Philip Copeman

Author and Activist

Students are clambering towards the same trough

In the olden days it was known that if the Jakaranda blossoms were blooming in Pretoria and you hadn't started swatting, you were going to fail. Those destined for failure, 1 in 2 students, would descend into a morass of drunkenness and debauchery, to lap up the last days of freedom, before sobering up and getting a lowly paid wage at a local employer and living out the rest of her days in capitalist slavery.

Nowdays, Spring is the time to go out and protest, a time for mass action, to remonstrate about #feesmustfall. A time to demand that free education is made available to all. There are always volunteers, 50% of the students at least, who now face a far darker future. 50% youth unemployment, is the fate of the non achievers. Every student is scrambling to stay inside and expand the system that feeds him.

The rest of us, through acts of unspeakable resentment, deny the students their “consitutional right” to free education. The debate quickly descends into a stalemate, for no one will understand a logical argument when their wages depend on not understanding it.

Why do we as African socialists, not provide free education to anyone for as long as they choose to take it? Its all in economics101 - unlimited wants and limited resources.

What is more important? That we feed a 6 year old orphan or we fund a sociology student? The sociology student costs us 10 times the cost of feeding the orphan, so how many kids should we choose to go hungry for each student?

Right now in South Africa we do choose, we choose to make 5 Million hungry kids and give the money to 500 000 students. We fiscally spend on students about R40Bn per year, at the cost of around R80,000 per per student per year. We spend fiscally on hungry children less than 10% of that per child. This is the decision that the ANC led treasury, backed by the DA shadow Ministry, backed by 90% of South African voters takes, and by their action it is the decision that the students themselves make. The students are not grateful for this, they are in fact not neutral at all. They are calling for even more resources for them and less for the rest.

The Treasury is faced not only by students and hungry children, it has an army of government workers and party officials to pay. Faced with competing requests for fiscal spend, they take the simple route - pay themselves first. The President and his family spend more on themselves that any other family in South Africa. The rest of the party supporters get paid next. They never quite manage to pay themselves enough, because barely have they got to end of the list when outstretched hands of friends and family are clambering over others in the shoving towards the trough. Such is the pressure on taxation versus revenue, that our Government over spends by around 4% of GDP and pays about 15% of our tax collection on service debt for past overspends.

Our tax is collected primarily from 10% of our population – 60% and from 1% of our population – 30%. So the very rich pay around 5 times more than the rich, depending on how you define the end of poverty line.

Every Government will keep trying to maximize their tax collections. This is done under the very human belief that Government's themselves believe they are the best judges on how to use resources. The Government daily considers increasing taxation but soon calculates that they are on maximum tax already. Maximum tax is the hard line, dictatorship version of full tax. We are already committing the country to deficit financing, which means that our future capital base must ultimately deal with the debt we now create. Citizens of the 1% have the highest emigration rates and the 10% have the highest immigration rates. This means that increased taxation works better at the 10% than at the 1% who simply use corporate structure, tax advice, deferred tax instruments and global elasticity to avoid any targeted legislation. Then if all else fails they simply move their Capital elsewhere. Attempts to squeeze further tax from the 1% has a sclerotic effect on profits and future tax revenues. It is usually at the 10% that the Government directs its taxation efforts.

Now here's the rub. The 10% make up about 25% of the voters. Any attempt to tax them leads to squeaking about bus fair and school fees. In these tax payers, the milk of human kindness is hard to come by and under democracy the vote with their wallets. Governments are unable to ignore the haves, who are the majority of the voters.

By now most people who have understood the economic arguments against free education have faced down Denial, Anger, Bargaining. The next stages are Depression and Acceptance. The argument moves to - if capitalism cannot provide free education – let us replace democracy and capitalism with a system that does provide free education.

Of course capitalism is dysfunctional, but it is still more functional than the rest. Under a mixed market that strives to free its entrepreneurs, highest levels of economic growth are achieved. In fact what we see in South Africa is the results of one of those options. I don't agree with you that South Africa is Capitalist. What we live in is closer to a socialist dictatorship. The Communist Party is in power over Education. The Communist Party is intimately involved with the choices of distribution made by the Executive. Out of all related parties, it is only students that think that hungry kids are not as important as students.

I was a student myself, one who had to work in part time employment to subsidize my fees, so I empathize with students. Never describe a problem without suggesting a solution:

We should accept that even to leave fees as they are, while under a regime of deficit financing, is simply to kick the can and the bill further down the road.

There is a way, a Capitalist way, that ensures that everyone gets the optimal solution. This even applies to those that are going to fail. For you the slap coming from the market is already being wound up in her back swing. Once you fall from the protection of your subsidized University living, you are going to find a cold world waiting. You will soon be begging for a system that offers you the best future in the non graduate world. That system is the one that approximates the one with the fastest rate of growth of GDP. You will be pleased then that we did not sacrifice your future for #feesmustfall.

We MUST have free education, but only to the best students. The rest should pay a market related price and should not ask anyone to subsidize their future. The exact ratios of the free bursars to the free market paid students has to be calculated in a sustainable financial model. As a Nation we can only ask this of the students if we ourselves refrain from deficit financing.

As this capitalist dystopia is more likely to unfold that the utopian #feemustfall what is the optimum set of protest actions for a student?

One can understand the camaraderie in the cauldron of tertiary education and the high sense of one's own destiny, even if it is stoked by the fires of self interest. However the sooner a student learns that tertiary education is temporary and narrows rapidly to the domain of a few academics, the sooner you are ready for the storm the world of capitalism will unleash on you.

It is tempting to dally with the illusion that you can attack capitalism by attacking the personifications of its exponents or its algorithms. It is truer that capitalism has no human form and is ruthless and utterly blind to mercy. You should avoid the mass action and head for the books. Capitalism does not serve you, you serve it, either as its master or as its bitch. The choice is yours to make.

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