Free Markets For Free Minds

WARSAW: Recently Poland experienced a typical -- and typically unfinished -- political debate. It focused on whether a "free" education should be made a constitutional right. A free, or as its postcommunist advocates prefer to call it, a "not paid for" education, means education in schools and universities owned by the state (but not in private schools). Only by raising the issue to the level of a constitutional right, say the postcommunists, can the guarantee of free and equal access to education be maintained.

Due to their dominance in Parliament, the intransigence of the postcommunists on this point forced the other political parties participating in drafting Poland’s new constitution to kowtow to their position. I do not intend to discuss Poland’s internal politics, but I would like to show how a false understanding of Western practices, combined with a blind insistence on glib, populist solutions, creates unsustainable illusions and may destroy a chance to secure what de Tocqueville called "equality of opportunity." For not even education can be insulated against the free market without engendering negative results.

Why exclude education, especially university education, from the free market (and its competitive pressures)? First, the belief that such a policy produces more equality is mistaken. To the contrary, by excluding different types of financial incentives based on different abilities, it deepens the cleavage between rich and poor, between big cities and provincial towns and villages. "Free" education is not really free, because a university student from out of town must pay for accommodation, food, and other services -- in Poland these costs are equal to a sum larger than half of the average salary. No surprise, then, that the percent of students from small towns and villages recently dropped to an unprecedented 2%.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  2. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  3. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  4. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.

  5. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.