Incentives, Education, & Religion

Hume and Smith observed that “governments who supported churches with tax dollars got a less religious populace.” In a post at Values & CapitalismIsaac Morehouse extends that thinking to education:

When the church is publicly supported it becomes less responsive to parishioners and less creative in gaining and retaining new members. When churches had to rely solely on voluntary support, they innovated. Sermons became more interesting to the listeners, facilities were built to meet the needs of attendees, and church leaders more aggressively and creatively looked for ways to show the applicability and value of religion to everyday life. This marketing, innovation and energy resulted in greater “consumption” of religious “goods” than in countries where the state supported the church…

It’s silly to suggest that religion cannot exist without state support, and even more absurd to suggest that the federal government could improve upon religion. Yet the vast majority of Americans fail to see the same cause and effect relationship between state funding of education and the level of education among the public.

If you like the idea of a population that is competent in math, science, reading, writing, physics, philosophy, biology, history, economics and every other field of knowledge, you should oppose state support for education. Without resorting to complicated debates about curricula, teachers unions and budgets, the same economic analysis Smith and Hume used to understand the relationship between church and state can be used to understand the relationship between school and state. State support for education results in a less educated populace.


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    1. Hey Coty – thanks for the comment. I don’t see any reference in that article to the degree of connection between amount of state investment and quality of learning, but regardless, you ask a valid question about data. I’ll float that by the author, and do my own digging.

      On that article specifically, test scores (as we’ve seen here in Atlanta and with the fruits of the No Child Left Behind act) don’t accurately reflect or forecast learning, productivity, innovation, etc.

      Perhaps a better way to find some data that answers this question this would be to chart the trajectory of innovation for a single country, along with the amount of state investment in education. Or maybe chart state education investment for a single country along with a bunch of other things that it purports to foster: an increase in quality of living, greater personal freedom, stronger sense of self-determination, happiness in adulthood, self-actualization, etc.

      1. The OECD seems to have made an effort in examining the relationship (or lack thereof) between investment and scores, and their data provides at least a partial answer to your question:

        “There is no relationship between average gains in reading scores of 15 year-olds over the 2000 to 2009 period and country increases in education spending between ages 6 and 16 over the same period.”

        I’m guessing that if you dig much deeper, you’ll see more and more connections between the way America educates its citizenry (and the way most of the developed world educates its people) and the declining rate of innovation we’ve witnessed since the late 1800s (when universal compulsory education began in this country). For more info on that innovation trend, check out the charts in the Google image search for “Great Stagnation.”

  1. I’ll see about pulling together more compelling data, as well. I basically just eyeballed the PISA rankings and felt pretty confident that the countries at the top generally invest more money and exert more central control over education than those at the bottom. (FWIW, I’m more interested in the latter than the former.)

    Regarding Atlanta, No Child Left Behind, etc., it is certainly possible invest more money and get worse outcomes. That doesn’t suggest that spending less money will produce better outcomes.

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