bookmark_borderMean-tested computers



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Gordon Brown’s idea to hand out computer vouchers annoys me. Just to summarise:

The prime minister announced that parents are to be offered vouchers worth up to £700 to connect the 1.4 million children growing up in homes without a computer.

“To ensure that we are prepared for the times to come, the government will fund one million more households to get online, enabling parents to link with the teachers at their children’s school and helping young people with their homework and coursework,” he said.

I can see several problems in this.

First of all, there is the usual problem with mean-testing, namely that people who are just a tiny bit too rich to qualify end up poorer than if they had been slightly poorer in the first instance. If there are too many of such measures, it reduces the incentive to try and work one’s way out of poverty.

Second, although I totally agree it would be great if all kids had access to computers at home, how can one make sure that vouchers actually end up as useful computers for the kids? Isn’t it likely that some of them will be swapped for booze or drugs? And if they are used as intended, what happens when the computers break down?

I think a better solution would be to lend or let cheap computers, so that they can’t be converted to cash, and so that there is an incentive to save up money for some better equipment.