I Would Protest Tuition Hikes, But I Can’t Afford It

by Mark Wilson

Back in the ’60s, Berkeley students had few qualms about protesting the Vietnam War. Why aren’t they protesting the nearly 10% increase in their tuition this year (on top of 10% last year)? They can’t protest their high tuition, says Matt Yglesias, quoting a blog called Zunguzungu, because their tuition is too high!

During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt.

Now that college is so expensive, students won’t risk being kicked out by protesting. While Yglesias doesn’t completely buy this, he finds it interesting and adds a more-interesting corollary:

This does, however, cast the Tea Party movement in a suggestive light. The United States has moved to making students bear a much higher share of the cost of their education, but remains strongly committing to subsidizing senior citizens’ retirements. At the same time, one of the points of consensus in the fiscal policy debate is that today’s old people should be held harmless in any set of potential entitlement cuts. Is it a coincidence that so much of present-day activist energy is located in the heavily conservative senior cohort and its peculiar brand of nostalgic nationalism?

Young people don’t vote, but old people do. Therefore, the elderly need to be kept happy. Not reducing their social security or Medicare benefits makes them happy. But cuts have to come from somewhere. So make it come from subsidies for higher education, because students might gripe, but they won’t protest (because they can’t afford to lose their expensive education), and they certainly won’t vote.

It’s difficult to say what young people will do in November 2012. 2008 was the first election in a very long time that the winner did not carry the senior citizens’ vote. Barack Obama won largely due to young people. Where are they now? Four years on, a lot of the Obama supporters I know have become disenchanted with their milquetoast president. Faced with the prospect of voting for a Republican Crazyperson or Barack Obama, they might just stay home.