If we really want high-quality education, that contributes to the development of a country, we must comprehend that it requires precisely the opposite of the centrally planned and politicized path. The reason is that, as public-choice theory dictates, “scientific evidence points to the government — and not the market — as the entity that has to be limited or reduced for the sake of the society.”

All people, as rational beings, seek profit in its various forms. The healthy and ethical thing to do is to be frank about it, as opposed to disguising it under the mantle of purported altruism.

Translated by Roberto Ortiz and Rebeca Morla.

Subscribe free to our daily newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special reports delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time