This past Friday, as protesters began to gather in the streets of Toronto, Anthony DiMaggio's op ed, "Gutting Public Education: Neoliberalism and the Politics of Opportunism," appeared at truthout.org. "America's political and economic elites," DiMaggio wrote, "have declared war on working, middle class and poor Americans.
Progressive critics of Republicans and Democrats have attacked the return of 'Hooverian economics' in recent years -- understood as the do nothing approach to dealing with the economic crisis and declining state budgets.
One of the most egregious examples of Hooverian economics has been the gutting of state education budgets. The problem at the state level is undoing the good accomplished by the federal stimulus package: "The American Association of School Administrators estimates that the number of jobs lost in the next school year from budget cuts (275,000) will roughly equal those originally preserved by the stimulus (300,000)." And, on Thursday, the U.S. Senate refused to extend unemployment benefits, which would create an estimated 200,000 jobs. Many who voted against the package objected to the section of the bill which offered aid to struggling state governments. The bill failed, even though it garnered the votes of 57 of the 100 senators.
But the crisis in the funding of public education goes back much further than today -- and it goes beyond K-12 schools. Public universities have been under the gun for a long time. DiMaggio offers a particularly dismal picture of employment possibilities at American universities:
For those who may reject this picture of higher ed as melodramatic or conspiratorial, one need look no further than the deteriorating state of academia today. Thirty years ago, non tenured professors accounted for 43 percent of all teachers in higher ed; that number had increased to a startling 70 percent by 2007. Most nontenured professors I've spoken to are forced to scrounge in search of course offerings at multiple institutions. When they manage to find work, they typically are paid within the range of $15,000 to $30,000 a year, despite possessing a master's degree or a PhD.
When placed beside the salaries and bonuses of the Wall Street firms which were kept afloat with taxpayer dollars, it's clear that the times -- and the system -- are out of joint. Not only are students being short changed by teacher layoffs, young teachers -- if they find work at all -- face the future as itinerant scholars.
As world leaders gather in Toronto this weekend, they will face the problem of how and when to reduce deficits. It's a problem which will not go away. But, as Paul Krugman has argued, now is not the time to end government stimulus programs: "Penny pinching at a time like this isn't just cruel; it endangers the nation's future. And it doesn't even do much to reduce our future debt burden, because stinting on spending now threatens the economic recovery, and with it the hope of rising revenues."
The protesters on the streets of Toronto are overwhelmingly young. For them, the emerging economic order is beginning to look and smell like week old fish. It's not hard to understand why they have taken to the streets. They are learning to live in poverty, while others continue to live well beyond their means.
This blog entry has been cross posted at The Moderate Voice.