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School should be free for everyone

I appreciated Fred Wilson's post today about USV's thesis on expanding access to knowledge, wellness, and capital. He also talks about universal basic income as a way to get there. It's a useful lens to think about the future, although perhaps inevitably, I see it a slightly different way.

Despite being a natural born American citizen, I grew up in a European context, went to state schools, and went to university for free. (I was actually part of the last cohort of university students to do so; the year afterwards, universities started to charge a whopping £1300 per year, except in Scotland.) I understand that free college does not entrench existing income disparities; my fellow students came from a very broad range of backgrounds and contexts.

Coming from that context, I don't see government services as monopolies in the business sense. They're services in the civil sense: social infrastructure for all. For example, I'm not sure we would want to have multiple police forces competing for business in a capitalist market (however we feel about our current ones). Or take healthcare: every time I walk into a doctor's office in the US I miss the simplicity and safety of the NHS.

So I go the other way. I strongly believe that private schools shouldn't exist, which is an alien idea to some. Every child should have the same opportunities. Every college should be free. Private schools, and private colleges, entrench existing power networks. Why shouldn't a kid who happened to be born poor, or in the wrong neighborhood, have access to them? It's not like rich people don't have a thousand other ways to convey privilege to their offspring - but at least access to the same institutions would give everyone else a fighting chance.

"School choice" has a racist history, and a racist present. It's not something we should knowingly advocate for without understanding and actively fighting to undermine its foundation in segregation.

Similarly, universal basic income that doesn't sit alongside other mechanisms for economic justice and support is just a way to undermine those kinds of programs. It's not either/or: all schools should be free and everyone should have access to a basic income. College should be available to all and a monthly stipend would have great ROI for the economy. We don't get to absolve ourselves of providing opportunities throughout society by simply cutting a check. In a vacuum, UBI is that most American idea: discrimination in the guise of equity.

With state support, we will still have a great market economy: one where everyone can start a business or participate in one. In fact, it'll be better, because more people will have access to networks and training. Providing social infrastructure isn't an anti-capitalist idea; it's an anti-racist, anti-discrimination one. It allows more people to access the resources they need to participate, rather than disproportionately shutting out people of color and people from poorer backgrounds. And if you don't think that's where we should be heading, I'm not sure we have much to say to each other.

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