The Power Of Carefully-Inculcated Ignorance

I’ve been doing a bit of reading and listening to folks discussing the #Occupy mobs (listening to them directly is pretty pointless; they’re remarkably incoherent), and I think I’ve found their unifying principle, their core belief that motivates the rest of their actions: Income inequality. This is their mantra, that the disparity between the income levels of the richest and poorest is a great social injustice that the government must step in and correct it.


And damn if ol’ agnostic me finds that religion, once again, saw this coming and warned us. Among the seven deadly sins is Envy.


The message isn’t “I don’t have enough,” it’s “they have more, and that’s too much.”


Compare them once again to the Tea Party movement. The core message there: “the government is taking too much from us.” The #Occupy rabble? “The government needs to take more from them, and give it so us.”

I’ve said before that I think I lack the “envy” gene. (Don’t worry, I more than make up for it in other areas. Going back to the seven deadly sins, I got my own share of wrath, lust, sloth, and gluttony, with occasional flashes of pride. Envy and greed, I’m good on.) But when someone asks the question “how are you doing,” in relations to finances or other matters, my first answer is never “not as good as so-and-so.”


Income inequality is a core aspect of our capitalist system. As the entirely-too-quotable Winston Churchill once put it, “Capitalism is the unequal distribution of wealth; Socialism is the equal distribution of poverty.” But what a lot of critics miss in that is that wealth, in a capitalist system, moves. It is constantly moving. And people can, to a large degree, influence how it moves in relation to themselves.


I look at some of the #occupy twits and I wonder how the hell such highly-educated people (in many cases) can be so stupid — and it can’t all be the fault of our higher education system. Take, for example, the student at Vermont Law School I discovered a little while ago. He’s getting about $150,000 in debt to get a degree in environmental law so he can work at a non-profit environmental organization.


Yes, it’s unfair to talk about him specifically, as we don’t know his full story and don’t know how much of that education is covered by grants and scholarships and whatnot (gotcha, JH!), but the aspects of his story are general enough that they do cover a lot of those people involved or supporting the #Occupy mobs. They ran up huge student loan debts to pursue degrees that offer them almost no chance at earning a good enough living to pay those back within decades. I have no clue what a lawyer for an environmental non-profit makes, but I’d be willing to wager that it doesn’t go very far towards retiring a $130,000 debt.


Hang on, I think I’m about to lurch off in a wildly different direction, as a throwaway line just came back and blew up in my face.


I look at some of the #occupy twits and I wonder how the hell such highly-educated people (in many cases) can be so stupid — and it can’t all be the fault of our higher education system.


Actually, maybe it can.


Let me talk this out. The huge student debts people pile up is to get their education. We’ve poured a shitload of money into higher education over the past 50 years or so, and encouraged everyone and their cousin to get a college degree. Here’s where basic economics kicks in: as the demand increases for something, especially when faster than the supply, the cost goes up. And the cost of a college education has gone up astronomically over those decades, far in advance of inflation or any other rational factor.


As the demand increases, so does supply — but also competition. With the increased funding for college educations, through loans, grants, and other programs, the schools have gotten more and more competitive for students. Again, entirely natural.


But one factor that has NOT kicked in anywhere near as strongly has been cost. Colleges simply don’t compete on cost. They don’t brag about how they charge less than other schools.


And that is because the students don’t consider cost as strongly as they should. They are enticed to apply for grants, take out loans, or do whatever they can to get the best education they can. The end result is to get the student to not consider the cost anywhere near as much as they should, because the costs are initially picked up by others — banks, the government, family, whatever. Those costs won’t come back to the student for years.


In that light, it’s in the schools’ best interests to NOT give the students a solid grounding in fundamental economics, because that could cut the schools off from the cash cows. If for one instant Mr. Save The Earth In Court actually sits down and says “I’m going to be spending seven years of my life and running up about $100,000 in debt for a job that will pay me maybe $41,000 a year for starters. How the hell will I get over that and have a good living?,” then the schools are screwed.


It’s the same thing with health care costs. The more you separate the final consumer of the good or service from the actual cost of said good or service, the less that consumer cares about the cost. At least, in the case of health care, there are insurance agencies who are concerned about the bottom line. With higher education, pretty much no one worries about it. The student? They aren’t thinking that far ahead, and the schools make a point of NOT encouraging them to do so. The schools are the recipients of the money, so they have an interest in NOT thinking about it. The banks are getting less and less involved, as Obama has pretty much federalized the student loan business, and they know the government will suck it up anyway. And the federal government sees the students as voters, and wants to keep them dumb and happy and appreciative of the federal government that helped them get their wonderful education.


So that’s how you end up with many of the #Occupy mob. They have been set up, and they don’t like it. But they simply don’t understand who put them in that trap, who profits by their entrapment, and who has a vested interest in keeping them trapped. Instead, they only see that others aren’t trapped, that others have more, and that fuels their fury.



The Jerry Sandusky Grand Jury presentation