By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
I hope everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving and no one’s still struggling to dig out from under a mountain of turkey leftovers and various vegetables that only appear on our dining tables once a year.
None of those here. It was just my husband and I for Thanksgiving dinner – and neither of us cares for turkey. So we had duck, with a pomegranate relish; a potato gratin (with sage and manchego – a departure from my standard dauphinois, so as to use up some things lurking in the fridge); pureed carrots (with roasted cumin and coriander), and apple crumble (with almond in the crumble).
My apologies, dear readers, for posting this a bit later than I would have liked – a consequence of nicking my left index finger whilst preparing Thanksgiving dinner. This rather bloody but non-life-threatening injury nonetheless slowed down the typing of your humble blogger – an atrocious hunt and peck typist – said left index finger being one of those I overuse.
Anyway, as we were enjoying the holiday, I saw AOC- House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – schooled South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg on why means testing of any free college plan isn’t such a hot idea. And she ended with a reminder of the importance of community that’s entirely appropriate for the holiday season – while not straying into the saccharine territory of so much MSM coverage we see at this time of year.
Here’s the tweet, which embeds the Buttigieg ad that triggered AOC’s response. Although not named, the ad is clearly targeted at the free public college for all plans of Senator Sanders and Warren. Do make thirty seconds to view the ad that is embedded in the tweet. At the moment, I don’t have a functioning TV, so I’m blessedly insulated from some of the worst electoral nonsense. Until I saw the ad, I just didn’t realize how smarmy Buttigieg is. If you’re similarly innocent, it’s high time to dispel your ignorance.
For those who don’t use twitter much, if you click on the little blue > in the lower right -hand corner, you can see the entire thread.
This is a GOP talking point used to dismantle public systems, & it’s sad to see a Dem candidate adopt it.
Let’s talk about why Republicans are wrong on this.
Just like rich kids can attend public school, they should be able to attend tuition-free public college.
Here’s why. https://t.co/pWprP0qrhG
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) 29 November 2019
But, don’t worry, I’ll discuss each of AOC’s points briefly. Her points are a necessary corrective to neoliberal nonsense and far more useful than the silly advice on how to talk to friends and family about politics over the holiday dinner table. And I envy her ease with communicating complex, hotly-contested concepts in familiar, easy to understand ltermsL as if she’s imparting the the merest common sense.
Let’s take AOC’s points in turn.
1. Universal public systems are designed to benefit EVERYBODY! Everyone contributes & everyone enjoys. We don’t ban the rich from public schools, firefighters, or libraries bc they are public goods.
This translates the larger policy issue into an example everyone can understand. Although private fire companies date back to 1699 in England, they long ago became a public good, and even Margaret Thatcher milk snatcher didn’t seek to revive them (or maybe she did and I missed that episode, during the years I lived there). Private companies never really caught on in the colonies, which instead relied on volunteer fire companies – note that these arose from the community. No less than George Washington was a member of his local fire brigade in Virginia, according to according to Gary Urbanowicz, director of the New York City Fire Museum, as quoted in How Stuff Works (although that story may have the same relation to fact as the more familiar anecdote about the cherry tree).
Here AOC just extends free college to the list of things most of us accept the government has – not to mention should – provide.
2. Universal systems that benefit everyone are stronger bc everyone’s invested!
Message: we’re all in this together. There’s an alternative to the neoliberal dog eat dog universe. No division between haves and have nots. Can’t argue with that.
3. When you start carving people out & adding asterisks to who can benefit from goods that should be available to all, cracks in the system develop.
Yes, and we then find ourselves squabbling among ourselves for the meager spoils, accepting the artificial constraint imposed by a public budget many of our betters try and erroneously compare to a household budget – rather than heeding the lessons of modern monetary theory (MMT). Point three more of an extension of the previous point, really. (And some day, I really must dust off my master’s thesis – on US budget policy – and bang out some posts about how the concept of a public budget evolved throughout US history).
4. Many children of the elite want to go to private, Ivyesque schools anyway, which aren’t covered by tuition-free public college!
I happen to think that those who attend or aspire to the elite private universities would also benefit from a universal free public college whether or not they or their progeny avail themselves directly of its benefits. The very existence of free public college for all might lead more people to ask: how much better is Stanford than Berkeley, to take just one example, of which there are many. If enough people decide the answer is – not so much – that might then force private institutions to reduce their fees to attract the most talented students. Institutions sitting on huge endowments could perhaps use them to fund the studies of students, rather than on gilding campus infrastructure or overpaying administrators. (And, while we’re at it, how about proper compensation for grad student TAs and RAs, and the adjuncts – taken together, they do much of the teaching anyway).
5. Lastly, and I can’t believe we have to remind people of this, but it’s GOOD to have classrooms (from pre-k through college!) to be socioeconomically integrated.
Having students from different incomes & backgrounds in the same classroom is good for society & economic mobility.
Mixing up socioeconomic classes. This is necessary for us to revitalize communities and is is a very important point to emphasize, particularly during the festive season. And to bring in another point, that I made in an earlier post this week about health care (and that Yves and others have previously made many times): the extreme inequality we see and the erosion of a sense of community doesn’t just hurt the poorest among us. It also affects the health of the entire population (see Federal Prosecutors Initiate Criminal Probe of Six Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors, in which I discuss the latest Journal of the American Medical Association study on declining US longevity).
Siloing people socioeconomically only prevents our communities from dealing with problems that threaten our very survival. And if we foul the planet so that it can no longer support life as we know it, the rich, too will (eventually) burn.