Friday, October 14, 2011

Tuition, Education, and OWS

First off, this was quite possibly the most painful two minutes I've spent in...quite awhile. Since the last time I was forced to sit through an Obama speech. Or Rick Perry's ramblings. This gentleman seems quite confused as to what, exactly, a protest is supposed to be. When a protest/rally has degenerated to the point where, as the interviewer said, the protesters are "putting your Christmas list on a sign and waving it in the air," I think we can definitively say that it has sunk to the point where it will most likely achieve nothing of consequence.

Now, I know that this young man is only one among thousands. And my purpose in this post isn't necessarily just to nitpick on the fact that he doesn't seem to know what he wants. It's more to prove why his wish-list is pretty ridiculous, and why the wish-list of so many others in the Occupy movement are just as far-fetched.

Yes, corporations are bad. They restrict the free market, monopolizing market resources and pooling them into huge vats of capital that they can draw from at will. They also have a bad habit of forgetting the little guy in the midst of their financial orgy. I think it would be a very good thing if they ceased to exist entirely, to be replaced by something more friendly to the idea of liberty. At the same time, corporations and rich people are not necessarily synonymous.

There is a line that needs to be drawn there, in my opinion. Rich people may have gotten rich using a corporatist model. Or they may not have. And even if they did, they still earned the money. Perhaps not fairly, but since when has life been fair? The mere possession of money does not make a person evil or, in the language of my siblings and certain statist Democrats, "mean." It simply means that they were more clever and quicker on their feet than the rest of us. (Nor, I would add, is inherited wealth a bad thing. It was still earned, and should belong to whoever its original owner wants it to.)

What concerns me is not necessarily the idea that corporations or bad, or even the idea that rich people are bad. What does concern me is the very prevalent idea that the government should do something about the badness of corporations and rich people--usually, the idea goes, by stealing money from them and giving it to poorer people. Or, at least, giving it to the government so that it can give it to poorer people.

Or, as the gentleman in this video seems to want, to pay for his college tuition.

I totally get the value of a good education. I think that it is necessary to maintain our standard of living and the society we have now. I do dislike the idea that college is the only place you can get such an education (seeing as I'm probably not going to be attending college), but I also realize that there are some professions that require the specialized education a college course can give one. That said, I think it is far from the government's responsibility to ensure that everyone gets a good education. We've been trying that, through the public school system, for the past thirty years, and the quality of our education has only declined. Do we really want to get the government involved in our places of higher learning?

There is also the libertarian argument that for government to pay for college tuition would be utterly unfair, since it isn't my responsibility to make sure anyone else gets an education. Go get a job and pay for your own college degree if it means that much to you.

Now, this young man may be saying that he wants the evil rich people to pay for his college tuition. But that isn't right, either. If some philanthropic, wealthy individual does want to help him through college, more power to them. But they are under no compunction to do so, and they shouldn't be. That is called plunder, and whether legal or illegal, it is wrong. We simply can't take money from private citizens and give it to other private citizens--or rather, we shouldn't.

And that is my take on this subject.


suntzusays said...

I think a sensible argument is to allow people to fold college loan debt into bankruptcy. This would of course mean that there would be LESS government intervention in the form of currently subsidizing college loans (which would become less affordable to issue because more people would default on them), but many protesters would be mollified because they don't understand the direct consequences of changes to laws like that as they effect economics and supply/demand of money for loans.

As far as the rest of their demands, I agree a lot doesn't make much sense. I tend to get some gibberish that sounds like "we're mad at rich people". Parts of it are entirely sensible because some of those "rich people" are rich (or still rich) not because of fruitful market actions by themselves and their companies but because they managed to get the government to game the system for them and hand off some money to keep them in the game. This I think is a point of agreement, at least in terms of results and problems if not in terms of intended solutions.

But the rest.... your guess is as good as mine.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, since that was the reason the law disallows such bankruptcy settlements; it makes sense that the government subsidized loans would be curbed by repealing those portions of the law.

If a person or company games the government system, is that a fruitful market action? As government meddling in commerce is inherent by the nature of government, it would seem a certain amount of gaming the system is necessary. Those who cannot personally game the system, hire people who can. Those people deserve the money they make by virtue of doing their jobs right and favourably gaming the system for themselves and their company.

On what page did you stop reading the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, STS?

suntzusays said...

The government meddling in commerce doesn't have to be a natural state of affairs, at least to the level we have for it. Gaming the system to violate fundamental norms or mores of society is the problem here (for example to game the system in gain an uncompetitive advantage through regulatory capture, which is essentially graft or corruption).

Apparently you never read Theory of Moral Sentiments. By the same author. They both need to be read all at once or neither part will be correctly interpreted.

suntzusays said...

The trouble for Smith and most classical liberals of his ilk is that most government interventions have not only the too broad interference with the underlying free market character of the system but also that they have little or no benefits to show for it in the form of some positive goods that are conveyed to others (ie, safer foods, cleaner water, less traffic, etc). It was not the idea that there should never be interventions in the affairs of businesses and private property by government. More that our collective conceit, expressed through the will of governments, about how societies must organise are difficult to put into place through rule of law and we should look to see if there are more organic ways (ie, markets) to bring about the changes we seek first and use governments only if large market failures emerge that can only be corrected through such interventions (usually externalities, positive or negative).

Still, all of that has little to say about why people are mad.

I've generally assumed that the average person is even less likely to have read any of Adam Smith than you are and that their rage is likely to be inchoate. Their demand is likely to be more government intervention, because they don't understand these interactions and they fear impersonal actors like corporations.

My own reaction would be to have much less intervention. That was kind of the point of agreeing there is a problem and not agreeing about its solutions. I had thought I suggested as much when I wrote the following: "This I think is a point of agreement, at least in terms of results and problems if not in terms of intended solutions." But perhaps you interpreted their intentions as less intervention (from either the Tea Party or OWS, as both have complained about the same thing now).

I share no such illusions.

Teresa said...

I am in full agreement with you.
Good post :)