Oren Cass takes on ‘Big Ed’ in The Financial Times. Old Leftist comments


The Financial Times offers its readership an early roasted Christmas goose, in the person of Oren Cass- let me offer a suggestion as to where that Yuletide sprig of holly might be placed!

Mr. Cass inauspicious opening paragraphs gives the game away in his vulgarity, which he attempts to soften in the next paragraph:  

The push by American progressives to have Joe Biden’s incoming administration forgive $50,000 of student debt per borrower is deeply stupid, but at least clarifyingly so.

More polite language fails to capture the absurdity of singling out college attendees for an unprecedented $1tn transfer of wealth — equivalent to the total spent on cash welfare in the last 40 years. The top sources of US student debt are professional business and law degrees.

American Progressives’, ‘Transfer of wealth’ and ‘cash welfare’ are the catch-phrases of his particular iteration of ‘Conservatism’. Yet read what that bastion of Conservatism, the Washington Examiner, in an editorial by Brad Polumbo, has to say about Mr. Cass and ‘American Compass’ :

A new group, American Compass, launched on Tuesday to much fanfare. The group’s mission is reportedly “going back and finding things that always were part of the American tradition that have been important to conservative thinkers but that seem to have gotten lost in the more market-fundamentalist mode of, especially, the last 20 to 30 years.”

Led by former Manhattan Institute scholar Oren Cass, the group has drawn impressive names to its nascent effort to charter an intellectual course for the nationalist Right.

There’s just one problem: The “market-skeptical” conservative movement is railing against an imaginary libertarian GOP orthodoxy that does not and, frankly, never really has existed. The idea motivating this entire project is completely detached from reality and all recent political history.

Cass posits that the GOP has “outsourc[ed] economic policymaking to libertarian ‘fundamentalists’ who see the free market as an end unto itself.” In this, he and his ideological allies are waging war on a straw man.


The undeserving actors in Mr. Cass’ political melodrama are the utterly undeserving ‘students’ are those who hold ‘professional business and law degrees’. These very actors, who are, or will become the business, political and jurisprudential actors in the present and future of this country! Mr. Cass has a B.A. in Political Economy from Williams College, yet he just doesn’t campaigns against ‘Big Ed’, as he dubs it, he fulminates against it:

Perhaps this debt-forgiveness nonsense will shake the US from its complacency about higher education. Comprising the thousands of colleges and universities that together receive more than $150bn a year in public subsidies, Big Ed is among the nation’s most powerful but toxic forces. It thrives on the carefully cultivated myth of campuses as citadels of learning and on the mistaken notion that enrolment is the sine qua non of a successful life — that college, as Barack Obama was fond of saying, is the “ticket to the middle class”. Debt acquired in the ivory tower obtains talismanic status.

In fact, Big Ed’s performance is woeful, which is how a student debt crisis emerged to begin with. Its deformation of the cultural expectations and economic incentives facing young people at the formative stage of their adult lives is wreaking havoc. Higher education costs more than $30,000 per student per year in the US, roughly twice as much as in Germany or France. Still, more than 40 per cent of recent graduates land in jobs that do not require them to have degrees. And that’s among those who do finish. At two-year community colleges, barely one-quarter of enrollees complete the programme within six years. University leaders are notably reticent to measure or report whether students learn anything at all. Yet the students continue to pour in.

As Mr. Cass showers scorn on ‘Big Ed’, the reader just might ask where Mr. Cass stands on the question of free college tuition? How might that fit into his support for Mr. 47%, Mitt Romney? Mr. Cass ends his screed with an attack on ‘Progressive’ myopia that ends in a grim prediction of American intolerance.

This is the dynamic that yields “progressives” arguing with a straight face that student debt forgiveness should be a top priority, while making no effort to hold these institutions more accountable in the future. It is not a dynamic the American people are likely to tolerate much longer.


Old Leftist

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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