Category: Marxism

American Education: The Cost of the Conveyor Belt

Spring semester has ended at school. A full four months of a grueling and rugged schedule of class, homework, reading, writing, class, work, more homework, more reading, more writing, and finally test taking. My apologies to my loved ones for dealing with my stress and/or physical and mental absence from anything socially related. I just didn’t have the time. And in some ways, even now that the semester is done, I still don’t.

My time so far as an undergrad at the University of South Florida has been well spent with some few caveats in regards to the current state of of our education system and its moral funding of a certain ideology: capitalism. But wait, isn’t capitalism an economic system where capital is privately owned, invested, and distributed according to supply and demand? Yes, it is. It is also a way of living, it has its own set of standards and practices, some of which are arguably unbreakable in the eyes of their followers.

The rigidity of capitalist ideology is widely accepted as sacrosanct. For a system that encourages drawing outside of the lines to encourage creativity to produce a higher market value for commodities it sure likes to dictate where those lines should begin and end. Far be it for me to wax poetic on the pitfalls of society from an economic point of view where scarcity tries to get solved with more scarcity, I mean, I’m not perfect either. In this rigid world, where the powers that be like to hide that rigidity with words like “freedom” and “liberty”, the tenets of neoclassical capitalism dictate that I am an economic actor that makes rational decisions according to my needs and wants. But is accumulating private debt considered rational or does it even make one truly free? Most people say no, yet that is what myself and most other students must do now to receive a degree.

Karl Marx pointed out that capitalism is its own destructor, that it creates its demise by simply existing and that it would inevitably lead to Socialism and genuine Communism. So why hasn’t that happened yet? Any student of Marx (myself included) will tell you that the 20th century experiment in Communism wasn’t really genuine Communism at all. At least not in the way Marx envisioned it to be, which is at best a bit blurry. But I think we can all see Marx’s theories of worker alienation and exploitation quite clearly. The fact is that this exploitation extends outward into every institution of society. And none so crystal clear as our current education system, the way we pay for it, and what it gives back.

Cost has undoubtedly been going up year after year and with that the amount of loans used to pay for the hikes in tuition, room and board, and other expenses connected to getting a higher education. According to the Center For American Progress:

In the past three decades, the cost of attaining a college degree has increased more than 1,000 percent. Two-thirds of students who earn four-year bachelor’s degrees are graduating with an average student loan debt of more than $25,000, and 1 in 10 borrowers now owe more than $54,000 in loans.

African American and Latino students are especially saddled with student debt, with 81 percent of African American students and 67 percent of Latino students who earned bachelor’s degrees leaving school with debt. This compares to 64 percent of white students who graduate with debt. With $864 billion in federal loans and $150 billion in private loans, student debt in America now exceeds $1 trillion.

Wow. And that’s only one sector of debt held by the public. It’s something David Graeber and Steve Keen have continuously warned us about.

Of course this may change in time with recent public/private partnerships being formed for MOOCs. True, it’s good for more technical degrees, but I remain skeptical about what is taught to future students on a larger scale in the realm of public policy and economics. What my experience in the public education system has been so far is a conveyor belt system meant to pump in a certain block of accepted knowledge without any wiggle room to fit dissenting opinion – political, economic, or otherwise. It is meant to keep in place a class structure where only the wealthiest among us get to enjoy higher education, while at the same time stifling the pay of adjunct professors and other professionals alike.

Economists and politicians have stated that the US has become a service-industry economy, that our future lies in churning out engineering and computer science students to stay competitive in the world market. But what about the arts and humanities majors? What about the English and literature majors? It has become harder and harder for a post-graduate student to find work in their field of study and if they do their wages are one of pittance. The idea of “worker as a commodity” becomes reality as adjunct staff are marginalized for the public university to survive the cuts in funding from their respective state. It is another example of the privatization of public institutions for fear of over-reaching, centralized state control.

Something I’d like to ask my Libertarian friends out there: Isn’t a corporate state just as pernicious?

The CBO declared in a report detailing a 10-year fiscal projection that the government will rake in a $51 billion profit from student loans this year which, according to Shahien Nasiripour at Huffington Post, is well above some of the largest corporate profits for the year.

Exxon Mobil Corp., the nation’s most profitable company, reported $44.9 billion in net income last year. Apple Inc. recorded a $41.7 billion profit in its 2012 fiscal year, which ended in September, while Chevron Corp. reported $26.2 billion in earnings last year. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo reported a combined $51.9 billion in profit last year.

Quite astonishing. It’s as if it’s the housing bubble all over again except this time instead of the government handing over the reigns of sub-prime mortgage revenues to private hands, it has found a way to plug in to suckle more money out of the public without the need of a middleman. Sure, a graduate can defer and even lower their payments according to their income (or lack thereof) via the Pay As You Earn program, but that does not mean interest stops accumulating.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed a bill in Congress to lower the interest rate of Stafford Loans to 0.75%, the same as what bigger banks currently pay, but that rate would only last for one year and it’s doubtful her bill could even muster the support in Congress to pass. As it is interest rates are set to double in July if Congress can’t agree to cap it at the current rate of 3.4%. I think all of us have noticed recently that even when 90% of the public agrees on something our elected representatives still have control on what gets done.

It seems that what we are given as students does not equal the amount of money we are paying. Yes, as a college graduate you are more likely to find a job, but again it depends on what your degree is in. A few weekends ago a family member gave me the typical “American Dream” spiel: “Get good grades in school and you’ll get a good job.” Sure, but good grades in which field of study? This family member told me to “do what makes you happy”, okay, what if a concentration in the liberal arts is what makes me happy, what then? The only professions out there for liberal arts majors are those that need a graduate degree, which is, yet again, the problem of paying too high a cost for very little return.

To conclude I will reiterate that receiving a higher education in America is becoming more and more a sign of affluence than something that is guaranteed to all citizens whether they are from higher or lower income families. But without the jobs what good is an education? It is a compound problem that I fear will take something like what was seen recently in Chile or Canada to really solve. Direct action is needed and until then students, whether they be younger and fresh from high school, or older and trying to reeducate themselves in a shifting economic paradigm, will suffer the consequences of an elite class taking over the decisions of who gets what in the world.

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A Short Critique On Marx’s “On The Jewish Question”

A small caveat before I begin. I am well aware that this piece conjures feelings of Marx being anti-Semitic. However, as with most texts, some words or phrases could be interpreted in a different way. I saw Marx’s critique on Bauer’s original text as being not anti-Jewish, but anti-liberal, or in some ways anti-capitalist. It could be said that Marx saw the Jews as being the embodiment of capitalism, and therefore equating or blaming a race for a specific economic and political system (whether egregious or not) is, in my view, quite racist. Therefore, I approached this assignment very carefully to analyze the text outside a religious standpoint and only one of politics and economics.

Bauer and Marx: The Religious Man vs. The Citizen

           According to Bauer and Marx there exists a conflict between a man trying to do good by his religion versus trying to good by his state, or rather his duties as a citizen of the state. The actions taken as a religious man are not in direct connection to that of someone being a citizen, which is to say one philosophy contradicts the other. As one follows a religion he or she is bound by a certain set of rules or common laws set by that religion that may supersede the ones set by a state and its people. This statement of course could be reversed to say that the Jewish and Christian man may gain some certain kind of additional freedom by the state that the typical citizen may not be able eligible to participate if he or she is not a part of that religion. This is the question which Bauer and Marx aim to answer: How can a man be faithful to his fellow man in his plight for equal rights among all men if he is only fighting for his rights as a member of a specific religion? Bauer took issue with this, his end goal or answer being from an atheistic position to abolish all religion from society. What would be left is a state in which the common man or worker is not tied to a deity, but to his duties as a citizen of that state.

In his aim to answer the question, Marx thought that religion was so engrained into society already that it would take some kind “human emancipation” and not simply “political emancipation” for everyone to experience a full and true freedom. Marx wasn’t completely against political emancipation when he said it “certainly represents a great progress”(35), even he thought it was important to some extent, but even secular societies like the United States were not completely separated from religion in society. However, political emancipation still meant that the people were not truly free from the philosophical bonds of a religion. It seems as if Marx was not against religion itself but only the political isolation it created among man. Civil society still harbored inequalities that were in no direct connection to one’s religious affiliation. It was for this reason that Marx advocated for the human emancipation to eliminate the contradiction between a worker and his state, or a private individual and the rest of society.

Marx had seen that the laws, which gave freedoms to the citizens of the state, only included those that may lead to liberty and property and caused man to be “withdrawn into himself…his private interest…acting in accordance with his private caprice.”(43) It was because of this egoistic type of society that Marx concluded that the rights of man rest not in terms of ones own private interests, but the interests of the whole human species. Man had disconnected himself from his work treating it as if some means to an end instead of an end unto itself. The shopkeeper, the day-laborer, and the living individual all share the same motive to work within the political state which is given to them by the laws of the state. Instead of freeing the citizens from religion and property liberalized states sought to instead separate man from political society and in turn his fellow species-being. Relationships within the human species became nothing more than the exchange of goods, communal religious piety, and the need to protect oneself from another who seeks to do harm. These actions “no longer constituted the general relation between the individual and the state as a whole”(45) they became private matters and therefore separated man from man, man from himself, and man from politics.

Marx concluded that the only type of emancipation that mattered was human emancipation, the emancipation of the species-being. Since man was the only animal conscious of ones own species it seemed only natural to Marx that human society, and all that lay within it, must be freed through the coming together of all parts of human life – personal and political. This joining of the private citizen back to his political roots would give him enough pause to engage with his political surroundings and thus gives him the ability to criticize that which he finds wrong. It could be said that this is the problem we currently have within our current political landscape. For even now we are subjected to the Washington consensus and whatever that may mean at a certain hour, day, or election cycle. We’ve become so engrossed in our own work that we have forgotten the importance of equality, liberty, property, and security in relation to our species as opposed to just our own personal wants and needs. The alienation from our work that we endure as a society is the same alienation Marx sought to make known in his writings during the 19th century. We will not be satisfied until we have made the transition out of our egoistic tendencies and into ones suited to advance human society as an entire species and not simply the individual.