A free market is one that involves no government. That's why it's free. But Big Government advocates love to blur the distinction between the two so they can pretend they're promoting free enterprise. They pretend to move an area controlled and funded by government into the private sector - when it in fact remains controlled and funded by Big Government.
The most essential ingredient of a free market is the freedom of the purchaser to buy - or not buy - products and services of their choosing. Any program funded by tax dollars is by definition a government program and therefore coercive, NOT voluntary. It denies the purchaser the option to buy elsewhere. Or not to buy at all.
Big Government politicians, especially of the Republican variety, call such a tax-funded program"privatization", "outsourcing", "deregulation" or "choice" - when in fact it's just another Big Government Program.
Fraudulent portrayal of government programs as free enterprise covers up the fact that they get their money from you, the taxpayer, coercively rather than by earning it or raising it as a fully private business or charity would. Unlike government, private enterprises can only get money by convincing people to voluntarily make purchases or donations. To do this, they must demonstrate their worth. Government-funded programs do not have to demonstrate their worth, cost-effectiveness, or even that they're doing more good than harm. In fact, they usually do more harm than good.
"Deregulation" of the California energy industry did not privatize it at all. It merely imposed a new set of government regulations.
Government school vouchers are often referred to as "school choice" and sold as a quasi-free market solution to America's failing public schools. However government vouchers are not even on the scale of a free market solution.
A truly private sector voucher is one that is funded by voluntary contributors and given by them, or their proxies, to children who are deemed worthy of such privilege, i.e., children who want to learn in a school setting. They are offered for use at a school that the donors and the student believe to be effective.
Donors who do not like the results they see will stop giving. Children lose their vouchers if they do not prove to be good students. If they behave badly, they could even get kicked out of the school altogether.
In a free market, parents voluntarily choose to send their children to a school at a price they are willing to pay. If the price is too high, they choose another school that offers a lower rate. Or choose an even cheaper alternative such as home schooling or cooperative schooling. These market forces have shown that kids can be educated for as little as $500 per student per year.Most privates schools cost less than $3,500 per year.
A true free market school voucher would be priced according to tuition amounts set in the private sector. While a small portion of them may cover the cost of pricey and elite private schools, most vouchers would be in line with typical market rates, i.e., $500-$3,500 per year.
Government-funded vouchers are the exact opposite. They base their values not on prices set in the marketplace but on costs set by government - the antithesis of a free market. Therefore government vouchers are far more expensive than free market alternatives.
This is similar to a price control, only instead of the government artificially keeping prices low, it keeps them artificially high. This wipes out the possibility of funding schools at a low cost because even if much lower cost alternatives are available, parents who use vouchers will usually spend the full amount, as welfare recipients usually do. Government vouchers force artificially high tuition rates and voucher denominations.
Taxpayers are forced to pay for government vouchers, even if they disapprove of the schools they fund. In fact, they are likely to have to shell over more money, the worse the school gets.
With government vouchers, the government decides which schools they will fund and which ones they'll exclude from funding. Taxpayers, parents and students have no say. Children must use their vouchers at government-approved schools, even if none of them fulfill their needs. And the schools are forced to keep the children in the school, even if they disrupt other students.
Calling government issued school vouchers "freedom" or "choice" so as to suggest that anything close to free market dynamics are at play gravely distorts the coercive nature of a Big Government Voucher program.