Anti-right turbulence has again raised the question of why America’s college campuses lean so left. The better question for those lamenting this lack of intellectual diversity is why its absence continues to surprise. It would be hard to find conditions more conducive to a leftward tilt than our campus Cominterns.
From Berkeley to New York University, with many points in between, America’s campuses have staged protests over appearances by those deemed “messengers of the right.” The protests have varied in form — from civil disobedience to serious violence — but not in content. The right is denied any right to America’s campuses.
Certainly some of this is simple “acting up” following the November elections. Then, college campuses were immediately beset by whine-ins. Still upset at Donald Trump’s upset, the left continues retaliating the only way it knows, and against the only targets their real-world isolation offers.
Yet focusing only on today’s temporary temper tantrums is to miss the permanent perturbation on campus against all things right. As far back as most remember, the right has been wrong, until only the left is left at college.
To understand this, first understand the left. As Marx himself argued, the left’s ultimate imprimatur is not ideology, but economics. And the prevailing characteristic of the left’s economics is central control of the economy.
Such central control inevitably means using predetermined price signals. Left alone, the market and private sector determine these. The left’s problem is such determinations also mean society’s resources are distributed accordingly — not how the left desires.
In place of freely determined prices, the left must manufacture price cues for resource allocation. We commonly confront this in our experience as subsidies.
This returns us to our college campuses. Nowhere in America is more awash in subsidies. America’s college campuses rest on subsidies from top to bottom.
Students, the overwhelming majority of campus populations, are the most subsidized of all. First, it comes from parents and is so institutionalized that parental support of young adults is not recognized as the subsidy it is. What parents do not or cannot provide, colleges and government do in the form of loans, grants and scholarships.
Parents, too, are subsidized. Tax-favored vehicles — 529 accounts and the deductibility of financial support for their children — underwrite their costs.
Of course, colleges are similarly subsidized. They are the ultimate beneficiaries of the aforementioned subsidies, which have only driven up demand for their product — and, unsurprisingly, its cost as well.
However, colleges also receive direct subsidizes. As all alumni can attest, the first letter new graduates receive is for contributions to their alma mater. The resulting endowments often amount to enormous sums, yet there is little requirement as to how these tax-free contributions are used.
Colleges also get government funding apart from that funneled through their students. State colleges are crown jewels and receive commensurate support from state governments.
Teachers and professors are also in on the subsidies. Further, they live in the system that promises perhaps the quintessential subsidy of all: tenure, the benefit of which is to be divorced from performance standards for life and virtually immune from dismissal.
Even the administrators, often seen as the only “real adults” on campus, participate in the subsidy party. They benefit from the subsidy system, but they also directly fuel it, too. At the apex are college presidents, who really are more fundraisers than educators.
This top-to-bottom subsidy system produces an entitlement culture like no other in America. Even actual federal government entitlement programs — such Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — pale comparatively.
Certainly, the “Big Three” are bigger, but their subsidy culture of entitlement is less extensive. They have limits on what they cover. The only limitation on college spending is that it goes to a qualifying institution. However, anything the instruction accredits qualifies this spending for favorable tax treatment — contributing to the satire-worthy college courses, and often sadly unusable degrees for those overindulging in them.
In the case of Social Security and Medicare, most beneficiaries pay into the system in their working years. While their later benefits may be inflated beyond those contributions, they are still subsidized far less than the college student who receives from every angle, with little or no contribution requirements, and only minimal ones on the use.
Such complete attachment to subsidies, the hallmark of centralized economic planning, prepares all associated for an embrace of the left. How could a statist mindset not emerge from such a thoroughly statist approach?
The lack of diversity of thought is not the cause of college campuses problems. It is the effect — a byproduct of the subsidy economy in which it flourishes. The folly is actually ours — for being surprised at the subsidy-without-accountability culture. College campuses have not failed in teaching reality, but in learning from their own reality all too well.
• J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget, and as a congressional staff member.
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