This past November, students rallied on college campuses around the U.S. in the Million Student March to advocate for a minimum wage hike, free tuition and the cancellation of all student debt. We can all be encouraged by this revolution and hope more people will take up the cause.
The total U.S outstanding student loan debt is now at $1.2 trillion compared to $600 billion in 2006 (which, although half of today’s level, is still outrageous). Students now pay more for public university education than state governments do; and that is a definite shift from the past. In 2012, states paid for 23% of tuition costs, down from 32% in 2003 and 75% in the 1970s (1).
What’s happening here?
Students, like so many others, have been hit by the new breed of economic hit men (EHMs) I describe in The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (out February 2016, pre-order now). The cost of education is going up, and to a large degree it is about enslavement through debt and fear.
Students burdened with debt are forced to work for the corporatocracy; they do not dare take any sort of independent stance or strike out on their own. The business world is not conducive to risk-taking like that. In fact, during the 1980s and 1990s, corporate influence on public policy caused a shift to encourage deregulation instead of entrepreneurship. Independents were scooped up by big corporations. Recent graduates who seek to be entrepreneurs can’t take on new-business debt when they’re already saddled with huge student loans and big corporations that employ tactics to destroy competition. Those same big corporations were bailed out after the last recession while students and small businesses were hit with increased costs and skyrocketing debt. The actions of modern EHMs in the U.S. are similar to those in the countries I exploited during the 1970s. Although many of those schemes were covert, this attack on education is overt.
It is time for us—you and me—to strike back. We must replace debt with generosity and fear with the courage to stand up to oppression.
One of the proposed ways to fund free tuition is through a speculation tax on Wall Street. Instead of bailing out big banks, let us bail out our intellectual capital, our students.
The Million Student March and other demonstrations on campuses show that our young people are recognizing the threats we all face to a just society and that they are marshaling the courage to resist those who would repress them. Revolutions happen because people come together and act. Young people are taking action and standing up against rising tuition costs. These are all powerful indicators that we can change things. For students to realize this and commit to action at a formative age gives me continued hope for the future that they (and all of us) can be empowered and that we will work toward a sustainable and regenerative world. It is time for a Life Economy that does not rely on debt and fear.
In my new book, I outline actions people of all ages can take to bring about a better world, including many ideas for students. Just one example: Speak out and question authority. The idea that you have to pay so much in tuition and the state is off the hook isn’t an idea you have to accept. Challenge that regressive proposition.
Whether or not you are a student, stand up for the right to a debt-free education. Offer your creativity and talents, or money, to support positive change.
Student debt will undoubtedly be a hot topic in this year’s political cycle. I hope we will all take time to wade through the platitudes candidates offer, commit to finding out what’s really happening and dive into fixing a broken system for the benefit of our future.