Friday 7 January 2011

Reflections as a Student - Riots, Cuts and Morality

The whole issue of student fees and the connected protests (and riots) has fallen out of the news and to a large degree the leftist militia has begun to run out of steam (they apparently all still needed to go home and open their benefits of mutual trade over Christmas). I feel, as a student, that I should give my opinions on the subject (and to a certain extent the wider UK uncut groupings).

The idea that one should resort to violence in protest of an government policy is utterly abhorrent and immoral. The claims that "windows can be replaced" in defence of violence is bizarre - the damage is still done and is still wrong to deliberately, negatively affect others. Resorting to violence to get your way (no matter how minor) is effectively terrorism. I'm not trying to put bombings and smashing windows on an equal footing, the one is obviously a great deal worse than the other. It is still exactly the same mindset, and exactly the same justifications are provided - "by doing X we get to have Y, no matter how bad X is", whether that is to destroy the west, 'free' Northern Ireland or get other people to pay for an ignorant person to gain a higher level of education (note: higher level not standard of education). First of all, I should note that history tells us that such terrorist or terrorist-lite actions tend to damage the causes they aim to promote. Look at the polls for after the student riots, or alternatively, the support both in parliamentary votes in in polls once the Suffragettes replaced the Suffragists in the public conciousness. The West has not fallen, Northern Ireland is still a part of the UK and the student fees bill passed its vote.

So, what of fees? Surely, as a student I want education free, don't I? Does education not help society? No it does not, I would say, not in and of itself anyway. Education in its current form, or perhaps more, Educational Qualifications such as A levels and degrees are nothing but paper. Education in this way does not help society, there is no evidence of this. Degrees are proofs of an individual's ability to perform to certain standards. If more people do degrees (i.e. high supply) then the value will fall. If degrees are made easier, then again, the value will fall (in the same way a cheaply made computer will be worth less than one made to last). The reason that I am doing a degree is to give myself better job prospects in the future. I don't pretend that I don't enjoy the life. I have plenty of spare time to read interesting books and a large academic library to use, I get plenty of money to spend on frivolous things without necessarily having to do much work to get it. I do agree that I should pay this money, and the money to fund my tuition back once I have finished. It is only fair that I pay for the benefits that I receive, especially I am the main (if not sole) beneficiary of these benefits. It seems moral and fair to me.

The idea that it is not fair that others got their education 'free' and current students do not seems to lack any analysis or moral underscoring. I will ignore the fact that the word fair has become almost meaningless in the common debate and focus on the less covered errors of judgement here. First, nobody ever gets anything free. The current generation have paid for most of the costs of their education through taxation. The government only really has two sources of revenue - taxation and borrowing (not going into the more detailed area of interests on loans to other governments). In order to pay for the 'free' education, the money has to come from one of these sources. Thus they have paid for it in tax, as borrowing is simply taxation deferred (or taxation that was not seen as politically acceptable at the time of spending). Considering the current state of public finances, ignoring the closeness the nation is to bankruptcy, for the university education of 43% of the young to be funded, the money would have to come through higher borrowing. This higher borrowing would come in the form of taxation of both current students in their later life and the as yet unborn. There is no free lunch to be had.

Secondly, where is the morals behind the "its not fair" point of view? Why does an individual have a right to an education paid for by others? If he is the person with the most to gain from it, why should he not pay? Considering that more people are attending university now than ever before, you have run out of people to tax for it. Most of the people who would pay for this free education never went to university themselves. This point should be self-evident. The only way to defend it morally is if you hold a highly politically charged, Socialist position (or else are morally self-contradictory) and argue to tax the rich. This I find rather ironic, considering that the protesters who have taken over university buildings across the country have been the first to condemn the Coalition for what they describe as "ideological" cuts. To the point though, taxing the rich more heavily is not to be recommended from an economic standpoint. We have high levels of tax avoidance in this country precisely because tax is already high. The higher the taxes and the fewer the loopholes, the less is done here and the more is done elsewhere. It is well demonstrated that high tax leads to capital flight in all forms. This directly damages the economy. This is all but irrefutable. Taxing more heavily is not the solution. cutting is the only solution because we are spending above affordable levels.

The left are complaining about a nominal cut of 3.3%. This is about the smallest realistic amount we can afford to cut by. Less than this (or no cutting at all) would lead to inevitable stagnation of the economy. Even the current level of cuts is so small (to the extent that there are no cuts in real terms) as to make a decade of lost growth a real possibility or even a likelihood. To hold the opinions that there should be no cuts, and/or that others should pay for your education is ridiculous; both in my opinion morally and quite demonstrably, in economic terms. If one thing was made abundantly clear under Labour it is that higher spending does not make for better public services. Those who still cling to this maxim are doing nothing but sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming nonsense. Please, for the future of the country, admit that you are wrong.