When Selfishness Expands Outward

Wallace Bain has a good column in the Santa Cruz Sentinel in which he asks whether or not we truly value higher education. His piece is specific to California’s higher ed crisis, but hits on some attitudes that are, unfortunately, quite common across the nation:

Oh, we say we do, of course. I can’t think of a president in my lifetime who didn’t, at some point, declare he wanted to be “the education president.”

But the evidence says otherwise. Someone I know and respect, in a fit of passion, once spilled what I assume is a common attitude. “Why should I be taxed for schools?” he said. “I don’t have any kids in school.” He said that he gets why he needs to chip in for roads and prisons and law enforcement. Those things enhance and protect his life. But colleges? Let parents take the tax bite on that one.

That was probably five years ago, and I’ve spent countless hours ever since shouting into the dashboard trying to respond to that attitude, especially when it comes to higher education, the inherent value of which I always figured was too obvious even to state out loud.

This applies to everything, not just higher ed. We’re a country in which a cacophony of cries of “socialist!” arises—and is taken quite seriously—when the idea of reverting the tox tap rate to its earlier, slightly higher level is broached, or when the president has the temerity to suggest that health care if a human right and that government should help provide it.

It’s an obvious point, but worth making nonetheless: if you want to understand how the biggest policy decisions work, look at individual attitudes.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.