Thursday, 13 July 2017

Right problem ; Wrong solution

The extreme left , as this blogger is wont to repeat ad nauseam, is as bad as the extreme right. The champions of the hard left - Bernie Sanders in the US and  Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have one policy in common that is a good example of this. Free college for everybody. 

They also have another thing in common which is often the case with the left's policies. Right problem. Wrong solution.

First the right problem. Its a complete disgrace that in a developed country, a young person starts working life under a mountain of debt.  Outstanding student debt is now £100bn  in the UK,  and a ridiculous $1.3 trillion in the US. And just to give you a perspective on the latter statistic, its $ 600 m higher than the total credit card debt in the US. You start life with a mountain of debt, and not a ready prospect of a good job. Great. If I was to be born again and had a choice of where to be born, I wouldn't choose either the US or the UK on that statistic alone.

The left deserves great credit for highlighting this problem. Successive governments of all stripes and colours (pun intended) deserve censure for ignoring the problem and allowing it to build to these  levels. A society, and a nation, that spurns its young does not deserve  to be called "civilised".

But, as is often the case, the left's solution is dead wrong. Their prescription is for college to be made free and the costs to be picked up by the government.  Fantastic. Will they never learn that tax tax tax and spend spend spend does not work - for free advice apply to Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, et al. 

This blogger suggests three solutions instead.

First cut costs. Why is college education so expensive ? In the US, a ridiculous amount of cost is spent on college sports, fancy living quarters and everything that has nothing to do with education. My good friend Sriram has blogged extensively and is far more knowledgeable on this subject.  In the UK, the average Vice Chancellor earns £300,000.  And gets payoffs for leaving the job, which would make any corporate fat cat proud.  Wield an axe on any cost that does not strictly have to do with education. Get the professional cost cutters from industry and let them loose on the education sector and within 3 years they'll cut costs down.

Secondly, what about parental responsibility. I am not at all clear why parents in these countries do not pick up a large portion of these costs. In Asia, education costs are largely picked up by parents. That's their legacy and gift to their offspring. If you are not prepared to start your child off well in life, you don't deserve to have a child. Period. And anyway what sort of an argument is it that you will not pay for your offspring's education, but somebody else (the tax payer) should. And don't tell me the parents cannot afford it - they have 15 odd years from the child's birth to plan savings. Save $ 5 every day and you won't have to worry about student debt.

Thirdly make college education truly global. Allow students from anywhere in the world to study anywhere else - allow free movement of students. There are superb universities in China and India for example, where you can get high quality education at a fraction of the cost in the US or the UK. Just like industry has truly globalised with activity automatically moving to the lowest cost location, so be it with education. Yes, I know this is an utopian dream and will never happen, but at least I can articulate it in my own blog (and no doubt face a volley of criticism in the comments !). Just to make it very clear, I am only advocating free movement for education; not permanent immigration.

The hard left may not ascend in the US, despite how many ever have felt the Bern. But there is a real chance that Jeremy Corbyn might become the Prime Minister of the UK. In that case their national anthem of "God save the queen" could perhaps be amended to God save the UK !


Sriram Khé said...

Hmmm ... you have linked to my Twitter profile ... interesting!

Yes, I have blogged in plenty on this
( or

I am especially critical on my own "business" ... I wish everybody were as self-critical ... hehehe ... yes, sports and fancy buildings have contributed to this mess.

I mostly agree with you ...

But, there is one place in particular where I will sharply disagree, because I am after all left-of-center.

When it comes to children, we cannot simply leave it to "parental responsibility" ... children do not get to choose their parents. Thus, the accident of their birth can, and does, sharply affect their future.

If there is no social commitment to children, then being born into disadvantaged backgrounds can severely mess up the lives of children. Leaving it all to "parental responsibility" will then merely reinforce existing power and privilege structures. This left-of-center guy will oppose such ideology every waking minute.

Here in the US, government money was used a lot to subsidize higher education when pretty much most of the college students were only white Christian men. As minorities and women started attending college, the conservative ideology of shrinking the government became virulent. The less the taxpayer support, the more the individual contribution and, hence, the student debt. Children from families with power and privilege do not have to worry about the loans and debt--after all, that is what power and privilege bestows on them!

Ramesh said...

Oh - I actually agree with you on the parental responsibility thing. If there is a role for government in anything, education would come right at the top.

My point was to shame parents who abrogate responsibility for funding education of the their children. You don't need that new iPhone. You certainly don't need a 2000 cm ultra HD TV. Put aside the money for your children. After than if you have more, by all means buy iPhone 268.

Anne in Salem said...

"We can't afford it." If parents can't say that, try "That's not how I choose to spend my money." It's a very simple statement that parents need to learn and children need to accept, but most are unwilling. Too many parents are not willing to sacrifice anything now (new phone, $150 shoes, etc.) for future benefit. Too many kids are learning that lesson. (I think they grow up to be politicians who can't say it either.)

There is too much focus on everyone going to college. I know the theoretical benefits, but some people just shouldn't go to college. I know teenagers who barely survived high school academically who will attend a state university they can't afford and at which they likely will do poorly before dropping out, all because the "college for all" mantra has been shoved down their throat. Much better if they attend a trade school or join the military or get a job at which they can learn a skill - income, on-the-job training, much less debt.

Corollary to "we can't afford it" is "we can't afford that school, choose a less expensive one." I know parents don't want to squash their children's dreams, but isn't choosing half the debt by attending an instate public university better than saddling them with twice the debt? Student loan debt is being blamed for every financial decision millennials make - living at home longer, delaying marriage, delaying buying cars and homes, etc.

Ramesh said...

Agree with your views on parental responsibility, of course.

Ambivalent to your view that college is not for everybody. Possibly so. But everybody should aspire for a little more than what seems "right". And the average college debt of $50 ,000 or so is not much. As I wrote, $5 a day savings by their parents will get them there.

Yes, to college you can afford. Everybody doesn't have to go to the Ivy League. Actually come to China, where you can probably get an Ivy League equivalent education at a quarter the cost.

Deepa said...

Your solutions are pretty good but they are conceptually unexplainable to an average American.

Why Higher-Ed cost is so high? You are right, its usually the boarding and meal plans that are pricey and outrageous than the tuition itself. But these really are some criterias that the schools compete on on getting enrollments. I can't imagine telling my dad that a preferred College A over B because I'd prefer a 5-star private suite over a hostel with bunk beds. But try explaining that to an American student and their parent.

Parental responsibility - Parenting in America is a weird concept. People really want to have a lot of children. I have more pressure from my white colleagues about having more children than my mom. But as soon as kids start going to school parents wait for them to turn 18 and get out of the house. And here you are talking about footing a $50K bill on college fees. Some parents do foot the bill but it is almost like a wedding present and a favor of a lifetime.

Global education - I will not even attempt to explain to an American the concept of living outside United States for a few years for education no matter how much sense it makes, in this lifetime.

Ramesh said...

Hey Deepa - sorry for a laaaate response. Your comment was sitting in the awaiting moderation folder with no alert for me. Just saw it today and pushed it on to the blog.

But why is an American so different ??

Sriram Khé said...

"why is an American so different ??"
Ahem, because America, dammit!!! ;)

"I have more pressure from my white colleagues about having more children than my mom. "
From the outside, it is very difficult to understand that America is a complicated place in its own way. People here seem to be obsessed with their kids way more than parents in, say, India. Yet, the image in the rest of the world seems to be that Americans don't care about their children.
The (disgraceful and predatory) Bill Cosby always joked about the American Dream: He joked that the dream is that the kids will leave the house so that the parents can finally claim their home to themselves.

Ramesh said...

You can be different, all right, but do you have to be so different that sometimes I wonder if you belong to the Homo Sapiens species :) !!

"People here seem to be obsessed with their kids". Really ???? Have you seen how much parents are involved in other countries. Remember, your experience from centuries ago ( ha ha ha) is no indicator of how things are now.

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