Everyone Wins in the Postcode Lottery

Tim Harford

Life expectancy at birth ranges from 80 years in Hawaii to 72 in Washington, DC; and from 83 in Japan to 40 in Swaziland. In vitro fertilisation is available in some regions of the UK within months; in others it takes years. Fill in your own example here, because it is now a commonplace that the price, availability and quality of anything from a nursing home to a good education will vary depending on where you live.
I am not sure whether the British complain more about this than anyone else, but we have developed our own term to describe it: the “postcode lottery”. For community-minded gamblers there is actually a real postcode lottery, in which prizes are shared between winning ticket-holders and those fortunate enough to have homes on the same street. But for most Britons, the term is a lazy shorthand for the fact that where you live affects what you get.
There is a glaring problem with this phrase: while the ticket that gets pulled out of the tombola is chosen at random, the postcodes where you and I live are not. We aren’t serfs. If we want to move and we can afford to move, we can move.
I live in Hackney, a London borough where crime is high and the schools are poor. If I had a few spare million, perhaps I would move to Hampstead or Chelsea. I do not. People who shop at Harrods expect better food than those who shop at Tesco. Ferraris are faster and sexier than Fords. There are many words to describe this state of affairs, but “lottery” is not the one I would choose.

Harford makes an excellent point. It is clearly futile to impose one size fits all approaches, particularly in education. We, as a society are far better off with a diverse governance (many smaller schools/districts/charters/vouchers) and curricular environment.