"Education a way to talk about class and labor"
by Malcom Harris

"At the core of contemporary liberal ideology is the idea that education, done right, could solve all the nation’s major economic problems. Education is supposed to remedy the nation’s sundry inequalities and prepare a generation to become involved citizens. This is one of the few areas where the center-left has won over the wider public. "

"But if education really were the silver bullet, we would have hit something by now. Instead, as Penn State professor John Marsh argues in his forthcoming book Class Dismissed, we have an increasingly unequal country hiding behind the flimsy twin excuses of equal opportunity and personal responsibility. Marsh makes a convincing case that no amount of reformist tinkering can make higher education an engine of egalitarianism, because schools were never meant to reduce inequality in the first place. As long as we credit the education system with the ability to fix labor problems, Marsh argues, it is doomed to failure."

"Marsh, who comes from a union household, sees the decline of labor organizing as the central source of high and rising inequality. As workers have lost bargaining power, he insists, the gap between classes has increased. Through a series of statistical correlations, he traces the “great divergence” between rich and poor incomes to the early ’80s and President Reagan’s union busting and supply-side tax cuts, and uses data from economist Emmanuel Saez, to show how the U.S. has become less and less equal ever since."

"Unlike union organizing, which by its nature distributes benefits, the education cure functions through exclusivity. A diploma may offer a better place in line, but it doesn’t guarantee anyone a job commensurate with their skills."

"Education has become the way to talk about class and labor in an American political system that is profoundly uncomfortable with both. In the hands of reformist technocrats, inequality is a matter of nuanced social engineering rather than a conflict between two unequal and opposed sides – those who profit and those who only work.

"If society wanted to reduce the growing discrepancy between rich and poor, we would worry less about tweaking the educational system and simply pay or give the poor more money. Marsh writes, “Given the political will, whether through redistributive tax rates, massive public works projects, a living wage law, or a renaissance of labor unions, we could decrease poverty and inequality tomorrow regardless of the market or the number of educated and uneducated workers.”"

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