I’ve got a relative who absolutely adores cars. Point to relatively any car, and he can tell you the make, model, and—almost always—the year.
Because of this love for cars, he’s often talking about trading up to a different model than what he currently owns, to the chagrin of his wife. One day after a conversation to this end, his wife jokingly tossed the family checkbook in his lap, quipping, “Ok—YOU figure out how we’d pay for that!”
Of course, the numbers don’t lie. (And my relative didn’t get his new car that day.) The money’s either there, or it’s not. After all, nothing—I repeat, nothing—is ever truly free.
Those complimentary drinks and peanuts you get on a plane? Yeah, you paid for those.
The shiny new crock pot your bank gives you for opening a new checking and savings account package with them? Yup, you’re eventually paying for that.
That complimentary coffee you got with the buy-one-get-one coupon? You’re definitely paying for that. (After all, you did just spend roughly the cost of an entire tub of ground coffee on a single cup of brewed joe.)
Trivial examples, yes, but the point remains the same: nothing is free.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
So what precisely would possess millions of Americans to cheer on the idea of “free” college education, if even the most basic examples in life prove to us that positively everything carries a cost of some kind?
Ironically enough, even the self-proclaimed champion of free college education, “College Promise,” knows the money has to come from somewhere.
Facing immense criticism, President Barack Obama has since backed off his initial solution: help pay for “free” college education by ending, as The Washington Post notes, a “major tax benefit of popular college savings accounts used by millions of American families.”
In other words, the idea was to tax these college savings plans (known as 529 plans) to pay for the college education of others.
Some applauded the initial proposal, indicating that these plans are just “tax havens” for the rich—when in fact they facilitate saving for college for a range of incomes, in even the smallest increments at the lower end of the income scale.
And the ironic thing is, the president is one of the 11.8 million people contributing to a 529 college savings plan, but as Ross Kaminsky of The American Spector points out, "Since the president’s proposal would impact new contributions rather than those already made, it would leave his daughters’ college savings in good shape; he had the financial wherewithal to drop a quarter million dollars into those accounts all at once," he said. "But for those of us (including me) who make modest monthly or annual contributions to our children’s futures, we’re out of luck."
The soundness of the 529 concept in and of itself, however, is an aside.
The point here is simply this: even the man who himself proposed a “free” college education knew full well that the money would have had to come from somewhere. (And, at a cost of at least $80 billion dollars, the money to pay for this plan is still going to have to have to come from somewhere.)
What so many seem to be missing here, aside from the impossible nature of the president’s proposal, is the fact that the president saw fit to pluck that money from the grasp of other college students.
Students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education on Hollywood Boulevard on September 22, 2012 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California. Citing bank bailouts, the protesters called for student debt cancelations. (Credit: David McNew/Getty Images)
Did you catch that? The president felt no qualms about taking from some college students to pay for the college of others, and the only thing that stopped him was the fact that the backlash was causing “such a distraction.”
It was ditched, not because the administration felt it was wrong to take from those who wisely save for college; not because the administration realized how preposterous (and fundamentally flawed) it is to propose adding yet another burden to the already unmanageable debt; no—they backed off because it was too much of a distraction.
The fact of the matter is that for President Obama, those who can save for college have the means with which to go to college; those who can’t save for college thus do not have the means to go to college.
The argument, then, becomes reduced to class warfare. Either you have, or you haven’t. And, if education is a “human right,” as so many claim it to be—then the ends justify the means, right?
But here’s the thing: education isn’t a right. As I wrote recently in my blog, we “don’t have a right to commodities within … life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Still, many argue that to pursue happiness, you need higher education.
Meet—in no particular order—Steve Jobs, Oprah, Bill Gates, Wolfgang Puck, Walt Disney, Tom Hanks, (who, incidentally, went on to play Walt Disney in the film “Saving Mr. Banks” ), Ralph Lauren, and Jim Carrey . . . to name a very few.
As important as education can be in a person’s life, it does not have a monopoly on happiness and success. If this were so, in a country where more Americans are receiving an education than ever before . . . shouldn’t poverty and struggle be all but a distance memory?
Even if it were a human right, stop and think about it just once more. The president felt it was acceptable to take from some college students’ saving endeavors in order to give other college students a free ride.
Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of the president’s overall message; that is, that college educational is critical to the success of everyone?
But at the end of the day, that’s beside the point: free education, or free anything for that matter, isn’t ever free.
The next time you find yourself cheering on the latest commodity to be declared a right (and thus deserving of whatever measure it takes to pay for it), remember this: today they’re paying for what makes you happy—but what goes around comes around.
And if the president’s initial approach was any indication, he won’t hesitate to take from the very class he purports to champion.
Mary Ramirez is a full-time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com (a political commentary blog), and contributor to The Chris Salcedo Show (TheBlaze Radio Network, Saturday, from noon to 3pm ET). She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree.
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