Sunday, October 27, 2019

There's no magic to make college free

(My Eastern New Mexico News column for September 25, 2019)

Libertarians have a saying, often represented by the acronym TANSTAAFL, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch". This is a rule of reality as inflexible as any other law of physics, but politicians think they can fool people into believing it's negotiable. Sometimes it seems they are right; people can be fooled-- but reality won't be cheated.

Now New Mexico's politicians are telling the people they can magically make college free for everyone. They can't, and it probably wouldn't even be a good idea were it possible.

Nothing is free. Someone always has to pay. It costs to build and maintain a campus and purchase supplies. Professors, janitors, secretaries, and groundskeepers quite reasonably expect to be paid for their work. After all, they need money to trade for food, housing, and other necessities. Demanding they work without pay so you can have "free college" would be slavery.

Every time a politician says something will be "free" you need to understand you are being lied to. It's the same whether it's "free" college or "free" health care.

What they mean is you'll be taxed more and some percentage of your stolen money will go to pay for something for someone else without them having to pay directly. Politicians also expect you to ignore the cost-- the waste-- inevitable with the additional bureaucracy. You could get a little of your stolen money back if you choose to participate in the program. Isn't this known in legal circles as a kickback?

It's doubtful college is even good for everyone. Yes, if you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a quantum physicist you would probably benefit from a college education. But if your goal is something else you'd probably be better off going to a trade school or training as an apprentice.

Most degrees today, in made-up fields, are like a "participation trophy". They're not awarded for achieving something useful, but are sparkly trinkets to show off. Utterly meaningless except to make someone feel better about themselves without them having to actually contribute anything of value. When this "trophy" costs other people, it's a net negative to society.

Politics seems to require belief in magic, where someone can say special words and change the nature of reality. Hocus pocus, and theft isn't theft because they call it "taxation" and things become free, no matter how expensive they really are, just because they say so. Politics is a hollow religion.

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1 comment:

  1. As always you're right, of course; no free lunch. But I noticed recently that the Ivy League is very well endowed, and if those colleges so wished, they could easily afford to use their funds to provide undergraduate courses without charge. That would be quite a good business model for a free society.