This NYT column about school fundraisers made me think of Chris Howard’s work about the size of the American welfare state (pdf). Howard points out that the American welfare state isn’t really so exceptional comparatively once various subsidies, that often are not transparent, are factored in. In other words, we spend a lot, too, just in different ways. Likewise, the ongoing school fundraisers reveal the tension between the need to pay for something and the inability to just do it through policy in a straightforward way. $1.7 billion raised through selling grapefruit, wrapping paper, or whatever is not a small subsidy, even in the context of a $450 billion budget.