“Free” Community College?

A Marxist/Nietzschean Critique of “Middle Class Economics”

President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address a plan to make community college “free and universal” for students. Many have praised Obama for this motion, as well as for his “middle-class economics” philosophy. While this might appear to be a step in the right direction, I suspect it’s not as great as it’s cracked up to be.

In his address, Obama said, “I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.” But even high schools today are still segregated via property taxes. Will the poor receive more underfunded programs when they go to college? Moreover, I find it hard to believe that any capitalist would do anything for free and universally. There is always a catch.

Indeed Obama qualified his statement, “Understand, you’ve got to earn it—you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time.” This remark says to me that your grades and ability to not graduate “tardy” determine whether or not you deserve to have less debt. Are we only worth what we produce? Indeed, it seems with the state of minimum wage that we are not even worth that. This seems to be a way of affirming capitalism, which pushes minorities into poverty and then profits from their poverty–all while giving a happy “look how egalitarian we are” face. In this statement, Obama embodies the difference between liberal and conservative politics—none other than a smile. We should not expect this in mind, reformism is not going to get us where we need to be—stateless socialism.

There is also the puerile belief that student debt is the only thing deterring people’s dreams. But some of us, upon graduating college, will still have trouble finding work. And this is not to forget that the only way for corporate profit to be produced is for workers to be valued less than the products/services they produce. Despite laws forbidding this treatment, disabled people, people of color, and LGBTQ people, for instance, will experience discrimination in employment—whether that be by not getting a job one is qualified for or experiencing discrimination in the workplace even after getting hired.

Additionally, student debt is not the only thing that scares people from getting a formal education. For instance, LGBTQ people experience discrimination, threats, and harassment from kindergarten to graduate school, thus making it harder to finish school—especially “on time.” Moreover, taking a semester or a year off is not at all uncommon among contemporary college students. The point I am making here is that student debt is part of a larger matrix of issues, which are ignored and even invalidated by the academic and temporal requirements Obama mentions.

Capitalism, even under the guise of “middle-class economics,” does not work. That is to say that socioeconomic structures do not actively “do” anything; people do things. Such as structuring a society around the accumulation of capital, marginalization of minorities and reification of the cisheteronormative family structure. We need a new way of doing things—not another banal form of capitalism. I wonder what our education system will look like when we prioritize the poor so that they aren’t poor anymore, the oppressed so they are no longer oppressed.

But this cannot be achieved under capitalism, for “there is no ethical consumption under late capitalism.” We need a socioeconomic approach–a way of life–that is explicitly anti-capitalist. Only then will we be able to value education right and not have to worry ourselves to death over impending debt. Maybe then “on time” will be irrelevant; maybe then we will not require production in order to live. Only together–in stateless socialism–can we truly be life-affirming.

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