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Grow The Niche Or Create A Market?

May 6, 2009

Suppose I live in a country with a monopolized public education system.  Local property taxes go to pay for local public schools, and private schools are illegal.  Public schools educate students using methods and addressing topics which the majority approves of.

Unfortunately, I am not part of the majority.  Perhaps I’m a Catholic or an un-schooler – I am part of a substantial minority with strong beliefs which are different from the norm about the appropriate subjects and techniques for grade-school education.  Primarily, I want my own children to be educated according to my beliefs, but I also believe that most other children would do better under my educational system than the common one.

Now, there are several different routes I can take to address this issue:

  1. Try to convince enough other people in society of the merits of my educational beliefs to get a majority.
  2. Move to someplace where my beliefs are the majority.
  3. Advocate for a voucher system, charter schools, or some other system that offers more choice.

While (1) is certainly an option, it seems quite problematic.  It requires a long, drawn-out battle before achieving any results.  And it doesn’t end the monopoly system that is the real root of the problem – it just inflicts a different one-size-fits-all solution on everyone, which will get entrenched and be hard to change if new educational methods come along or preferences change again.  (2) is clearly the most effective immediate solution, and (3) the best long-term solution, since it creates a market for education that will serve a variety of niches and change with the times.

So why is it that when it comes to improving government, libertarians are so obsessed with solution (1)?  After all, we’re in an analogous situation.  We have political beliefs with a following that is substantial, but far from a majority.  Because we live under a winner-take-all political system, our substantial minority nets us no political power.  Yet rather than advocating for a system which would give niche groups like us the government we want, most libertarians instead focus on trying to grow our niche until our preferences are the majority.

If you think about this in the context of any other industry, this is a ridiculous strategy.  I’m unusual in wanting to drive a convertible, but I can buy one because there is a market for cars.  If there was a single car produced for the entire country, wouldn’t it do me far more good to end that monopoly than to try to convince everyone of the joys of driving with the top down?

It’s like we’re so trapped in this winner-take-all system that the only way we can imagine getting a libertarian government is by becoming the winner.  The virtues of markets over monopolies that we advocate in every other context get lost, and we forget that the point of a market is that everyone wins.  We don’t worry about whether our preferences for restaurants, blogs, or wines are common, because it doesn’t matter – they get catered to anyway.

Libertarians need to remember the power of markets, and realize that we don’t need to ideologically conquer the world.  We just need a market for government.

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12 Comments
  1. May 6, 2009 12:00 pm

    I suspect phenomenon 1 is what happened to hippyism. Originally it was very much a movement of freedom (I may be showing my age & prejudice) but to achieve freedom from 50s conservatives it had to take over government. At which point the older & securely entrenched ex-flower children were able to enforce what has now become political correctness. But in achieving their goal they lost its original purpose. While government, like Topsy, just growed.

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