Neal McCluskey to poor kids: education, schmeducation

If you want to know anything about lolbertarians, know this: they are a movement fueled by corporate sponsorship. The Koch brothers are multi-billionaires who have decided to masquerade the Tea Party/libertarian movement as one that starts from the ground up, rather than the truth, which is that it is dictated from money on high.

The Koch brothers have also founded a libertarian think tank called the Cato Institute, which, if nothing else, gives me ample material to choose from to mock.

Neal McCluskey is a policy analyst at Cato, and he, like all libertarians, loves taking any government endeavor and turning it into a secretly evil enterprise. Public education serves as a libertarian target for two reasons, which we here at lolbertarians will call the “nominally ideological reason” and the “real reason:”

Nominally ideological reason: education could be better served by being completely privatized, thereby getting rid of waste by letting the market solve.

Real reason: federal and state governments combined spend billions on public education, which is funded by tax payer dollars. Considering taxes are relatively progressive, this means more money lost for people with vast wealth, and more benefits for people without it. Rich people hate losing money, especially when they think it goes to poor people (versus things like police/military power and the judicial system, which are public mechanisms that protect property rights). 

Cue Neal McCluskey. He thinks that a big problem with the country isn’t wealth inequality, or poverty, or things that affect poor people, but Pell Grants. Pell Grants are wonderful government subsidies of education to kids attending college who otherwise would have to pay back loans to big banks, incentivizing said students to enter the private sphere after college to pay off large amounts of debt, thereby again cutting into the strength of public institutions.

So here’s McCluskey on education:

A couple of days ago I blasted President Obama for, in repugnant tradition, using “education” as a political weapon, invoking it to scare Americans into demanding increased taxes for “the rich.” House Speaker John Boehner, thankfully, did not abuse education similarly in his rebuttal. But his proposal for raising the debt ceiling illustrates just how weak the GOP’s commitment is to returning the federal government to its constitutional — and affordable — size. And I say this not because of the relative puniness of his proposed cuts, but what the proposal would do in education, the only area it specifically targets: increase funding for Pell Grants.

Oh my goodness, nothing of course is worse than investing more money in education! What a moral outrage, especially when it comes from otherwise Very Serious People like Republicans.

Now, I know what many people will say to this: Pell is a de facto entitlement; it has a big shortfall; and Boehner’s bill would offset the Pell increase by eliminating federal student loan repayment incentives and grad student interest subsidies.

Phew, I was scared there for a second, but at least we’re offsetting educational benefits with more cuts in the same area. Bullet dodged.

And do you just hate education, McCluskey, or poor people?

Don’t be silly, those aren’t mutually exclusive. Clearly both.

On the first points, yes to all of those, and the CBO even projects that over ten years Boehner’s bill would achieve some savings from his student-aid moves. But ten years is a long time, during which a lot of things — especially spending increases – could happen. And the seemingly forgotten fact of the matter is that we have a $14.3 trillion debt and are sooner or later going to need big, tough cuts.

Ever think, McCluskey, that government investment could lead to an ROI? Education has wonderful societal benefits, and studies show high correlations between strong public educational systems and less poverty and crime.

And though Pell Grants sound so nice – they give poor kids money to go to college! – they should be eliminated for several reasons well beyond  frightening fiscal reality:

This should be good.

  1. They are unconstitutional: None of the Federal government’s enumerated — and only – powers say anything about paying for college.

What a joke. As a law student, I am actually offended by this. The federal government (and states) do a lot of things that aren’t specifically enumerated, but that does not make them unconstitutional. This isn’t even a normative or economic argument, just one of constitutional interpretation. Poor analysis.

2.   They are inflationary: Maybe Pell Grants, because they target low-income students better than federal loans and tax-based aid, aren’t the biggest drivers of tuition inflation, but research suggests they are a driver, especially at private institutions. There is also good reason to believe that schools target their own aid dollars to other, better-off students when they can use taxpayer dough for low-income ones.

Within the first sentence of his explanation, McCluskey has already realized why this is an illogical argument. Lots of things drive high college tuitions, but not federal subsidies to poor college kids who would have to take out private loans otherwise. Still seems like McCluskey is just an elitist.

3.   They take money from real human beings — taxpayers — to make others rich: Okay, maybe not rich,

Again, Neal already realizes how silly this is, and downright offensive.

but as higher ed advocates will quickly tell you, on average a person with a college degree will make roughly $1 million more over her lifetime than someone without one.

This seems to be a perfect example of the ROI I mentioned before, and a good reason to subsidize college loans.

There’s a lot of play in that number, but the point is generally correct: A degree helps to significantly increase earningsHow, then – even absent a mind-blowingly colossal debt – can we justify taking money from taxpayers, many of whom did not go to college, and just giving it away to others so that they can get a lot wealthier?

McCluskey is playing word games, a class example of lolbertarian sophistry. Sure, tax increases will take money from some who did not go to college, but tax brackets are separated from things like wealth/income, not college education. This is an example of McCluskey attempting to shift the morality of taxes, from one seen as Robin Hood fair (take from the rich to give to the poor) to the opposite (take from the poor to give to the rich). In reality, this is an example of a progressive tax because it is means-tested.

As a recent college grad, let me just tell you that Pell Grants are not going to rich people with monocles (that’s actually where the money is coming from). Pell Grants are invaluable tools for low-income teenagers to use for college educations, and make help assure said students don’t need to a) be buried in debt and/or b) have to take on extra jobs during college.

At the very least Pell should be made into a federally backed loan program — recipients should at least have to return taxpayers’ “investment” – which Boehner could have put into his bill.

This isn’t a federal handout to poor kids to pursue education anymore then, it is just another loan that McCluskey would also want us to add interest on. Wonderful.

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