Thursday, June 11, 2015

"The Game Is Rigged"

As Diane Ravitch documents in her book Reign of Error, the objective of many in the corporate education reform movement is to fully privatize public education. When I've used the word "privatize" in the past, I've discovered that many readers are unfamiliar with that term, thinking it is a synonym for "private" schools. I have nothing against private schools. I teach in one; my daughter just graduated from one. Private schools offer an alternative to public schools and are paid for by the parents who enroll their children. And while the ultimate goal of neoliberal reformers may well be to eliminate public education altogether, privatized schools are essentially private schools, often for-profit, often called "charter schools," that are paid for out of the public coffers. In other words, privatization hands public funds over to corporate interests in the misguided faith that what privatizer in chief Bill Gates calls "powerful market forces" (and what I call "greed") will lead to better educated future workers.

The theory, a bedrock of neoliberalism (sometimes called "supply side" or "trickle down" economics) is that the private sector does everything better than the public sector: that business is always more efficient and effective than government. Emerging from the University of Chicago's school of economics in the 1950's as a rejection of the Keynesian model under which the United States grew the largest, most prosperous middle class in the history of the world, most of us were introduced to it by the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign and the eventual election of Ronald Reagan, which is why we sometimes refer to these economic ideas as Reaganomics.

After three decades of the neoliberal experiment, we find, not surprisingly, that corporate profits are at historic highs, while the middle class continues to shrink rapidly. Income inequality has never been greater: there has been a massive re-distribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest one percent. This is clearly not the result of those at the top working harder than the rest of us, but rather the systematic implementation of economic policies that favor the wealthy and large corporations. 

This is not the "free market capitalism" they are selling us, but rather a kind of oligarchic corporatocracy. As Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says, "The game is rigged." In fact, it is so rigged that we the people, even in a time of historically high corporate profits, are actually subsidizing the largest corporations in America to the tune of trillions a year.

The recent decision of Los Angeles to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 (joining San Francisco and Seattle) is a wake-up call. It exposes hidden corporate welfare . . . By paying low wages, many corporations expect that their employees will survive by dependence upon . . . government subsidies for food, shelter and health care . . . I do begrudge those corporations and other businesses that are dependent upon taxpayers to subsidize their workforce.

Taxpayer bailouts of banks and manufacturers have made the headlines, but it's this sort of day-to-day sociopathic behavior, the knowledge that we the people are unwilling to allow our fellow citizens to go without the basics of food, shelter, and health care, the knowledge that we the people will clean up their messes, both environmental and social, that has allowed corporations and the wealthy to drive us into this ditch.

And now they're seeking to privatize our schools, another grab at a subsidy. They've already succeeded in fully privatizing the public schools in New Orleans, seizing on the disaster of hurricane Katrina in classic "shock doctrine" mode, with predictably horrible results. These guys aren't free market capitalists, because if they were, and they truly believed they could deliver higher quality education more efficiently, they would be out there starting their own private schools rather than coming to we the people for a handout.

Public schools do not exist to serve the economy, despite what our politicians say about those mythological "jobs of tomorrow." The reason we the people pay for schools, and why we should never turn that function over to privatizers, is that we need a well-educated population that can engage in the enlightened self-governance demanded by democracy. And the skills and habits of mind required for citizenship, like critical thinking, questioning authority, and contributing in ways other than the mere economic, are in many cases the opposite of those required by employees of corporations. We can't let our schools become simply another aspect of corporate welfare where taxpayers take on the expense of training tomorrow's workers while other corporations make a greasy buck off the labor of our children. Let them train their own damn workers: we have citizens to educate.

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1 comment:

Jeff Oremland said...

Tom, fascinating insights, as always. I would add that, if one believes John Taylor Gatto, schools actually do serve the economy. They do this, by design, by teaching children to obey their masters, ignore their own conscience, and become dependent consumers. Gatto suggests that, indeed, the purpose of education is to create a body of citizens well suited to self govern. However, he says that the purpose and function of compulsory government schooling is exactly what industrialists intended: to create a caste society with low class mobility, consisting of people who don't even realize they are pawns. Perhaps the "grab" you describe is simply the next step towards oligarchy?

Thanks, as always, for your thought provoking writing.