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An Open Letter to Robert Reich

Mr. Robert Reich

Dear Mr. Reich:

Complaining in a much-viewed recent Facebook post* about the low pay of K-12 schoolteachers, you assert that such teachers should be paid more in order to increase the supply of teachers.  Although you’re right about the great importance of education, your economics is mistaken.

Contrary to your argument, we should celebrate rather than bemoan the fact that teachers are paid less than the likes of CEOs, professional athletes, and movie stars.  Low teacher pay means that the number of people willing and able to work as K-12 teachers is already quite large.  Precisely because education is especially important, we are blessed that so many people are willing to work as teachers that the cost to society of each teacher is relatively low.  Given the number of school-age children, higher teacher salaries would be evidence that fewer people than is actually the case today are willing to work as teachers.  That situation would be one to lament, not cheer.

In case you still don’t see my point, let me ask if you believe that the pay of physicians should rise.  After all, healthcare, like education, is vitally important.  So by your logic, we should artificially raise the pay of physicians in order to encourage more people to become doctors.  Yet, of course, we want healthcare to be more, not less, affordable.  The same is true for education.  Unfortunately, the supply of physicians is so low that the resulting pay of physicians is unusually high.

So let’s be thankful rather than regretful that we don’t suffer the same problem in education that we suffer in healthcare.  Let’s toast the fact that – as the relatively low pay of teachers reflects – a large number of people are today willing and able to work as teachers.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Can be found here.


See also this October 3, 2013, Cafe blog post.


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