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Jean-François Cantin - Graduate student in Political Philosophy July 25, 2012
People have been talking about “gratuité scholaire” (free schooling) since the spring. On the one hand, it is held up as part of a more egalitarian society. But it has also been denounced as a utopian fantasy brought on by dreamers who don’t have a grasp on reality. Nothing is free, after all. Someone has to pay for it, somewhere down the line. Right?
Certainly. And no one would ever pretend the opposite. The heart of the problem is a misunderstanding of what “free” means.
Here is how CLASSE define “free” in their recently published manifesto: “Free does not mean just a price of zero: it means the removal of economic barriers to access that which is most valuable to our society. […] Free means paying as a group for that which we possess as a group. [It] means equality of access for public services.”
You read right: “Free means paying.” Paradoxical, yes? Not really, when you think about it. Just follow the idea through to its simple conclusion.
Firstly, we pay for services.
We pay, indirectly through taxes and levees, for the entire collection of services that we deem necessary for a functioning society. Public transport and roads, for sure, since we need roads to go work. Water treatment, without a doubt, because we need a steady supply of good drinkable water every day. And hospitals, it goes without saying, because it is paramount to be able to care for our neighbours and loved ones when sickness strikes.
Secondly, we use those services. And that is when the services are free.
They’re not really free, because we have paid for it before. But they’re free at the moment we need to use them, and that is the great advantage. It’s free when you need to use a road because there is an emergency. It’s free every time you need a glass of water, like when the mercury rises on the hottest days of summer. And it’s free when cancer strikes, and cripples families by its suddenness and violence, at the moment when money is probably the last thing we want to think of.
And education, in all this?
It’s not that different. We can easily fund education with tax revenue, like we already do for secondary school, and like we partly do for college. In doing so, we can benefit from the innumerable advantages that come to societies that value education.
But should we pay more taxes to be able to offer collective financing for university education?
In response to this fear, I only have to suggest that you read a recent study, produced by the Tax Justice Network (http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/The_Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_Presser_120722.pdf). This report estimates that at least $21 trillion dollars were lost worldwide to tax evasion in 2010. For the record, a trillion dollars is 1000 billion dollars. This is at least 21 times 1000 billion dollars are sent out into the ether, not invested into public services. These are the same services that people like you and me need.
If you ask me, the problem isn’t free schooling. Or at least, the problem isn’t free schooling as it is understood and put forward by the student movement.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.