Podcast interview with James Tooley on private schools meeting the needs of the poor

Recently I discovered the EconTalk podcast series, run by Russell Roberts of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Was delighted to see an hour long interview with James Tooley, author of A Beautiful Tree,  A Personal Journey into how the World’s Poorest People are Educating Themselves, which I’ve been reading. Great stuff here – most of us in the United States and Europe know private schools as almost exclusively for the wealthy.  His research provides ample evidence that this is not always true AT ALL.

EconTalk Podcast Series

EconTalk Podcast Series

Here is a quote from Mr. Tooley (thanks EconTalk for the transcript) to start you off:

I was in Hyderabad in South Central India. I was there doing consultancy work for the International Finance Corporation, the private arm of the World Bank. I was looking at elite private education, private education for the middle classes and the rich, because I’d become an expert in private education–that was my area of research. I was dissatisfied with this because for whatever reason, I was drawn to serving the poor. That’s what I felt my life should be about. And here I was looking at private education for the rich.

So, on a day off from my consultancy, I wandered down into the slums of the Old City; and sure enough–I had a hunch about what I might find, and I found a private school. A school, charging in those days what would be the equivalent of $1 U.S. dollar per month, serving a hundred children. I met these people; and then I wandered down another alleyway and found another school. And soon I was in contact with a federation of 500 of these low-cost private schools in these poor, largely Muslim areas of the old city of Hyderabad.

It was an amazing finding for me, because suddenly the two parts of my life came together. I could work concerning the poor, low income families and I could be exploring private education, too. But more than that, this seemed very exciting. Poor people were using private schools. Why? Why has no one told me about this? What’s going on here. And so I began a really exciting time in my life.

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Poverty Relief – government programs vs. private

Mark Pennington.  Robust Political Economy

My notes on reading the part on Poverty Relief –

Universal system of poverty relief vs a mosaic combining private mutual aid societies and charity.

Common objections against private sector –

won’t be enough charity and help. People won’t voluntarily help.

Won’t be the right kind of help – community – people fund their local community, not poorest that need most help. people/communities who need help may not be good at getting it (I’m thinking Mountain View PTA here vs. other schools, Malcolm Gladwell’s bit about middle class teaching their kids to get what they want and Oppenheimer example).

People won’t help themselves. People forced to pay social security for example, won’ t have discipline on their own to do it privately (will spend it, not save for old age).

Moving welfare aid back to private sector – Steve DeCanio’s thought:  it’s too late; no savings, no family ties, bad schools, people not used to looking after themselves and won’t be capable of doing it.  A lot of what helped people in the past no longer there.

Is poverty alleviation a collective good? with a small number of causes? Or an individual condition that takes individual action to alleviate? Is a “War on Poverty” a damaging paradigm that de-emphasizes individual effort?

Voluntaristic form of collective action = less susceptible to moral hazard. Gov’t schemes – you get vested interests needing status quo,  and supressing innovation

gov’t vs private anti-poverty schemes.

1. countries with no gov programs do not necessarily have more poverty:

Hong Kong (no gov’t) – same as Sweden (high gov’t relief)

Sweden (high gov’t relief) has less poverty than France (comparable gov’t relief)

“A voluntarist approach combining mutual aid, one-to-one assistance and donations to charitable bodies would enable a plurality of actors, each with specialized knowledge, to tailor their poverty alleviation efforts to specific individual contexts” p 164

universal solutions stifle innovation and macdonaldize the issue. Like healthcare. (Alternatives to status quo very difficult to test and even more difficult to take hold. Would Kahn Academy, Lynda.com, Tom’s Shoes,  ever have been possible through gov’t?)