Keeping an eye toward the national discourse
Let’s take a quick look at our college discourse. Last week’s Echo published the op-eds on the following topics:
Eating issues and gender dynamics at Colby – Berol Dewdney ’13
Serious critique of Mark Gracyk’s column – Carla Aronsohn ’13 et al.
Something else about Mark Gracyk’s column – Michael Langley ’13
Be sensitive/go on a vacation to Mexico – Mark Gracyk ’14
Campus flag policy update – Student Government Association
Not to downplay identity politics on campus, but the world did not stop spinning outside of Colby last week. For the last month it’s been spinning in Zuccotti Park (New York), Lafayette Plaza (DC) and dozens of cities around the country where protesters have taken to the streets over income inequality in the United States. How is it that our hair-trigger sensitivity is only for issues occurring within the Colby bubble?
No, when you mention Occupy Wall Street at Colby, the most common response is a blank stare. It’s easy to ignore when everyone is wearing Patagonia and Polo, and the protesters are hundreds of miles away. But our economic system is a huge mess and we continue to ignore it at our own peril.
Let’s quickly recap a few of the problems created by our parent’s generation:
An unsustainable deficit. We are a debtor nation with China, our biggest economic competitor, as our main creditor. China stops lending and there goes the neighborhood.
Dependency on foreign oil. We are addicted to oil but the government has been unwilling to do the things that would make alternative energy viable.
The environment. It’s thoroughly messed up but our politicians can’t pass cap-and-trade, the only viable solution.
Our political system, which, thanks to the Supreme Court, affords corporate money and special interest an entirely disproportionate influence.
The health of our public school system, where school boards debate evolution as the quality of education continues to decline. Spoiler alert: evolution is real.
And in general, destruction of political discourse, in which the media rewards extremism, compromise is a dirty word and facts are subjective.
The worst part is the issues currently dominating the news—inflation and unemployment—are basically symptoms of systemic, metastasized illness. Not that you could tell from the overall figures, but did you know that Medicare actually ran a surplus until 2009? The extra money was stored in a trust fund, which is now paying out and will be gone by 2017.
In other words, healthcare does not currently add to the deficit, which is scary when you consider a) the total national debt and b) that it won’t be that way by the end of the decade. By then, we will all be out of school and our parents will mostly be retired. It looks likely that many of us will be jobless, as the unemployment rate for college graduates continues to rise from 1-in-20 (It was 1-in-50 in 2007).
The point is, that even if by some miracle the current headline-grabbing issues are resolved, our future is one of fixing problems caused by the hubris of the people currently running our political and economic apparatuses.
The way things are, you might expect students to occupy Colby events like last week’s panel with the Chair of the Boston Federal Reserve and the CEO of Barclays. At least you would expect students to have some awareness of the news cycle. Instead the lectures are filled with people whose goal in life is to become investment bankers and the broader discourse is silent when it should be angry and vigorous.
Let’s take a look at the facts. The pre-tax, pre-benefits income of the top 1 percent in America is about $380,000. The bottom 50 percent averages $33,048 and at a net worth of 700 billion dollars, controls 2.5 percent of wealth in the United States. While you don’t need to make four hundred thousand a year to be at Colby, you also don’t need an economics degree to see that most students here are closer to that top 1 percent than the bottom 50.
With our quarter million dollar educations, do we know an injustice when we see one? Do we even care?
It’s been said many ways by many people, but privilege comes with responsibilities. This doesn’t mean that we should Occupy Colby, or drop out of school and Occupy Wall Street. It also doesn’t necessarily mean joining the Colby Volunteer Center or something like that.
I’ll get to the actions in my next column. For now, let us start with responsibility of knowing and talking about why everyone is so angry. In a few years, beyond the shelter of Mayflower Hill, we’re going to be angry, too.