Textbook Socialism

Contra Tyler, the problem with the market for textbooks is not monopoly but monopsony, and a peculiar kind of monopsony at that.  Twenty states, including the big three, California, Florida and Texas are "adoption states" where a bureaucratic committee of so-called experts chooses which textbooks are to be used in all state schools (non state-approved textbooks are not funded).

Centralized adoption encourages politicization.  Interest groups of all stripes lobby for their pet issue to be included or their pet peeve to be removed.  As a result, textbooks tend to get longer but blander and dumber.  Not only must all textbooks contain appropriate numbers of men and women, blacks and whites, Indians Native-Americans and Caucasians – all doing gender-neutral, politically correct activities – in California you can’t even mention ice cream because it’s fattening.

The adoption system, by the way, didn’t become politicized it was born of politics.  It began during Reconstruction when Southern states demanded central control of textbook adoption so they could require textbooks to write about "the war for Southern Independence" instead of say the civil war.

The necessity of passing through the state hurdle creates a winner take-all-market. Navigating the committees and their thousands of requirements takes
years of preparation –  it can cost $20 million just to create a textbook proposal.  Thus, in this case, monopoly is caused by monopsony.

The solution is to get rid of state-wide adoption systems altogether and let the teachers decide – preferably in a fully funded voucher system.


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