Dept. of Stretched Analogies: Supermarkets Aren’t Schools

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I imagine most writers have made the mistake of falling in love with an analogy and stretching it way past the breaking point. A sportswriter I knew long ago went on for several paragraphs comparing a man’s face to the map of Florida. I know I’ve committed this felony plenty of times. In fact, Mickey Kaus once did me the bracing favor of satirizing some of my worst excesses in an essay in The New Republic that has (I hope) mercifully vanished from the archives.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because Donald J. Boudreaux of George Mason University drove off the cliff this morning on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. He compares public schools to grocery stores:

Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—“for free” –from its neighborhood public supermarket.

Kind of interesting. But then he pushes the analogy for what feels like a long time—long enough for the comparison to come apart like Dollar Store flip-flops. I happen to share his basic view that some form of school choice would be good for poor families and ultimately good for public schools. But schools are not supermarkets. If they were, they wouldn’t even exist in our poorest and most troubled communities. It’s obvious by the end of Boudreaux’s essay that he has never tried to buy groceries in a low-income neighborhood.

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