In my last post Is a Basic Income Grant Stealing from the Rich I referenced an article There is a problem with the way we define inequality.
This article made a number of interesting assertions about attitudes on inequality, the principle one to my mind being that we should stop obsessing with the rich and super rich and start obsessing with eliminating poverty, and also, importantly, the assertion that peoples’ attitudes were less angry about wealth and more angry about unfairness. As was stated “the public perception of wealth inequality itself being aversive to most people is incorrect, and that instead, what people are truly concerned about is unfairness” and also that “People typically prefer fair inequality to unfair equality”, and, as we are beginning to see in South Africa, what really gets folk going is unfair inequality, a la the Zuptas state capture and wealth grabs.
So we all need the right to work harder and earn more and be wealthier than our neighbours, that is fair and acceptable. Just reward for just gainful employment is acceptable. But if you cheat in order to be wealthier, that is just not on.
This got me thinking about the Fees Must Fall movement and protests (see here) because it really is unfair that certain sectors of our society perhaps have little or no access to higher education. Let me be very clear, it is not the access of those who have access that is unfair, but the lack of access by those who don’t have access that is unfair. This is a major argument in the article There is a problem, the issue of unfairness.
A major conclusion of the article is that “the solution lies in addressing the fact that poverty and unfairness exist.”
This set me to thinking about the conflicting unfairness inherent in the fees must fall campaign; the unfairness of the poor being unable to access higher education just because they were poor, and the unfairness of the same poor, expecting those who do not benefit from higher education, to have to pay for the higher education of the same poor. Something simply does not add up.
You cannot fix a wrong inflicted on anyone or group by inflicting another wrong on another one or group. That is simply wrong and unfair and will be perceived as wrong and unfair and is probably why most people object to paying for the education of others who are seen to be unwilling to pay for their own education.
To reiterate, at the risk of being boring, “what people are truly concerned about is unfairness” and “People typically prefer fair inequality to unfair equality”.
So the problem is how to fix one wrong without creating another wrong?
The Direct Democracy Forum (DDF) believe that the Universal Basic Income Grant goes a long way to relieving poverty in a fair and equitable way, Thus all in society contribute to the system in an equally proportional manner and all benefit from the system equally. Is this fair and equitable? Some would say no and others, the DDF included, would argue that imperfect as it may be, it is fair and equitable, and is a lot better than what we have.
But, and here is the big BUT, could all higher education students afford to pay for their education (fees and accommodation) exclusively with a BIG? Of course, students can supplement their income by working full and part-time in internships or apprenticeships or articles, and there is nothing wrong about that, in fact many qualifications require it of you in order to qualify you as a professional fit to administer to (for example) your patients if you are a doctor or your clients if you are an accountant or lawyer. But what if a Basic Income Grant simply isn’t enough because fees and or accommodation have escalated out of all proportions.
Education throughout the world is becoming almost prohibitively expensive. Privatisation of funding is making it even more unaffordable and the level of debt that graduates are left with is making them wonder if education is even worth it, and some of the schemes are just there to make finance providers rich at the expense of society in general and the graduate population in particular. And yes, there are calls all over the world for fee free education, so South Africa is not alone. Indeed there are countries where tertiary education is free, but the much lauded fee free system of Germany is branded by some as being unsustainable. Others are saying the opposite, that fees are becoming, like the dinosaur, extinct, So everyone has a point of view and is looking for a solution.
Maybe then we need a different mechanism
The DDF believe that such a mechanism could exist which may be imperfect, but might none the less be better than what we have. But again there is the question of fairness..
But to address the issue of fairness, it would need to be a mechanism that benefits all equally, maybe a universal education grant. But what about those to whom a higher education is unsuited. How would they benefit from such a scheme? The short answer is that they would not benefit, and we would be back to a situation of unfairness.
Perhaps, as has been suggested about wealth and income inequalities taking our attention away from the real issue of poverty (see There is a problem), we are focussing on the wrong thing. Instead of just focussing on education for the poor we should instead be focussing on the bigger issue of how to better the lot of all. So what the DDF are now considering is the possibility of a once in a lifetime “Universal Advancement Grant”. I can hear the groans – “not another grant!” and “this is a slippery slope?” and “What a daft idea!” – I can just imagine the moans and groans and yes, you have a right to be sceptical. Indeed the DDF still rest on their assertion that there is no such thing as a free lunch so the means to pay for this needs to be found.
But consider this in the light of fees must fall and the issue of fairness; What if everyone had this once in a lifetime “Advancement Grant” and could use it to pay for their tertiary education or as a down-payment on a house or as a business investment or to travel abroad with, or indeed, just to fritter it away on trivia. What if?
And what if this could be substantially paid for by the savings made from shrinking the size and cost of government? What if?
Wouldn’t that solve the issue of fees must fall and fairness at the same time? It possibly would for this and future generations of beneficiaries, but those of us who have already missed that boat would not think of it as fair and to to pay such a grant to all the rest of the county’s citizens would probably be impossible, but could we compensate them somehow? Perhaps an enhanced BIG granted over time (say over 20 years) to compensate those who didn’t receive the advancement grant might work and be affordable?
So maybe a universal once In a lifetime “Advancement Grant” is not so daft an idea after all, and is worth considering.
The DDF have some pencil sharpening to do to figure out how to pay for it all. But that is part of the process.
Join with us.