What Does Collective Ownership and Universalism Look Like?
December 5, 2019 9:09 AM   Subscribe

“ In an institutional setting, the socialist ethos is represented by the idea of common ownership, that powerful institutions should be owned and controlled by those with a stake in them. Michael Walzer expresses this principle in the form of a classic maxim: “what touches all should be decided by all.” How To Build Socialist Institutions “ The leftist vision for how institutions should operate frequently involves taking money out of the picture, not just because we find it grubby but because it gets in the way of what we really want out of life. ” The Importance Of Making Everything Easier : Why universal access is good and means testing is terrible. (Current Affairs)
posted by The Whelk (38 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
So, one good reason to provide free college to all is that it eliminates the need to check whether a person “deserves” or is “entitled” to free college. We know in advance that they’re entitled to it, because they’re a person.
In 2019, should we send every human to a four year college? I'm not sure. Would that change fundamental core problems facing higher education? I very much doubt it.

The amount of resources - if you want to prefer not quantify that as money spent so be it - that have to be utilized to send a student through a four year program have steadily increased for decades. The cost of tuition has increased per adjusted wage dramatically. As has the cost of text books, and meal plans, and student housing. And are students more satisfied with what they have gotten out of a four year college program? No - there are more people than ever targeting majors that they hope will make them attractive in the workforce, and more of them are being disappointed every year.

Four year colleges used to be a signal to employers and society of either social class, or perhaps exception ability. Less and less long term unskilled careers have pressured more and more students to seek out the kinds of white college careers that college once guaranteed. More and more college graduates have dropped the value of a four year degree - it's now the baseline that society expects, rather than a signal that high paying employers can lean on.

I think it's important to ask tangible questions about how a policy will look if implemented - will costs rise or fall with universal college access? Will there be an increase or decrease in graduates finding the jobs they need? Is there the political will to enact such a policy? What are the political costs of advocating a policy?

Nathan Johnson's article is particularly vapid and lacking in curiosity about these questions, and that is very typical of the writing that I see from him. He cares about tapping the a message that is at once optimistic - about the world that he tells his audience will created - but deeply cynical in it's rejection of anyone at all who poses important questions about the reality of his vision. He views political processes in very stark, Great Evil and Perfect Good terms. And coming from a highly privileges British Harvard graduate, I often find the ferocity of his presentation inauthentic and disconnected from the day to day experience of people impacted by policy.

The cost of a political failure can mean - as it has over three years of a Trump presidency - the destruction of welfare programs, aid packages, scholarships and housing assistance that can mean life or death for someone. It seems like that political failure means little to Mr. Johnson who spends his time tearing down the logic of programs meant to aid our most vulnerable, because they fail to re-order society into the Utopia he so imagines.
posted by the_querulous_night at 9:42 AM on December 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

In 2019, should we send every human to a four year college? I'm not sure.

If we really decide that, say, only 30% of people 'should' go to college, then let everybody who wants to apply and allocate by lottery, as the article suggests.
posted by Pyry at 9:59 AM on December 5, 2019 [11 favorites]

In 2019, should we send every human to a four year college? I'm not sure. Would that change fundamental core problems facing higher education? I very much doubt it.

From Sanders.gov the college for all fact sheet “ All students, regardless of income, would also be able to attend community colleges, trade schools, or apprenticeship programs tuition- and fee-free.”

Also, why have college costs skyrocketed in the last few years? Is teaching history suddenly much more expensive or could there be other, systemic reasons? Who benefits from these sky high costs? It’s not teachers, who have fewer and fewer decent paid positions despite a time where college IS considered mandatory, or has been for a long time. It’s not students, who have to take out loans they will never, ever be able to pay back. Is it parents? Who gets to keep their kids hostage by only paying for certain types of education or schools? Is it rich kids, who alone get to pursue interesting fields of study and thus they alone get take part in creative production, study, and interesting work?

“If this goes wrong we might lose our already merge and failing system rife with generational debt and inequality.” Doesn’t sound like a compelling argument. It’s very analogous to universal healthcare, nearly everyone other place on earth does it better. (WE used to do it better, CUNY was basically free until the 70s, where even after it was proven tuition wouldn’t add enough revenue to be worth it the people in charge still demanded it to “shock” the city’s culture into being more ‘productive’. The free University of California system was directly targeted by nixon and Reagan as a way to dismantle the youth movement.) We are committed to these systems that perpetuate inequality cause it is in the interests of the controlling powers to perpetuate these systems. Universalism has the potential to break these systems and allow people the freedom to live the life of their choosing without worrying about losing housing or healthcare or education access. How many people stay in bad jobs, exploitive relationships, or declining conditions because these things are conditional and can be taken away?

Universal systems are harder to break, harder to get rid of, can set their own prices due to their size, are fought for once they’re given, and reduce possible resentments over “free” stuff and remove the incentive to game the system.
posted by The Whelk at 10:54 AM on December 5, 2019 [28 favorites]

I think there is a disconnect here: free college does not mean unfettered access to all that apply - it means that students are able to apply to the programs that interest them without self-limiting due to cost. In reality, potential applicants will still self-limit because even if tuition is free there are additional costs to post-secondary they may not be able to afford (rent in NYC, the expensive computers required in some programs, childcare, costs of being on-call 24/7 when doing clinical rotations etc). And of course applicants form high SES will always have a leg up due to application-padding extracurriculars, internships, private schools etc.
posted by saucysault at 10:59 AM on December 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

In 2019, should we send every human to a four year college?

In 2019, should we deny any human access to a four year college based inability to pay? Should we saddle any human with decades of crushing debt if they are able?
posted by Reyturner at 11:41 AM on December 5, 2019 [16 favorites]

one thing that people don't take into account when considering whether college should be free for everyone is that making college free is a way to reduce unemployment and increase wages. if people are spending 4 years attending school, that means they are most likely spending less time working for pay. this reduces the supply of available labor and thereby tends to increase the pay received by the people who remain in the labor force.

to get the full benefit of this effect, we need to go a step beyond free college and actually pay college attendees stipends, thereby further encouraging people to avoid taking up jobs.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:52 PM on December 5, 2019 [10 favorites]

From Heinz: "Even in agriculture, where collectivization plans were a notorious failure in Soviet nations, other cooperative solutions are at work every day.

"Notorious failure" is a massive fucking understatement. The Holodomor in the Ukraine was a genocide of 3-12 million people, the Goloshchekin genocide in Kazakhstan killed another 1.5-2.3 million. Of course, that all pales in comparison to the Great Leap Forward's agricultural death toll of 30-55 million people.

To the critics of socialism, it represents a comprehensive domination of public life by an authoritarian central planner who inefficiently compel individuals to live or die according to some cryptic logic decided by one’s appointed superiors. However, it’s hard to see how this is different in principle from the exact system we have now, just with the business plans of unaccountable oligarchs in the place of the five-year plans of authoritarian bureaucrats.

One of the things I find endlessly frustrating about this strain of socialist writing is it's impossible to nail down exactly what's being advocated. Does Heinz want demsoc-y programs that help you get free college and affordable health care, or is it communal ownership and central planning? Heinz says he's rejecting the USSR and Chinese model, but passages like the above read to me as saying, "C'mon, is authoritarian central planning really that bad?" For me, I'm happy with demsoc stuff, but massive central planning and its massive death tolls can fuck right off.

The other thing that bothers me about this is that, while these articles are a ostensibly a defense of universal programs/free college in the abstract, once this stuff gets challenged, OP replies From Sanders.gov, which says to me that this FPP is really just more Sanders spam.
posted by factory123 at 2:46 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

It seems like people have very different ideas about "college" in the context of free college? Some people seem to be envisioning: pick a competitive private and/or public college, apply to get in, and, if you succeed, your tuition tab is picked up. Other people seem to be envisioning a plan that seems more like you can go to a community college for free. Where the latter sounds a lot more like extending public schooling from K-12 to K-14/16.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 2:51 PM on December 5, 2019

The Holodomor in the Ukraine was a genocide

Some insight on this from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
Solzhenitsyn opined on 2 April 2008 in Izvestia that the 1930s famine in the Ukraine was no different from the Russian famine of 1921 as both were caused by the ruthless robbery of peasants by Bolshevik grain procurements. He claimed that the "provocatory shriek about a 'genocide' was started in the minds of Ukrainian chauvinists decades later, who are also viciously opposed to 'Moskals.'" The writer cautioned that the genocidal claim has its chances to be accepted by the West due to the general Western ignorance of Russian and Ukrainian history.
Of interest to me because a prof in my neck of the woods got into some hot water over it recently.
posted by No Robots at 2:57 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’m probably the only “Leftist” who generally opposes public education. From my point of view, all it does is prepare children to take their places in the industrial system. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but I just don’t see that it does this efficiently. I take my cue from something Spinoza wrote:
Academies, that are founded at the public expense, are instituted not so much to cultivate men's natural abilities as to restrain them. But in a free commonwealth arts and sciences will be best cultivated to the full, if everyone that asks leave is allowed to teach publicly, and that at his own cost and risk.
A more efficient use of time and money in the development of workers’ natural abilities should be the exclusive goal of educational reform, and if that means discarding the current system wholesale, then so be it.
posted by No Robots at 3:12 PM on December 5, 2019

Means testing has been quite important in Australia in trying to provide an expansive welfare state without the petro dollars and/or high taxes that keep the Scandinavian countries above water. Until recently, when our liberal democratic party caught American conservatism and started to dismantle the welfare state, our poorest 10% of Australians saw a greater increase in their incomes than the richest 10% of Americans over the same period. I understand means testing in America has usually been a way to make sure the system doesn't actually help those who need it; I would suggest that your problem isn't with means testing per se, but with how easily the American legislative approach can be led to build systems that don't fucking work.

One approach that most other countries take is to legislate the policy goal, and leave the implementation (and enforcement) up to a separate, unelected body, who is accountable to hearings and needs to prove their case in civil court if it comes to that.

I’m probably the only “Leftist” who generally opposes public education. From my point of view, all it does is prepare children to take their places in the industrial system.

Boy, and I was nervous about my hot take.

(It's long been agreed, and it still seems to be true, that education is the single best thing for building a better and fairer society. Doing education properly is difficult, so it makes sense that it'd be a profession that someone can specialise in. This suggests that you probably need schools and teachers, and that Spinoza's idea that it's just something that anyone who wants to can do is probably not a good idea.)
posted by Merus at 3:25 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

^Thanks for your considered reply, Merus. Shitting fewer bricks over my hot take now.
posted by No Robots at 3:28 PM on December 5, 2019

Means testing is a quick way to kill a program because by definition it limits the amount of people who benefit from it. Global experience and common sense should should demonstrate this. Just compare the fate of targeted programs like welfare compared to those like social security.

The Democrats have been running on incremental reform and means testing since 2000. Somehow they managed to lose all three branches of government to a culturally isolated party that started a disastrous war and presided over the worst financial crisis since the depression, and that was before Trump.

Quite the accomplishment.
posted by eagles123 at 5:04 PM on December 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

EITC and social security are both means tested programs and neither faces any serious opposition. The idea that universal programs are more politically durable is folk wisdom at best.
posted by factory123 at 5:09 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by The Whelk at 5:12 PM on December 5, 2019

...is under almost constant attack from conservatives.
posted by factory123 at 5:17 PM on December 5, 2019

Means testing is a quick way to kill a program because by definition it limits the amount of people who benefit from it.

That's not true: the way Australia means-tests Medicare is that the program is available to everyone, and there's an income tax loading that's waived if your income is low enough. Means-testing it by not providing the service is counter-productive to the goal of socialised medicine - the only way you get those yummy cost savings is if Medicare is the only game in town, provides the best medical treatment, and is in an unbeatable negotiating position.

Again, we can get away with this because the government provides an automatic income tax rebate calculator, so most people don't have to engage much with the cost of government services. This isn't something America can get away with until you feed Grover Norquist into a wood chipper.
posted by Merus at 5:24 PM on December 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

And is persistently underfunded while the EITC, a direct cash transfer to the poor, has only ever been expanded.
posted by factory123 at 5:25 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

All of the proposals I have seen provide tuition support only for public schools. Are people really worried that billionaires are going to start sending their kids to free community colleges and state universities to save a few bucks?
posted by JackFlash at 5:25 PM on December 5, 2019

[Couple comments deleted. Folks, it's fine to disagree but please lay off the making-it-personal stuff accusing other Mefites of being a spammers or ...stroke victims (?!).]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:28 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I actually looked up the Social Security "means testing". Most articles I found were of the variety stating that we should "start means testing social security". The one I found describing it as being means tested described an almost de jure form of means testing owing to the cap on earnings taxed, which makes the program somewhat progressive. That's hardly the sense in which the term means testing is used to describe access to programs for education and healthcare. Sophistry.

And the NHS has held up longer than US welfare programs. And of course it's under attack by forces trying to get in on the money flowing through it. Johnson had to deny the allegation that he was looking to sell it to us healthcare companies. False claims that Brexit would allow more NHS funding were even used by the Leave campaign!

The point remains that programs that benefit the most people have the most support. Means testing is always a first step to kill a program because it allows politicians to convince people that the program does not benefit them.

Edit: I'm an American, so I'm writing from an American context.
posted by eagles123 at 5:28 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the double post, but i just want to make clear: The way I understand the current means testing debate as an American is more on the access than on the funding side. When I hear objections to universal public college, the means test argument is usually ,"Why should Donald Trump/insert billionaire get free public college?". These programs actually would qualify as "means tested" in the sense some are using the term because the funding method would rely on some form of progressive taxation, often on the very wealthy. That is not the sense I understand the term to be used in the current political debate, though.
posted by eagles123 at 5:41 PM on December 5, 2019

Social security bases it's payouts on the amounts paid into the system and the payouts are subject to progressive taxation. Here is a link with a nice explanation.
posted by factory123 at 5:41 PM on December 5, 2019

I know.
posted by eagles123 at 5:42 PM on December 5, 2019

...is under almost constant attack from conservatives.

And is the absolute third rail of UK politics and refunding it is the basis of the popular support of thr opposition movement and its survived this long because it’s seen as as basic right for all people and it’s been really hard for the tories to take down which it’s why it’s took literal decades for them to do it.
posted by The Whelk at 5:46 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Social Security dates to 1935, the NHS to 1948, so the means tested program, which neither party in the US is trying to cut, is the longer-lived program.
posted by factory123 at 6:00 PM on December 5, 2019

OK let's make college 'means tested' in a similar way to social security, where it's paid for in a manner proportional to your income and you don't get your ability to receive it revoked because the bus to your appointment to the assessor was late.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:05 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Social Security dates to 1935, the NHS to 1948, so the means tested program, which neither party in the US is trying to cut, is the longer-lived program.

Both Clinton and Obama wanted to cut social security and they where stopped by popular revolt and circumstance. The NHS Is basically popular metaphor for a thing You can’t attack.
posted by The Whelk at 6:13 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Nobody but some pedantic economic loons consider Social Security to be a means tested program. A means tested program is a poverty program where eligibility requires that your means (income and/or assets) are below a certain level.

Everyone is eligible and can receive social security no matter how high their income or assets. Social security is not means tested.

Examples of means tested programs are Medicaid (not Medicare), food stamps, Pell grants, TANF, EITC, and Obamacare subsidies.
posted by JackFlash at 6:17 PM on December 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think what bothers me about most discussion about free college is how the focus is on cost, as if it is the only barrier to getting a college degree. Of course it is a huge barrier. But so is expensive childcare. So is the fact that public schools are not equal, and programs like AP classes and extracurricular activities tend to exist in schools whose population is richer and more white. And that unconscious bias makes it less likely for poor and minority students to be places in appropriate classes and tracks. And that teachers are overworked and underpaid and have to spend their own money for school supplies. And that poor and minority students are more likely to be chronically absent, so they end up spending significantly less time in school in the first place. And so on. For me, these issues are as important, or even more important, than the cost of college. But I guess they are not very exciting.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 6:25 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Both the Obama and Clinton proposals were defensive responses to actual attempts to cut the programs by Republicans. And those cuts never happened, unlike the cuts to the NHS.

"Loons," like "do you smell toast," is an ableist slur.
posted by factory123 at 6:36 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Strangely the Republicans didn't accept Obama's proposal. And they didn't try to cut SS under Trump. Maybe because they remembered the pasteing they took under W in 06
posted by eagles123 at 6:44 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

So if you have a college degree in USA you are (at least) some kind of gentry, and a commoner has a high school degree, but if you don't get your high school degree you're some kind of underclass and that's not a very good scene. So I think this probably is K-16: you now need 4 more years in school to avoid those repercussions.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:03 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

you now need 4 more years in school to avoid those repercussions.

The US is the exception, not the norm. Affordable-to-free-to-you-get-paid-to-attend college in Europe doesn't mean everyone is a serf. Skilled professions pay well. Liberals stop thinking of the worst possible outcome but then bizarrely not call for revolution challenge 2020.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:54 PM on December 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

This subject has, not surprisingly, been studied in a little more depth by others.

In 1998, Walter Korpi and Joakim Palme published "The Paradox of Redistribution and Strategies of Equality: Welfare State Institutions, Inequality, and Poverty in the Western Countries." They drew on a data set from northern European countries and concluded that the more you target the poor, the less help the poor actually get, especially in comparison to universal systems. That's the paradox. You may have also heard something like "welfare for the poor means poor welfare". Similar thing.

But subsequent evidence has found that this argument maybe doesn't hold water, across multiple dimensions. Whiteford in 2008 and Marx et al in 2013 found that targeted systems in many places were equally effective at poverty reduction as universal ones. Their data sets tended to include more southern European countries which K&P didn't include (and the data sets covered more time). In the literature, "targeted" = "selective" = "means-tested."

These studies also showed that the greatest distributions to the poorest folks happen in countries with means testing (Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the UK).

Other studies looked at the resilience of welfare programs to cuts. Kenworthy in 2011 reviewed the same countries K&P did, but over a longer time frame. Now, if means-testing attracts cuts to the program, you'd expect to see that means-tested systems were less generous over time. But what Kenworthy found was that this difference didn't have an effect on the overall distributions. This suggests that neither approach is more or less resistant to cuts.

Dimitri Gugushvili has a couple of reviews of the data that are helpful to give you more nuance, and of course, there's more research going on and a continuing debate. For example, here's a study from July 2019 which reviews data from 48 countries and finds complex, mixed results but, again, no strong support for the K&P hypothesis.

And, as an aside, today McClatchy's reporting that "Bernie Sanders’ campaign has already signaled it will target Buttigieg’s college affordability plan for lacking universality by failing to cover wealthy families. On a conference call this week, Sanders adviser Jeff Weaver dubbed Buttigieg’s attitude “elitist”".

And here we are, talking about that very thing! What a coincidence!
posted by factory123 at 1:12 PM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Bernie Sanders’ campaign has already signaled it will target Buttigieg’s college affordability plan for lacking universality by failing to cover wealthy families."

Isn't that sort of a tonal shift? Why can't the rhetoric be firmly centered on normal people for once?
posted by Selena777 at 9:10 AM on December 7, 2019

> Isn't that sort of a tonal shift? Why can't the rhetoric be firmly centered on normal people for once?

There's no contradiction between offering programs to everyone and offering programs to "normal people". Universality is better than means testing, for reasons specified in the FPP links, and in many comments here. This will open Sanders up to attacks about how he's caping for one percenters, but he's more than up to the challenge of fending off attempts by Mayo Pete to attack him from the ostensible left.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:50 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older Baboon High School   |   Anthony Hopkins Talks to Brad Pitt Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments