privatized education

October 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

Bob Upson said:

I get it. Tuition is expensive. You know that when you voluntarily borrow money to pay for it. You know you’ll have to pay it back. It is a choice you freely make; live up to it or don’t borrow money.”

I said:

Nobody made the “choice” if unskilled labor *does not pay enough to live on.* You go to school because you *have* to. You take out the loans because *tuition is not affordable.* This is not the theory of relativity. Surely you can put these ideas together. You’re basically saying “it’s your fault for existing! you should have thought of that before you existed!”

You are really going to have to get in the 21st century with the rest of us. It’s 2014. You should have scaled this learning curve years ago. At this point, having to explain something like this to a grown man is as laughable as it is terrifying.

Bobby said:

“Or you work your way through school and don’t borrow more than you can pay back. If the increased earning capacity of a particular degree isn’t enough to cover the cost maybe you should re-evaluate your choices?”

I replied:

Bob, you are not understanding that jobs do not pay enough to live on, let alone pay 40k in tuition which is what state schools cost. What are you not understanding about temp jobs that don’t pay enough to live on and college costs that are so expensive that they can’t be paid without loans?

Regardless of how well your major is supposed to pay off after you get the degree, you will still have to borrow the money to get the degree, no?

If in the 1970s, anybody could afford a 4 year degree at a state school with a summer job whereas now it’s half the cost of a mortgage in some markets, maybe you should re-evaluate your political choices? Is that ever going to happen? Look at Sallie Mae’s stock price since its privatization.

As far as your argument about worthless degrees, nobody knows what a degree will be worth. Nobody knew the economy was going to implode in 2008 due to systemic bank fraud. Even STEM majors have higher rates of unemployment than they did before 2008.

Here’s a rule of thumb which literally a few thousand years of history proves to be true: When people are desperate and don’t make enough money to meet expenses, they will borrow if there is available credit regardless if they can pay it back. That is true in any society, anywhere in the world. It’s why payday loan scams thrive in poor neighborhoods. It’s why debtor’s prisons didn’t work.

Look at when wages started stagnating Bob. That started in the 1980s. Look at when consumer debt took off. That started in the 1980s. Look at the prices of necessities that beat inflation. Look at the precipitous rise since the 1980s.

Ok, so there is the same amount of money coming in, but costs for things you need rise. So people borrow. No matter if they can pay it back or not, they borrow because even if they may or may not be able to pay it back tomorrow, they can’t cover expenses *today.* So they borrow *today.* See how things work in the real world?

What are you not understanding? It’s not an issue of personal responsibility, it’s an issue of policy because it is economic policy which produces the context in which people make economic choices, responsible or not.

Tell me Bob, do you think that maybe reality should be an important consideration in economic policy? Like the kind of policy which would lead to more consumer debt vs. a policy which would lead to less consumer debt?

Also, had these kids not gone to college, you would have told them they made bad personal choices by not going to school if they had wages insufficient to allow them to support themselves. Now that they went to school, they’re irresponsible for paying for it the only way that was possible.

Gee, I’m starting to suspect that maybe this isn’t about personal responsibility at all, but is really about the fact that you’re completely full of it. You know who I think is actually responsible? People like you who refuse to recognize reality.

Bob said:

“No, you’re not understanding that anything worth having is going to take a lot of hard work to get.

(oh, and annual expenses for the University of CT, for example, are under $30K including food and housing or about $18K more than not attending.)”

I replied

Ok, Bob. You clearly don’t have a good conception of what unskilled jobs pay vs. what things cost. So let me ask you, precisely at what price point would you say that college costs are simply too high and it is not realistic that anyone would be able to afford them? Or does that point not exist? And if we reach that price point, what do we do about it?

Also, while I understand you’re a responsible, upstanding, hard working American, don’t you find a 1200% increase in the cost of tuition over the last 30 years a bit strange? Or does this not matter? How about the stagnation of wages which would pay those costs?

Gee, do you think that college costs will keep outpacing inflation as they have done for the last 30 years? What then?

Also, you do realize that out of state tuition will be double and triple that price right? Does an 18 year old make poor life choices when he has the misfortune of being born in a state where the cost of a state school is 40k? And that is the average.

Also, Bob, I can be pretty certain that it hasn’t occurred to you that education is not a video game console or a pair of brand name sneakers. It’s not a good but a capital good, meaning that it’s a good you must consume in order to be able to produce goods. In other words, it’s like telling your employees that if they want to be able to do the job you’ve demanded they do, then they must go into debt to buy their own tools. Guess what happens.

And at some point, as the employer, do you think that maybe you might be screwing yourself if the cost of those tools is too high?

Why do you believe that education is a private good rather than a public one? When we treated education as if it was a public good, it was affordable and the U.S. had one of the best higher education systems in the world. It produced a well educated and productive population that wasn’t hamstrung by astronomical debt. Since we’ve decided to do it your way and treat it as a private investment, the cost has spiraled out of control and you’ve basically destroyed a future generation of consumers, business owners, investors, and families.

I will ask you again. What is YOUR responsibility?

Bob said:

“Yeah, I do. The price point is easy. When the cost of getting an education is higher than the lifetime earnings that education is likely to make possible, it’s too high. It’s not a difficult equation.

Yes, some 18 y/o’s make poor life choices. Welcome to adulthood.

My responsibility is to pay my own debts and not take on more than I can reasonably expect to pay. Same as everyone else’s responsibility.”

I replied:

Fascinating calculation. So how do we plan for systemic bank fraud, imperial wars, asset price bubbles, recessions, and technological obsolescence, and short sighted trade policy without crystal balls? I’d like the precise formula, if you please. Maybe we can teach astrology, advanced economic and international relations theory, and actuarial science in high schools to prepare students to make good decisions.

How else would they make those good decisions, Bobby? Because they’re not going to get accurate information from colleges themselves if you’ve turned them into for-profit institutions. You see, they have an incentive to steer students towards taking on more debt, not less. See how profit incentives works? Gee, I guess maybe that’s why education used to be a public good rather than a private investment, because it’s not a smart phone or brand name sneakers, huh?

Tell me how they are supposed to make these decisions, Bobby, since, without access to accurate and reliable information, nobody can make a sound choice one way or the other. And if you can’t tell me how, I guess your argument is sunk, seeing as how it entirely rests on this idea that people make responsible choices, no?

Also, since we’ve removed bankruptcy protections from student loans, what does somebody do if they made the wrong choice? Flee the country? Suicide? Which would be more convenient for you?

The most basic thing that any society has to be able to do is lever the young up into its roles so they can recreate its institutions and social fabric. When you fail to do this, as the policy you support is failing to do, civil society erodes and the long term result is poverty, political instability and polarization, hatred, desperation, debt peonage, eroding trust and faith in institutions, corruption, crime, destroyed marriages and communities, and at the extreme end, possible terrorism and civil war.

Because guess what? Those who made “poor decisions” don’t just go away somewhere to die, now do they? Would you prefer they did? Be honest.

Adults live in the real world, and in this real world, policy has to be based on how people do behave before it can possibly consider how they should behave, unless you don’t think reality is an important consideration in public policy.

And in this real world, the very real prospect of the destruction of your society is what it means to close off reasonable and realistic avenues to opportunity for young people. If you don’t believe me, feel free to consult a history book, probably for the first time in your life, I suspect.

Democracy is about choices and we all have a responsibility to oppose policy which produces such outcomes. Yes, some middle aged men who should know better make poor political choices.

Welcome to adulthood.


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