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Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Buying a Used Car: A School Voucher Parable

It's a bird. It's a plane. Good grief, it's positively Orwellian.

My old Chevy having died, I began shopping for a new car, or more realistically a used car which would be new to me. I studied features, prices, and reliability. I consulted with owners of various makes and models of cars. At length I decided that the car for me would be a well-used Honda Accord.

A large used car lot in the valley had several good prospects, so I went there. The helpful salesperson was patient with my naivete. When I asked if I was free to choose any car on the lot, assuming I could pay for it, he said, "Of course." So I test-drove three or four of the Accords and a couple of comparable cars from other makers, and I consulted with my spouse. We chose a red 1999 Accord EX in beautiful condition. The bank approved the loan for most of the $8000 purchase price.

We sat down to do the deal and the paperwork. The helpful salesperson said, "We can put new tires on it, fix the front brakes, and service the transaxle as you asked, and I can give it to you for $7800" -- this sounded good to me -- "plus $12,000 for the 1988 Plymouth you see over there in the corner."

"What are you talking about?" I asked. "I don't need or want your 1988 Plymouth. I'm certainly not paying you for it. It looks pretty beaten up."

"It is. Some days it barely runs." said he. "But you cannot buy any other car without first paying for the 1988 Plymouth. You don't actually have to keep it and drive it, or even test drive it. We can keep it here on the lot. But you do have to pay for it."

"I thought you said I was free to choose any car on your lot," I protested.

"You are," he said with a smile. "Of course you are. Perfectly free."

"Not if I have to pay for two cars to get the one I want. I can't afford to buy two cars."

"In that case," he said, "can I interest you in well-used 1988 Plymouth?"

"Hardly," I replied. "If you'll excuse me, I'm taking my business elsewhere."

"You are perfectly free to do that. But I must tell you, the law says that you have to pay for the 1988 Plymouth anyway, before you leave the lot. If you don't, you go to jail, and we keep the car you drove here."


Of course that is fiction, except the first paragraph. More to the point, it's completely absurd.

It is absurd, perhaps, to everyone except the senior Alpine School District official who insisted publicly last week that school vouchers will not in any way increase parental choice. In his mind, apparently, a family can pay its property and income taxes to fund the public schools -- risking seizure of property and jail sentences if they don't -- and still have lots of extra money lying around -- so much, in fact, that a voucher or scholarship in the amount of $500-$3000 per student per year will have no effect on that family's ability (freedom) to choose a private school. (Regrettably, this part is not fiction.)

The fact that such arrogance or ignorance -- whichever it is -- starts at the top is just one more reason, though not the best one, to vote yes on Referendum One in November.

Next time I take up this issue, I'll try to articulate the best reason.

Rep. John Dougall comments (10/4/07)

Very nice. In my analogy I compare his statement to the situation where we have 2 or more Ford dealers in every town who only sell a white Taurus. You have choice. Pick which dealer you want to buy your white Taurus from. Just recently we had a couple of Hyundai dealerships open up. The one in Alpine sells a red Sonata, the one in Lindon sells a blue one, and the one in PG sells a black one.

But we have vibrant choice. Why? Because the government declared it so.

David Rodeback comments (10/5/07):

This is blogger heaven: intelligent readers who make intelligent comments.

Mark Steele comments (10/12/07):

On the other hand, it could be argued that everyone in the valley is paying for the '88 minivan, whether they are looking for a car or not. The nature of our society says that we all pay for certain things, whether our family directly benefits from it or not, because it has an overall, overwhelming benefit for society -- like school. So there is a limit on choice, because whether or not vouchers pass (and I for one support them), we still must pay for public schooling. And that is for everyone's benefit, even if the schooling sometimes looks like an '88 minivan.

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