More background material to our ‘Drive to the Market’, April 26/27 Seminars.
The economist’s notion of public goods has lost currency in this age of commodities, not just in the EU but particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world. Unlike today, two generations ago, economics undergraduates were taught that such goods were different from soap flakes and hamburgers. Public goods and services are things which need to be supplied – or at least regulated – by the public sector because they are by their very nature collective. Clean water, unpolluted air, education and law and order are obvious examples; there is no doubt that everybody should have such goods, not merely those who can afford to buy them privately.
The same public logic holds for education. Universal literacy may be instrumental to developing a skilled workforce – a notion much loved by Tories – but the real reason we value education is because it is a necessary (though insufficient) component of a well-functioning democratic society. Education is not a commodity to be purchased according to individual preference; it’s central to the meaning of civilised society.