Saturday, November 16, 2013

Regarding The Rationale On Why Higher Education Should Be Free

...higher taxes on the wealthy can finance more investments in infrastructure and education, which are vital for growth and the economic prospects of the middle class. Higher taxes on the wealthy also allow for lower taxes on the middle -- potentially restoring enough middle class purchasing power to keep the economy going ~ Robert Reich, describing why taxing the rich is good for the economy as quoted in his 4/18/2012 article with the same title. Robert Reich (dob 1/27/1963) an American political economist, professor, author, and political commentator. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997.

I recently heard a rationale via Progressive Talker Thom Hartmann's radio program for getting rid of the for-profit higher education system we have in the US. This rational reminded me of a discussion that took place on the blog of a "Moderate" turned Libertarian from awhile back. And, after hearing Mr. Hartmann's rational, I must say that it looks like I was right, but not entirely for the reasons I thought I was.

The discussion and then the rationale from Mr. Hartmann as follows...

Dervish Sanders: I think college education (and beyond) should be free. It's an investment because people with higher levels of education get higher paying jobs and pay more in taxes over their lifetimes. (7/3/2011 AT 4:48pm).

Libertarian Blogger: Oh, free college education now! Do you have ANY idea how expensive that would be? And do you even care? We'll pay for it by taxing the rich, right? (7/3/2011 AT 9:00pm).

Thom Hartmann: In my new book, The Crash of 2016, I point out that one of a number a possible triggers for the next major stock market crash is a widespread default on student loan debt. That's a time bomb, but, what's really interesting is that it would cost the federal government about 125 billion dollars a year to provide everyone in the country with basically a free college education. We spend about 121 billion dollars a year administering, overseeing, checking for fraud and subsidizing our loan program. I think we should have a jubilee... forgive all student debt and then start providing people with free college education, it's our intellectual infrastructure. (The Thom Hartmann Program, 8/23/2013, 27:47-28:43 of the first hour of the THP podcast).

When I made my comment on Mr. LB's blog I was making the same argument as former Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich (as quoted at the top of my post)... and that was without knowing how much it would cost. And Mr. LB is right when he asked "do you even care". I did not because I know that such investments return more than what they cost (as I pointed out). But why the hell are we spending only slightly less (4 billion, according to Mr. Hartmann) so banksters can make money? This is more corporate welfare that we don't need. Also, clearly Mr. LB didn't care (or know) how much the cost would be, or how paying to send qualified individuals to college is an investment (and that is how we should look at it).

Yes, more people would likely go to college if it were free (and all you needed to do was qualify), so the amount would likely rise from 125 billion... but, again, it is an INVESTMENT. And, this criticism is from an individual who constantly criticizes and insults American workers who have "chimpanzee jobs" (he wants to offshore them) and says "we have a shortage of skilled workers", but then slams the idea of "we the people" via our government making an investment to solve the problem!

Sounds to me like this dude simply hates the government and irrationally places his faith in the "free market" to solve our problems... but the only problem the "free market" has any interest in solving is accruing more profit to itself. That is the only goal of the plutocrats, what's best for the nation be damned. IMO, either the people who subscribe to this nonsense (the free market as a solution to all our problems) are either fools who allow their idolizing of the wealthy to blind them to reality (such a fool can be recognized by the things they say such as "I love billionaires"), or have some financial incentive to spread their "free market" lies (they work for a billionaire funded institution).

Proof of this irrational hatred is a ridiculous insistence that no matter what the government attempts to do, it gets the exact opposite result. For example, if it attempts to tackle the poverty problem (LBJ and the Great Society), it makes poverty worse... and if it invests in our intellectual infrastructure... wanna guess what happens?...

Libertarian Blogger: I would also submit that a huge reason for the skyrocketing costs of higher education is the fact that the government continuously subsidizes it. (11/14/2013 AT 9:16pm).

In explaining his BS statement Mr. LB says "when you subsidize something, you increase demand. When you increase demand, you increase the price"... and then makes his case by informing his readers that "nearly 40% of the kids who take these subsidies never even graduate". Obviously (in his mind) these 40 percent never should have attempted college to begin with.

While it may be the case that some of these students who dropped out shouldn't have gone that route, but the way to weed out these people should not be to take away government subsidized government loans. Mr. LB thinks it's just the poorer kids who start college but don't finish it? Clearly he believes the only reason anyone would quit is because they never should have gone to college to begin with (they realized they weren't cut out for college, I guess). But neither of these suppositions are necessarily true.

Notice how all the assumptions that Mr. LB makes lead to one conclusion? That conclusion being that who goes to college should be based on ability to pay. He also approves of this kind of discrimination in the health care insurance arena, insisting that Single-Payer would result in rationing. But we have rationing NOW. Again, based on ability to pay. Me, I think the problem of people starting college and not finishing is likely more often than not money related (the student can't afford to continue). But, for those who drop out because they decide they can't hack it... perhaps we can blame the admissions officers who took their money instead of counseling them to consider (for example) trade school?

Whatever the case may be I agree with Mr. Hartmann, in that paying for the college or trade school education of qualified individuals is an investment in our intellectual infrastructure. Higher learning isn't a commodity we should be looking to keep the price down on by deciding who should be able to attend based on ability to pay (or ability to get some kind of scholarship, of which there are only so many to go around). There are other ways to lower the cost of a college or trade school degree.

Higher education should be free because, in the end the taxpayer would come out ahead... those who attend and graduate end up making more over their lifetimes and therefore pay more in taxes. We make our money back, in other words. Not only due to the higher educated person paying more in taxes, but also because people with higher incomes have more money to spend into the economy, thereby stimulating economic growth that benefits everyone.

Video Description: Obama unveils plan to lower college costs, 8/22/2013 (2:08).

SWTD #219, wDel #42.


  1. We, as a country and a society, would benefit immensely if college education was free or at least had only a minimal fee. We all would benefit from a more educated populace. Low cost education was one of the reasons for the growth of the middle class during the 50's, 60's, and 70's. What did we, as a country, do when we had thousands of soldiers returning from war. Give the the GI bill, essentially a free education.

    I would be interested in knowing Hartmann source for the 121 billion cost. The implication is that we don't recover any of those costs. The number seems very high to me.

    1. You're right, Jerry... that figure does sound way too high. I relistened to the audio from my podcast and it is what he said, however. I'll update my post if I find an answer, but right now I don't know.

      In any case... your example of the GI Bill is a fantastic one. Rusty thinks that we can't put money into an investment that will pay us back many times over because... there is no world war that thousands of soldiers are returning from? What a dumb response. There are many ways students could "earn" money for higher education. The government could offer money for education in return for service, either in the military or by working for a non-profit. That wouldn't be a problem if we decided to do the smart thing.


  2. Ahhh Jerry........the vets returning after WWII actually did something to earn the GI Bill.........they won a world war. What exactly would the OWS folks have done to earn a freebie?

  3. The other claim that education opponents make against low cost education is that not all people should go to college. I agree. Not all people should go to college, BUT all people should have a equal opportunity if they qualify and want to. Cost should not be an obstruction.

    1. Agreed.

      Will suggests in one of his latest that he thinks students should be able to declare bankruptcy and get rid of student loan debt... with that I can agree... that they should be able to do, at a minimum. Although he veers off into victim-blaming at the end when he rails against the "insanity" of a "bailout".

      BTW, Rusty criticizes the Occupy Wall Street protesters with his comment... but we, through our elected officials making an investment that will pay off isn't a "freebie". Conservatives like Rusty aren't interested in these kinds of investments because they will benefit all instead of the wealthy exclusively.


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