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Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

On the Necessity of Being a Multi-Millionaire under Late Capitalism: 3

August 8, 2020 21 comments

In the previous part of this series, I wrote about how housing polices of countries in anglosphere are optimized to benefit those who have lots of money rather than satisfying the housing needs of everybody. That is why, in the past 40 years, housing prices and costs have gone up far faster than the “official” rate of inflation. This is also the reason why developed countries outside the anglosphere have a far wider range of housing and why anglosphere countries have unusually high number of homeless compared to other developed countries. Now let us talk about the cost of education under late capitalism where, once again, we see a very similar trend. FYI- I plan to cover the effects of late capitalism on medical costs in future parts of this series, however that subtopic is almost certainly going to require more than one post.

Anyway.. back to the topic at hand, have you ever wondered how the cost of higher education rose so much in certain “developed” countries during past four decades? Some of you might not believe it, but there was a time when attending public universities in this country cost very little. Boomers such as MikeCA could attend well regarded public universities for the equivalent of less than five thousand dollars in today’s money, while doing so right now would cost approximately 20-40 thousand per year. But there is a even bigger question- namely, why hasn’t attending universities in other developed countries (especially outside anglosphere) become similarly expensive during the past 40 years? What explains this most peculiar difference?

While I encourage you to confirm it (with Google, or even better- Bing), the yearly fees at public universities in countries ranging from Italy, France, Germany to Japan, South Korea, China are between 1-5k dollar equivalent (or adjusted for purchasing power). They are even lower in most central and east European countries. In other words, university fees in rest of world retain the same relation to income as was the case in USA between 1945 and mid-1970s. And let’s face it, the quality of undergrad education at a decent public university in one developed country is pretty much identical to that in another. To put it another way, the student who spends 20-40k per year for attending an undergraduate program at UCSD or Berkley is not learning anything different or better than his or her equivalent attending a similar university in France, Germany, Japan or in any other developed country. So what is the ‘murican student paying extra for?

1] The first reason for the higher fees at universities in USA (and anglosphere in general) comes down to the changing employee composition of universities in these countries. Forty years ago, the number of teaching (and research) employees at these universities were almost always larger than the rest, and administration-types were typically outnumbered 2:1 by faculty. Today, almost every single university in ‘murica has anywhere between 2 to 4 times more administrative-types than faculty. To make matters worse, these parasites typically get paid almost as well or better than faculty. So how do universities try to control costs? Well.. by not hiring faculty positions and increasingly replacing them with temporary sessional “instructors” who are often paid wages below the poverty line. Universities in anglosphere are, nowadays, run as employment schemes for administration-type parasites. Providing higher education is, at best, a very secondary goal.

While universities in non-anglosphere European countries have also seen some administrator bloat, it is noticeably smaller. Moreover, the differences in pay-scales between them and faculty combined with the generally higher degree of government funding for higher education in those countries have kept things far more reasonable in those countries. But how is administrator bloat in anglosphere universities related to late capitalism? One of the distinguishing features of late capitalism aka neoliberalism aka financialism is its very strong emphasis on performative bullshit rather than actual results. There is a reason why LIEbrals in this country think Obummer was a great president, when at best he was a failed mediocrity. That is also why companies in the anglosphere are constantly talking about “empowering women”, “elevating black voices”, “celebrating trans” etc rather than paying their employees a decent wage.

Administrator bloat is about creating the optics of doing something rather than actually doing anything useful. It is about creating the illusion of work through endless meetings, conferences, seminars and reports by people with borderline parodic job titles. It is also about late capitalism obsession with “metrics” and other minutiae that are irrelevant in real life. So why does this administrator bloat keep growing. Well.. how many of you would refuse an office job which paid well, had a nice pension plan etc even if it required you to perform totally useless “work” and maintain ideological conformity at the workplace. Also, administrator-types hire more underlings to enhance their status even if it means destroying the original institutional mission.

2] The second reason why the cost of universities in the anglophone (especially USA) has gone up a lot in past forty years is also linked to late capitalism. See.. in late capitalism, government’s main function shifts from maintaining an equilibrium between money and labor to facilitating the looting of everybody else for the benefit of a select few super-rich people. Part of this process involves the government cutting taxes for the rich while simultaneously funneling more money towards them. One of the main reason why government support for universities has declined over past 40 years in certain countries has to do with reduced taxation of large corporations and the rich. Guess how universities in those countries make up for that funding shortfall..

But there is more. As part of their acceptance of the cult of neoliberalism, governments in the anglosphere have also privatized many services which once helped universities make some money. These range from meal plans for students in residence, management of residences, maintaining and renting out sports and other facilities etc. So, not only have neoliberal governments in the anglosphere reduced their contribution to the budget of universities but they have also crippled their ability to make some extra money from services which they used to provide in the past. But wait.. there is more.

Another feature of late capitalism is the strong desire to extract ‘value’ from things which either should never be treated that way or look for alternative sources of money for continuous growth once they have depleted the surrounding environment. This is where all those overseas students, especially from some Asian countries, come into the picture. It is no secret that universities in the anglosphere have aggressively recruited students from well-off families in Asian countries to fuel the latest stage of their pyramid scheme. And why not.. those students pay far more in fees as well as live in the more expensive new residences. Increased “diversity” of the student body, therefore, is not about combating racism. Instead it is about collecting lots of money from Asian students wanting to get credentialed from a university in the anglosphere.

In the next part, I hope to write about how late capitalism has created a dysfunctional and very expensive “healthcare” system in this country.

What do you think? Comments?