Buchanan Speaker Series: Markets in Education

Are charter schools turning out to be an example of how good markets can be, or of how badly planners fail when they aspire to marshal cherry-picked virtues of markets?

Charters schools—which are still publicly funded and required to meet basic performance standards for public schools—are a marginal shift toward incorporating the mutually adjusting forces of supply and demand into the public education system. For instance, charter schools have more autonomy in deciding how to budget and meet the performance standards, in shaping their own curricula, and in hiring and firing staff.

If market forces can help in the realm of education, then charter schools ought to make a detectable difference. So, do they? 

About the Buchanan Speaker Series

The Buchanan Speaker Series promotes Nobel laureate James Buchanan’s intellectual legacy by applying Buchanan’s ideas to the pressing matters of our time.

James Buchanan moved to George Mason University in the early 1980s. His influence on the developing agenda at the Mercatus Center has been important in at least two ways. One is how it fostered a broad research and educational vision that seeks to embrace both political economy and social philosophy. As Buchanan once put it when establishing his first academic center at the University of Virginia in the late 1950s—the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy—the faculty will

“strive to carry on the honorable tradition of ‘political economy’—the study of what makes for a ‘good society.’ Political economists stress the technical economic principles that one must understand in order to assess alternative arrangements for promoting peaceful cooperation and productive specialization among free men. Yet political economists go further and frankly try to bring out into the open the philosophical issues that necessarily underlie all discussions of the appropriate functions of government and all proposed economic policy measures.”

Buchanan’s other lasting influence is his motto “dare to be different.” Mercatus is grounded in the intellectual traditions best exemplified by F. A. Hayek, but our scholars also draw from the best work in contemporary social science and the humanities. As Buchanan noted in a 1979 essay honoring Hayek, “The diverse approaches of the intersecting ‘schools’ must be the bases for conciliation, not conflict. We must marry the property-rights, law-and-economics, public-choice, Austrian subjectivist approaches.” At George Mason and the Mercatus Center this intellectual marriage has taken place.

About Dr. David Schmidtz

Dr. David Schmidtz is the Kendrick Professor of Philosophy with the College of Social & Behavior Sciences, Eller Chair of Service-Dominant Logic with the College of Management, and head of Political Economy & Moral Science at the University of Arizona as well as a Distinguished Affiliated Fellow with the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Dr. Schmidtz is also editor-in-chief of Social Philosophy & Policy, which is, by circulation, the field's leading journal.

Please contact Haley Larsen at [email protected] with any questions.