Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Education

How to Use Minimum Wage Laws to Improve Local Schools

In American towns, school systems are the backbone. Strong schools attract affluent residents. Affluent residents boost land values and median incomes. Higher land values and median incomes means higher tax revenue. Higher tax revenue means more money for schools. More money for schools means strong schools, and that means more affluent residents. It’s a virtuous circle:

What kills American towns are low income residents. Low income residents lower the amount of tax revenue local schools have per student, damaging school performance. As the schools decline, the affluent residents dry up, and that hits land values and median income, eroding tax revenue and further damaging the schools. Towns get into death spirals, where declining schools and collapsing prosperity feed off each other. Today I want to talk about how towns get thrown off this cycle, and how higher local minimum wage laws can keep them on track.

Read the rest of this entry »

The British Academic Strike is a Crucial Struggle that Must Be Won: Part II, Universities

The University and College Union (UCU)–Britain’s trade union for academics–has gone on strike. The strike is about the University Superannuation Scheme (USS)’s decision to switch academics from “defined benefit” pension plans to “defined contribution” plans. As a PhD student at Cambridge I write this piece at home, having skipped a couple events I really wanted to go to today, because this strike is so important, both to academia and to the cause of working people more generally. My hope is that I can explain the strike to those who don’t know much about it and defend it to any who doubt its necessity.

Read the rest of this entry »

An American Class Divide: The Aristocrats v. The Professionals

In the United States we usually don’t like to think about ourselves as members of economic classes. Most of us, when asked, identify as middle or upper-middle class. But of course there are class differences, and in recent years we’ve started to talk about them a little more. People like Thomas Frank have drawn attention to “the professional class” as distinct from “the working class”. The professionals go to college and get degrees in things like engineering, medicine, law, finance, business, or computer science. They get access to those prized STEM and management careers, to the jobs in the court rooms, on Wall Street, and in Silicon Valley. In contrast, members of the working class often don’t go to college. In recent years they sometimes get uneconomical degrees and end up underemployed with lots of debt. But while the professional/working distinction is important and needs to be drawn more often, I’d like to take some time today to draw another distinction, between the professional class and what I’d like to call the “aristocrats”.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Republicans are Trying to Use the Tax System to Attack Their Political Enemies

We’re seeing lots of good pieces which point out that many of the claims the Republicans are making about their tax plan are not true, that the plan favors the rich at the expense of the middle. But today I want to make another point about the plan, one that doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it merits. You see, it’s not just that the Republican plan helps the rich and hurts the middle. Those distributive consequences are real, and they matter, but this goes deeper than that. The Republican plan specifically targets liberal and left-leaning groups in the country for tax increases. It is an assault on the political neutrality of the tax system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Could Corbyn Cancel All the Student Debt? Yes–But He Has to Bend a Rule

There was a row this week in the UK over Labour’s plan for the university system. Individual Labour politicians have in the past talked about doing something about student debt, but this week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn distanced himself from outright debt relief:

What I said was we would deal with it by trying to reduce the burden of it, we never said we would completely abolish because we were unaware of the size of it at that time.

Some in the British press are trying to portray this as a U-turn, but the Labour manifesto did not itself make any firm pledges on debt relief. It promised to eliminate tuition fees, but the debt issue was left to one side:

The average student now graduates from university, and starts their working life, with debts of £44,000. Labour will reintroduce maintenance grants for university students, and we will abolish university tuition fees.

Corbyn indicated this prior to the election–Labour was still trying to figure out the debt issue:

Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it yet – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all this – but I’m very well aware of that problem. And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.

So instead of playing he-said he-said, let’s take a look at what Labour could do about student debt and see if we can help Corbyn figure it out.

Read the rest of this entry »