Wall Street Journal diverts class warfare with false claim that middle class pays for poor to attend college

A Wall Street Journal article is reimagining university finances as a wealth transfer program that steals from the rich and middle class to give to the poor. In doing so, writer Douglas Belkin attempts to reframe the current class war in the United States.

Belkin’s argument starts with the fact that government has withdrawn massive subsidies from public universities in recent years. Belkin does not mention that this cutback resulted from an historic lowering of taxes on the wealthy. The way that public universities made up the shortfall from reduced government subsidies was to raise tuition. But, as many American families understand with painful clarity, that pushed tuition out of reach of many deserving students. Universities have responded by giving tuition breaks to more and more working class and poor students.

The article quotes from both poor students who say they wouldn’t be able to attend college without the tuition breaks and from students whose families make amounts that are just out of reach for qualifying for needs-based aid. One student bemoans the irony of her tuition payments subsidizing poorer students while she will graduate with educational loans to pay. The article seems to postulate that the sole reason for tuition increases has been to make sure middle class and rich students pay enough to carry their poorer cohorts.

Following the money is often helpful in understanding a situation, but in this case, the Journal has only followed half the money trail, the half after tax cuts have gutted state and federal budgets. When we follow the complete unvirtuous cycle that has radically changed the nature of college finances over the past 30 years we see that the real transfer of wealth has not been down the ladder but up the ladder. Rich folk pay less in taxes, and the middle class and poor pay more in tuition. When we consider that rich folk represent a higher percentage of private school students, which enjoy no or limited government support, the redistribution of wealth upwards intensifies. Moreover, it is naïve to think that most poor state school students get enough of a tuition break to make up for the obscene inflation in college costs over recent decades.

Behind the Journal’s partial and partisan math looms the politics of selfishness, the benighted idea that it always unfair to make a citizen pay for another citizen. The ideology of selfishness informs and shapes the entire article. It describes the efforts of students in Texas and protestors in other states to fight what the article calls “set-asides,” funds earmarked from tuition to pay for tuition discounts for needy students. The article quotes Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute; “We used to believe that public higher education benefited all residents of a state, not only the people who were attending, because the more highly educated workforce meant more economic growth…But now our society has moved toward the notion that the people who are paying are the ones who will benefit, so they should pay.”

The idea that society does not benefit from an educated workforce is complete nonsense and a dangerous notion. More dangerous, though, is the underlying idea that group solutions to public challenges are inherently unfair. The typical family will need public college for 4-12 years, depending on how many children they have. Most people couldn’t possible afford to pay for a high quality education over that amount of time. Fortunately, most people remain in the work force for 40-45 years, giving them extra time to pay their fare share in taxes. Cutting taxes and making people pay for their or their children’s college education over a much shorter time will naturally lead to financial problems. The Journal wants us to blame those problems on the poor, when it fact they have emerged primarily because the wealthy have decided to retreat from the social contract which ruled this country from the end of the Great Depression to the mid 1970’s.

Conservatives like to blame the poor and like even more to pretend that the best interests of the middle class are different from those of the poor and working class. They want to pit the poor against the middle class, so neither will realize who is perpetrating the real class war. But the college financial crisis has as its root cause the same dynamic that has led to our sluggish job recovery, the increased inequality of wealth, our public school challenges and our decaying infrastructure of mass transit, bridges and roads: Taxes are too low, especially on the wealthy, and have been for many years now. As a nation, we have replaced the social contract that created a middle class nation with a dog-eat-dog, I’m-only-in-it-for-myself ideology that helps the rich take more.

Christie forgets to apologize for creating atmosphere in which staff would consider political tricks

We should give New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the benefit of the doubt and assume that he told the absolute truth.  He did not know members of his staff ordered the closing of a lane leading onto to the George Washington Bridge as political retribution.  When he asked about the lane closing, two members of his staff lied to him.

In his “mea culpa” news conference, New Jersey Governor Chris Christies sounded as sincere and honest as a human can appear.

But he also spoke with cunning and extreme care.

Throughout the news conference, Christie carefully parsed words and redirected questions—all with his refreshing brand of straight-talk—to avoid the topic of whether he practices political retribution. His focus was solely on the sheer stupidity of the action and the fact that people lied to him. He berated himself for creating an organizational culture in which staff members thought they could lie to him. He never addressed his role in creating a culture in which retribution was condoned and encouraged. When asked specifically about retribution against the Ft. Lee mayor, he did not speak about retribution but about the fact that he hardly knew the man. He did not deny he practiced retribution, instead suggesting that you only commit dirty tricks on someone who you know.  True enough, but it slides right over the question of whether Christie believes in dirty tricks.

Christie’s avoidance of the retribution issue reminds me of Anthony Weiner’s comments about his sexting when he first announced he was running for mayor. He said that there might be other instances revealed, but he did so in passing and parenthetically, almost hypothetically, so that it was completely ignored at the time. Weiner was deceptive in his honesty, just as Christie is. I might even say that Christie “pulled a Weiner,” but the image is just too grotesque.

The news media passed over the Weiner comment, which led to their collective shock when the next scandal involving Weiner’s electronic sexual practices popped up.  The efforts of Democrats to place the media focus on Christie’s culture of retribution is having only limited success, at least at this point.

That someone in an organization would think that it was just business as usual to create a safety hazard and mess with the lives of tens of thousands of people is, as the Latins liked to say, res ipsa loquitur, a thing that proves itself. Either it was Christie’s habit to condone retribution or two key staff members he had known for years had somehow managed to hide a rare and malevolent stupidity from their boss and everyone else.  Christie doesn’t strike me as socially or politically dense.  His past in what many journalists are calling “rough and tumble” Morris county politics and known scandals involving others close to Christie build the case that the politics of retribution thrived in his Administration.

Bridgegate will not sink Christie’s hopes for national office. No one seriously thinks that a man this poised and clever would approve shutting down access to the most travelled bridge in the world for trivial revenge. But the news media will now go on an aggressive hunt to find other instances of Christie or his cronies using dirty tricks for political purposes. Other scandals will emerge—and it’s very possible that none will approach the notoriety of Bridgegate. But the accumulation of these past tits and tats may very well sink Christie.

Or they may enhance his status among Republicans, who seem to like dirty tricks and political pranks. It was a Republican, Andrew Breitbart, who did Fascist-style video editing to make it appear as if a minor Obama Administration official uttered racist comments. And another Republican pretended to be a pimp and asked staff at multiple ACORN offices for help getting government loans until he found someone who appeared—on the video—to take him seriously. What if not a dirty trick was the swift-boat smearing of decorated war hero John Kerry and saying he didn’t really deserve his many medals? The pain Christie officials inflicted on commuters for four relatively balmy September days is nothing compared to the suffering resulting from the dirty trick of getting Iran to keep the American hostages until after the 1980 presidential election in return for surreptitiously supplying it with weapons.

Come to think of it, Bridgegate may have raised Christie’s esteem in the eyes of many Republican political operatives and elected officials. It confirms that he has the “cojones” to do what it takes. Sincerely.

Is reason conservatives don’t want legalized pot because as an illegal industry, it’s an unregulated free market?

I’m about to perform a feat of rhetorical daring and originality: I’m going to proffer a written opinion about the legalization of marijuana without sharing my experiences or lack of experiences with the drug.

It seems as if virtually every pundit has to share his or her smoking history when offering an opinion or a prediction. It was started earlier this week by New York Times columnist and National Public Radio commentator David Brooks, who always looks to me as if he has indulged in the munchies a bit too often (and I mean that in a nice way!). His rationale for keeping recreational use of pot illegal is short on facts and reasoning, focusing instead on the experience of his group of friends—his clique as he calls it. They all smoked it and then moved on to their lives work, except—in the anti-intellectual fashion of all great American myths—the one friend who was “the smartest of us,” who Brooks hints may have been destroyed by the devil weed.  It’s this one neat detail that makes me wonder about the absolute veracity of Brooks’ narrative.

Since Brooks’ column, the Internet is reeking with reefer confessions. Joe Coscarelli, for example, excerpts from seven opinion writers who cop to blowing weed.

It’s a continuation of the ever-growing trend of the non-fiction writer to put himself or herself into the center of a non-fiction article. As an occasional rhetorical device, making one’s reactions or personal history part of an article can evoke emotions, illuminate a theme or support an assertion. But it seems as if every other feature article now features and often begins with a long session of authorial navel-gazing: an anecdote about the writer’s own experience deep sea fishing for zebra bones or the sexual excitement she felt meeting the world’s oldest professional throat singer or how learning about the repeated torture of a preteen reminded him of the fear he felt the first time he went to the dentist. Regrettably, putting the self into every article is taught at all the finer universities. Instead of turning out creative writers, our English departments have produced a generation of hacks who depend on a single rhetorical device to spice up the facts and analysis.

Of course, Brooks is entitled to his opinion, as are all those opposed to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. And it makes absolute sense that most of the vocal opponents of legalization are conservative. From restricting access to abortion to wanting to introduce religion into science education, social conservatives tend to want to control the private lives of citizens and keeping pot illegal certainly does that. Meanwhile, economic conservatives don’t want any control on the free market, and legalization always brings control—taxation, standards setting, workplace safety.

It’s ironic, but keeping pot illegal makes it an absolutely deregulated commodity.  And we can see what happens in this free market: Much of it is controlled by violent cartels. The relationship between quality and price varies significantly not just from market to market, but from sale to sale.  Buyers have no idea what they’re getting or the conditions under which it was grown and processed. Transport and distribution uses public infrastructure without paying for it, throwing part of the burden of paying for their economic transaction onto everyone’s back.

Now that we’re talking about it, the market for illegal drugs makes a wonderful case for government regulation of the free market.

Brooks and other opponents to the legalization of marijuana line up on the wrong side of history. Remember that the United States prohibited alcohol drinking for 13 years in the early part of the 20th century. And abortion was banned for about a century, a victim to the American Medical Association’s war against midwives (see Paul Starr’s The Social Transformation of American Medicine). Almost a century later, senseless restrictions on how adults behave in their private lives are falling left and right: gambling, gay marriage and now pot smoking. All come with regulations, as we can see with the greater regulation of cigarette smoking. I imagine that it will never be legal to toke up in a restaurant or movie theatre. And that’s how it should be. The government should refrain from restricting private actions, even as it intervenes in public actions and interactions, including the sale and purchase of goods and services in the marketplace.