Free Education Is A Good Investment For Any Society That Wants To Stay Vibrant
I was a little disappointed yesterday. One of the guys from the Progressive Caucus called and we went over the new progressive budget proposal. They have a good idea built into their budget... but it only goes halfway to where we need it to go. If Republicans and conservative Democrats don't team up to kill the proposal-- which they do every two years like clockwork-- it would reduce the cost of current loans while creating a system for debt-free higher education for college students. The piece that was missing-- the Bernie piece-- is free public universities and community colleges... like free high schools.
As much as Hillary tries to mislead primary voters into thinking that Bernie's proposal is to have the taxpayers pay for Trump's children's college educations-- Eric Trump went to Georgetown University, Donald, Jr. went to Marymount Manhattan College, Ivanka went to Wharton and Tiffany Trump is a student at University of Pennsylvania, all private colleges-- but she knows that Bernie's proposal is about state schools, not private schools. It's just another example of how she lies as a matter of course. You speak English? She speaks Lie.
Matty Yglesias was one of the commentators who didn't seem to understand what Bernie was proposing and why it's a bigger piece of the pie than Hillary's overly complicated proposal that is filled with pitfalls for things to go wrong every step of the way (like Obamacare vs Medicare-for-all). In a column at Vox yesterday, Yglesias wrote that he's come around to Bernie's way of thinking and realizes his plan is the way to go. "If the government is going to be in the business of encouraging people to go to college and spending money on making it affordable," he wrote, "the right way to do that is to make it free... [W]e don't charge tuition at public high schools and then provide grants and loans to make it affordable to families in need. We make it free, and to the extent that we need to consider families' differential ability to pay we do that through the tax code. One reason is that even though in a narrow fiscal sense it benefits cities that so many of their affluent families send their kids to private school, paying taxes without using the service, in a more holistic sense it's quite bad for public education in the city."
As we've mentioned before, Chicago's criminal billionaire Pritzker family is very much part of the Clinton Team-- shoveling over a million dollars into her campaign and working to help her buy votes in key states like Michigan-- where it almost worked-- and, of course, pushing their anti-union and their corporate ideas for privatizing education. But is Clinton's involvement with the Pritzkers corruption in a legalistic sense. Of course not... politicians define what bribery is and what constitutes corruption, and they exempt their own behavior patterns.
The most decisive reason to like Sanders's goal of free college, however, didn't become clear until the campaign itself began. The great thing about free college is that people know what it means and some people are excited about it.
Clinton's college affordability plan, a much more complicated compact aimed at the goal of allowing students to graduate debt-free, utterly fails on this score. It is true that her plan is more fiscally progressive-- delivering more help to poor students and less to non-poor ones. It is also true that I have never met a person who is excited about this plan, even among people who are excited about Clinton in general.
Sanders's plan, by contrast, is a huge applause line at his rallies and something that Sanders's supporters frequently cite as a key reason they are backing him.
...Clinton's plan seems like it was written by higher education wonks for an audience of higher education wonks. Some of my best friends are higher education wonks, and obviously you need some wonks to seal the deal on any kind of workable legislation. But it's useful to start with some kind of clear big-picture goal that means something to normal people.
The greatest legislative success of the Obama years-- the Affordable Care Act-- suffers greatly in its political sustainability from the fact that people have such a poor grasp of what it encompasses, how it works, and whom it is supposed to be helping.
The contrast with a program like Social Security, which is worse targeted but much better understood, is stark and instructive. The narrow-targeting way is designed to minimize opposition to new initiatives by reducing their headline costs. But there's something to be said for taking the opposite approach and trying to maximize support by framing your objectives in a way that ensures the people to whom your policy is supposed to appeal actually understand what it is.
Free college financed by higher taxes is clean, simple, and easy to understand, and makes for a totally coherent goal to organize around over a period of years or even decades. If Democrats want to expend more public funds to make college cheaper, which it seems like they do, they ought to focus their efforts around Sanders's banner.
So what do you think the odds are that Clinton will fight for a living wage? Yes, if pigs fly and Congress presents her with one on its own accord, she will probably sign it (though I wouldn’t put it past her to water it down). But she’s not going to lead on this issue. If she pushes for a minimum wage increase, it’s not going to be a living wage.
Now, this isn’t corruption. The Pritzkers aren’t buying Clinton shiny new things. But just as Clinton bashes Sanders for his gun control stance (which is a legitimate thing to do), and then allows one of her top fundraisers to be the lobbyists who shot down the very same gun control legislation in 2013, this is a textbook case of clientelism. Here’s what I mean by clientelism:
And here’s the point I want to introduce to the discussion:
While not guilty of corruption in the explicit sense of quid pro quo, Clinton not only participates in, but actively cultivates patron-client relationships with Wall Street. In the clientelism that Clinton embraces and defends, she claims the American public to be the sole beneficiary via her representation, but she refuses to acknowledge how Wall St. benefits. And yet, in a patron-client system, both the patron and the client always benefit. Always. That is how it works. In this case: Clinton gets resources to run for office, while Wall Street gets the guarantee that the candidate they gave so much money in one place (e.g., a speech) will tacitly if not explicitly support their views of economic reality in another place (e.g., The White House). It is a long term strategy for both....Clinton... has built a career on the belief that she can control these patron-client relationships to benefit the powerless. Yet, she has done so by entering into reciprocal relationships with the powerful–who gain no advantage by legislation that helps the powerless…
But the problem that must be overcome in the Democratic Party for progressive goals to advance is clientelism–a patron-client system whereby elected Democrats and big money cultivate each other for mutual benefit.
And if ever there was a Presidential candidate who represented that system of clientism-- it’s the current front runner of the Democratic Party. As hard as it is to see and to name this, whatever good she has achieved on various fronts–and she has achieved a great deal–it is all tainted at this point by her investment for so long in big money clientelism.
This isn’t pragmatism, taking headcounts and realizing you don’t have the numbers. This is co-optation. Once again, the ‘economic left‘, which is to say, the poor, lower-middle class and middle class, won’t have a seat at the Democratic Party high table. If we’re lucky, we’ll get some scraps tossed under the table.