Tom – (in response to your comments here)
Is free / affordable education fair? YES!
Check out this report on the payoffs of education. Notice that the average person with a Ph.D. or ‘professional degree’ pays 3-4 times as much in taxes as the person with only a high school diploma. Compound the extra $12-18k/year by, say, 30 years and you get $360,000-480,000 in extra tax revenue for each of those folks. That’s a huge bonus for society. And I wouldn’t suggest forcing higher ed on anyone, just making it virtually free, maintaining standards (not in a Bush-style flat test score manner), expanding liberal arts and physical education in primary/secondary ed, and continuing to bring more poor and minorities into the system.
I have no problem ‘forcing’ everyone to help fit the bill though, as the rewards are so painfully obvious, I think it is irrational to NOT pay for it. If spending a dollar will pay you back four dollars (supposing that it costs the public about $100,000/student for a Ph.D./’professional degree’) then you’ll have to give me some pretty good reasons why you wouldn’t do this. (you can also see from the report that several other factors, such as voting and health are positively affected by education).
The rising costs of education make it increasingly unattractive though to those who don’t have families who can help with the costs. I would personally much rather see a 1% increase in taxes to pay for education (both for myself and others) than leave it to ‘the market’ where the rich get the best and the poor struggle. That said, I do take pride in my own struggle and achievements thus far and bow deeply to those who have started with less and accomplished as much or more than me.
As with common responsibility for, and benefit from roads and parks, we have a community interest in the education of our fellow citizens.
“Too often, postsecondary education is thought of as a private, personal benefit. This line of thinking obscures the broader societal benefits that come with high levels of educational attainment – the increased vitality of a state’s economy, greater levels of civic participation, less dependence on welfare and other forms of state support, and lower crime rates.” – from the 2004 ‘Education Pays’ report here
And even though the report doesn’t cover it, I would guess that both workers and shoppers at Walmart are on the low end of the education scale, the low end of the health scale, and the high end of the crime scale. Fix the education issue and health, crime, and Walmart will all follow like dominoes.
Take the ‘smoking’ statistics (p.19) as a paradigm: in 1940, people in college or with a BA+ had the HIGHEST rate of smoking, but since the 1960s, when we ‘discovered’ that smoking is bad for you and public health campaigns began massive education projects this group (especially people with BAs) have RADICALLY cut their smoking (from over 40% to under 15%) while people without a high school diploma went from the least likely to smoke (at ~36%) to the heaviest smokers in 2000 (at over 30%). The public health education had some effect, but the tobacco industry marketing campaigns aimed at them also worked their magic…
We all pay the costs of health care for those smokers who cannot afford their own and we all (more clearly) pay the costs of higher crime rates amongst the less educated. We can take the neo-conservative route and try to insulate ourselves while pointing fingers at ‘welfare queens’ and ‘urban criminals’ as if tougher punishment, and less compassion were the answer. Or we can see through the veil of separateness toward our responsibilities as citizens and at what we can do, individually and as a government, to solve the problems.