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Shout Out to Mr. Tiebout

Posted by on October 24, 2008

[This post was originally written for my employer’s blog, Show-Me Daily.]

According to a Post-Dispatch article the city of Joplin will no longer allow teachers in its public schools to show any visible tattoos.

Now, at first blush, this seems like an infringement on liberty, and perhaps it is. But it may also be a way for a local government to provide something people want, without the drawback of forcing all to comply. Let me explain.

In 1956, an economist named Charles Tiebout (pronunciation: I’m told his last name rhymes with see-through) put forth the idea that if (a) information is sufficiently available, (b) moving is relatively inexpensive, and (c) there are sufficiently many communities to chose from (there were a few other assumptions that aren’t important here), then communities would be able to most closely match the preferences of their constituents. Joplin has provided an alternative for people who prefer to send their children only to schools where the teachers have no obvious ink. If it were a statewide mandate, I would oppose it on the grounds that it is difficult to aggregate the preferences of an entire state. Because it is local, however, I celebrate the experiment.

For other Show-Me Institute–related references to Tiebout, go ahead and check out our first policy study, published way back in March ’06.

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