Friday, January 8, 2016

Clinton Reprises her Stupidity on Higher Ed in Las Vegas

Short version: Hillary Clinton, please stop talking about Donald Trump’s kids when you discuss higher ed funding.  You sound like a moron and you undercut the central premise behind public goods.

Long version: Earlier this week Hillary Clinton was back in Las Vegas making a pitch to her supporters and to potential caucus-goers.  She reprised one of her favorite lines, arguing that taxpayers shouldn’t “pay for Donald Trump’s kidsto go to college for free.”   I’ve written about this before, but since Clinton keeps repeating it, I will keep emphasizing why it is such a problem.

Clinton likes this line because it simultaneously takes a dig at Bernie Sanders’ ambition to replicate the success of other countries in creating a free system of higher education, and also knocks Donald Trump.

I dislike this line because it makes Clinton sound like a pandering, populist halfwit, and also encourages people to mis-understand the basic premise at the heart of a social contract.

Even in our mangled, loophole-ridden tax system, the wealthy pay in more of their income or other earnings than the poor.  They certainly pay greater sums.  These funds are pooled and then re-apportioned to pay for public goods like education, parks, and various welfare programs.  So the tax contributions of Donald Trump—which should certainly be higher—would not only pay for his own children to go to college in Sanders’ plan, but for a bunch of other people’s children as well.

That’s the nature of public institutions and programs, and since we know that Clinton isn’t actually stupid, her repetition of this flawed applause-line marks her out as deeply cynical and dishonest.

Because wealthy people drive freely on public highways would Clinton propose to withdraw public funding for those highways?  Because wealthy people can send their children freely to public schools, would Clinton propose withdrawing the public funding that allows everyone to send their children to those schools for free?

Her logic doesn’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny, and if she has substantive problems with Sanders’ higher education policies—and I have my own worries—she should articulate them intelligently instead of peddling her dishonest line that entirely misses the point about public services.  


  1. I like the shorter pithy at only 500 or so words. But I think you are trying to be too pithy in dismissing your current least favorite person. There is an argument to be made that one of those fancy degrees from shiny institions of higher learning is more like a benefit then a public good. And we are fine means testing benefits to lower costs and reduce inequity see social security, medicaid, and maybe not roads but certainly reduced bus fare for seniors etc. Also isn't any Donald Trump insult a good Donald Trump insult?

    1. There's potentially something in that. But I'd compare universities more to schools in that even if we accept a degree of means testing as useful or legitimate I don't know how fair it is to use parents' income as a metric when there is no guarantee that students will have access to that for purposes of higher ed. Anecdotally, I had friends in freshman dorms whose parents were clearly very wealthy, but who were offering comparatively little in the way of assistance to their kids. I don't know if that's a big enough objection on its own, but this just reminds me a bit of the whole biblical things about sins and generations and whatnot for something as fundamental as education.