Marco Rubio and the Marketization of College

Marco drinking the market's Kool-Aid.

Marco drinking the market’s Kool-Aid.

If you haven’t heard yet, Marco Rubio has come up with a strategy to address the high costs of college. And like always, his answer is to marketize public goods. Specifically, Rubio’s college-cost proposal is backing “indentured servitude.” Paula Dwyer at Bloomberg delves into the details:

The new method, called income sharing, typically involves a “loan” (I’ll explain the quotation marks later) from investors to students. Instead of paying the money back with interest, students contract to pay their investors a set percentage of income for a fixed number of years after graduation.

This concept owes its origin to Milton Friedman (who else?), and as Dwyer points out, many critics of this idea find “the concept of investing in human assets creepy.” You don’t say.

I appreciate that Rubio is trying to solve the massive issue of high college costs – a topic which evades the attention of many Republican candidates. But trusting the market to solve every single issue, from subsidizing low wages to ensuring paid family leave is intellectually dishonest. Moreover, it leads our nation in a dangerous direction. As Professor Michael Sandel has warned us:

If you look at it, we have drifted over the last three decades from having a market economy, to becoming a market society. A market economy is a valuable and effective tool for organising productive activity. But a market society is a place where everything is up for sale. It’s a way of life, where market values reach into every sphere of life. That can be everything from family life in personal relations, to health, education, civic life, and civic duties. This has happened with relatively little debate. Part of the appeal of market faith is that it seems to spare us the need, as citizens, to deliberate, reason together, or argue together, about how to value goods. Markets seem to be a neural way of sorting it out. But it’s a mistake to see markets that way.

It is a mistake. Because not every collective action problem can be resolved by the market. That’s why America didn’t marketize high school when it came to ensuring the right of secondary education to all Americans. We realized that some public goods should simply be offered for free to the people – especially when those public goods offer incredible returns on investment for both the individual and the government. However, if market-frothing Republicans like Rubio have their way, they will slowly but surely allow the market to invade every domain of our lives.

Sorry, Milton and Marco – I’m not buying it.

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Nick Cassella
Nick Cassella graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2014. After graduating, he worked on the Initiative 594 campaign before joining Civic Ventures, where he now manages Civic Skunk Works' social media presence.