This started out as a Forbes article draft.  It got too long.  I decided that, in the end, what I really ought to do, is write the whole darned thing, then shrink the retirement-related bits down for Forbes.

Once upon a time, in my neck of the woods, at least, if you wanted to enroll your child in swimming lessons, you went to the local public swimming pool.  Sure, you could also sign him up at the Y, but that was a bit out of the way, though you were vaguely aware that some people drove that distance.  The lessons were taught by high schoolers, the pool was cold, and at the lower skill levels, the kids spent one-sixth their time working on the skill with the teacher’s direct supervision and the remaining five-sixths of the time waiting at the edge while the remaining kids had their turn.  It was a cheap price because of the subsidies from tax revenue, but nothing to write home about.

Now, around here, due to the magic of private enterprise, competitors have sprung up: Chicago Swim School, Goldfish Swim School, British Swim School, to name those in closest proximity.  They cost more, but their lesson plans even for the youngest children focus on learning to float right away, rather than using kickboards, learning “bobs” and playing games.  They have much more individual attention and their teachers are adults rather than teens.

At the same time, there have long been multiple fitness centers in the neighborhood, at a wide range of prices, but now the local park district is getting into the game with a remodel of its indoor pool facility to add a second story with a fitness center component.  The pricing is a bit higher than such chains as the local LA Fitness (though with a discount for couples and families — eligibility age for children not provided), not to mention the bargain-basement Fitness 19 or Planet Fitness, but lower than the more upscale locations such as the NCH Wellness Center.  Is there value for the money?  It remains to be seen in terms of the final product, though one of the ways they’ve been pitching it, from the early days when they envisioned just a few treadmills,  is an opportunity for Mom or Dad to exercise while their children are at swim lessons, swim team, or open swim.

Is the rise of competitor private-sector swim lesson schools a sign that the park district is not providing a quality “product”?

Is it appropriate for the park district to introduce a competing “product” in the fitness-center market?

And what the heck does this have to do with retirement?

A new book, The Public Option:  How to Expand Freedom, Increase Opportunity, and Promote Equality, by Ganesh Sitaraman and Anne L. Alstott, says this has everything to do with retirement, because they believe that expanding “public options” is the way to greater well-being for all Americans.

But the book defines “public option” generously, to encompass essentially all government services now in existence or hypothetically implemented in the future.  They write,