Daily Archives: November 11, 2010

Student protests

So students are protesting. Before the violence appeared later, “about time” was the first thought that crossed my mind. What took them so long? I of course totally condemn the violence that erupted later, but I fully support the peaceful protest.

In my view, it is morally wrong to hand debts accrued by today’s adult generations onto those who are now still children, and who don’t yet even have a vote. Our children played no part in economic mismanagement or adult greed that created this mess, and should not be made to carry the burden of fixing it. They certainly should not have the debt imposed on them without their consent.

Of course, politicians are presenting it rather differently, as making kids pay for their own education because it gives them enhanced prospects later, and therefore perfectly fair. That severely disturbs the balance of reward between the state and the individual. Of course, the country cannot survive unless many people choose to do degrees, and historically, most people wanted to get them because they got more interesting better paid work as a result, so there is benefit to both sides, and the costs might therefore also be shared, reasonably. But since higher earners pay more tax, graduates always have contributed far more into the education system than others, due to their higher average salaries.

It was balanced, but now that balance is threatened. We need well educated professionals now more than ever, and we should not discourage aspirations to become one by taxing such roles more heavily, which is what in effect is being proposed. An effective tax rate of 45% until they are 50 is not much of an incentive to become an engineer rather than a tube driver, policeman or yet another administrator. Yet most of the value add in our modern world ultimately derives from science and engineering, so with fewer of them, our economy will have less money to pay the bills, and the extra taxes will prove to be a false economy. We will also then be forced to import more people to fill the gaps, worsening overpopulation.

So I hope the students win. They are fighting for the generations of students coming after them, and for the principle that debt should not be handed on to our descendants, who have no say in the matter.

There are wider issues here too . If debt is handed down to a generation who had nothing to do with its creation, they will resent the older generations and less willing to fund holes in their pensions funds as longevity increases and makes them bigger. By creating obvious discrepancies between the rewards available to different generations and the costs to be paid by them, intergenerational conflict will inevitably result. In a struggling economy, we need the population to work together, not to create internal conflicts.

Another issue is that government is creating a tax system that rewards some career paths better than others instead of simply taxing according to ability to pay. Those who choose to become entrepreneurs, TV presenters, sportsmen or many other careers that pay well but don’t necessarily need degrees, will pay relatively less tax than those filling jobs of at equal value to the economy, but which require people to spend three or four extra years in poverty while working extremely hard for a degree. We need entrepreneurs, but we also need the well qualified professionals who will staff the key jobs in their enterprises. One is of no use without the other.

The government is right to tackle the debt crisis bequeathed to them, but this is not the way to do it. There was already a good balance of reward and payment between state and individual, and it will be destroyed, creating division and conflict, and it will certainly prove a false saving if it disincentives higher education.