Many politicians view the world through a “normative” lens. Normative statements often include the words “ought” or “should.” This is in contrast to viewing the world through a “descriptive” lens, which explains how things actually are. Case in point is higher education. Several candidates are hitting the campaign trail stumping for “free” college education. While it would be nice to offer “free” college, the reality is there are no free educations in the natural world. Someone must pay, and the challenge is determining who will ultimately be handed the bill.
History has demonstrated that whenever the federal government provides citizens something for “free,” the actual cost of that good or service rises faster than the rate of inflation. Additionally, the quality of that good or service tends to go down commensurate with the level of government subsidy received. Public education, health care, and even the food we buy at the grocery store are all heavily subsidized, and their costs have risen much faster than the rate of overall inflation.
Young people who support the idea of universal college should also ask themselves whom should be saddled with the responsibility to pay for it. Historically, the most productive people have been those between the ages of 25 and 55, so it isn’t a stretch to assume they are the ones who will be saddled with tax burdens to pay for other people’s “free” educations.
It doesn’t make sense to support programs that unnecessarily raise the cost of education, which must then be paid primarily by 25-55 year olds. It stands to reason that when governments offer 18-22 year olds “free” college, they will eventually pay for their artificially raised tuition via a lifetime of increased taxes. It is economically wiser for young people to support policies that will keep their current college expenses AND future taxes lower, as they will eventually leave the ranks of the subsidized and enter the ranks of tax payer.