Sunday, May 24, 2015

Free College

It's not "free", it would degrade to something less than "college", and the idea demonstrates the very antithesis of economics:
The WaPo’s Charles Lane looks at the economics of Bernie Sanders’s “free” college plan...

Lane goes on to examine how “free” college is working in Germany...

But these “free” college plans aren’t really about economics. They’re about anti-economics, the belief that incentives don’t matter, that somehow simply putting more money into higher education without any reform will somehow result in a better system. “Scarcity?” “Prices?” Feh. Just cut a check. How should education best deliver knowledge and credentials in the 21st century? “Free” college provides no answers. Makes for a catchy campaign idea, I guess.


maxutils said...

Thank you for posting this. I've been having this same argument with a very liberal friend of ours, because I was inclined to vote for Bernie (because he struck me as honest -- and the Republicans are imploding) but I told him this was a deal breaker. Because now, I know he's a liar.

My friend's argument: Everyone knows that free education isn't really 'free.'

My counter: Then, why would you try to say it was? Why not just come out and say, I want to spend 'x' amount of taxpayer dollars, funded by 'y' in order to subsidize xollege tuition.

But, and I put you in this same category, Darren, albeit on fewer issues, you can't argue economics with someone who doesn't understand them. I mean, I try -- but it's a constant source of frustration. The word 'free' in economics has a very specific meaning: zero opportunity cost -- meaning that absolutely no thought, time, effort, or money is used to obtain the good. Which means there is nothing free, not even air, since we pay to keep it clean enough to breathe. It's the fundamental building block of all of economic theory.

So I am infuriated when people toss it around willy-nilly, and people justify it by saying, "Well, everyone knows it isn't really free." Um, no, a lot of them don't. And theones who do are more inclined to vote for the free stuff (I mean seriously … what 18-22 yearold would not vote for this) because they consider that if it's free, at worst, someone else would be paying.

It's ridiculous.

maxutils said...

Additionally … the aforementioned cplleague wanted to do a poll of his classes (high school age, later years) to see if they would be fooled by it. Having taught economics to this same group of people, I knew I would be proved right, so I agreed. But we couldn't agree on a neutral question. Mine was "Bernie Sanders has proposed free college tuition for all incoming students. Good idea or bad idea, and why?" -- and anyone who said it's a good idea, and cited an incorrect reason, like, becdause it's free, or because free education is good … was an answer in my column. My question was completely neutral. He, on the other hand, wanted to ask, "If Bernie Sanders proposes free college tuition, is it really free?" It bothers me how biased that question -- it focuses on the word free, and implies tat it might be incorrectly used.

I don't think the poll was given.

momof4 said...

We already have far too many unprepared and/or unmotivated kids in college, thanks to government interference in the college-loan market (why did anyone think that government would be better at college loans than mortgages?).

"Free" college is not working all that well in Germany, even though most kids are tracked away from college before/at the HS level. There,only the best-prepared get into college, due to space constraints and the lack of US-style diversity quotas (why are preferences for offspring of rich doctors, lawyers and business people a necessary good,as opposed to non-diverse poor whites and Asians with better academic records?). Here, "free" college would only increase the flood, and the percentage of diverse-but-not-prepared/motivated; thereby devaluing a college degree even more than it has already been devalued (just like a HS diploma has been). Do we really need more baristas and bartenders with college degrees? What could go wrong?

Ellen K said...

If you want to see anything devalued, simply make it free. If my students have to buy their own supplies, they keep track of them. If I simply provide them with supplies they more often than not waste them. Any teacher will tell you that's a reality.

A "free" education is not free unless the provider is not getting any sort of compensation. That compensation will govern the quality and quantity of instruction provided. Incidentally this has been my hit against diploma mills which give out master's degrees for minimal work.

BTW, how is that "free" medical care working out for everyone? Be wary of the politician offering you something for free unless you have him or her by the throat.