Friday, October 3, 2014

A New Deal for Germany

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

While American college graduates are enslaved to their corporate and government masters, via $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, Germany has decided to make college free. A German government official said, "We got rid of tuition fees because we do not want higher education which depends on the wealth of the parents.”

So, Germans have an opportunity for a free college education, while Americans who do not come from wealth must obtain an education through a system of ransom: "Sure we'll educate you," the powers-that-be declare with a grin, "as long as you agree to go into crippling debt."

Of course, if we tried to make higher education free in America, we'd hear that inevitable and nonsensical cacophony from the political right: "We can't afford it!!!" And while we're listening to this foolishness, we'll also be reading about the U.S. having more billionaires than any other country and how we're losing hundreds of billions of dollars (every single year) due to tax evasion & avoidance by super-wealthy Americans who don't want to pay their historically low tax rates.

Through a myriad of policies & opportunities during the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policymakers pointed us in the direction of free education: There were free citizenship classes, free literacy classes, free job training, and free courses in math, reading, and social studies...and much, much more. Over time, we veered away from the direction that the New Deal policymakers pointed us toward, and decided that education through debt was a better way. Now we have a $1.2 trillion (and growing) crisis on our hands, with no sign of change on the horizon.

Columnist and author Thomas Frank recently wrote the following about the higher-education system in America: "The truth is...virtually every aspect of the higher-ed dream has been colonized by monopolies, cartels, and other unrestrained predators—that the charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two." After providing a thorough list of examples to prove his proposition, Frank concludes that "College should become free or very cheap."  ("College is ripping you off: Students are cash cows, and schools the predators; Higher ed is sold as the key to an affluent life. It's really a big business designed to leave you buried in debt").

Of course, Frank's conclusion that college should be free or inexpensive is a pipe dream. Too many rich and powerful people are making too much money from the status quo and then, in turn, using some percentage of that ill-gotten gain to convince everyone beneath them on the economic ladder that the status quo shouldn't (or can't) be changed.

Well, at least the Germans are getting a New Deal. Lucky them.

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

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