Saturday, January 10, 2015

Free community college, part 2

Before people start getting too excited about the reported $60 billion price tag for President Obama's proposal for two years of free community college, let's see if we can make that number more meaningful. Sixty billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. Usually when critics want to complain about some government expenditure or another, they start describing the size of the stacks of hundred dollar bills it would take to add up to that amount. I for one don't find those kinds of comparisons very helpful, however, because they don't translate the overall expenditure into each person's share. So let's keep in mind that since there are more than 300 million of us, each of us is only being asked to cough up a small percentage. Let's remember also that the $60 billion is over ten years, so the actual cost is only an average of $6 billion per year. That is about $18 per year for every man, woman and child in the United States.

If that still sounds like a lot (maybe you have a big family), let's try a few other comparisons. Americans reportedly spend nearly $60 billion per year (that's ten times the cost of the community college program) on our pets. Do we care at least one-tenth as much about having an educated work force as we do about our pets?

Americans spend over $2 billion per year on Halloween candy. I'm not saying this is not a worthwhile investment. Dentists especially obtain a huge multiplier effect from this expenditure. I'm just pointing out that for one holiday every year we all run out and purchase the equivalent of approximately one third of the cost of providing free community college to everyone who wants to go for two years.

We spend about $11 billion per year on bottled water. Imagine if we could give that up; we could pay for almost four years of free community college for everyone who wants to go, and we wouldn't be any the poorer.

Almost $100 billion on beer, $7 billion on ATM fees, $11 billion on coffee, $34 billion gambling. The list goes on and on.

When I start seeing a lot of complaining about these kinds of expenditures, then I will start to take seriously the complaints that we can't afford to provide free community college for people willing to work for it.


  1. I appreciate the article you wrote about Obama's free community college tuition proposal. You seem like a reasonably nice fellow who is certainly entitled to your opinion, however misguided it may be. I also appreciate that you don't seem to be a left-wing bomb thrower, so I'll keep my comments intelligent and thoughtful, rather than the offensive barbs too many Americans sling back and forth in comments.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I write a blog called Intelligent US Politics which will almost always have a view diametrically opposed to yours. Be that as it may, I think the proposal is just another in a long line of tactics from the left to buy votes. Your effort to make the expenditure seem insignificant in comparison to what Americans spend on bottled water and candy is an artful way of avoiding the fact that those expenditures are made by people free will. On the other hand, your $60 billion will have to be confiscated in order to be redistributed.

    On the simplest possible level, I have had quite enough of Obama and the left thinking they are somehow more qualified to spend our money than we are. If the left wants to spend $60 billion on tuition, they're welcome to do so. Just let them spend their money rater than mine.

    Come by and visit Intelligent US Politics when you get the chance.

    Scott Schaefer

  2. Thanks for dropping by Scott, I hope to see you here again to continue the dialogue. As far as the question of public vs. private expenditures, I don't think this is a left/right issue. The right is just as willing to take my money and spend it on what they think are appropriate collective responsibilities, as the left is. They just have different spending priorities. The right usually supports increased military spending, while the left usually supports increased spending on education and social programs. I realize you can make a strong argument that we have a collective responsibility to pay for the common defense, and we all benefit from that if the money is spent appropriately. But we also have a collective responsibility to pay for an educated work force. And we all benefit from that also. Paying for community college is just a recognition that a high school education (which no one questions that taxpayers should subsidize) just doesn't cut it any more.