Mark Llobrera

NY Times: “Americans Are Losing Faith in the Value of College. Whose Fault Is That?”

Spoke to my financial advisor recently about saving for my kids’ college education, and as a result this recent NY Times piece by Paul Tough hits hard. Especially this part, on how debt/loans affect the whole value proposition for going to college:

Carrying debt obviously diminishes your net worth through simple subtraction, but it can also prevent you from taking important wealth-generating steps as a young adult, like buying a house or starting a small business. And even if you (or your parents) were able to pay your tuition without loans, the savings you used are gone when you graduate, and thus are no longer available to serve as a down payment on a starter home or the beginning of a nest egg for retirement.

My partner and I are not young adults, and we bought our first home last year—and even that didn’t feel like a positive, wealth-building step. It felt like we were trading away future flexibility with respect to our kids/college, and even beyond.

More from the piece:

The college casino, in other words, is not entirely a game of chance. Your odds of coming out ahead depend largely on who your parents are. If you possess the social and financial advantages necessary to gain admission to one of the nation’s most selective colleges, you’ll probably make out fine, even if the table stakes do seem awfully high.

This is so…grim? It’s basically saying that college isn’t an effective lever for upward social mobility if you’re not rich. And to add insult to injury, if you’re already rich, it acts as a force multiplier for your privilege.

Just as I was finishing the piece, linked to this thread on Mastodon noting markers of the USA’s slow decay since the 1970s:

In the early 70s, the capital class stages a revolt of the rich against the poor. The post-World War II consensus had transferred too much wealth and too much power to the working class, so the rich made it their mission to dismantle that consensus and make sure it could never re-emerge. First Nixon and then Reagan built and institutionalized debt traps, slashed social spending, annihilated labor unions, and poisoned the very idea that there was any such thing as “society” or that we could work together to solve our shared problems.

They took Margaret Thatcher’s slogan, that there is no such thing as society, and made it the guiding ethos of American society, to ensure we would remain atomized and unable to organize. And then they and their successors have milked us for everything they could, driving us as beasts of burden to the point of exhaustion. Or rather, of collapse.

My kids look at me warily whenever I talk about how we’re living with the fallout from political events in the 70s. We’re caught in a squeeze that started long before I or my kids had any power to be able to influence the outcomes we face today.

Lastly, because I’m finally reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed,1 I’ve come to the part in the book where Shevek finally makes contact with the working class on Urras, and they talk about the need collective action:

“This city’s about ready for anything. A strike is what we need, a general strike, and massive demonstrations. Like the Ninth Month Strike that Odo led,” he added with a dry, strained smile. “We could use an Odo now. But they’ve got no Moon to buy us off with this time. We make justice here, or nowhere.”

  1. As well as having just finished You Deserve a Tech Union ↩︎