Monday, May 31, 2010

Fwd: Student Loans: The Right's Hidden Agenda ANS

Subject: Student Loans: The Right's Hidden Agenda  ANS

Here is Sara's latest article.  It's some tough talk on investing in education if we want our country to remain a strong one.  It appears on the Campaign for America's Future site.

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Student Loans: The Right's Hidden Agenda

Sara Robinson's picture  

By Sara Robinson

March 23, 2010 - 10:55am ET

Click here for our new report on the ties between the private student lending industry and the six Democratic anti-reform Senators, and click here to tell your Senators: Don't let lobbyists gut student loan reform.

President Obama's "no-brainer" suggestion that the government get back into the direct lending business has such obvious fiscal merit that you'd think it would melt the heart of the most obdurate conservative. But it's getting resistance anyway -- which is proof that there's more than money at stake here. This proposal threatens two of the conservatives' most cherished goals; and they're willing to waste as much taxpayer money as it takes to keep us from backsliding away from the progress they've made.

The first goal is preserving privatization. The conservatives have been telling us for 40 years that there's nothing the government can do that the free market can't do better. Of course, most of us really get it now that "privatization" really means "paying 25% more for the same stuff and letting the private sector skim off the profit while sticking us with the messes." While privatization has worked well in some areas, it's been a disaster in others -- and this is one of them.

The conservatives are demanding that we pay a totally unnecessary premium for our student loan programs because a) their banking friends are pocketing a fortune off the program and b) we must not ever question the proposition that the private sector can do this better. It's just bad form, bad taste, and bad politics to suggest otherwise, even when it's patently obvious that the actual goods or services we're getting cost considerably more -- and are produced with less oversight and lower standards -- than what we used to get directly from the government. Therefore: Obama's brazen suggestion that we need to bring this program back into the public fold is outright heresy. If Americans figure out that the government really can do this one thing better than the private sector does, this piece of the conservative gospel could be called into question in other areas as well. The right will not stand for this.

The other goal -- and this is what I'm really on about today -- is all about the right wing's fundamental distrust of the middle class. One of their big takeaways from the 1960s was that giving the masses a high level of education (as the GI Bill and the generous educational subsidies to the Boomers did) is one of the worst mistakes a would-be aristocracy can make. Send 'em to college, and the next thing you know, you've got a big, boisterous, pushy middle class pouring out into the streets demanding their "rights," asking the rich to share their wealth, questioning their bought-and-paid for government policies, and devising technocratic "fixes" to problems the corporate masters really would rather ignore. You can't manipulate 'em -- they're too smart for that -- so you can't make 'em do what you want. The upshot is exactly the kind of social chaos no self-respecting plutocrat should ever let happen on their watch.

Seen this way, defunding education -- especially higher education -- for the middle class and poor was one of the conservatives' most important (and effective) strategies for pulling the plug on the whole postwar progressive project. Best of all: over time, it blunted the influence of that despised class of degreed professionals (journalists, lawyers, accountants, engineers, biologists, etc. etc. etc.) who once aggressively monitored private industry on behalf of the public interest. Without those watchful eyes and ears, it got much easier for corporations to do whatever they pleased.

* * *

This essential hostility to higher education is the basic reason that there are now only two avenues left for a smart poor or middle-class kid who wants public help to get through college. The first is to sell your soul. The second is to sell your body.

Soul-selling means taking on private student loans at interest rates so bogglingly high that you'll be up to your to eyebrow piercings in debt until you're 40. Once you're out of school and dragged down by that six-figure debt, they've got you trapped. The only way to afford an education is to sell your ideals for a corporate job you wouldn't have taken in your worst nightmares otherwise.

Sorry, young lawyer; you can't afford to become a public defender. It's got to be corporate law for you. Too bad, young doctor; you might want to join the Peace Corps or work in a ghetto clinic; but you need that HMO paycheck to keep up with the loan payments. And you, young wonk -- you want to take a job with a non-profit defending workers' rights? Hah! Not if you ever want to own a home or have kids. You can have a paycheck and a life, or you can have your principles. But if you want a college degree, you can't have both.

That's one way to tame the upstart rabble. The other way is to demand that you underprivileged brats first join the military and put life and limb on the line in the service of the empire -- an experience that they reckon will make you safe to educate (assuming, of course, that you survive it at all, or aren't rendered senseless by a TBI). You'll be inducted into the military-industrial complex, indoctrinated in the conservative (or perhaps even fundamentalist Christian) worldview, broken of any insurrectionist tendencies, and rendered obedient and disciplined enough that any of that commie-fascist-terrorist liberal arts stuff they'll try to teach you later on at college will be less likely to stick.

Sell your soul? Or sell your body? To the conservatives, the idea that you're worthy of an education merely because you're intelligent and hard-working and have something useful to contribute to society just isn't enough any more. But if you're willing to forego something intrinsic to your ability to function as a happy, healthy adult, we'll reluctantly punch your ticket.

* * *

Thing of it is: it wasn't always like this. And if we want to still be a global power 15 years from now, it has to change.

The only reason any of this is even up for debate right now is that the GI generation is all over 80, or dead. If our grandparents were still around, they'd be busting us upside the head for our bone-ignorant stupidity on this issue. They knew, from their own experience, that the GI Bill was without a doubt the best investment this country had ever made, going all the way back to the Louisiana Purchase.

Back in the glory days of the American consensus, most of the country -- from the moderate right to the far left -- agreed that anybody with the talent and desire should have access to an education. Ideally, it shouldn't matter who your family is, how much money you have, or where you come from. None of that should be a barrier to fulfilling your ambitions. The fact that minorities didn't attend college in equivalent numbers to whites was considered a shame and a scandal (and prompted school desegregation fights and affirmative action laws). Guidance counselors spent a lot of their time showing poor kids all the ways they could pull together funding -- much of it from the state and the feds -- and make their college dreams come true. Success stories of kids from sharecropping families going to Harvard and smart boys from coal mining towns in West Virginia becoming rocket scientists became almost commonplace. After all: this was the whole country's story. (It was even mine.)

Furthermore, the new GI middle class earnestly believed that their Boomer and early Gen X kids deserved even better. In most parts of the country, they built a kindergarten-through-PhD educational system that offered a high-quality education to anybody -- not just veterans -- who wanted one. When Sputnik terrified the nation in late 1957, the first panicked response was to throw vast sums of money at science education, at every level from kindergarten onward. That investment, in turn, directly produced the young tech wizards who created the computer boom of the 70s and 80s -- the single biggest economic generator in the history of the world.

In addition to creating postwar America's technological and cultural might, that massive investment in higher education paved the way for a large, progressively-minded middle class that dealt effectively with complex issues, built global enterprises, understood and relied on science, craved a deeper appreciation of the arts, and was fully capable of building anything it put its imagination to. Without the engineers and scientists educated by the GI Bill and the postwar investments in education, there would have been no semiconductors, no satellites, no polio vaccine, no Internet, and no moonshot.

The conservatives look back at all this, and all they can see is the chaos of the 1960s. What they don't see -- because their fear is blinding them to the full picture -- is how much of their own wealth and power also flowed out of that massive investment in American talent. For three generations, those investments have consistently returned tax revenues, technological innovations, economic growth, and social benefits worth many, many times more than what we put in up front. There is simply no other place we can put our tax dollars that can guarantee a higher ROI.

Given the stakes -- which are nothing short of the future of the country -- it's quite possible that the way the conservatives have changed our national consensus on education may be the single most radical thing they've done over the past 30 years. (And yes, that includes sanctioning torture, which wouldn't have been even possible if we hadn't deprived two generations of Americans of a decent civics education.) Those of us over 45 still remember those very differnt assumptions about who deserved an education, and what college was for, and how it should be paid for. We're absolutely horrified at the way those assumptions have been turned on their heads. Everybody should be.

It's time for us to turn those assumptions back upright again. The generation that will be figuring out how to make this country work again deserves to have the same wide-open opportunities their Boomer parents and GI grandparents did. Our very survival may depend on their access to cutting-edge education. Depriving them of the chance to go to college -- or warping things so they can only get there by selling their bodies or souls to the corporate order -- isn't just morally wrong. It's also a conscious choice to disinvest in the future of the country, sealing our fate as a second-rate power in the century ahead.

There is nothing "conservative" about walking away from this kind of sure-fire 1-to-100 investment. There is nothing "conservative" about enslaving our best and brightest -- the kids who will create our next future -- to serve as mere cash cows for the big banks. There is nothing "conservative" about paying 25% more for something just so somebody's discredited free-market fundamentalist faith will be served. There is nothing "conservative" about squandering 500 years of American civilization and progress by failing to pass it on, fully intact, to the next generation.

There may be some confusion in Washington right now over what the "right thing" looks like here. But the student loan traps that have ensnared Gen X and the older Millennials are stark and current evidence of what the "wrong thing" looks like. And the brilliant success of the GI and Boomer educational experience leave no doubt about what needs to be done to put it right.

This really is a no-brainer. Let's tell the conservatives that their ideas are out of date and wrong -- and then get the government back in the business of investing directly in our kids, and our future.


You completely nailed it

By alyosha | March 23, 2010 - 12:17pm GMT

Those of us over 45 still remember those very different assumptions about who deserved an education, and what college was for, and how it should be paid for. We're absolutely horrified at the way those assumptions have been turned on their heads. Everybody should be.

And when we (boomers) were young, getting this education, and completely taking for granted that this is the way things should be and always would be - this is America, after all - could we ever imagine how far our country would fall in the next generation or two.

I've been stymied for years over the general, deliberate mass ignorance I've seen in the media (which has devolved into the voice of the aristocracy) and in the general public who suck down its message. I've known the basic idea that an aristocracy's biggest fear is an educated population. But you have brought these high stakes root concepts to bear in the current policy debate over something as mundane as student loans. I agree with you that nothing less than the future of our country is at stake.

It's astonishing to me how education has become devalued in our culture. I recently heard an argument about how so many middle class careers have been off-shored, and how expensive an education is to begin with (and why is that? something the speaker has never been taught to question), so why waste time and money getting a degree. But what's the alternative?

This whole matter of education is a long term project, but one that I suspect is relatively low cost. It shouldn't be a big deal for the government to be involved. I consider the taking back of our country from right wing aristocracy much like the Normandy invasion. Hours ago, an important beachhead was achieved, the passage of a very conservative health care reform package, one that should start some changes in the culture and bring even more reform later. Student loans, as mundane as it sounds, is another major beachhead that must be achieved to reverse the conservative project.

Worse than an educated middle class

By Sanford Silver | March 23, 2010 - 6:29pm GMT

is one with nothing to do. As those jobs disappeared to countries that progressively do pay for education, educating American kids then putting them on the streets to flip burgers is the classic formula for bloody revolution.

And I've been saying that publicly and in print for years.

Sanford Silver


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