Student-Loan Debt As A Political Issue

When I graduated high school, I got a fairy-tale-like scholarship that would fully fund my higher education, wherever I wanted to go, for however many degrees I wanted to complete.

No, for real.

As you can imagine, this gift changed my life significantly. It meant that I could basically choose whatever college I wanted (providing I got accepted), regardless of cost. For better and for worse, in my case that college was Harvard.

While attending Harvard, a free ride meant that, unlike many of my fellow students, I didn’t have to get a job. It also meant that I could participate in challenging the University and its policies without fear of losing financial aid.

But by far the most significant impact of the Buck Scholarship is the way it has freed me from the crushing student debt that plagues so many people my age, delimiting their post-college livelihood choices and causing tremendous psychological distress. A young woman my age who also lived and worked with the Faithful Fools for a while is currently experiencing anxiety attacks from being so overworked at her paralegal position. One of the reasons she doesn’t leave is that the job pays well, and she’s under enormous pressure to pay back staggering loans. I see this all the time among friends and graduates. It’s sickening.

Liberated from the financial imperative to earn, I’ve worked at a bookstore, traveled in Spain for the better part of a year, studied meditation in a live-work center, and worked with the Fools on a volunteer basis at first, and then with a small stipend. Standing outside the student-loan fray, it’s like I can see the attack on my peers all the more clearly.

And that’s what this really is: an attack. In an interview about education struggles, feminist teacher, writer, and activist Silvia Federici lays out some sharp analysis on the debt question, echoing the classic US feminist mantra by explaining that student debt represents a political problem, yet is often misconstrued as being wholly personal.

Maya Gonzalez and Caitlin Manning: The approximately $830 billion in student loan debt has been getting quite a bit of attention recently in the media since the total student debt now surpasses credit card debt. The international network of academics and educators you work with, Edu-Factory, has made debt a central rallying point for university struggles. As Jeffrey Williams points out, if you attend an Ivy League or comparable expensive private university, you would have to work 136 hours a week all year to be able to afford it without debt.(2) Some have said that the current protracted economic crisis is not a recession but a depression masked by debt. How do you think the issue of deepening indebtedness could be turned into a significant site of struggle?

Silvia Federici:
Indebtedness is already a site of struggle, but until now, at least in the US, it is a struggle that has taken place silently, under the radar, articulated through hidden forms of resistance, escape, and defaults, rather than an open confrontation. The default rate on federal student loans is continuing to rise, especially at for-profit colleges where it has topped 11.6%.

Discussions with students suggest that debt is an issue that tends to be evaded, at least in the immediate present. Many don’t like speaking about it. Weighing on them is a relentless neoliberal propaganda portraying education as a matter of individual responsibility. As Alan Collinge writes in his Student Loan Scam,(3) many are ashamed of admitting they have defaulted on their student loans. The idea that (like pensions) free education should no longer be a social entitlement is seeping into the consciousness of the new generations, at least as a form of intimidation, contributing to blocking any attempts to make abolition of debt an open movement.

Still, the Edu-Factory network was right in making debt a central rallying point for university struggles. The struggle against student debt has a strategic importance. As Jeffrey William points out, debt is a powerful instrument of discipline and control and a mortgage on the future.(4) Fighting against it is about reclaiming one’s life, breaking with a system of indentured servitude that casts a long shadow on people’s lives for years to come.

How to build a movement? I think it will require a long mobilization involving the cooperation of many social subjects. A key step towards it is an education campaign about the nature of debt as a political instrument of discipline, dispelling the assumption of individual responsibility and demonstrating its collective dimension. The moralism that has been accumulated over the question of indebtedness must be exposed. Acquiring a degree is not a luxury but a necessity in a context where for years education has been proclaimed at the highest institutional levels as the fault line between prosperity and a life of poverty and subordination. But if education is a must for future employment, it means that employers are the beneficiaries of it. From this viewpoint, student debt is a work issue that unions should take on, and not academic unions alone. Teachers too should join a debt abolition movement, for they are on the frontline: they must save appearances and pretend that for the university, cultural formation is of the essence. Yet, they have to accommodate to profitability requirements, like oversized classes, the gutting of departments, overworked students, carrying at times two or three jobs. Debt is also a unifying demand; it is everybody’s condition in the working class worldwide. Credit card debt, mortgage debt, medical debt: across the world, for decades now, every cut in people’s wages and entitlements has been made in the name of a debt crisis. Debt, therefore, is a universal signifier and a terrain on which a re-composition of the global work force can begin.

The whole interview is worth a read. And as I prepare to resume grad school, again free of loans, I’m still looking for ways to remain in solidarity with those opposing this terrible antagonism.

13 thoughts on “Student-Loan Debt As A Political Issue

  1. Donna D'Orio January 3, 2011 / 10:07 pm

    Then there are those of us who will not outlive their student loan debt.

  2. Cat January 4, 2011 / 7:49 am

    I know debt has become socialized in our country to sickening depths. My question is what would liberation look like and how would we get there?

    I know debt is a mostly capitalist concept (or at least keeping track of it is), although I’m sure it was around during bartering times. At the same time, I doubt that it will go away. I’m not sure if you know about this, but one of Obama’s unsung and under-the-radar HUGE accomplishments was reforming student loans. Not only did they put a cap on how long you’ll pay (25 years, I believe), at which point the rest will be forgiven, but they also give you the option now of reducing payments depending on your income. Of course, this means it may take you longer to pay them back, but then you’ll bump into the 25 year limit and they’ll be forgiven. Also, the federal government is taking over the student loan industry for nonprofit education (for profit colleges are starting to get scrutiny within Congress, but were not included in this overhaul), which means that loans offered to students from now on must follow these terms and the government will be the sole provider of student loans (versus private companies). I can say that my federal student loans are my best structured, being the most fair, and I wish all of them could be this way. (Donna D’Orio, perhaps this information will help you as well?)

    Many people point to Europe as an answer, but I see Europe’s public university system as a sham. What never gets discussed about Europe’s education is that it is more classist than ours. At age 10, European children are evaluated on their “potential” and put into one of three essential tracks: blue-collar trades, white-collar trades and university. After the age of 10, they then get split into different schools. If you’re going into blue-collar trades, you finish 9th grade and start working. If you’re going into white-collar trades, you finish the equivalent of a high school diploma and start working. If you’re going to university, you finish the diploma, take an extra year to prep for university exams, and then go there. The way the system works, it is very hard to switch tracks, especially for a child to get on the university track from other tracks (although it is always easier to go into lower tracks: many slip from the university track to the other tracks). Also, just because you’re on the university track doesn’t mean you’ll get to go to university—you still have to pass entrance exams. So the people who get to partake of Europe “free” public university are already a select group. They were screened at a young age as having the “potential” to do university (I hope my language is raising many eyebrows because this is how they describe it), unlike the rest of their peers. The screening is based not only on how you fare on the exams given out at age 10, but also how your teacher rates you and what your parents are doing. So 10 year olds are essentially forced to choose their careers and once they make that choice, they cannot switch.

    For this reason, I don’t see Europe as viable answer because I know that university is essentially taken off the table for a majority of kids at a very young age. While our system is far from perfect, we don’t ever make assumptions (in theory) about who can go to college and who can’t. Community colleges don’t exist in Europe as a consequence of their overall public education structure (why need it if you already have an established funnel for the working class at the age of 10?). Here, university is far more accessible, even if it isn’t free.

    Coming back to our debt problem. The private industry was incensed over what Obama did (he slipped it into the Stimulus package, but its laws are permanent). It will change the face of student debt moving forward, essentially making it more affordable and more accessible (because the federal government is a far kinder and lenient lender than private industry)—-which also will make college more affordable and accessible. But we have the lost generation in between.

    I think what the more political issue than student debt is the system we have in place. Community colleges and public universities are being placed on the chopping block in many state budgets in terms of funding, primarily because we (as in a general public) don’t want to raise taxes to support the record number of students going to college through our public higher education system. That, to me, is the real class struggle. The possible privatization of higher education and/or its slow death through starvation of funds, will do a lot more damage to in the long run to individuals than their debt.

    It’s not just that you went to Harvard, Katie, it’s the fact that you had the opportunity to go at all. Getting to go for free is just an added perk.

  3. nathan January 4, 2011 / 11:54 am

    I agree that there are some serious stratification issues in European higher ed, but Cat, you are far too generous in your assessment of the U.S. system. Much of “public” higher ed is dominated by corporate money, and leaders who run schools like businesses. It filters down to every last program, where profit, maximizing numbers of students attending, and “viability” in terms of being job producing trumps learning and well rounded human development again and again. This, in addition to the yearly round of funding cuts and threats from local, state, and federal sources, puts a squeeze on not only student access, but academic integrity and open inquiry.

    It’s true that community colleges are giving more people access to higher education, but the costs go up there every year as well. And while Obama’s student loan reforms sound pretty decent, it remains to be seen if they’ll even be around long enough to have an impact.

    “While our system is far from perfect, we don’t ever make assumptions (in theory) about who can go to college and who can’t.” I want to believe this, but it’s not true.

    One: guidance counselors in middle and high schools routinely steer students in certain directions, often directly correlated to race and/or class, especially when considering students who have marginal grade point averages. The pattern I saw in my own high school was that white, middle and upper class students with C averages or even worse were still advised about college options, and helped through the process when needed. Others, including many of my neighborhood friends from low income backgrounds, were generally swayed towards the military, finding work after high school, or some specific kind of trade. It wasn’t terribly different from the European process; it’s just more informal and happens later. Although, there might also be something to be said about the increasing number of kids being labeled as “special ed” and/or EBD (emotionally-behaviorally disturbed). These kids, perhaps, are being “tracked out of college” in higher numbers at an earlier age – I don’t know. But the five years of experience I had working with kids that fall under those labels makes me think that such a pattern might be occurring.

    Two: High stakes exam scores routinely “weed people out.” You screw up on your SAT or ACT, and it doesn’t matter what you did the rest of the time, you’re out. Or you’re choices are severely limited. And even before those exams, you have students who fail the high stakes state exams to pass 11th and 12 grade, and thus never receive diplomas. I’ve worked with drop outs. I’ve also worked with ELL immigrant learners. Both groups frequently are screwed (often for different reasons) when it comes to these exams, regardless of how intelligent and capable they are. And those of us who work with these kinds of learners are grossly under supported, both financially and in terms of being considered important links in the education system. These students are basically throw-aways, and those who teach them are treated as “charity workers.”

    All of this is tied together in my view. And 25 years is a long time, especially if you’re broke or mostly broke for any period of time. And given how corporate friendly Mr. Obama has been overall, I have a hard time believing that my good friends at Sallie Mae and the other companies I dealt with during my loan repayment period will suddenly be out of the student loan business. Until I see it, I won’t believe it.

    And just raising taxes to keep colleges going isn’t going to cut it. There needs to be a thorough gutting of the excess of administrative and “consultant” types that get fat salaries and whose work is mostly for the institution’s appearance. I saw this same problem in the K-12 system, where teachers and vital support staff would disappear with every cut in funding, while administrative staff never vanished, and sometimes even increased in number and or salary. In addition, there needs to be a thorough and blunt examination of the ways corporate money and strings attached are influencing programs, teachers, and the general direction of institutions. In other words, the public money needs to be used wiser, and any private money best be scrutinized heavily before being instituted.

  4. Cat January 4, 2011 / 12:29 pm

    Hey Nathan,

    My main point was that in terms of system alternatives out there, Europe is the one usually mentioned, but in my view, is not much better than ours.

    I’ve also worked with low-income youth, dropouts and immigrants. The problems you point out are real. That’s the difference between practice and theory. You are right to say the stratification happens informally here—it’s something I’ve seen with my own eyes as well. From drop outs to SATs to guidance counselors, the system definitely bars some more than others to higher education. But I certainly wouldn’t want to advocate the system that Europe uses because to me this institutionalizes classism even more.

    It’s also why I wholeheartedly agree with you that we need to take a deeper look at our education. All the points you brought up are things I also believe need to be fought:
    1. Administrators and their benefits vs. teachers and services
    2. Corporate money vs. institutional integrity

    We are both on the same side, more so than you think.

    Still, I think taxes figure prominently in this whole equation. The trend of people going to college is historic and will continue to grow. It’s a question of infrastructure overload. If we want more people to go to college, we will have to come up with more funding to build more infrastructure (along with doing all the higher ed reform you described with administrators, corporate money, etc). This, itself, is another and larger class struggle.

  5. Cat January 4, 2011 / 12:51 pm

    P.S. Not to mention reform for K-12. Great book on this issue is called the The Death and Life of the Great American Public School System by Diane Ravitch.

    Every person I talk to in my line of work wants the best education for their child and other children in their community. As our country faces serious deficit issues thanks to all the warmachine spending of the past decade, education is going to be a battleground on many fronts, no doubt. My hope is that we’ll come out with something better, but it will take a lot of working together against very strong and monied interests.

    Also, the 25 year limit is a start—-this limit never existed before and therefore you would have to face paying your student loans off indefinitely before this rule came into existence. Income adjustments is entirely new and already being implemented (for federal loans only), it’s had a huge impact on my own finances in the positive direction. So I’ve seen it, and I believe it. I also believe it can go further. Reform isn’t always as swift and grand as we want it to be. I have no disillusions about Obama or corporations, believe me, but I also try to check my own cynicism to appreciate the victories we do achieve.

  6. kloncke January 5, 2011 / 1:02 am

    Woah! Can of worms! :)

    Just a couple thoughts quickly: I wonder how much pressure was on Obama to do something about student loans given the high numbers of people already defaulting? I think our Executive-focused electoral political lens often gives too much credit to the President and their supposedly good/bad ideas, when in reality they are also responding to, and trying to manipulate, the current economic conditions and resistance from the working class.

    Cat, I def hear you in that Harvard is nothing special, really, when we’re talking about the affordability/accessibility of higher ed on a large scale. But I think it’s relevant — and very ironic — that many of those of us who went there, and to other super-expensive Ivy League and private schools, hoping for better job opportunities/leadership/whatever wound up saddled with so much debt that it may have effectively reduced our options for setting out to find livelihoods. (Of course, there are always those like you (and me) who would have gone into low-paying social service and/or dumb artistic jobs regardless…:) )

    I think one of the tricky things about education, as your description of the European system illustrates well, is that it is both totally romanticized, made into a symbol of ‘humanity,’ and simultaneously functions in completely economic and political ways, as a mechanism for training the work force to be able to sell their labor power, and the ruling class to be able to manage the things they own.

    (I’m feeling echoes of “the family” here — another classic example of a revered/mythologized and also deeply economic and politicized institution…)

    So to me, the idea of progressively reforming schools to be available to ‘all’ on an ‘equal basis’ is basically meaningless until the things necessary for surviving and reproducing society are available to all on an equal basis, and a ruling class no longer relies on a surplus of “unskilled,” “uneducated” labor in order to make private or state-private profits. The longstanding contradictions in the notion of education as a “commons” are nothing new, but are simply showing themselves, it seems to me, in the influx of students to higher ed, like you say Cat, along with the increased privatizing, fee-hiking, and debt maximizing.

    Also, keeping people in debt for up to 25 years seems like a very serious thing to me, like nathan said! And especially insidious considering that the reason they went into debt was basically to improve their job prospects, their means of survival. Federici paraphrases another academic in that paragraph regarding debt as a mechanism for discipline and control. Academics often throw around the verb “discipline” in vague ways, but to me this seems like the debt business, even when run by a more lenient government, is indeed a very effective way of disciplining labor, disciplining the working class: keeping people scared, in check, showing up to work no matter how shitty and exploitative it is, and creating the feeling of a perpetual labor surplus, since if I’m in debt and suffering under the pressure, I don’t want to risk financial ruin through default cuz I imagine that there are 100 other debt-responsible degree holders ready to take my place.

    The education convo is a tough one, and obviously I’m not against all educators or education per se, but I think that the container where education exists is massively oppressive, and schooling both reflects and perpetuates this oppression by serving as a (pretty well-functioning, from the perspective of the ruling class) status-quo economic mechanism. (As well as providing some necessary things, like at least theoretical literacy opportunities [though people’s literacy campaigns are probably a million times more effective], and certainly giving the students who can afford it the opportunity to sell themselves as workers for a higher price. And like both of y’all said, with great examples, this is a seriously classed, raced, gendered process.)

    So to answer your question about what liberation looks like and how we get there, Cat, I don’t have any easy answers (obvi!), but I think it will have something to do with education being community-owned and run (operating with a broader definition of “valuable knowledge”), and with a classless society where people participate freely in education, not because they have to get a certificate in order to work for a class of owners and hopefully gain enough resources to survive and support a family.

    And maybe that’s why I don’t see the student loan reforms as victories, so much. More that they make it easier for some of us to participate in the really wack system we all share.

    hugs to you both from sacramento! And thanks Donna for that reminder: hopefully people can organize politicized support groups to help free each other from oppressive lifelong debt! I wonder whether war tax resistors might have some helpful knowledge to share about refusing to participate in fucked-up financial collection systems….

  7. nathan January 5, 2011 / 1:49 pm

    After a good decade teaching English as a Second Language in the adult basic ed field, I walked away in Sept. My time there, and also in the K-12 system, illuminated the levels of oppressiveness present, and it’s gotten even harder to function in a way that supports liberated learning for students, given the excess of high stakes tests and other pressures to “perform” in certain ways. My friends working in colleges are fairing a little better, but academic freedom is slowly being buried under fears of dismissal, destruction of the tenure system(with no alternative proposed), and other pressures. So, I agree with Katie that the romanticization of education is quite a problem, regardless of access.

    I also wanted to problematize tax increases. One of the main funding mechanisms for K-12 education is property taxes. So, there are serious imbalances present between high tax base suburban districts, and low tax base urban, rural, and first tier suburb districts. Increasing taxes in these areas negatively impacts lower income homeowners who are on the edge of foreclosure, and at the same time, does little to save the jobs of people in the trenches – who are always the first to go whenever financial instability appears. Property tax increases tied to school funding here in St. Paul, MN have occurred several times over the past 20 years, and yet our schools continue to struggle with the same issues, and in fact, we’ve closed several schools in the past year due to falling enrollment. All of this impacts entry into college, and more money – the tradition Democratic answer – hasn’t done much.

    The other issue with tax increases is that they rarely target corporations. In fact, the modern Democratic Party formula has been to increase individual and property taxes, but to support corporate pork, subsidies, etc. It was sadly telling that after 20 years of Republicans and one independent, Minnesota finally elected a Democrat to be governor. And he wasn’t even in the door yet, and the Metrodome roof collapses, and there he goes into meetings with billionaire owners of the Vikings football team, negotiating for tax payer funded stadium. The same man, Mark Dayton, ran a campaign focused on balancing the budget with individual income and property tax increases. This is a formula which guarantees that nothing major will change. It publicly ticks off rich folks, but privately those at the top know they’ll get back whatever they hand in through corporate handouts.

    So, while the people on margins, or even in the middle class, who are swimming in student loan debt, medical debt, homeowner debt, etc. are given little carrots like the loan reform bill or the health insurance reform bill, there really isn’t any qualitative change in the lives of the masses.

    I get the sense that everyone in this conversation sees that grassroots, collective action on many fronts will be required to create systemic changes, and that electoral politics isn’t the place to focus a lot of our energy on. That’s our history. When enough people step out of the box, and get focused on a new vision, things eventually change. Takes a lot of effort, and a lot of patience – and yes, celebrating the little victories when appropriate. The challenge for me has always been that often those little victories are the means by which those in power maintain the status quo. FDR’s Administration certainly did that with the New Deal, which was a hell of a lot more of a carrot than the crap we’re handed these days. I can’t imagine anything closely related to the New Deal getting passed by either major party these days without a shit-ton of popular pressure. That’s how far to the right things have swung.

  8. Cat January 5, 2011 / 2:35 pm

    Hey Nathan and Katie,

    I’m eager to hear of the ways in which collective action can bring about change without using electoral politics. Any stories, anecdotes, case studies, history books would be helpful. You can just link/list them to me.

    A classless society sounds like utopia, too good to ever occur. Anything moving in that direction interests me because it seems so hard.

  9. nathan January 5, 2011 / 3:37 pm

    It’s not that electoral politics are ignored, they are put in their proper place – secondary to groups working together across political/party lines to advocate for social change. The worker’s rights/unionization movement (1900-1935/40), Civil Rights movement (1920s-60s), Voting rights for women movement(late 19th-early 20th century), Equal Rights Amendment movement (1920s-today), GLBTQ rights movement (1970s-today) – all of these did and or still do operate outside of electoral politics – although they also engage elected officials and sometimes get too sucked into candidate supporting as well. You have to engage elected officials at some point, but when it becomes the whole focus, movements tend to splinter and die off.

    As far as reading goes, anything by Howard Zinn is good. Poor People’s Movements by Piven and Cloward is good. Grace Lee Boggs (still going strong at age 94!) has an autobiography called Living for Change. Yes! Magazine is a great online resource for grassroots action going on at the individual and collective level right now.
    Another great resource for current worldwide efforts is a book by Frances and Anna Lappe called Hope’s Edge.

    Almost none of this stuff – the history nor the current goings on – ever make the mainstream media. It’s always about the power and swaying of elected officials, and the elections that get them there. Another way to keep people spinning and groveling if you ask me.

  10. Ryan January 6, 2011 / 2:04 pm

    Hmmmmmm complex! I see a lot of really deep things intermixing in these discussions……for me to make sense of stuff requires a bit of disentaglement, so bear with me!

    (Disclaimer: this turned out to be really long…..I’m posting it, but don’t mean to kill discussion! Feel free to skim :) )

    In no particular order, some key questions I see:

    What is the point of public education? What should be the point?

    Who has how much access to it, and what is the price (defined broadly) of that access?
    Who should have access to how much of it?

    Who is in control of the amount of access people have to education? How are they making those decisions?

    How can we (people who care but are not part of the ruling class i.e. not large business-owners or politicians) affect the education situation?

    The differences between the US and European systems, as characterized by Cat (who I trust on this) intrigue me. The European system is explicitly tracked from an early age, and thus has pretty clearly as its central purpose job training in preparation for a place in the workforce. In the US though, “tracking” is kind of a forbidden subject………although I’ve heard that it happens in explicit ways, in addition to the implicit knowledge we all have that college attendance is highly correlated with class. To me this has to do a lot with an extremely strong myth of meritocracy that has existed in the US (among only white people until recently?????) for a long time.

    What I mean is related to this question: will everyone get a “professional” or white collar job, in the US or Europe, under even the best of circumstances?

    Nope. Even if 100% of all people got free ride scholarships to whatever school they wanted and were admitted by lottery, the number of lawyers, IT people, architects supportable by the economy wouldn’t change (much….). As we all know, there’s something behind the job market, which is the work deemed socially necessary for our world, our society to function and progress. Right now, it’s determined by the market, by whether you can get paid to do it…in fact that’s what “work” means a lot of the time!

    So in the US, Europe, the whole globalized capitalist world, nowhere does the utopian capitalism where everyone gets to have a career exist. So who decides who gets the good ones, and who has to clean up after them or die trying to kill people in a foreign country? Well, mostly people who hire, but they compete against each other and so really do need people with the necessary skills for their businesses. Leaving aside the question of who decides what jobs are going to exist (imho capital but let’s not derail!), how are these skills disbursed? In the US, primarily through the public, private and privatized (charter) schools, and somewhat through the family. (That balance is probably reversed in for instance rural India.) All of this may not be controversial, but it helps me to walk through the way that the system is working.

    So is tracking bad? I see the differences between the US and Europe as related to the history in Europe of Social-Democratic (i.e. electoral left pro-capitalist reform) Parties getting control of a lot of governments in alliance with huge trade unions covering large sectors of the population. A lot of trade union demands include right-to-work, and I think unless you’re gonna take control of the economy out of the hands of private capitalists (not likely for these parties!) the best way to get people a right-to-work seems be “tracking” them into specific jobs, or types of jobs. Current US tracking works through admission to advanced “college-track” elementary and high school programs, high school dropouts, getting into (which) college, and choosing to go onto grad school. At every level there are costs associated, which act as a filter for class origin. Is that better than more explicit forms of tracking, and if so, why? It doesn’t really seem better to me, because it’s much more market-dominated than government tracking which at least might be comprehensible and possible to organize around to change the outcomes.

    But to me neither of these options is “good”, because like Katie I’m interested in

    education being community-owned and run (operating with a broader definition of “valuable knowledge”), and with a classless society where people participate freely in education, not because they have to get a certificate in order to work for a class of owners and hopefully gain enough resources to survive and support a family.

    The question of whether this is utopian or not should be left for another thread, discussion, email, day in order to avoid an overwhelming derail……I’ll say that I think some understandings of a classless society are way less utopian than the idea that capitalism can/will continue forever, or as Margaret Thatcher famously put it, “There is No Alternative”. Other understandings are hella utopian though!

    On loans: anything that reduces loan burden on working class people is a good outcome to me…..even if Obama does it! That doesn’t make it a victory that “we” won though, because for me “we” doesn’t include POTUS, or USFG in general. Trillions of dollars to banks and one measly loan limit for us constitutes an overwhelming victory by banks against us, executed through POTUS, and in that light the loan limitation is kind of a slap in the face.

    On electoral politics: this used to be the one thing that everyone agreed on! (Trotsky, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Stalin, Hitler, Rosa Luxembourg, Ella Baker, Black Panthers, Cesar Chavez) Obviously electoral politics can be used to affect events……although money is by far the most efficient way to do this, organizing works too (see the Christian right, although Progressives for Obama is a notable failure to get progressive agenda items implemented through organizing around elections). For me, the goal of changing things about society (reforms) is bound up inextricably with changing who has the power to control society………..I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think electoral politics is unsuitable for this second purpose, because it teaches working-class people that they can alienate their agency to ruling class representatives who somehow 99/100 times sell-out unless under immense pressure. I think the struggle for the 8-hour day in the US, Russia or England, the civil rights movement, or Oaxaca City rebellion (APPO) are random good examples of non-electoral struggle in countries with legal electoral systems.

    Great discussion folks, lot to think about!

  11. aaron January 8, 2011 / 7:08 am

    read a piece on alternet that seemed relevant to the conversation.

    “In 2009 the University of Virginia received a mere 8 percent of its funding from the state of Virginia, down from nearly 30 percent from a quarter century ago. At the University of Wisconsin, only 19 percent comes from state dollars also down from 30 percent a decade ago. And at the University of Iowa, state appropriations have dropped by 35 percentage points since 1980. For comparison, since 1982 college tuition in the US has increased by 439 percent, more than four times the rate of inflation. Healthcare costs have risen 250 percent during the same period.

  12. John January 24, 2011 / 2:59 pm

    Good post.

    Some reforms we could do now could make student debt a mich less onerous burden for people. For instance, we used to allow individuals in bankruptcy to discharge student loan debt. Now hey can’t. The only other debt in this category is judgments from civil court for damages resultant from felonies. So we treat students in bankruptcy court the same as felons. Seriously. We used to allow student debt to be discharged in bankruptcy prior to the 70s, and ouught to revert to this asap.

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