Formulation and Ratification of Market Utopianism
Many Americans have been stirred by recent history to take stock of market reforms and the role of government. Headlines have pushed arcane policy discussions into America's living rooms—the bankruptcy of charter schools and the soaring prices of electricity (when not interrupted) drove home the precariousness of market initiatives, corporate scandals at Enron and elsewhere became household shorthand for business that harms the public good, and the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina revealed the inadequacy of basic government services and the need to strengthen them.
Assessment of the capacities and responsibilities of government and markets has been stymied, however, by high abstraction and acute particularism. The first avenue is divorced from the daily lives of Americans and the real workings of policy, and the second misses important similarities in developmental patterns and outcomes that cut across policy areas. We need to appreciate the distinctive features of particular policy areas but also to transcend idiosyncratic details in order to identify consistent and perhaps predictable tendencies of market-oriented reforms.
In this chapter and the next, we focus on the performance of government and market-oriented reforms by comparing three policy areas—health care, education, and transportation—in order to detect recurring patterns and outcomes. Health care, education, and transportation deserve close attention because they are important and costly “human services” and have preoccupied market reformers. We recognize that separate policy areas can resemble separate