For nations, real wealth is made through innovation. Without the thousands of life-changing innovations that inventors, engineers, and scientists have been making for the past two thousand years, our economies would be built around oxen pulling handmade plows to furrow fields. If you, the reader, take a look around the room you are now sitting in, odds are virtually none of the things in the room you are in would be there without innovation—without the machines created through innovation to produce those products.
From the time of President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s until 1981, one of the major goals of the Democratic Party was to make college affordable. This was because so many Democratic leaders knew that so much of America’s wealth had been created through innovation, through the invention of things like trains, planes, and automobiles, and we wanted any kid that had both the smarts and the desire to go to college to be able to go, and then to go on to create something magnificent—or to be able to go to college and support all of those wonderful inventors by becoming something else that was so important to our nation—such as a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher.
This whole idea started to change in 1981 with the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. You see, when a Republican becomes President and starts slashing taxes, as every Republican President since Reagan has done, they never worry about what wonderful things will never come to pass when those taxes are not there. I was in college in the 1980s, and I was there to watch Reagan slash Pell grants and other college support, and I saw what it did to my fellow college students. Reagan claimed that students were using this money to buy extra things like stereos. None of the hundreds of college students that I knew were doing that. Instead, they were using the money to buy food, to pay for classes, and to pay for books.
The whole microcomputer revolution that powered the U.S. Economy of the 1980s was built on machines created by engineers, most of whom graduated from affordable state colleges—made affordable by Federal and State tax dollars. Silicon Valley, where the microcomputer revolution originated, was created by companies living off Federal tax dollars spent on electronic technology for the Defense Department. It was from the inexpensive parts provided by all of these electronics businesses in Silicon Valley that people like Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs were able to build and sell the first Apple computer—the first mass-produced, fully functional, modern personal computer. It all stemmed from Federal tax dollars.
The U.S. led the world in technology from the time period of the 1930s to the 1980s because Democrats had a driving mandate in their heads—make college as affordable as possible. It is what led to the G.I. Bill that allowed my father to go to college after volunteering to serve in the Korean War. It would take five hundred words to describe how much benefit society got from my father going to college. The U.S. benefitted from tens of thousands of people just like him, people who could not have gone to college without the G.I. Bill.
In late 2017 and early 2018, when Congressional Republicans were jumping up and down, celebrating their tax cut for rich people, all I could think of was how, in the near future, the Congressional Republicans would then use the “we have no money” excuse to justify the cuts that they would then be “forced” to do. I thought of all of the college students who will have to spend most of their lives paying off the $100,000 they will owe for going to college. I thought of Ronald Reagan, and all of the Republicans since then who have changed America from a factory pumping out smart college graduates, many of whom were barely able to afford college, to a nation of high school students who can no longer afford to go, or who, if they are able to go, are in debt for decades because of the weakness of unions in this country, also caused by Republicans, has meant that even with a college degree, they barely make enough to make ends meet. In addition, their college debt means they may never be able to afford a house of their own.
Sometimes, when I hear the phrase “Reagan Revolution”, I almost get sick to my stomach. To me, the Revolution was one of big tax cuts, the massive Federal debt that accompanied it, and all of the people who were never able to start or finish college because of the damage that Reagan, and the people like him who followed, did to the American college system. My mother taught elementary school. My father taught in high school and college. My brother is a full-time college teacher, and my sister got her degree in education. Our family knows the value of an education. We know the ability it has to transform lives, and we know how many dreams have been shattered by Republicans and their love of tax cuts.
It isn’t just individual lives that are hurt. Our nation, and the whole world benefit from the innovations of college graduates. We have countless diseases that need to be cured, mathematical theorems yet to be proved, next-generation computers and cell phones waiting to be created, and areas of the Cosmos that remain to be explored, Think of all of the amazing things that were invented or created in the twentieth century. Now, ask yourself how many of them would have been created if the creators did not possess the knowledge necessary to make them? All of the growth of wealth in the twentieth century depended upon our educating our children, and the more we educated them, the more they innovated, and the more wealth was created.
About twenty years ago, China had an economy about the size of Italy. So, how did they massively grow the economy to the size it is today? Well, not long after Republicans decided that taxing rich people to pay for college was bad, China did the opposite. The Chinese leaders looked at the United States, the largest economy in the world, and asked, “What do they have that we do not have?”. The answer, besides things like massive wheat fields, was, “A whole bunch of really smart, well-educated scientists, engineers, and other innovators creating places like Silicon Valley”. China made sending people to college a major priority. Today, China produces people with college doctorates like Hershey produces candy bars.
So, think once again about those Republican Congresspersons cheering about those tax cuts. Someone always loses out whenever tax cuts are issued, it just never happens to be the people jumping up and down celebrating them. You would think that these people would know the value of an education. They do realize the value of an education to some degree. However, since they already have their educations taken care of, and since they worry little about the effects that their bills will have regular people, they just are not that worried about how your child will pay for his or her education.
Democrats want tomorrow to be full of educated college graduates, ready to tackle whatever problems are put before them. Republicans want to leave the children of tomorrow massive Government debt, and without the education to help create the innovation to pay off that debt. Democrats believe in doing things that build a better tomorrow for our children. Republicans believe in doing things that rob our children of their tomorrow.
Today’s young people are greatly interested in seeing that college is affordable, as young people have been as long as I can remember. They also did a great job turning out in the 2018 midterms. If we Democrats want to continue to have the support of young people and perhaps form a bond with them for their entire lives, we should regularly push the importance of making college affordable. In addition, we should regularly educate them on which Party has always pushed to make college more affordable, and which Party would rather cut taxes for the rich while hanging young people out to dry.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.