Debunking Misconceptions About Misconceptions About Free Education
The Daily Vox recently published an article titled “Debunking misconceptions surrounding free education” wherein the author, Jameel Abdulla (who refers to himself as a fallist), immediately states that the funding of free education is “an open question despite what the apparent ‘consensus’ seems to be from university vice chancellors.” As readers of the Rational Standard and individuals with common sense generally would know, the nature of any government project, especially if the intention is to provide some or other benefit to constituents, is not an ‘open question’, but a simple matter of responsible vs. irresponsible economics.
Abdulla goes on to list four ‘misconceptions’ about free education which he tries to debunk. My concerns with his attempted refutations range from them either being wrong, or them being horrific to any individual who desires liberty. Here they are:
1. Free Education Must Go Hand-in-Hand With Decolonization
Abdulla begins by pointing out that free education and decolonization of the higher education system are not separate issues, but rather interrelated.
I can’t disagree with him here. As RS co-founder Christiaan van Huyssteen recently pointed out, where you stand on #FeesMustFall will likely also determine where you stand on issues like decolonization and other matters related to the subversive ideology of social justice. It is therefore no surprise that the fallist movement isn’t concentrating on anything in isolation; indeed, as principled South African libertarians and classical liberals have been pointing out since the very first demands from #RhodesMustFall that it is not simply about a statue, or about fees, or about accessibility. This is an ideological movement which at its root is opposed to the notions of individual freedom and self-fulfillment.
The author states that a university must be a “space where scholars are provided with the knowledge, skills and training they need to better serve society,” rather than a model which serves the “production-based system”. With this, obviously, the author means that universities must ensure that whoever enters the space must exist as an avowed revolutionary committed to the goals and ideology of the State, who is ready to toe the line for whatever is deemed to be in the collective interest.
SEE ALSO: 7 Reasons Why Fallists Are Fascists by Nicholas Woode-Smith
2. Student Loans Are Not the Answer
Next, Abdulla writes that student loans often do more harm than good, either by placing students in perpetual debt, or, on a more fundamental level, forcing students to choose different careers which might help them repay their debt.
This is true enough. But the premise of this section is flawed, in that on the whole Abdulla and the fallists consider the State to be the answer to the lack of access to education, when, in fact, it has been the State which has caused our higher education system to be in this position in the first place. And, furthermore, any attempt to pursue decolonization or ‘free’ education, will simply contribute to the problem by way of seeing wealth leave our shores and the cost of living – in areas outside of education as well – getting more expensive. As I wrote last month:
“Building on the tradition of its predecessor, the new government went full steam ahead with regulation, and threats of nationalization and expropriation. (Aside: the GEAR economic program gave South Africa a few good years of economic growth and a hopeful future, but it was quickly dismissed as ‘neoliberal’ and shelved.) Higher education, predictably, became or remained expensive, coupled with the fact that the government itself was not building any new universities, or allowing the private sector to do so with ease.
Come 2015, and leftist students are upset that higher education is expensive. With the lack of competition in the higher education market and an absolute monopoly held by the Department of Higher Education, this was predictable, and was always a certainty in South Africa’s future.”
Affordable education will require a broad transformation of South Africa’s higher education system. At best, the Department of Higher Education, along with the Higher Education Act and the bulk of education regulations, must be abolished and the private sector must be allowed to do what it does best: respond to market and societal demands. Or, at least, the system must be deregulated to such an extent as to allow the private sector to compete with public universities. At this stage in time, this is impossible. Student loans by the State, if one understands the complexities and reality of welfare, were never going to render education open to all. Free education, as we have discussed at length at the Rational Standard, will have even worse consequences.
This wouldn’t be a Daily Vox article without these allegations.
Abdulla problematizes the fact that companies are profit-driven and that the private sector, as a whole, is self-interested. In typical social justice advocate fashion, he acts as if this is not human nature, or, that the State can apparently withstand this tendency. History and the current reality prove him wrong. Whether education is free or not, all actors are pursing their self-interest. The private sector wants to increase profits, and the State wants to increase its power throughout society. Students – ignorantly – think that ‘free’ education means they will have more money available for other things, which is nothing other than self-interest.
Perhaps the worst part of this section is where Abdulla paints the fact that scholarships and bursaries are ordinarily reserved for the sciences, technology, engineering, and medicine, as some kind of problem. It is worrying that he wishes for the small amounts of South Africa’s largest taxpayers (a number which dwindles by the day, estimated at under 500 000 individuals) to subsidize individuals who want to study in fields where they will, in the author’s words, not “serve society”. We need doctors, not BA English graduates. We need engineers, not M.Phil (Oppression Olympics) graduates. Don’t expect taxpayers to take this kind of beating forever.
4. It’s Simple: Raise the Taxes
And finally, the basic leftist argument: when in doubt, raise taxes.
Attempting to justify this based on ‘generational inequality’, Abdulla thinks there is merit in increasing personal income tax and value-added tax for the top 10% of income earners.
The following chart by the Institute of Race Relations and the Centre for Risk Analysis’ Frans Cronje, shows that this idea doesn’t sound too good:
That is from 2015. Having seen the updated charts at a recent 2016 Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNFst) event, presented by Cronje himself, I can attest to the fact that it’s not getting any better.
There are more individuals in South Africa on welfare, than there are employed individuals. Of all employed individuals, less than half are liable for returns, i.e. around 5 000 000 South Africans. At the FNFst event, Cronje made the point that of these 5 000 000 people, around 500 000 are paying around 60-75% of State revenue. (The exact numbers may be incorrect due to me forgetting, but it is thereabout.)
According to the Fraser Institute in partnership with the Free Market Foundation, South Africa has plummeted on the Economic Freedom of the World Index. We fell from number 93 to 105. The most prosperous countries occupy the ‘most free’ bracket, including Switzerland, Canada, Georgia, and Mauritius. The least prosperous countries, including Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic, the Congo, and Venezuela, occupy the ‘least free’ bracket. We are falling because of the State’s increasing encroachment on economic affairs which are better left to the private sector. Taxes play a central part here, and a dime’s worth of increase will send us plummeting again.
A commenter on the Daily Vox article, going only by ‘Dylan’, makes a further good point, writing:
“Not to mention wealth accumulation —>savings —>investment which is a major determinant for economic growth. Are you seriously considering punishing people for putting money into this country?”
Anyone with a real concern for South Africans’ socioeconomic welfare should be screaming from the mountaintops for taxes to be significantly reduced, and, as I mentioned above, for the State to stop imposing itself in higher education. More affordable prices only follow from increased competition in a given sector, and competition is only increased if the State isn’t regulating it out of existence, or pumping billions in taxpayer rands into uncompetitive enterprises.
CLICK HERE for more on the 2016 Economic Freedom of the World Report
Abdulla does make one good suggestion, though: take money from other areas of public expenditure, and spend that on higher education. That’s a fair enough point, and, unless that money is being diverted from a policy area where the State – contrary to the general rule – should actually be involved, like policing and judicial services, you will hear no protest from me. Regardless, even this will not be a long term solution.
The Rational Standard has been uncompromisingly pushing an anti-free education agenda since the start of #FeesMustFall. This is not because we are selfish, but because we do not allow our natural compassion to obscure reality from our field of view. Economics waits around for no individual; it doesn’t care, and it cannot be made to care. Instituting free education will 1) drastically increase the power of government over universities, because they will now be 100% subsidized by the State, 2) will make life more expensive for everyone, especially the poor (increased tax burdens are effortlessly shifted onto consumers), and 3) will devalue what it means to have a higher education in South Africa.
There are real things that can be done to make education more affordable. We have countless articles on that topic in our archive. But the common theme among them is that the solutions will come from ordinary, hardworking South Africans, and not from a paternalistic government which hungers for more control over our lives.