People Shouldn’t Have Price Tags

One night a few years back, after too many drinks around our dining room table, a friend told us how he was recently recruited by his town’s superintendent to serve on the Board of Education. Newly enmeshed in the intricacies of the school budget, he was amazed that every penny in the multi-million dollar budget was already allocated towards items like teachers’ salaries and building maintenance with very little wiggly room for new innovative programs. In his working class community, taxes couldn’t be raised easily, so an unexpected emergency like a leaky roof could blow the budget.

He speculated about a potential emergency cost. “A family moves to town with an autistic kid, who needs to be sent to a special private school, and it’s $100,000 per year,” my friend exclaimed. “Over a million dollars, maybe two, in total for K-12. You know how many teachers I could hire for that!”

Read more at Apt. 11D, the newsletter

3 thoughts on “People Shouldn’t Have Price Tags

  1. I was thinking about your solution to the seemingly-unsolvable problems that you’re posing: “I mean, some people will need services, which will cost money, but it would be better for those numbers to be hidden and less resented by neighbors and even friends.” I think there is no way to hide numbers of any kind, and that no matter what, any taxpayer spending – federal, state, local – that goes to anyone thought “undeserving” in any way will be resented. Secrecy about this is impossible. So we have to convince people that everyone is deserving. I would love to believe that this can be done, and would love to figure out how to do it.


  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about this newsletter. I’m not sure what to do about the perception that particular individuals have a cost, which is sometimes misguided (people assess the costs in the short term and not the benefits in the long term). But, sometimes its not wrong, because some services are more expensive than others, or because the benefits do not accrue to the people who bear the costs.

    The American myth of “rugged individualism”, people, eg Ron Johnson, say things like “. . . it’s not ‘society’s responsibility’ to care for ‘other people’s children’ . . . .” Often that group doesn’t see all the ways in which society is supporting them. They imagine that they are taking care of themselves. When they need help, they see the help they need as being the result of circumstances out of their control, exceptional.

    They think they are “matchers” (an analysis where people in groups try to make the same contribution as others, as opposed to givers and takers who give as needed, or try to take more than they give, “winning”), but they notice their contributions and not the contributions of others. I haven’t found these arguments particularly effective in changing anyone’s minds (though I don’t know many people who admit to this point of view). It’s a management theory (, but I see it applying to government. The bottom line in the management books is that givers get ahead, but, at least partially because matchers punish the takers and try to promote the givers, because, matchers believe in fairness. But, matchers are also bad at evaluating themselves, so many who think they are matchers are actually takers.

    How does this apply to groups where people don’t know each other? as with student loans? Or with people who think that people with disabilities or children or parents are takers and should be punished? An interesting exercise.


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