Imperfect Knowledge and Centralization

 

Centralized planning, at first glance, seems reasonable enough that we’d think most people wouldn’t oppose it. It is essentially an addition of individual planning, applied for everyone. Friedrich Hayek was widely acknowledged for his support of classical liberalism. In his work The Road to Serfdom, he discusses key points regarding the implications of economic planning, comparing the relationship between planning and democratic socialism and the issues that arise from them. Application in today’s society would show that Hayek was correct in stating how imperfect knowledge causes difficulties in centralized planning. The Common Core State Standards Initiative, a United States program, is one example of how education can be affected by central planning.

Hayek states that any attempt to coordinate economic activity in a society comprised of different groups is doomed to fail. He refers to this as “knowledge problem.” It is safe to conclude that there are countless limitations of a planner’s knowledge. How could one possibly know the (most likely unattainable) values of many individuals while trying to balance each individuals conflicting wants? The implementation of Common Core follows this problem. Motivated by corporate interests, policy makers including the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, a private consulting firm, argued that the standards of math, language arts, science, and social studies were not being taught well enough. The plan to solve the issue, in their eyes, was to adopt a universal set of standards to measure learning across all states. The program is encouraged with federal grant money, ultimately given to states that enforce the standards. Many, but not all, states have adopted the system, which has received a great deal of criticism. While the objective of common Core is to promote critical thinking, the physical examinations issued by Common Core have shown to be extremely demanding of both students and teachers. This is just one of the many criticisms of Common Core. The issue of imperfect knowledge arises because policy makers didn’t account for the countless factors that go into an individual student’s test score. While standardizing the material for every state may give every student an equal chance to perform well, there in exists too many individual factors that affect students in different ways.

An interesting point Hayek makes about the fault of central planning is his view on the ethics of collectivism. He addresses the issue by stating the goal of central planning. He writes, “The ‘social goal’ or ‘common purpose’ for which society is to be organised, is usually vaguely described as the ‘common good, or the ‘general welfare’, or the ‘general interest’. It does not need much reflection to see that these terms have no sufficiently definite meaning to determine a particular course of action” (Hayek, 42). This is also relevant to goal of Common Core, because those who seek to have a centralized education system claim it is for the “good of all students”. The problem with that, however, lies in the fact that the success of Common Core is only thoroughly demonstrated in one state, Massachusetts. Education officials highlighted increased test scores and improved reading comprehension within the schools of the state, which has become the leading example for Common Core’s success. The main issue however, is that just because it works one place, does not mean that other states will replicate the same results. A lot has to do with more than the education standards the school distributes via examination and teaching method. Factors such as household quality of life, poverty level, demographics, and many others are totaled into student’s academic success. Therefore, Hayek is correct in saying that the terms of “common good” are vague, because in terms of trying to improve students’ critical thinking capabilities, there needs to be more than just introducing a set of education standards. Because every student is different, it would be rather difficult to just test students the same way and expect good results across every state. The answer lay in the fact that many factor inputs affect each student’s education experience, and minimizing those inputs, such as poverty level, may help students better their test scores.

Centralizing education standards sounds like a solid idea, but there are far too many students with differing learning environments, conditions, etc. This causes differences in the scores received from each state. Although Massachusetts has been able to produce test scores the Common Core believes is optimal, the United States contains far too many schools across different states for such a system to work. Education standards should be left to each state to decide. Hayek, it would seem, is correct in his analysis that imperfect knowledge significantly hinders a central planner’s ability to produce positive outcomes with minimal difficulty.

Imperfect Knowledge and Centralization