Tax v. Service, 2008

Tax v. Service is the eternal debate, and rightly so: no one likes to be taxed, and no one likes to live in a banana republic. In a living system, "balance" is either a myth or a pollyanna way of looking at gridlock-like competition, which is what we have in the world of what to tax and what to buy. So there can be no "balance," not really. Forever shall the battle rage.

I'm proud, in a way, of the FAU students who held a mild protest on campus yesterday -- such events are so rare that even a sedate event, sanctioned by the U, done as a "project" for a class (its attendees sitting in arranged folding chairs, even), is a big enough deal to be reported on the local radio and local papers. But our students aren't accustomed to thinking of themselves as citizens; they are accustomed to thinking of themselves as consumers, and to their minds, that's where their power originates. Conversations with our students and snippets from the protest have been very self-interested: "we need our summer classes to graduate!"; "we're tired of having our tuition raised!"

I want to speak to your manager!

It's clear that complaining to the management and the "always rightness" of the customer is the conceptual limit for most of them. And if the University administration has anything to do with it, that will stay the limit for them; the administration would much prefer the students think of themselves as customers of the U than what they really are: its owners. Very few of the students seem to realize that as citizens in a democracy they are (if we must use marketplace metaphors) much more like stockholders than customers. (For what is a democracy if not a corporation that you "buy in" to by virtue of birth or citizenship?) As citizens of the state of Florida, they have say in what the state of Florida does with the citizens' tax money, and their schools.

And it's clear what the students want: they want to keep their Bright Futures (the free-ride scholarship program that almost everyone in Florida qualifies for), have very low tuition and fees otherwise, and still have access to a large, well-staffed University that offers them quality instruction, lots of options and activities, and -- through its reputation -- respect for the degree they hold when they ultimately graduate.

These are interests they share with the administrators and employees of the universities and with the politicians and bureaucrats of the state, obviously.

Yet the fact that the state has been paying for so many students' tuition means that the state has an even more solid budgetary reason not to raise tuition: a rate hike may cost an individual student $100, but it costs the state (through Bright Futures) millions.

So before the students complain, they should ask, why is this happening?

Time to start thinking like a citizen:

Answer #1: Because tuition doesn't cover the costs. Most students do not realize that even beyond Bright Futures, the state is subsidizing the cost of their education (Bright Futures just means the state is subsidizing it more). It costs far more, per student, to run a university, than the students actually get charged. Yes, Virginia, your university is an example of a socialized tax-funded government-run service. That means if there's a tax cut, you, the student, are going to pay for it (see #2).

Answer #2: Perhaps you, perhaps your parents, perhaps people you know, voted, in the last election, for an amendment that might save homeowners a few bucks a year in taxes. Understand the miracle of taxes: if 300 million people all have 1 dollar, they can't do shit with it; but if they each give up that dollar to taxes, there is now a single bank account with $300 million in it: power. If it's a democracy, they vote for the people who decide how to spend it, and if they're smart citizens, they harass their representatives until they get what's important to them.
However, if they harass their representatives "to get their money back" -- which is what the anti-tax movement does -- they literally destroy the country: turn it into a banana republic, a place with no schools or roads or bridges or citizen police (but certainly private or corporate militias) or citizen fire department or public universities. There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free starvation.

Answer #3: The plan for the last decade has been to squeeze the money out of the faculty. Florida faculty are the ones really caught in the middle, here: compared even to U faculty in inexpensive parts of the country, Florida U faculty are underpaid. Your high school teachers were very likely earning more than your current U professors. And your high school teachers are so underpaid, the state has experimented with subsidized housing for teachers only! In other words, the majority of the U budget is salaries, and the salaries are already absurdly low: so low the U is having trouble holding on to good people. But up to now, this has more or less sheltered the students from the real costs: students don't have to pay for faculty to have a decent standard of living -- the faculty have to just deal with being screwed. (Which is why the faculty tends to look at the newly-enraged students with a kind of bemusement -- a "well, yes, we are all getting screwed here! Hey, welcome to my world!")

So what's the answer to all this? Raise taxes, especially on the rich. Yes, that sounds a little socialist -- but the first thing you need to do is acknowledge that you are not only part of a socialist system, your state U system, but that you actively support its most socialist features: the low cost, the Bright Futures! Look in the mirror, you commie. Come to grips with who you are. Good! Now, fight for your commie rights! Rich people have had their taxes lowered so much lately, that, while the rest of the country is dressing at Wal-Mart, sales of yachts are booming. I think they can take the hit. If you're still not sure, consider this: the United States of America is the wealthiest country on the planet Earth. What, really, should we not be able to afford? It's like your dad is Bill Gates and he tells you you can't have a car because he can't afford it. Yeah, someone somewhere has a dad that can't afford a car, but not yours. You'd see right through that shit! So now it's your turn to call bullshit for real. We have a very wealthy country, here. A state full of millionaires and billionaires. We have a state full of homeowners who can give back that C-note they voted for themselves, since it's not really going to help them anyway. We have a state full of millions of average people who could all chip in an extra penny on their sales tax or even (gasp!) pay a state income tax, like most of the rest of the country does. But all that is chicken feed: most importantly, let's take a chunk out of rich people's asses -- instead of poor college students' asses -- perhaps raise the docking fees on those yachts?

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