University of Lies- The Big Kahuna Edition
This post is inspired by a recent one on the topic of student debt from A Post-Academic in NYC. PAINYC writes:
There’s nothing we can do about it, so why bother complaining?
I am not complaining. I am engaging in reasoned critique, which is what academia taught me to do. Or maybe it’s simply a matter of pointing out the obvious, even though there is no Wall Street ticker for such an activity on the CNN crawl.
In that spirit, here is a very serious question: Why should we have to pay back our student loans when we have essentially been lied to, hoodwinked, abused, and rejected? Where does the supposed moral obligation come from? What sustains it now that the game is up?
It’s an excellent post- if you haven’t seen it already, it’s compelling reading. It
also features a video with David Graeber, an anthropologist/anarchist (winning combo, really) who was involved in planning Occupy Wall Street. And it was news to me, uneducated non-history student that I am, that debt forgiveness has roots in the ancient world:
…a Biblical-style “jubilee,” a forgiveness of all international and consumer debt. Jubilees are rare in the modern world, but in ancient Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt under the Ptolemies they were a regular occurrence. The alternative, rulers learned, was rioting and chaos in years when poor crop yields left lots of peasants in debt. The very first use in a political document of the word freedom was in a Sumerian king’s debt-cancellation edict. “It would be salutary,” Graeber writes, “not just because it would relieve so much genuine human suffering, but also because it would be our way of reminding ourselves that money is not ineffable, that paying one’s debts is not the essence of morality, that all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything it is the ability to all agree to arrange things in a different way.”
How fucking interesting is that??
So after reading PAINYC’s blog entry, and googling a bit about Graeber and the history of debt forgiveness, a few things jump out at me.
1. Why do nations and corporations have the ability to negotiate their debt? The ol’ too big to fail argument? I found this gem on the interwebz, about debt forgiveness/renegotiation in Iraq. Look at this crazy shit:
Following the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime in spring 2003, Iraq’s external debt was estimated to be around $130 billion. Reducing this debt to a sustainable level has been a priority of the U.S. government. Since 2003, debt relief negotiations have taken place in a variety of fora and led to the cancellation of a significant amount of Iraq’s external debt…Iraq’s debt relief remains a priority for both the Executive Branch and Congress. Debt relief is
important to U.S. interests for several reasons, including releasing funds to help support Iraq’s budget, pay for Iraq’s security, and reestablish Iraq’s financial standing with international creditors and the financial markets.
Now as I do not own a Riddler suit, I don’t know what kind of butterfly effect
Ashton Kutcher crap might occur as a result of all this debt cancellation. But it seems humane and rational to say, ‘ok Saddam went a bit nuts at the mall so we are going to renegotiate, since we don’t want to fucking cripple the future of Iraq here.’ How great that the gov wants to help Iraq help itself pay for future shit and ‘reestablish Iraq’s financial standing…’ AWESOME! So why isn’t this same option extended to students? You know, those unwashed, slightly hung over kids who didn’t run a bloodthirsty regime and kill loads of people?
2. Why does a college education in the US cost so much money? It’s no news that the cost of higher education has gone up something like 2,000 percent since the 70s. According to that NPR link, tuition at Berkley in the 70s was $700 a year. As of 2011, it’s $15,000. A prof interviewed for the story explained this skyrocketing cost as a result of states paying less and students having to make up the difference. Buuuuulllshit. I can say that with authority because I am an anonymous internet commentator. But for serious Matil, look around. Sports stadiums, new buildings, technology, endless amounts of deans, provosts, assistant to the dean-provosts etc.. The money’s in administration. It sure as hell isn’t going to hire tenured faculty. Which brings me to my next point.
3. How did we let this happen? There aren’t enough question marks in the world for this one. How, in the course of one generation, did the cost of a US college degree increase by 2,000 percent? It boggles my fucking mind. What happened when governments tried to push through tuition increases in other countries? In the UK, the protests were successful in Wales, Scotland (though not for english studying in scotland), and Northern Ireland. England is another story, but that shit is complicated by Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem’s failure to stick to their promises. In Greece, where there’s a rich history of students checking the government (including saving the country from the military junta), and they protested the shit out of the idea of university fees. It’s still free to get a university education there. Why did this work in Greece and not the US or Quebec? Is it because they had petrol bombs? (legal disclaimer: I fucking hate violence) Or is it the legacy of Socrates and Plato? Yeah, I know they’ve got about 8 million other problems at the minute, but tuition fees isn’t one of them.
So yeah. How did this happen? Maybe as private institutions started to raise tuition, the public ones saw they were getting the crazy prices they asked for and it became easier to ask for more? And the distinction does have to be made between governments pushing through tuition hikes in Europe/Canada vs private institutions in the US raising prices on their own. So did this insanity stem from a distinctly American idea of ‘you get what you pay for’ rather than the more Euro/Canadian ‘socialist’/egalitarian concept of ‘education should be free’?
And where the hell do we go from here?