Last month, government officials in the United Kingdom responded to an independent review of the education system by lodging a plan to raise the cap for tuition fees by almost three times. The program, heeding a supposed “austerity” approach to the country’s budget, would set the ceiling at the equivalent of over 14,000 US dollars. The proposed plan was met with immediate protests, students objecting to the added burden of debt as an attempt to mend the government’s balance sheets on the backs of those least able to carry the millstone.
Today, following the House of Commons vote authorizing the fee hikes, the protests have intensified with the government unleashing its thugs against the affronted students. British lawmakers, already on the defensive, maintain that the impact of the cost increase will be absorbed easily by students, that it’s a fair, “sustainable” measure to counteract rising costs. Talk of economic sustainability — regardless of the British state’s attempts to mollify citizen apprehensions — hardly rings true considering the cartelized design of the United Kingdom’s state education system.
That system, though, is not unique or confined to the U.K. but is rather the standard assembled by all states, with some variations, around the world. In contemplation of education policy, many of us would raise few objections to the idea that those more able to pay ought to, through some arrangement, subsidize the education of the indigent population. That said, we need not defer to the assumption that such subsidies must necessarily ensue from the violence of the state.
Life insurance, for instance, is a kind of risk-anticipating subsidy, grounded on what we might consider a gamble, whereby some, the “losers” in that wager, ultimately subsidize others, the “winners” (forgive the irony in this particular example). Similarly, most people probably agree that, when all is said and done, the goals of whatever regimen society decides upon should be broad accessibility and a quality product in the education received.
Looking at the riots, it’s easy to see students’ cavils at the costs of their education as the callow attempts of the immature to avoid their responsibilities, to keep society at large on the hook for a service they benefit from. But to avoid that oversimplified characterization it’s necessary to inquire into what exactly these students are paying for and where their money is going. In Britain as elsewhere, contrary to the drivel of lawmakers, huge percentages of education expenditures are going not to balance governments’ budgets or improve quality, but to what economist Thomas DiLorenzo calls “a price-fixing conspiracy against the public.”
As “the victims of the [government] school cartel” — a scheme that includes state-protected corporate gorgers — British student protestors have every right to complain. The high costs of formal education, no less a crisis in the United States, are completely manufactured by the constraints of statism, the vast potential supply side strangled by controlling interests. If the state were actually motivated by its stated purposes, we could expect to see improvements corresponding with increased expenditures, be they from tax revenues, student fees, or otherwise.
That heap of societal wealth, instead of improving the service we’re superficially paying for, goes to feather the nests of everyone from big publishing companies, to university endowments, to contractors retained by government schools. Through the use of accreditation and a degree-focused corporate economy that actuates de facto attendance requirements for higher education (to approximate those imposed by law for early education), the state-corporate education cartels minimize the yield of education services.
In so doing, they exert an irresistible upward pressure on price and shove us into powerful academic institutions that sell extortionate letters to follow your name rather than substantive, practical education. “[T]he State,” reflected Joseph Stromberg, “functions to balance the interests of large economic power blocs while maintaining their common ascendancy in the face of potential threats from below.” His analysis correctly regards the state as a council defined by monopolization and manipulation of resources for its associates; whether they realize that or not, the frustrations of British students are a reaction to being hustled by that program, which feeds their money toward largely useless tasks.
Lower prices can only come if we abandon the state, allowing the supply to mushroom to meet demand. Though someday society may see the experiments in mutual “subsidization” that completely free interactions could issue in education, for now the only things being subsidized are bloated institutions that society could do without.