Most people are now probably aware of the words spoken by MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber concerning the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Professor Gruber opined that they depended on the people being too stupid to understand the legislation because, if they did understand it, the bill could not have been passed. His words have brought to mind a number of times when Senator Sanders or Secretary Clinton made some of their campaign promises. For example, the promises of "free college tuition," "free health care for all," and "equal pay for all." Their words cause one to wonder if they do not comprehend the free enterprise system and the role of government as dictated by the Constitution.
First, it must be understood that every single penny spent by the government has, or has had, its origins in some business enterprise. The government taxes those businesses on their profits. The government taxes the owners and the employees on their earnings. The government imposes on citizens and their employers, a cost for what are somewhat inappropriately called "benefits" (Social Security and Medicare). The government charges "licensing fees" on everything from permission to get married, or to catch a fish or to hunt game for food, or to drive a vehicle. Everything that government does, whether it's building or repairing a road, sending a rocket into space, giving out a Pell Grant, and so much more . . . everything had it origin in some business enterprise. So, how well have some of those government ideas that taxpayers have and are paying for, working out?
— President Johnson began the "War on Poverty" back in 1965. That program has so far cost taxpayers about $20 trillion without making any significant change in the level of poverty in this country. If anything, it has diminished the incentive to work and created a "dependent" class.
— Also in 1965, the student loan program basically had the federal government becoming the guarantor of the student loans. Today, it is estimated that outstanding student loan debt exceeds a trillion dollars.
— President Lyndon Johnson also introduced Medicare in 1965. That program for people over the age of 65 or those who are permanently disabled now has about 50 million subscribers. It also has over $36 trillion in unfunded liabilities.
— In 1977, President Carter created the federal Department of Education. Education is one of those things not mentioned in the Constitution and is therefore something that the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution leaves to the states or to the people. This department, which many consider a usurpation of states rights, cost the taxpayers a whopping $140.9 billion dollars in 2014, not including the student loan program.
Because it is currently being used as a political promise, this article will focus on the student loan program and the Clinton–Sanders "promise" to provide "free" college tuition at state colleges. The other items cited above will be covered in subsequent articles.
There are currently 6.8 million students enrolled in four year public colleges, and another 6.2 million enrolled in 2-year community colleges — 13 million in all. The average cost in a four year "public" college is $17,474. If education were "free" at public colleges, it is quite likely that the two year colleges would not survive as they are, but would become a part of the state's four year college systems. The math works out to be that "free" college would cost the taxpayers and addition $227.2 billion each year. Of course, that number will grow significantly as, if you make something cheaper or easier to do, more of it will happen. The Census Bureau reported that there are 105.9 million full-time workers. On that basis, "free" public college, would cause each worker to pay an additional $2,150 in federal taxes, with that number growing each year.
There are other consequences that also need to be considered. Costs at private colleges or universities, on average, are double the amount paid for attending public colleges. It may well be that regular four year enrollment in the private colleges will decline, with those students opting to get their first four year degree for "free." Perhaps the private institutions would become more geared to advanced degree programs to compensate for their loss of their four year student base.
Another consequence may be that the "free" public college will entice retired senior citizens to enroll in the public institutions, thereby creating a significant difference not only in age, but in the curriculum being offered and the accommodations necessary to serve the senior citizens.
Of course the most immediate consequence would be that former students who now have that one trillion dollars of student debt, will want to be absolved of that debt. Ergo, add another trillion to the legacy we're passing on to future generations.
And, let us not forget, if the federal government dictates that the states provide "free" college education, usurping yet another "states right," does the Constitution become subordinate to the whims of politicians?
Was Professor Gruber right?
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)
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