Friday, December 20, 2013

The economic benefits of destroying public education

A recent conversation on a blog I frequent had me reminiscing back on a morning a few years ago when I was listening to my favorite Monday afternoon radio show.  It was a political show that analyzed my state’s politics from a Christian perspective.  I enjoyed it because each week they had guests who were state senators, city councilman, school superintendents, or other governmental representatives.  Some were more versed in politics, others Christianity, some were strong in both, but all were trying their best to tell the public what they did and why they did it.

That day the discussion centered-around the state’s cuts in education.  One of the key issues was the 300+ teachers who had just lost their jobs due to budget cuts.  Since our representatives didn’t want to increase revenue (read: raise taxes) to help the state’s financial crunch, the only option was to cut spending.  And since there is only so much money you can save in education by eliminating rulers, basketballs, tampon dispensers, and school buildings, salaries were cut.  Ironically though, while listening to my favorite morning news radio show earlier that same day, I heard state politicians complaining that Obama’s/Democratic economic policies weren’t working because our state lost several hundred jobs the previous week.  Why is this ironic?  Because the politicians who were complaining about losing jobs based on Democratic policies were the Republicans who cut teachers’ jobs with their most recent legislation, and those were the several hundred jobs that were lost.

Having listened to many of those folks give sound bites speeches, I know they aren’t rocket scientists… and they probably would have trouble following an episode of Pinky and The Brain involving building a rocket with kitchen utensils.  Still, they were far from stupid.  Actually, their plan was pretty smart.  It’s like a crook stealing money from the police station and then donating the money to PAL for a tax write off.  You make your enemy look bad and you profit from it financially, and while the original action is immoral/illegal, your profit from it is perfectly legal. 

But why would they do it?  How does destroying public education benefit anyone, and why would any politician want to do it?  I say two reasons: 1) to control who gets into education and what they get out of it, and 2) because the educational process is a service; and the sale of any service is profitable. 

For #1, who gets into education and what they get out of it directly impacts the ability of the rich to stay rich. Prior to falling into the recent period of double digit unemployment, the percentage of millionaires was increasing by double digits annually.  Now I’m not talking about silver spoon millionaires that inherited tens of millions of dollars, I mean self-made millionaires that fought, clawed, saved, invented, reinvested, and sold their way into the lowest level of millionaire-dom.  They exemplified the American Dream.  Their money was not based on market speculation, but on customers.  They were not heavily subsidized by the government; they earned their money by offering products that people wanted.  But with more and more money being sucked up by the growing upper middle-class and new rich folks, there was also an increased demand for a say in what goes on in local and state governments by those same people.  This, of course, cut into old money’s ability to control the environment.  Hey, if everyone can get an education and get rich, being rich doesn’t make you special anymore. Then you don’t get to make the decision on what areas are built up or torn down, where your population of workers will live, and what other choices they have for employment other than you.   So what do you do to maintain power?  You cut down on the number of new rich folks fighting you for money and power.  Of course the rich can’t attack the Capitalist system that enabled them to get rich, so the logical thing is to cut off the tools needed to be successful in the Capitalist system… the primary long-term asset being education (the primary short-term asset is customers, which is why I believe this recession was planned… but that is a blog for another day).

In the case of corporations, control equates to control of the means of production… i.e., low-wage workers.  As the old song said, “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree (Paris).”  Once you’ve educated the people of an agricultural or manufacturing community, or of any poor community, whether urban, suburban, or rural, they naturally seek the potential quality of life improvements that education makes available.  This is why so many of those communities have suffered massive “brain drain” over the past few decades.  The best and the brightest go away to college, but never come home again.  When the “C” students are your brightest workers, production issues will follow.  Just imagine what would happen if our country was run by a “C” student (Oh yeah… been there, done that).  So limiting A and B students to a C level education keeps smart folks at home and available for future exploitation.  It’s cruel, but it makes dollars so it makes sense. 

Now as I said, the #2 reason to destroy public education is the fact that the educational process is a service, and the sale of any service is profitable.  In the not so good old days, there really was no Middle Class.  While there were a few people who “made a good living”, generally there were rich folks and poor folks.  Since you had to pay for education, rich folks were educated and poor folks weren’t.  Having control of information, rich folks controlled the poor folk.  So generation after generation the rich folks stayed rich unless some poor folks had some luck added to their hard work, or they did something like build a better mouse trap, Pocket Fisherman, or Tae Bo tape. 

Then the new old good old days came, and they brought public education with it.  The industrial revolution’s assembly line labor system made people that were able to read at a basic level important for increased productivity.  Putting kids together in a building where they practiced a certain skill for a short period of time, then at the ringing of a bell moved them to another skill for a short period of time, was perfect training for work in a factory.   They even gave them the summer off for the benefit of those who needed to focus on helping out with the family farm.  And 150+ years later we still have the same system… except now some schools use buzzers instead of bells (gotta love technology). 

So for the last 150+ years, more and more government money has been funneled into education so that our citizens can get it for free.  Since *equal* education is the ultimate equalizer for a country that prides itself on equal opportunity, it was a necessary expense.  But as with anything else, if the government is funding something, then private business can’t make much money from it.  In the past, when public education was utilized solely by those who couldn’t afford private education, this was not an issue.   But now there is a viable middle class, many of whom could pay for private education but choose to utilize public education because cost-wise to the family finances it makes sense.  But what would happen if public education became so qualitatively poor that it lost its overall value.  The middle class would opt for private/charter schools.  This idea was floated during the original Bush II years through the concept of school vouchers, but it didn’t get too far.  The middle class did it’s cost-benefit analysis, and the difference in educational quality between public and private school in many areas was so close that the absolute value of the vouchers couldn’t surpass the comparative value of a free education (don’t tell me I didn’t learn anything in Economics 201).  But if we continue to make cuts in education that increase classroom size, reduce educational supplies and co-curricular experiences, and chase good teachers into the private sector for higher pay and more security, then the middle class en masse will be willing to revisit pay/voucher education as a viable alternative.  Putting the squeeze on the middle class may be cruel, but if it makes dollars, it makes sense. 

(I feel a Jesse Jackson moment coming on)  So in an effort to avoid anything that could be deemed socialized, teachers’ unions, free pre-school and subsidized college have been demonized, with the goal of making education privatized.  Understanding that a loss of basic education will leave our populace demoralize, we must understand that those who aree being most vilified and scrutinized, are fighting to hold onto educational policies that are more humanized.  Thus, we must make sure that our use of the ballot is maximized so that growing citizens over growing currency is prioritized, until a time when equal education for all citizens is realized.  Until then… keep hope alive!!!   Word!!

Being only three generations away from it being illegal for me to learn how to read, I understand the power of education to get us from where we were to where we are, and from where we are to where we want to be.  Mitt Romney said that corporations are people.  If education were totally privatized, those “people” would control the economic and informational wealth of our country.  Slave masters were people too, and they controlled the economic and informational wealth of their time and place.  I’
ve heard too many family stories about the bad old good old days to ever take education for granted, and way too many to let anyone take it away.  What about you? 

Let me end by saying this is not an anti-Republican or anti-capitalism post, it is a pro-education post.  I understand that there are Republicans and Democrats are pro and anti-public education, and Green Party, Libertarians, and other factions that have unique answers that don’t get any attention.  I don’t know all the answers, but I do have a basic understanding of what we should be doing.  And I do know that privatizing education in a global economy is absolutely not the answer, despite the economic benefit of destroying public education.  

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