Million Student March faces economic impossibility

Elissa Todd, Contributing Writer

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Two weeks ago, students across the country gathered under the common calling of the Million Student March. In a movement inspired by the words of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, marches were organized to take place Nov. 12 for university students to demonstrate their support of three main demands: tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers.

To any current or aspiring university student, these three demands are certainly hot-button topics and ones that directly affect both the near and distant future. Though the demands sound appealing to any current university student, the economic realities behind the scenes are a bit less enticing than at first glance.

The marchers’ first demand, a tuition-free public university education, is much more difficult to make a reality than activists and politicians let on in their speeches and debates. Politicians love to point to Europe (and Denmark in particular) when they discuss the possibility of free public education. The logic goes that if Europe can do it, so can we. After all, we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. But if we look at the numbers, the United States has 1,070 2-year and 629 4-year public institutions of higher education, with a combined total enrollment of over 13 million students. Denmark, meanwhile, has only 40 total universities (many of which are not public) with roughly over 115,000 students.

Paying for all 13 million public university students’ education in the United States is quite a different story than in Denmark, where they provide the same education to a significantly smaller number of students. Even taxing the rich at a rate of 100 percent will not begin to pay for all 13 million. The concept of mandating free public university in the United States is, at this point, simply an impossibility.

We run into a similar problem by eradicating all student debt. The national student debt in the United States has hit a staggering $1.2 trillion. As wonderful as it sounds to simply declare that the debt no longer exists, the painful truth lies in the fact that someone still has to pay for it. $1.2 trillion owed cannot just disappear and the same truth as before applies: we cannot tax the rich for their entire net worth, and even if we could, the revenue would still not cover the entirety of student debt in the country.

Perhaps even more hotly debated than the previous two demands is the proposed $15 minimum wage. In one of Senator Sanders’ most popular quotes to support this substantially higher minimum wage, he states that anybody who works 40-hour weeks should not be living in poverty.

The economics of this move simply are not logical. Even the extremely liberal and award-winning economist Paul Krugman concedes that the minimum wage can definitely be set too high, and $15 is arguably too high for the U.S. companies both large and small simply cannot afford to pay their workers such a hefty wage for menial tasks.

Though there are inherent issues in the ability to implement the demands of the Million Student March, the demonstrators certainly brought up points that are in desperate need of addressing.

Even if student debt cannot be completely eradicated, ways of assisting students with crippling student debt should be looked into. Even if public universities are not made completely free, we should be figuring out ways to drive down their outrageously high tuitions. Even if minimum wages should not be $15, the poverty of so many Americans with minimum wage jobs should not go unaddressed. Nevertheless, we cannot forget our economic realities as we attempt to fix our social problems.

Elissa is a freshman at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]