t byfield on Wed, 23 Nov 2011 20:57:23 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Debt Campaign Launch

Unless I missed it, no one in this thread seems to have noted what might 
be the most significant factor in this ~debate -- that edudebt used to be 
dischargeable in the US. This was a bete noire of the financial industry,
which since the late '70s has pushed to make it inescapable. I remember 
suspiciously coordinated whingeing about how an entire generation blew 
off their edudebt, which of course was false; I saw some actual numbers a 
while back, but honestly I can't be bothered to track them down. It seems 
like the burden of doing so should fall on the shoulders of those who want 
to throw -- to put it politely -- 'ahistorical' tantrums about KIDS TODAY!
But some of you may remember the Bankruptcy Reform Bill of 2005, maybe?
Fewer of you will remember (I admit I googled around a bit) 1978 or 1982.

The secular trend is simple enough: with each new decade, edudebt has 
become increasingly oppressive, to the point where it's now a modern form 
of indenture plain and simple. And lo and behold, as the risks to edudebt 
lenders have fallen, the volume of easy credit has risen. The lending 
industry dug its own grave, and now, as they say, they'll pay. Of course, 
we'll all pay with them -- because modern academia has been hopelessly 
distorted by this ever-increasing velocity in revenues and expenditures. 

(Note well, this reinstitution of modern indenture isn't just a 'policy'
shift -- it's a profound juridical restructuring on a scale, in the US,
of almost 250 years if you're white, or 150 if you're not. And it's very
much of a piece with what polisci peeps call the 'imperial presidency'
or 'unitary executive' but anyone less disciplined would recognize for
what it is: monarchism.)

You could argue that what I've laid out is merely national policy and 
therefore can't account for international trends, which is true to a 
very limited extent. But that argument fails -- miserably -- to capture 
some dynamics that are peculiar to this racket, viz.:

     (1) the prestige of American academia has lured growing 
         numbers of international students, who typically pay
         full tuition; 

     (2) the growing wealth in developing countries has swelled 
         the numbers of international students who are financially
         able to study in American universities; 

     (3) the swelling numbers of candidates has driven competition
         throughout academia: for admissions, in internal budgetary
         matters, for 'superstar' profs, for the lifestylification
         of 'student life,' etc, etc.;

     (4) American universities have grown more dependent on these 
         foreign revenue streams and accelerating velocity in 

     (5) the ever-escalating production of 'academically qualified' 
         graduates has turned them into an export commodity; 

     (6) this is leading to rapid capacity-building in countries that 
         have been feeding American academia; and

     (7) that these latter factors, combined with the diminishing 
         status of the US...

Well, you can see where this is going. I do wonder how we got by for all
those years without that phrase 'a perfect storm.'

A fairly simple tweak that would go a *long* way toward reversing 
this vicious circle is to reintroduce risk -- by making student loans 
dischargeable, just as they were not so very long ago. Of course, the 
first impact would be to deny genuinely needy American students -- i.e., 
most of them -- any possibility of 'accessing' higher ed. And, again
of course, the rapidly precaritized faculty class would go batshit.
but no worries, fellow academics -- that'll never happen. Like health 
care, affordable housing, social saftey netws, pensions, and other 
triviata, educational costs are just one front in a larger field of 
the intergenerational class warfare waged against the young.

One 'datapoint' in this regard that I found quite telling. As Nathan
Brown's "Five Theses on Privatization and the UC Struggle" and letter
demanding the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Katehi went viral
over the last several days, there was quite a lot of _emphasis_ placed 
on the fact that he's _untenured_. The intent was to note how brave
he was, saying things that might affect his job security. I took it,
instead, as a sign of how cowardly many academics and their sympathizers
are. It wouldn't do to bite the hand that feeds us, now, would it?

But, then, my precarity is sufficient that I can afford to say so. :)


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