Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 4

Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 4

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Part 1: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

Part 2: The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals

There is a process under way in Canada, led by the corporate and financial elite, and directed against the general population, the poor, and the young, intending to provide for the rich and powerful, to punish the poor and steal from the rest, to plunge into poverty, to repress, control, and dominate: this process is called ‘Class War’ and it’s waged by the super-rich against the supposedly superfluous rest. It’s objective is simple: to preserve, protect, and expand the control and domination of the wealthy over the majority.

In Quebec, where the class warfare has taken on a specific assault on the students and youth, there are finally growing signs and actions that the youth are starting to fight back. The provincial government of Quebec – the French-speaking province of Canada – has decided to double the costs of tuition over the next few years. These moves have prompted hundreds of thousands of students across Quebec to go on strike in protest of the increased fees. Since Quebec currently has the lowest tuition costs in Canada for residents, a great deal of the media and commentary on the issue is related to lambasting Quebecers for their concept of “entitlements” and for “complaining” that they have to pay what others pay. The debate is focused around the ‘need’ for the government of Quebec to reduce its debt – balance its budget – framing increased tuition costs as a necessity to be accepted, and when resisted, to dismiss the protesters as unrealistic and petty.

So is it true that Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in Canada? Yes. However, Quebec residents also pay the highest income taxes in all of Canada.[1] One of the major claims by the Quebec government as to why tuition must be increased is the claim that Quebec’s universities are among the most “under-funded” in Canada, and therefore they need to increase their funding so as to increase their “competitiveness.” However, according to the Quebec government itself, total government spending on education (in 2008-2009) amounted to 1.94% of GDP, compared to 1.76% for Ontario, and 1.65% for Canada as a whole. At the same time, total university spending per student in Quebec was at $29,242, compared to $26,383 in Ontario, and $28,846 for Canada as a whole.[2] Thus, Québec’s universities are funded to a greater degree than the rest of Canada, so that argument does not hold weight.

Quebec’s universities are funded more than other Canadian universities, while Quebec residents pay more in taxes than the rest of Canada, so why the increase in tuition? As tuition fees for universities increase, government spending on education decreases. As the Canadian Federation of Students notes:

In the past fifteen years, tuition fees in Canada have grown to become the single largest expense for most university and college students. The dramatic tuition fee increases during this period were the direct result of cuts to public funding for post-secondary education by the federal government and, to a somewhat lesser extent, provincial governments. Public funding currently accounts for an average of approximately 57% of university and college operating funding, down from 84% just two decades ago. During the same period tuition fees have grown from 14% of operating funding to over 34%.[3]

This marks a move “away from a publicly funded model and towards a privatised user fee system,” which has caused “post-secondary education to become unaffordable for many low- and middle-income Canadians.” In the mid-1960s, nearly all of Canada’s university funding was provided by the federal and provincial governments, and tuition fees were either incredibly minimal or non-existent. This process began to change in the early 1980s, with the rise of neoliberalism in the global political economy, which saw moves toward cutting social spending by governments. As government funding decreased, tuition costs rose, and as a result, between the early 1980s and the early 1990s, tuition fees in Canada nearly doubled. In 1995, the Liberal federal government of Canada cut $7 billion in spending for the provinces, leading to “the largest tuition fee increases in Canadian history.” Quebec had, however, resisted the push toward making students pay more, which was taking place in all the other Canadian provinces. In the early 1990s, average undergraduate tuition fees in Canada were $1,464; today the average has more than tripled to $5,138.[4]

So why is this process taking place? Why must government spending on education (and other social programs) be reduced, while personal costs for all of these services be increased? The answer is not in “efficiency” or “balancing budgets,” but rather, in class warfare.

In April of 2007, TD Bank (one of Canada’s ‘big five’ banks which dominate the economy) released a “plan for prosperity” for the province of Quebec, which recommended, among other things, raising the cost of tuition: “by raising tuition fees but focusing on increased financial assistance for those in need, post secondary education (PSE) institutions will be better-positioned to prosper and provide world-class education and research.”[5] In one Canadian province, Nova Scotia, the government hired a former chief economist from the Bank of Montreal, Tim O’Neill, to assess higher education finances, and unsurprisingly, advocated higher tuition fees.[6] Banks, of course, have a major interest in promoting increased tuition costs, because they provide student loans and profit off of the interest on student debt, like some malevolent ever-growing succubus draining the life force and potential of future generations which are doomed to debt slavery. So naturally, our governments take the advice of the banks, because they know whom their real masters are.

It should be noted, as well, that this is not merely a problem in Quebec or Canada. Tens of thousands of students in the United Kingdom are planning a walk out in protest of increasing tuition fees, which “are pricing students out of education.”[7] The Occupy Movement in the United States is moving into universities, as campuses in California experienced demonstrations and protests against “state budget cuts to education and the resulting hikes in tuition.”[8] In Spain, more than 30,000 students took to the streets of Barcelona protesting the ‘austerity cuts’ to education, and were then of course met with state repression.[9] Perhaps most impressive is a mass student movement that has developed in Chile over the past year.

The College Crisis

What is the ‘college crisis’? It’s quite simple: our society is producing more educated, professionalized youths than ever before, who are then graduating into a jobless market, and what’s more, they are graduating with extensive debt. The professional education students receive, in combination with the heavy overbearing debt load and the immense dissatisfaction with the lack of opportunities for them, creates a large, mobile, educated, activated, and very pissed off group of people. This is what is referred to as a ‘poverty of expectations,’ whereby the inculcated expectations of a group or sector of society cannot be met by the society in which they live. In any society, in any period of history, this is a recipe for social unrest, resistance, rebellion, and, potentially, Revolution.

Naturally, the elites of any society fear such a scenario, so they always come up with various methods of managing these increasingly problematic conditions. The solutions, invariably, are always aimed at finding methods and means for undermining the ability and effectiveness of the target group to mobilize and organize for their cause; in this case, students. Cutting education budgets and increasing tuition fees is a very effective means to create more ‘desirable’ conditions for elites. How so? Any form of ‘austerity’ is essentially an act of class war, waged by the upper class against the rest. Austerity means that budgets will be cut and costs will be increased, whether through taxation, direct prices for services and necessities, or more often, both. The stated purpose of ‘austerity measures’ is to reduce debt (spending) and increase profitability (or revenue), with the purported aim of eliminating the debt over time. This is, however, not the true purpose of austerity, and appropriately so, it is never the result. The result is actually to increase debt, and impose a regimen of what amounts to ‘social genocide’: increasing the burden, costs, taxes, and hardships upon the wider population. For the poor, it means despair; for the middle class, it means poverty; and for the rich, it means prosperity and power.

The current crisis stems from developments that took place in the 1960s which saw an increase in activism and engagement among the general population, and especially the youth. Universities were breeding grounds for activism and movements which sought to create social uplift. The elite response to this scenario, in the United States specifically but also across the Western world as a whole, was to declare a “Crisis of Democracy” in which too many people were making too many demands upon the system, in which all forms of authority were under attack, and the legitimacy of those authorities were called into question. Elites of both the left and right saw this acceleration of democratic participation and activism as an assault upon their conception of what “democracy” should be – namely, a state that serves their interests alone. From the right, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – and from the liberal internationalists, the Trilateral Commission – launched a major national and global attack upon the surge of democratic activism in what the Trilateral Commission referred to as an “excess of democracy.” The result of this attack: neoliberalism and debt. The two documents that were most influential in this attack on democracy were the “Powell Memo” of 1971 sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which outlined a detailed program for how big business could reorganize society for its own interests, and the Trilateral Commission’s 1975 report, “The Crisis of Democracy,” which outlined an elite ideology which saw the problem of society being in an “excess of democracy” and that what is required is to correct the balance in favour of elites and increase apathy and passivity among the population. The Chamber of Commerce represents all the major business interests in the United States, while the Trilateral Commission (founded in 1973 by banker David Rockefeller), represents roughly 350 elites in the areas of academia, finance, business, government, foreign policy, media and foundations from North America, Western Europe, and Japan.

The result of this was to decrease government funding for education, increase tuition and other costs, increase debt for students and the general population as a whole (through credit cards, mortgages, loans, etc.), and to merge higher education and big business: the corporatization and privatization of universities.

As part of this process, knowledge was transformed into ‘capital’ – into ‘knowledge capitalism’ or a ‘knowledge economy.’ Reports from the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the 1990s transformed these ideas into a “policy template.” This was to establish “a new coalition between education and industry,” in which “education if reconfigured as a massively undervalued form of knowledge capital that will determine the future of work, the organization of knowledge institutions and the shape of society in the years to come.”[10]

Knowledge was thus defined as an “economic resource” which would give growth to the economy. As such, in the neoliberal era, where all aspects of economic productivity and growth are privatized (purportedly to increase their efficiency and productive capacity as only the “free market” can do), education – or the “knowledge economy” – itself, was destined to be privatized.[11]

Solving the ‘College Crisis’

In February of 2011, it was reported that the average debt for a Canadian family had reached over $100,000, spending 150% of their earnings. Thus, for every $1,000 in after-tax income, the average Canadian family then owes $1,500. The debt figures include mortgages, student loans, credit card debts, and lines of credit. In 1990, the average Canadian family was able to put roughly $8,000 into savings, in 2012, that number was at $2,500. So while the public is constantly told that the ‘recession’ is over, this is simply not true for the general population, though it may appear to be true in the quarterly reports of Canada’s multinational corporations and banks. A 2011 report indicated that, “17,400 households were behind in their mortgage payments by three or more months in 2010, up by 50 per cent since the recession began. Credit card delinquencies and bankruptcy rates also remain higher than before the recession.”[12]

By February of 2012, this rate of income-to-debt had not only failed to improve, but even got slightly worse, hitting a new record.[13] The state for Canadian families is indeed getting worse. More than half of the jobs created since the “end” of the “recession” went to those aged 55 and older, leaving the youth struggling to find jobs, while older workers have to either stay working longer, return from retirement because they can’t survive off of their pensions, and thus, young people are living at home longer and staying in school longer. The slight increases in hourly earnings has not kept up with inflation, and thus amounts to a loss of earnings, and income inequality continues to grow between the super-rich and everyone else.[14]

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada (Canada’s central bank), is also Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, run out of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland – the central bank to the world’s central banks – and which operates under the auspices of the G20. Carney had previously served as Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Department of Finance, and spent thirteen years with Goldman Sachs prior to that.

The Bank of Canada, like all central banks, serves the dominant elite interests of the nation, but also of the international financial elite more broadly. The board of directors of the Bank of Canada includes William Black, former CEO of Maritime Life, who sits on the boards of Dalhousie University, the Shaw Group, Standard Life of Canada, and Nova Scotia Business, Inc.; Philip Deck, CEO of Extuple, Inc. (a technology finance corporation), former managing partner with merchant banking company HSD Partners, and is on the board of a major Canadian think tank, the C.D. Howe Institute; Bonnie DuPont, former Vice President at Enbridge Inc., former director of the Canadian Wheat Board, a current director of agribusiness firm Viterra Inc, UTS, on the board of governors of the University of Calgary, member of the Institute of Corporate Directors, and is past president of the Calgary Petroleum Club; Jock Finlayson, Vice President of the Business Council of British Columbia, former Vice President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (an interest group made up of Canada’s top 150 CEOs), and a member of the Canada West Foundation; Daniel Johnson, a director of Bombardier, IGM Financial, Mackenzie Financial Corporation, Investors Group, and former Minister of Industry and Commerce in the Province of Quebec; David Laidley, Chairman Emeritus of Deloitte & Touche LLP, on the boards of Nautilus Indemnity Limited, ProSep Inc., EMCOR Group, Aviva Canada Inc., the Cole Foundation, and on several boards at McGill University. The rest of the directors of the Bank of Canada are almost exclusively businessmen or former government officials (two women in total), and all of them are white; so, naturally, they truly represent the struggling Canadian family.

In March of 2012, the Bank of Canada warned that household debt “remains the biggest domestic risk” to Canada’s economy. While part of the Bank’s role is to set interest rates, it has kept interest rates very low (at 1%) in order to encourage lending (and indeed, families have become more indebted as a result). Yet, the Bank says, interest rates will have to rise eventually. Economists at Canada’s major banks (CIBC, RBC, BMO, TD, and ScotiaBank) naturally support such an inevitability, as one BMO economist stated, “while rates are unlikely to increase in the near term, the next move is more likely to be up rather than down, and could well emerge sooner than we currently anticipate.” The chief economist at CIBC stated that, “markets will pick up on the slightly improved change in tone on the economy, and might move forward the implied date for the first rate hike.” This translates into: the economy is doing well for the big banks, therefore they will demand higher interest rates on debts, and plunge the Canadian population into poverty; the “invisible hand of the free market” in action.[15] Increased interest rates mean increased payments on debts, which means increased suffering for the indebted, who make up the general population.

As the Bank of Canada warns that interest rates will increase, perhaps as soon as this year, the Canadian people – heavily indebted – will suffer immensely and will likely fail to meet their interest payments. Since such a large majority of the debt and interest is in mortgages, this would potentially cause a major housing crisis, which is already at bubble proportions (especially in Vancouver, now the most expensive city to live in within North America), and will drag the middle class and the rest of the Canadian economy down with it. Even TD Bank has said the housing market is over-valued (i.e., artificially inflated), and warned of a coming “correction” (i.e., economic crisis).[16]

As the gap widens between the rich and everyone else in nearly every OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country, Canada is no exception. The top 10% of Canadian earners make ten times as much as the bottom 10%. The top 1% in Canada saw their share of total income increase from 8.1% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2007, while the top 0.1% saw their share increase from 2% to 5.3%. Tax policies in Canada strengthen the wealth gap. In 1981, the tax rate for the top margin of earners was 43%, and in 2010, it was 29%. As the Secretary General of the OECD stated in December of 2011, “The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries… This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that greater inequality fosters greater social mobility.” Thus, “inequality will continue to rise.”[17]

In a 2008 OECD study, Canada was singled out as one of the countries with the worst rates of widening inequality, stating that, “In the last 10 years, the rich have been getting richer, leaving both middle and poorer income classes behind.” The top 3.8% of Canadian households controlled 66.6% of all financial wealth by 2009, with rates set to increase. As the Conservative government in Canada continues to implement corporate tax cuts, this disparity will increase, with the Harper government providing $60 billion in corporate tax breaks, while maintaining a $30 billion budget deficit (public debt). Despite all the tax cuts for corporations, the money that is not spent on taxes tends to go to shareholders and very little goes toward investments or job creation, meaning that the benefits do not “trickle down,” but rather, as to be expected, trickle up. For Prime Minister Harper’s tax policies and programs, “The higher the income, the bigger the tax break.” The senior economist at the International Trade Union Confederation stated that, “The growing gap between the rich and the rest of us has many causes, including higher remuneration for top earners, much higher profits as a share of the economy, less bargaining power for workers, and less progressive taxes… Conservative tax policies will clearly aggravate the problem.”[18]

The Conference Board of Canada released a study in the fall of 2011 which stated that, “income inequality has been rising more rapidly in Canada than in the U.S. since the mid-1990s,” and on a global scale, “Canada has had the fourth-largest increase in income inequality among its peers.” The President of the Conference Board explained, “Even though the U.S. currently has the largest rich-poor income gap among these countries, the gap in Canada has been rising at a faster rate.”[19]

Among the OECD countries, the one with the highest rates of inequality was none other than the Petri-dish experiment of neoliberalism, Chile, followed by Israel, Italy, Portugal, the U.K., and the United States. While the top 10% of Canadian earners had an average income of $103,500, the bottom 10% had an average annual income of $10,260.[20]

While Canada is often hailed as the most promising nation to come out of the economic-financial crisis of 2008, since its banks were largely left out of the housing derivative market (and thus, were protected), the facts on the ground represent a different reality. As the Economist reported in 2010, of the 31 OECD nations, Canada ranked as the 22nd worst country in terms of child poverty, with one in ten Canadians (roughly 3 million) being poor, 610,000 of them being children. In November of 2010, it was reported that roughly 900,000 Canadians were dependent upon food handouts, a 9% increase from the previous year, with roughly 300,000 homeless people. The majority of the poor are single mothers, immigrants, aboriginal and disabled Canadians. Through the 1980s and 1990s (with the implementation of neolibral policies), welfare payments to these groups were slashed, with British Columbia as the most enthusiastic supporter of exacerbating child poverty, which stood at 10.4% by 2010.[21]

The cost of poverty is quite extensive:

* By 2011, poverty was said to cost the government between $72-86 billion per year;

* In the city of Hamilton, Ontario, there is a 21 year-difference in life expectancy between those who live in high and low-income neighborhoods;

* In March of 2010, nearly 900,000 Canadians had to go to food banks for food, 38% of them being children, an increase of 28% since March of 2008, the “highest level of food bank use ever”;

* In 2010, there were between 150-300,000 “visible” homeless in Canada, with another 900,000 “hidden” homeless, and 1.5 million families in “core housing need” and 3.1 million families in unaffordable housing;

* In 2010, 59% of Canadians (over 20 million Canadians) lived from paycheck to paycheck, “saying they would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque was delayed by a week”;

* In 2009, the average annual income of Canada’s best paid CEOs was $6.6 million, “155 times higher than the average worker’s income ($42,988);

* A third of all income growth in Canada over the past two decades has gone to the richest one percent of Canadians.”[22]

Canada’s Youth: A “Bankrupted Generation”

By January of 2009, Canadian students had a debt to the federal government of over $13 billion, with student loan debt increasing by $1.2 million every day. The Canadian Federation of Students said the obvious answer to this growing crisis was to make education “affordable.” Studies show the effects of student debt, reducing “the ability of new graduates to start families, work in public service careers, invest in other assets, volunteer, or even just take a lower paying job in their own field to get a foot in the door.” On top of the $13 billion owed to the Federal Government, Canadian students owed an additional $5 billion to provincial governments, and the figures do not include debt owed to banks, credit card companies or parents.[23] In short, Canada’s student youth are a “lost generation.”

In September of 2010, the Canadian Council on Learning published a report which indicated that, “students who graduate from college and university with high debt loads are putting off buying a house, having children or investing for the future.” The average debt load of a Canadian university graduate in 2009 was $26,680, and the average debt for college graduates was $13,600. These figures, it should be noted, do not take into account mortgages, credit card debt, lines of credit, or car loans.[24] This represented a doubling in the amount of student debt from 1990, and in 2005, the number of Canadian students needing loans to pay for their education had increased to 57%.[25]

In October of 2011, it was reported that Canadian student debt (to the Federal Government) will surpass $15 billion by 2013, which is the current ceiling set by the government in student loans. Thus, if it reaches the ceiling, the government will no longer (in theory) be able to provide student loans. The solution, according to the Canadian Federation of Students, does not mean eliminating the debt ceiling, which will only make the problem worse, but rather, in reducing the costs of education itself. As the national chairperson of the CFS stated, “The reality is that the job market is grim and students are facing their first interviews with a mortgage-sized debt.” Thus, once they begin work, they do not contribute to the economic growth of the country, but rather merely have to focus on paying interest and repaying debts. The cost of university education in Canada is estimated to be at $60,000, and some studies suggest that this will rise to $140,000 for those born in 2011. The average yearly undergraduate tuition fees were a 4.3% increase from the previous year, reaching $5,366.[26]

In 2011, almost two million Canadians had a student debt totaling $20 billion, and as the chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students stated, “We have an entire generation of people who now more than ever have to complete some form of post-secondary education just to get a job interview, with more than 70% of all new jobs requiring some degree or diploma. We are on the verge of bankrupting a generation before they even enter the workplace.” As job losses continue, and especially as the youth job market continues to decline, the number of full-time students tends to increase, and the availability of part-time work for students continues to decline. A post-secondary education no longer increases a “return on investment” through a lifetime, as it was once assumed. The overall student debt is not the most pressing immediate problem, but rather the “crippling interest rate attached to these government loans” which plunge youth into a deep crisis. So while interest rates are very low (in other lending, as set by the Bank of Canada at 1%), the government is charging 8% interest on student loans. Margaret Johnson, president of Solutions Credit Counselling Service Inc. in Vancouver stated that, “When the loan goes into default, the interest starts to compound. And then you have an absolute nightmare. The average debt I’m seeing is anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000. The payments are so high on some of these loans that the young person cannot live and make a payment. Instead of lowering the interest rate — or eliminating it, which I think is the best solution — the government extended the repayment term to 14 years. The fact that so many loans are in arrears proves this isn’t the answer.”[27]

Some things are worth repeating: the average debt for every Canadian household is over $100,000 and the average debt for a university graduate in Canada is over $26,000; nearly one million Canadians depend upon food banks for their food, poverty and inequality are increasing, homelessness is increasing; the rich are getting richer and everyone else is getting poor or poorer, and there is a horrible job market with few jobs available, let alone available to youth. So the “solution” – we are told – to the supposed “problem” of “competitiveness” in our universities… is to increase the burden, the cost, and the debt of students, families, and the general population; to increase tuition and student debt, to increase interest rates on all debts, and to plunge the population into abject poverty. It seems then, that Canadians, and the Western world in general (as these policies are being pushed throughout the G8 nations on the whole) are about to get a hard lesson in what our countries of the industrialized and supposedly “democratic” north have been doing to the rest of the world (Africa, Asia, Latin America) for decades and, indeed, centuries. What has been done abroad is now coming home to roost.

The conditions, restrictions, programs and policies that our nations have imposed upon Africa, Asia, and Latin America for the past four decades have plunged those countries into poverty, allowed for the unhindered control and extraction of their resources for our corporations, put their nations into the debt of our banks, exploited their populations for cheap labour, and propped up ruthless dictators to repress the people if they ever get wise and want to change their society. While our nations of course continue in their raping and pillaging of the world, now they have also turned their attention – and absolute disregard for humanity – to their domestic populations. The same banks, international institutions, nations, organizations and even individuals who promoted the policies which led to the impoverishment and punishment of much of the world’s population are now telling us that these same policies are the “solutions” to our current crises, just as they told the populations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. If we listen to these same people, submit to the same policies, and accept the same ideologies which have caused so much destruction and devastation around the world, and expect different results at home, we deserve what we get. Naturally, then, we must stop accepting and consenting to the hegemony and power of our elites and their institutions and ideologies. This means that we have to actively create alternatives, not simply protest against their programs, or demand reforms, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The boat is sinking, it doesn’t matter how it looks on the way down. It’s time for a new system altogether. One cannot demand from others to create a new system, but must actively create it themselves.

In the next part of this series, “Class War and the College Crisis,” I will be discussing the coming economic crisis for Canada, which has thus far been hailed as the “safest” nation emerging from the 2008 “recession,” a myth that will soon be broken. As Canada, and much of the rest of the world, begin their rapid descent into an economic depression, the above-mentioned statistics regarding debt, poverty, and inequality will get worse. As the social and economic crisis deepens, our governments will continue to show in whose interests they truly rule: with batons, tear gas, beatings, mass arrests, detention camps, and the growth and development of a police state surveillance society, our governments will reveal that they rule for bankers, corporations, and oligarchs. The democratic façade will wash away. It is within these circumstances that Canadians, and the wider world in general, must seek to create a true democratic system. First, however, we must recognize and understand the system in which we live for what it is: a State-Capitalist society ruled by a power-mad oligarchy. The next part of this series will be taking a look at what this power-mad oligarchy is doing and will be doing to Canada’s economy and society in the coming years. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t benefit YOU!

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            CRA, What are the income tax rates in Canada for 2012? Canada Revenue Agency:

http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/fq/txrts-eng.html

[2]            Finances Québec, “A Fair and Balanced University Funding Plan: To Give Québec the Means to Fulfill its Ambitions,” The Government of Québec, 2011-2012 Budget, page 7.

[3]            CFS, Tuition Fees, The Canadian Federation of Students:

http://cfs.bc.ca/index.php/section/49

[4]            Ibid.

[5]            Press Release, “TD Economics outlines plan for prosperity in Quebec report,” Newswire, 10 April 2007:

http://www.newswire.ca/fr/story/178423/td-economics-outlines-plan-for-prosperity-in-quebec-report

[6]            CNW, “Déjà Vu: O’Neill Report Recycles Dated, Discredited Tuition Fee Myths,” Newswire, 17 September 2010:

http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/673917/deja-vu-o-neill-report-recycles-dated-discredited-tuition-fee-myths

[7]            Alison Kershaw, “Thousands of students to stage walkout protest,” The Independent, 12 March 2012:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/thousands-of-students-to-stage-walkout-protest-7562129.html

[8]            Carla Rivera and Larry Gordon, “Occupy protests bring small yet intense crowds to state campuses,” Los Angeles Times, 1 March 2012:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/01/local/la-me-student-protests-20120302

[9]            Giles Tremlett, “Fighting breaks out in Barcelona as students protest over education cuts,” The Guardian, 29 February 2012:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/29/fighting-barcelona-students-protest-education-cuts?newsfeed=true

[10]            Mark Olssen and Michael A. Peters, “Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Knowledge Economy: From the Free Market to Knowledge Capitalism,” Journal of Education Policy (Vol. 20, No. 3, May 2005), page 331.

[11]            Ibid, pages 338-339.

[12]            CTV News Staff, “Average Canadian family debt hits $100,000,” CTV News, 17 February 2011:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20110217/family-debt-110217/

[13]            Why are Canadian families falling further into debt?, The Globe and Mail, 14 February 2012:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/why-are-canadian-families-falling-further-into-debt/article2337540/

[14]            Tavia Grant, “Financial security ‘elusive’ for many Canadian families,” The Globe and Mail, 22 March 2012: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/daily-mix/financial-security-elusive-for-many-canadian-families/article2377592/

[15]            Gordon Isfeld, “Bank of Canada says household debt ‘biggest risk’ to economy,” The Leader Post, 9 March 2012:

http://www.leaderpost.com/business/Bank+Canada+says+household+debt+biggest+risk+economy/6274564/story.html

[16]            John Morrissy, “Household debt a mounting concern as rates appear set to rise,” The Montreal Gazette, 23 March 2012:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Household+debt+mounting+concern+rates+appear+rise/6347875/story.html

[17]            CBC, Wealth gap widens to 30-year high, CBC News, 5 December 2011:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/12/05/oecd-rich-poor-gap.html

[18]            Les Whittington, “Tax policies may aggravate gap between rich and poor,” Toronto Star, 27 May 2011:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/998648–tax-policies-may-aggravate-gap-between-rich-and-poor

[19]            Tavia Grant, “Income inequality rising quickly in Canada,” The Globe and Mail, 13 September 2011:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/daily-mix/income-inequality-rising-quickly-in-canada/article2163938/

[20]            CTV News Staff, “OECD report finds income inequality rising in Canada,” CTV News:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20111205/organization-economic-cooperation-development-oecd-inequality-report-canada-111205/#ixzz1pycGLl6e

[21]            Poverty in Canada: Mean Streets, The Economist, 25 November 2010:

http://www.economist.com/node/17581844

[22]            CTV News Staff, “Canada Student Loan debt tops $13B, figures show,” CTV News, 21 January 2009:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20090121/student_loans_090121/

[23]            CTV News Staff, “Canada Student Loan debt tops $13B, figures show,” CTV News, 21 January 2009:

http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20090121/student_loans_090121/

[24]            CBC, “Student debt limits post-grad options,” CBC News, 22 September 2010:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2010/09/22/con-student-debt.html

[25]            QMI Agency, “Student debt doubled over 20 years: Study,” Toronto Sun, 22 September 2010:

http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/09/22/15435176.html

[26]            Sharon Singleton, “Action needed on student debt: CFS,” Toronto Sun, 17 October 2011:

http://www.torontosun.com/2011/10/17/action-needed-on-student-debt-cfs

[27]            Mary Teresa Bitti, Student debt bankrupting a generation, The Financial Post, 4 June 2011:

http://www.financialpost.com/news/Student+debt+bankrupting+generation/4874861/story.html

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Class War and the College Crisis: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

Class War and the College Crisis: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

The following is the first part of a series of articles, “Class War and the College Crisis.”

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Today, we are witnessing an emerging massive global revolt, led primarily be the educated and unemployed youth of the world, against the institutionalized and established powers which seek to deprive them of a future worth living. In Chile over the past year, a massive student movement and strike has become a powerful force in the country against the increasingly privatized educational system (serving as a model for the rest of the world) with the support of the vast majority of the population; in Quebec, Canada, a student strike has brought hundreds of thousands of youth into the streets to protest against the doubling of tuition fees; students and others are on strike in Spain against austerity measures; protests led by or with heavy participation of the youth in the U.K., Greece, Portugal, France, and in the United States (such as with the Occupy Movement) are developing and growing, struggling against austerity measures, overt corruption by the capitalist class, and government collusion with bankers and corporations. Students and youth led the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt last year which led to the overthrow of the dictators which had ruled those nations for decades.

All around the world, increasingly, the youth are taking to the streets, protesting, agitating, and striking against the abuses of power, the failures of government, the excesses of greed, plundering and poverty. The educated youth in particular are playing an active role, a role which will be increasing dramatically over the coming year and years. The educated youth are graduating into a jobless market with immense debt and few opportunities. Now, just as several decades ago, the youth are turning back to activism. What happened in the intervening period to derail the activism that had been so widespread in the 1960s? How did our educational system get to its present state? What do these implications have for the present and future?

The “Crisis of Democracy”

In the period between the 1950s and the 1970s, the Western world, and especially the United States, experienced a massive wave of resistance, rebellion, protest, activism and direct action by entire sectors of the general population which had for decades, if not centuries, been largely oppressed and ignored by the institutional power structure of society. The Civil Rights movement in the United States, the rise of the New Left – radical and activist – in both Europe and North America, as elsewhere, anti-war activism, largely spurred against the Vietnam War, Liberation Theology in Latin America (and the Philippines), the environmental movement, feminist movement, gay rights movements, and all sorts of other activist and mobilized movements of youth and large sectors of society were organizing and actively agitating for change, reform, or even revolution. The more power resisted their demands, the more the movements became radicalized. The slower power acted, the faster people reacted. The effect, essentially, was that these movements sought to, and in many cases did, empower vast populations who had otherwise been oppressed and ignored, and they generally awakened the mass of society to such injustices as racism, war, and repression.

For the general population, these movements were an enlightening, civilizing, and hopeful phase in our modern history. For elites, they were terrifying. Thus, in the early 1970s there was a discussion taking place among the intellectual elite, most especially in the United States, on what became known as the “Crisis of Democracy.” In 1973, the Trilateral Commission was formed by banker and global oligarch David Rockefeller, and intellectual elitist Zbigniew Brzezinski. The Trilateral Commission brings together elites from North America, Western Europe, and Japan (now including several states in East Asia), from the realms of politics, finance, economics, corporations, international organizations, NGOs, academia, military, intelligence, media, and foreign policy circles. It acts as a major international think tank, designed to coordinate and establish consensus among the dominant imperial powers of the world.

In 1975, the Trilateral Commission issued a major report entitled, “The Crisis of Democracy,” in which the authors lamented against the “democratic surge” of the 1960s and the “overload” this imposed upon the institutions of authority. Samuel Huntington, a political scientist and one of the principal authors of the report, wrote that the 1960s saw a surge in democracy in America, with an upswing in citizen participation, often “in the form of marches, demonstrations, protest movements, and ‘cause’ organizations.” Further, “the 1960s also saw a reassertion of the primacy of equality as a goal in social, economic, and political life.” Of course, for Huntington and the Trilateral Commission, which was founded by Huntington’s friend, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and banker David Rockefeller, the idea of “equality as a goal in social, economic, and political life” is a terrible and frightening prospect. Huntington analyzed how as part of this “democratic surge,” statistics showed that throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, there was a dramatic increase in the percentage of people who felt the United States was spending too much on defense (from 18% in 1960 to 52% in 1969, largely due to the Vietnam War).[1]

Huntington wrote that the “essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private,” and further: “People no longer felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents.” He explained that in the 1960s, “hierarchy, expertise, and wealth” had come “under heavy attack.” The use of language here is important, in framing power and wealth as “under attack” which implied that those who were “attacking” were the aggressors, as opposed to the fact that these populations (such as black Americans) had in fact been under attack from power and wealth for centuries, and were just then beginning to fight back. Thus, the self defense of people against power and wealth is referred to as an “attack.” Huntington stated that the three key issues which were central to the increased political participation in the 1960s were:

social issues, such as use of drugs, civil liberties, and the role of women; racial issues, involving integration, busing, government aid to minority groups, and urban riots; military issues, involving primarily, of course, the war in Vietnam but also the draft, military spending, military aid programs, and the role of the military-industrial complex more generally.[2]

Huntington presented these issues, essentially, as the “crisis of democracy,” in that they increased distrust with the government and authority, that they led to social and ideological polarization, and ultimately, to a “decline in the authority, status, influence, and effectiveness of the presidency.” Huntington concluded that many problems of governance in the United States stem from an “excess of democracy,” and that, “the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” Huntington explained that society has always had “marginal groups” which do not participate in politics, and while acknowledging that the existence of “marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic,” it has also “enabled democracy to function effectively.” Huntington identifies “the blacks” as one such group that had become politically active, posing a “danger of overloading the political system with demands.” Of course, this implies directly an elitist version of “democracy” in which the state retains the democratic aesthetic (voting, separation of powers, rule of law) but remains exclusively in the hands of the wealthy power elite. Huntington, in his conclusion, stated that the vulnerability of democracy – the ‘crisis of democracy’ – comes “from the internal dynamics of democracy itself in a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society,” and that what is needed is “a more balanced existence” in which there are “desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy.”[3] In other words, what is needed is less democracy and more authority.

The Trilateral Commission later explained its views of the “threat” to democracy and thus, the way the system ‘should’ function:

In most of the Trilateral countries [Western Europe, North America, Japan] in the past decade there has been a decline in the confidence and trust which the people have in government… Authority has been challenged not only in government, but in trade unions, business enterprises, schools and universities, professional associations, churches, and civic groups. In the past, those institutions which have played the major role in the indoctrination of the young in their rights and obligations as members of society have been the family, the church, the school, and the army. The effectiveness of all these institutions as a means of socialization has declined severely.(emphasis added)[4]

The “excess of democracy” which this entailed created a supposed “surge of demands” upon the government, just at a time when the government’s authority was being undermined. The Trilateral Commission further sent rampant shivers through the intellectual elite community by discussing the perceived threat of “value-oriented intellectuals” who dare to “assert their disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to ‘monopoly capitalism’.” For the members and constituents (elites) of the Trilateral Commission, they did not hold back on the assessment of such a threat, stating that, “this development constitutes a challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by the aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and communist parties.”[5] This is a very typical elitist use of rhetoric in which when identifying any perceived threat to elite interests, they are portrayed in near-apocalyptic terms. The implication, therefore, is that intellectuals who challenge authority are presented as much of a threat to democracy as Hitler and fascism were.

The Trilateral Commission report explained – through economic reasoning – how increased democracy is simply unsustainable. The “democratic surge” gave disadvantaged groups new rights and made them politically active (such as blacks), and this resulted in increased demands upon the very system whose legitimacy had been weakened. A terrible scenario for elites! The report explained that as voting decreased throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, active political participation on campuses increased, minority groups were demanding rights (how dare they!), and not only were they demanding basic human rights, but also “opportunities, positions, rewards, and privileges, which they had not considered themselves entitled to before.” That is, unlike the rich, who have considered themselves entitled to everything, always, and forever. Thus, government spending on social welfare and education increased, explained the report: “By the early 1970s Americans were progressively demanding and receiving more benefits from their government and yet having less confidence in their government than they had a decade before.” Most people would refer to that as the achievement of democracy, but for the Trilateral “intellectuals” it was an “excess of democracy,” and indeed, a threat.[6]

Samuel Huntington, naturally, assumed that the decline of confidence in the government was irrational, and had nothing to do with the Vietnam War, police and state repression of protest movements, the Watergate Scandal or other obvious crimes. No, for Huntington, the decline in confidence is tied magically to the “increased expectations” of the population, or, as Jay Peterzell explained in his critique of the report, “the root cause of public disillusionment is consistently traced to unrealistic expectations encouraged by government spending.” Huntington justified this absurd myth on his skewed analysis of the “defense shift” and “welfare shift.” The “defense shift,” which took place in the 1950s, described a period in which 36% of the increase in government spending went to defense (i.e., the military-industrial complex), whereas welfare declined as a proportion of the budget. Then came the “welfare shift” of the 1960s, in which between 1960 and 1971, only a paltry 15% of the increase in spending went to the military-industrial complex, while 84% of the increase went to domestic programs. Thus, for Huntington, the “welfare shift” basically destroyed America and ruined democracy.[7]

In reality, however, Jay Peterzell broke down the numbers to explain the “shifts” in a larger and more rational context. While it was true that the percentages increased and decreased as Huntington displayed them, they were, after all, a percentage of the “increase” in spending, not the overall percentage of spending itself. So, when one looks at the overall government spending in 1950, 1960, and 1972, the percentage on “defense” was 44, to 53, to 37. In those same years, spending on welfare amounted to 4%, 3% and 6%. Thus, between 1960 and 1972, the amount of spending on defense decreased from 53-37% of the total spending of government. In the same years, spending on welfare increased from 3-6% of the total government expenditure. When viewing it as a percentage of the overall, it can hardly be legitimate to claim that the meager increase to 6% of government expenditures for welfare was anywhere near as “threatening” to democracy as was the 37% spent on the military-industrial complex.[8]

So naturally, as a result of such terrifying statistics, the intellectual elite and their financial overlords had to impose more authority and less democracy. It was not simply the Trilateral Commission advocating for such “restraints” upon democracy, but this was a major discussion in elite academic circles in the 1970s. In Britain, this discussion emerged on the “governability thesis” – or the “overload” thesis – of democracy. Samuel Brittan’s “The Economic Contradictions of Democracy” in 1975, explained that, “The temptation to encourage fake expectations among the electorate becomes overwhelming to politicians. The opposition parties are bound to promise to do better and the government party must join in the auction.” Essentially, it was a repetition of the Trilateral thesis that too many promises create too many demands, which then create too much stress for the system, and it would inevitably collapse. Anthony King echoed this in his piece, “Overload: Problems of Governing in the 1970s,” and King explained that governing was becoming “harder” because “at one and the same time, the range of problems that government is expected to deal with has vastly increased and its capacity to deal with problems, even many of the ones it had before, has decreased.” The Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori asked the question, “Will Democracy Kill Democracy?”

We are pursuing targets which are out of proportion, unduly isolated and pursued blindly, and that are, therefore, in the process of creating… a wholly unmanageable and ominous overload… We are beginning to realize in the prosperous democracies that we are living above our means. But we are equally and more grievously living above and beyond our intelligence, above the understanding of what we are doing.[9]

King explained that, “Political scientists have traditionally been concerned to improve the performance of government.” An obvious mistake, concluded King, who suggested that, “Perhaps over the next few years they should be concerned more with how the number of tasks that government has come to be expected to perform can be reduced.” The “remedy” for all this “overload” of democratic societies was to, first, bring “an end to the politics of ‘promising’,” and second, “attempt to reduce the expectations of voters and consumers” on the political process.[10]

The “threat” of educated youth was especially pronounced. In 1978, the Management Development Institute (a major business school in India) released a report in which it stated:

perhaps the most pernicious trend over the next decade is the growing gap between an increasingly well educated labor force and the number of job openings which can utilize its skills and qualifications… The potential for frustration, alienation and disruption resulting from the disparity between educational attainment and the appropriate job content cannot be overemphasized.[11]

In these commentaries, we are dealing with two diametrically opposed definitions of democracy: popular and elitist. Popular democracy is government of, by, and for the people; elitist democracy is government of, by, and for the rich (but with the outward aesthetic of democracies), channeling popular participation into voting instead of decision-making or active participation. Popular democracy implies the people participating directly in the decisions and functions and maintenance of the ‘nation’ (though not necessarily the State); whereas elitist democracy implies passive participation of the population so much as to allow them to feel as if they play an important role in the direction of society, while the elites control all the important levers and institutions of power which direct and benefit from the actions of the state. These differing definitions are important because when reading reports written and issued by elite interests (such as the Trilateral Commission report), it changes the substance and meaning of the report itself. For example, take the case of Samuel Huntington lamenting at the threat posed to democracy by popular participation: from the logic of popular democracy, this is an absurd statement that doesn’t make sense; from the logic of elitist democracy, the statement is accurate and profoundly important. Elites understand this differentiation, so too must the public.

The Powell Memo: Protecting the Plutocracy

While elites were lamenting over the surge in democracy, particularly in the 1960s, they were not simply complaining about an “excess of democracy” but were actively planning on reducing it. Four years prior to the Trilateral Commission report, in 1971, the infamous and secret ‘Powell Memo’ was issued, written by a corporate lawyer and tobacco company board member, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (whom President Nixon nominated to the Supreme Court two months later), which was addressed to the Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing American business interests.

Powell stipulated that “the American economic system is under broad attack,” and that, “the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued… gaining momentum and converts.” While the ‘sources’ of the ‘attack’ were identified as broad, they included the usual crowd of critics, Communists, the New Left, and “other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic.” Adding to this was that these “extremists” were increasingly “more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history.” The real “threat,” however, was the “voices joining the chorus of criticism [which] come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.” While acknowledging that in these very sectors, those who speak out against the ‘system’ are still a minority, Powell noted, “these are often the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.”[12]

Powell discussed the “paradox” of how the business leaders appear to be participating – or simply tolerating – the attacks on the “free enterprise system,” whether by providing a voice through the media which they own, or through universities, despite the fact that “[t]he boards of trustees of our universities overwhelmingly are composed of men and women who are leaders in the system.” Powell lamented the conclusions of reports indicating that colleges were graduating students who “despise the American political and economic system,” and thus, who would be inclined to move into power and create change, or outright challenge the system head on. This marked an “intellectual warfare” being waged against the system, according to Powell, who then quoted economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago (and the ‘father’ of neoliberalism), who stated:

It [is] crystal clear that the foundations of our free society are under wide-ranging and powerful attack – not by Communists or any other conspiracy but by misguided individuals parroting one another and unwittingly serving ends they would never intentionally promote.[13]

Powell even specifically identified Ralph Nader as a “threat” to American business. Powell further deplored the changes and “attack” being made through the courts and legal system, which began targeting corporate tax breaks and loop holes, with the media supporting such initiatives since they help “the poor.” Powell of course referred to the notion of helping “the poor” at the expense of the rich, and the framing of the debate as such, as “political demagoguery or economic illiteracy,” and that the identification of class politics – the rich versus the poor – “is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.” The response from the business world to this “broad attack,” Powell sadly reported, was “appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem.” Powell did, however, explain in sympathy to the ‘ineptitude’ of the corporate and financial elites that, “it must be recognized that businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system.”[14]

While the “tradition role” of business leaders has been to make profits, “create jobs,” to “improve the standard of living,” and of course, “generally to be good citizens,” they have unfortunately shown “little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate.” Thus, stated Powell, businessmen must first “recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival – survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.” As such, “top [corporate] management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself,” instead of just focused on profits. Corporations, Powell acknowledged, were long involved in “public relations” and “governmental affairs” (read: propaganda and public policy), however, the ‘counter-attack’ must be more wide-ranging:

But independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.[15]

While the ‘assault’ against the system developed over several decades, Powell elaborated, “there is reason to believe that the campus [university/education] is the single most dynamic source,” as “social science faculties usually include members who are unsympathetic to the enterprise system.” These academics, explained Powell, “need not be in the majority,” as they “are often personally attractive and magnetic; they are stimulating teachers, and their controversy attracts student following; they are prolific writers and lecturers; they author many of the textbooks, and they exert enormous influence – far out of proportion to their numbers – on their colleagues and in the academic world.” Such a situation is, naturally, horrific and deplorable! Imagine that, having magnetic, stimulating and prolific teachers, what horror and despair for the world that would surely bring!

In purporting that political scientists, economists, sociologists and many historians “tend to be liberally oriented,” Powell suggested that “the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint,” but that the ‘balance’ does not exist, with “few [faculty] members being conservatives or [of] moderate persuasion… and being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.” Terrified of the prospects of these potentially revolutionary youths entering into positions of power, Powell stated that when they do, “for the most part they quickly discover the fallacies of what they have been taught,” which is, in other words, to say that they quickly become socialized to the structures, hierarchies and institutions of power which demand conformity and subservience to elite interests. However, there were still many who could emerge in “positions of influence where they mold public opinion and often shape governmental action.” Thus, recommended Powell, the Chamber of Commerce should make the “priority task of business” and its related organizations “to address the campus origin of this hostility.” As academic freedom was held as sacrosanct in American society, “It would be fatal to attack this as a principle,” which of course implies that it is to be attacked indirectly. Instead, it would be more effective to use the rhetoric of “academic freedom” itself against the principle of academic freedom, using terms like “openness,” “fairness,” and “balance” as points of critique which would yield “a great opportunity for constructive action.”[16]

Thus, an organization such as the Chamber of Commerce should, recommended Powell, “consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system… [including] several of national reputation whose authorship would be widely respected – even when disagreed with.” The Chamber should also create “a staff of speakers of the highest competency” which “might include the scholars,” and establish a ‘Speaker’s Bureau’ which would “include the ablest and most effective advocates form the top echelons of American business.” This staff of scholars, which Powell emphasized, should be referred to as “independent scholars,” should then engage in a continuing program of evaluating “social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology.” The objective of this would “be oriented toward restoring the balance essential to genuine academic freedom,” meaning, of course, implanting ideological indoctrination and propaganda from the business world, which Powell described as the “assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism.” Powell lamented that the “civil rights movement insist[ed] on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools,” and “labor unions likewise insist[ed] that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor.” Thus, Powell contended, in the business world attempting to re-write textbooks and education, this process “should be regarded as an aid to genuine academic freedom and not as an intrusion upon it.”[17]

Further, Powell suggested that the business community promote speakers on campuses and lecture tours “who appeared in support of the American system of government and business.” While explaining that student groups and faculty would not likely be willing to give the podium over to the Chamber of Commerce or business leaders to espouse their ideology, the Chamber must “aggressively insist” on being heard, demanding “equal time,” as this would be an effective strategy because “university administrators and the great majority of student groups and committees would not welcome being put in the position publicly of refusing a forum to diverse views.” The two main ingredients for this program, Powell explained, was first, “to have attractive, articulate and well-informed speakers,” and second, “to exert whatever degree of pressure – publicly and privately – may be necessary to assure opportunities to speak.” The objective, Powell wrote, “always must be to inform and enlighten, and not merely to propagandize.”[18]

The biggest problem on campuses, however, was the need to “balance” faculties, meaning simply that the business world must work to implant spokespeople and apologists for the economic and financial elite into the faculties. The need to “correct” this imbalance, wrote Powell, “is indeed a long-range and difficult project,” which “should be undertaken as a part of an overall program,” including the application of pressure “for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees.” Powell acknowledged that such an effort is a delicate and potentially dangerous process, requiring “careful thought,” as “improper pressure would be counterproductive.” Focusing on the rhetoric of balance, fairness, and ‘truth’ would create a method “difficult to resist, if properly presented to the board of trustees.” Of course, the whole counter-attack of the business world should not simply be addressed to university education, but, as Powell suggested, also “tailored to the high schools.”[19]

As Powell had addressed the “attack” from – and proposed the “counterattack” on – the educational system by the corporate and financial elite, he then suggested that while this was a more long-term strategy, in the short term it would be necessary to address the public in the short-term. To do so:

The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public.[20]

The means of communicating with the public include using television. Powell recommended monitoring television in the same way that they monitor textbooks, with an aim to keep the media under “constant surveillance” for criticism of the enterprise system, which, Powell assumed, was derived from one of two sources: “hostility or economic ignorance.” It is simply assumed that the critiques of business and the ‘system’ are unjustified, derived from a misplaced hatred of society or from ignorance. This point of view is consistently regurgitated throughout the entire memo. To more properly “correct” the media, Powell suggested that surveillance would then prompt complaints to both the media and the Federal Communications Commission, and just as in university speaking tours, “equal time [for business spokespeople] should be demanded,” especially on “forum-type programs” like Meet the Press or the Today Show. Of course, the radio and print press were also to be monitored and “corrected.”[21]

The “faculty of scholars” established by the Chamber of Commerce or other business groups must publish, especially scholarly articles, as such tactics have been effective in the “attack” on the enterprise system. Thus, these “independent scholars” must publish in popular magazines (such as Life, Reader’s Digest, etc.), intellectual magazines (such as the Atlantic, Harper’s, etc.) and the professional journals. Furthermore, they must publish books, paperbacks and pamphlets promoting “our side” to “educate the public.” Paid advertising must also increasingly be used to “support the system.”[22]

Powell then turned his attention to the political arena, beginning with the base assumption that the idea of big business controlling Western governments is mere “Marxist doctrine” and “leftist propaganda,” which, Powell sadly reports, “has a wide public following among Americans.” He immediately thereafter asserted that, “every business executive knows… few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation, or even the millions of corporate stockholders.” Powell amazingly claimed that in terms of government influence, the poor unfortunate American businessman and corporate executive is “the forgotten man.”[23]

Forget the poor, black, and disenfranchised segments of society; forget the disabled, the labeled, and the imprisoned; forget those on welfare, food stamps, dependent upon social services or local charity; forget the entire population of the United States, who can only incite government recognition and support after years of struggle, constant protests, police repression, assault, curtailment of basic human rights and dignity; those struggles which seek only the attainment of a genuine status of human being, to be treated equal and fair… no, forget those people! The true “forgotten” and “oppressed” are the executives at Union Carbide, Exxon, General Electric, GM, Ford, DuPont, Dow, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, and Monsanto. They, truly, are the disenfranchised… At least, according to Lewis Powell.

For Powell, education and public propaganda campaigns are necessary, but the poor disenfranchised American corporate executive must realize that “political power is necessary,” and that such power must be “used aggressively and with determination – without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.” Further, it is not merely in the legislative and executive branches of government where business leaders must seize power “aggressively,” but also in the judicial branch – the courts – which “may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.” Charging that both “liberals” and the “far left” have been “exploiters of the judicial system” – such as the American Civil Liberties Union, labor unions and civil rights organizations – business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce would need to establish “a highly competent staff of lawyers” to exploit the judiciary for their own benefit.[24] Powell went on to play a very important role in this process as he was appointed to the Supreme Court almost immediately after having authored this memo, where he made many important decisions regarding “corporate rights.”

In advocating aggression in pushing their own interests, Powell encouraged the business community “to attack the [Ralph] Naders, the [Herbert] Marcuses and other who openly seek destruction of the system,” as well as “to penalize politically those who oppose it.” The “threat to the enterprise system” must not be merely presented as an economic issue, but should be portrayed as “a threat to individual freedom,” which Powell described as a “great truth” which “must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful.” Thus, the “only alternatives to free enterprise” are to be presented as “varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom – ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.” The aim was to tie the average American’s own individual conception of their personal freedom and rights to that of corporations and business leaders. Thus, contended Powell, “the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights.” This is the precise message, Powell explained, “above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.”[25] So, by this logic, if today Monsanto and Dow are regulated, tomorrow, your Mom and Dad will be in a dictatorship.

The New Right: Neoliberalism and Education

The Powell Memo is largely credited with being a type of ‘Constitution’ or ‘founding document’ for the emergence of the right-wing think tanks in the 1970s and 1980s, as per its recommendations for establishing “a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system.” In 1973, a mere two years after the memo was written, the Heritage Foundation was founded as an “aggressive and openly ideological expert organization,” which became highly influential in the Reagan administration.[26]

The Heritage Foundation’s website explains that the think tank’s mission “is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” Upon its founding in 1973, the Heritage Foundation began to “deliver compelling and persuasive research to Congress providing facts, data, and sound arguments on behalf of conservative principles.” In 1977, Ed Feulner became President of the foundation and established “a new senior management staff” and a ‘resource bank’ in order “to take on the liberal establishment and forge a national network of conservative policy groups and experts,” ultimately totaling more than 2,200 “policy experts” and 475 “policy groups” in the U.S. and elsewhere. In 1980, Heritage published a “public policy blueprint” entitled, “Mandate for Leadership,” which became “the policy bible of the newly elected Reagan administration on everything from taxes and regulation to crime and national defense.” In 1987, Heritage published another policy plan, “Out of the Poverty Trap: A Conservative Strategy for Welfare Reform,” which, as their website boastfully claimed, “changed the entitlement mentality in America, moving thousands off the dole [welfare] and toward personal responsibility,” or, in other words, deeper poverty.[27]

The model of the Heritage Foundation led to the rapid proliferation of conservative think tanks, from 70 to over 300 in over 30 years, which “often work together to create multi-issue networks on the local, state, and federal level and use mainstream and alternative media to promote conservative agendas.” The ultimate objective, like with all think tanks and foundations, is “spreading ideology.”[28]

The Cato Institute is another conservative – or “libertarian” – think tank, as it describes itself. Founded in 1974 as the Charles Koch Foundation by Charles Koch (one of America’s richest billionaires and major financier of the Tea Party movement), as well as Ed Crane and Murray Rothbard. By 1977, it had changed its name to the Cato Institute, after “Cato’s Letters,” a series of essays by two British writers in the 18th century under the pseudonym of Cato, who was a Roman Senator strongly opposed to democracy, and had fought against the slave uprising led by Spartacus. He was idolized in the Enlightenment period as a progenitor and protector of liberty (for the few), which was reflected in the ideology of the Founding Fathers of the United States, particularly Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, for which the Cato Institute credits as the reasoning for the re-naming. While Enlightenment thought and thinkers are idolized – most especially in the formation of the U.S. Constitution – as advocates of liberty, freedom and individual rights, it was the ‘right’ of ‘private property’ and those who owned property (which, at the time, included slave owners) as the ultimate sacrosanct form of “liberty.” Again, a distinctly elitist conception of democracy referred to as ‘Republicanism.’

These right-wing think tanks helped bring in the era of neo-liberalism, bringing together “scholars” who support the so-called “free market” system (itself, a mythical fallacy), and who deride and oppose all forms of social welfare and social support. The think tanks produced the research and work which supported the dominance of the banks and corporations over society, and the members of the think tanks had their voices heard through the media, in government, and in the universities. They facilitated the ideological shift in power and policy circles toward neoliberalism.

The Powell Memo and the general “crisis of democracy” set out a political, social, and economic circumstance in which neoliberalism emerged to manage the “excess of democracy.” Instead of a broader focus on neoliberalism and globalization in general, I will focus on their influences upon education in particular. The era of neoliberal globalization marked a rapid decline of the liberal welfare states that had emerged in the previous several decades, and as such, directly affected education.

As part of this process, knowledge was transformed into ‘capital’ – into ‘knowledge capitalism’ or a ‘knowledge economy.’ Reports from the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the 1990s transformed these ideas into a “policy template.” This was to establish “a new coalition between education and industry,” in which “education if reconfigured as a massively undervalued form of knowledge capital that will determine the future of work, the organization of knowledge institutions and the shape of society in the years to come.”[29]

Knowledge was thus defined as an “economic resource” which would give growth to the economy. As such, in the neoliberal era, where all aspects of economic productivity and growth are privatized (purportedly to increase their efficiency and productive capacity as only the “free market” can do), education – or the “knowledge economy” – itself, was destined to be privatized.[30]

In the revised neoliberal model of education, “economic productivity was seen to come not from government investment in education, but from transforming education into a product that could be bought and sold like anything else – and in a globalised market, Western education can be sold as a valuable commodity in developing countries.” Thus, within the university itself, “the meaning of ‘productivity’ was shifted away from a generalized social and economic good towards a notional dollar value for particular government-designated products and practices.” Davies et. al. elaborated:

Where these products are graduating students, or research published, government could be construed as funding academic work as usual. When the ‘products’ to be funded are research grant dollars, with mechanisms in place to encourage collaboration with industry, this can be seen as straightforward manipulation of academics to become self-funding and to service the interests of business and industry.[31]

The new ‘management’ of universities entailed decreased state funding while simultaneously increasing “heavy (and costly) demands on accounting for how that funding was used,” and thus, “trust in professional values and practices was no longer the basis of the relationship” between universities and government. It was argued that governments were no longer able to afford the costs of university education, and that the “efficiency” of the university system – defined as “doing more with less” – was to require a change in the leadership and management system internal to the university structure to “a form of managerialism modeled on that of the private sector.” The “primary aim” of this neoliberal program, suggests Davies:

was not simply to do more with less, since the surveillance and auditing systems are extraordinarily costly and ineffective, but to make universities more governable and to harness their energies in support of programmatic ambitions of neo-liberal government and big business. A shift towards economics as the sole measure of value served to erode the status and work of those academics who located value in social and moral domains. Conversely, the technocratic policy-oriented academics, who would serve the ends of global corporate capital, were encouraged and rewarded.[32]

As the 1960s saw a surge in democracy and popular participation, to a significant degree emanating from the universities, dissident intellectuals and students, the 1970s saw the articulation and actualization of the elite attack upon popular democracy and the educational system itself. From the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Trilateral Commission, both of which represent elite financial and corporate interests, the key problem was identified as active and popular participation of the public in the direction of society. This was the “crisis of democracy.” The solution for elites was simple: less democracy, more authority. In the educational realm, this meant more elite control over universities, less freedom and activism for intellectuals and students. Universities and the educational system more broadly was to become increasingly privatized, corporatized, and globalized. The age of activism was at an end, and universities were to be mere assembly plants for economically productive units which support the system, not challenge it. One of the key methods for ensuring this took place was through debt, which acts as a disciplinary mechanism in which students are shackled with the burden of debt bondage, and thus, their education itself must be geared toward a specific career and income expectation. Knowledge is sought for personal and economic benefit more than for the sake of knowledge itself. Graduating with extensive debt then implies a need to immediately enter the job market, if not already having entered the job market part time while studying. Debt thus disciplines the student toward a different purpose in their education: toward a job and financial benefits rather than toward knowledge and understanding. Activism then, is more of an impediment to, rather than a supporter of knowledge and education.

In the next part of this series, I will analyze the purpose and role of education and intellectuals in a historical context, differentiating between the ‘social good’ and ‘social control’ purposes of education, as well as between the policy-oriented (elite) and value-oriented (dissident) intellectuals. Through a critical look at the purpose of education and intellectuals, we can understand the present crisis in education and intellectual dissent, and thus, understand positive methods and directions for change.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            Michel J. Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy, (Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, New York University Press, 1975), pages 61-62, 71.

[2]            Ibid, pages 74-77.

[3]            Ibid, pages 93, 113-115.

[4]            Ibid, page 162.

[5]            Jay Peterzell, “The Trilateral Commission and the Carter Administration,” Economic and Political Weekly (Vol. 12, No. 51, 17 December 1977), page 2102.

[6]            Ibid.

[7]            Ibid.

[8]            Ibid.

[9]            Wayne Parsons, “Politics Without Promises: The Crisis of ‘Overload’ and Governability,” Parliamentary Affairs (Vol. 35, No. 4, 1982), pages 421-422.

[10]            Ibid.

[11]            Val Burris, “The Social and Political Consequences of Overeducation,” American Sociological Review (Vol. 48, No. 4, August 1983), pages 455-456.

[12]            Lewis F. Powell, Jr., “Confidential Memorandum: Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” Addressed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 23 August 1971:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/personality/sources_document13.html

[13-25]                        Ibid.

[26]            Julie E. Miller-Cribbs, et. al., “Thinking About Think Tanks: Strategies for Progressive Social Work,” Journal of Policy Practice (Vol. 9, No. 3-4, 2010), page 293.

[27]            The Heritage Foundation, “The Heritage Foundation’s 35th Anniversary: A History of Achievements,” About: http://www.heritage.org/about/our-history/35th-anniversary

[28]            Julie E. Miller-Cribbs, et. al., “Thinking About Think Tanks: Strategies for Progressive Social Work,” Journal of Policy Practice (Vol. 9, No. 3-4, 2010), pages 293-294.

[29]            Mark Olssen and Michael A. Peters, “Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Knowledge Economy: From the Free Market to Knowledge Capitalism,” Journal of Education Policy (Vol. 20, No. 3, May 2005), page 331.

[30]            Ibid, pages 338-339.

[31]            Bronwyn Davies, et. al., “The Rise and Fall of the Neo-liberal University,” European Journal of Education (Vol. 41, No. 2, 2006), pages 311-312.

[32]            Ibid, page 312.