This dinner from a Friends episode is about more than a meal.
At first we see that Rachel can afford only the side of salad and Phoebe, a cup of cucumber soup. Meanwhile Monica and Ross earn enough to order the carpaccio and grilled pawns. For us though, the key part is the check.
This is the scene:
Debating how to split the check takes us to a similar debate about school funding. When some are more affluent and others have less, who pays for what?
The Vermont School Funding Debate
The school in Whiting, Vermont has two classrooms. Funded by meager local property taxes during the 1990s, it could not afford to replace the asbestos in its roof. Nearby Stowe–an affluent resort community–could finance much more. In 1997, the Vermont Supreme Court said the disparity was unconstitutional. It violated the State’s obligation to preserve equal protection under the law. Responding, the legislature decided that most of Vermont’s educational funding would go into a “common pot” at the state level so that all school districts had access to similar amounts of money.
Residents of property-rich communities were especially unhappy with the 1997 court decision. They believed that smaller less affluent communities were getting an unfair amount of school funds. Then, more recently, lawmakers took the next step. This time they mandated the consolidation of small and large school districts.
Whiting’s two room school became the pre-school part of a larger school district. Residents complained that consolidation erased what had bound them as a community. Others in nearby Stowe were pleased that so small a community was no longer getting what they considered disproportionate funding.
Our Bottom Line: Scarcity
When you slice through all of its complexities, economics is just about scarcity. Defined as limited quantities, scarcity means the supply of land, labor, and capital is finite. Because everyone cannot have everything, we wind up with the question of who gets what and why.
So, whether looking at a Friends dinner or school funding, the basic economic questions about scarcity need some answers.
My sources and more: Always interesting, The Impact podcast from Vox introduced me to the Vermont funding debate and the Friends analogy. But, if you want many more facts, do go to this paper and to this Act 46 description. Finally, to see that we have just touched the tip of a very controversial iceberg, I recommend this state funding overview.