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We’re told lottery money goes into education. You write: “The democratization of higher education had been notably advanced after WWII when the states built up first-rate institutions that often outperformed the best and oldest institutions. Now that short-lived democratization is unraveling and with it the quality of US students.”
The pent-up rage of those who had gone through the Depression, followed by five years of wartime rationing, instigated an explosion of demand after WWII. The US was the only country to come out of WWII with an intact economy. No war had been fought here, we hadn’t been bombed, and we had supplied the rest of the Western world with armaments. We were in pretty good shape while the rest of the world had been destroyed. King of the hill from 1945 to 1975, America had jobs, income, growth—it was a pretty heady time. The working class grew accustomed to having all this, plus access to higher education. Until WWII, only a small elite in America went to college. After WWII, via the GI Bill that for the first and only time in US history gave every returning soldier a free ride to school, the working class could begin to think about sending their kids to school. But there weren’t any schools they could go to—private schools were too small, elitist, and expensive. The solution? Each of the 50 states began to build massive public higher education systems. Today, there are 15 million kids in US colleges and universities, roughly three million in private schools and 12 million in public.
Public higher education became successful, dominant, and significantly less expensive than private schools. The end of rising wages, and the crunch of state and local finances resulted in erosion of public higher education over recent years. Larger classes, fewer services, less faculty for growing numbers of students, and instead of professors, something called “adjuncts”—poor creatures who get paid $4,000 to $5,000 per course teaching two here, 3 there, and one more in the evening. Adjuncts have no time to do research, keep up in their field, or treat students as human beings but they save universities a bundle. More like consultants than real professors, they get no benefits, and are paid less resulting in a severe diminution of quality. The future of the US in the world economy pivots on the quality, education, and skill of its labor force. Public institutions of higher learning educate three quarters of our college students. We are killing our own future by this misplaced economy.
You state that the debate between conservatives arguing for less government intervention in private markets and liberals demanding government intervention to provide jobs, incomes, health care, and subsidized housing is a smokescreen that simply results in the oscillation between the two phases—each phase hitting a new crisis and then being replaced by the other. What do you suggest as an alternative?
We must face a very painful, difficult, and politically explosive question and look at the way we organize production. Today, most people work nine to five, Monday through Friday, working where and how they are told, and with what equipment they are given. The goods and services they produce belong to somebody else—the corporation, which is run by a board of directors, a tiny group, usually 15 to 20 who have been selected by the “major shareholders,” another tiny group of 15 to 20. The board of directors decides what to produce, where, and most importantly what to do with the net revenue—the profits. This is a peculiar institution where the vast majority has no power to make key decisions. Instead, a tiny minority that doesn’t work at the enterprise has this power. The interests of these two groups are different and often clash.