Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blasphemers & Farmers

A casual observer of the media's celebration of benefactions by the Buffetts, Kochs and Hiltons of the world--each seemingly bigger and more ambitious than the last-- might well conclude that we've entered some sort of golden age of philanthropy, where those who have benefited the most from the flows of global capital are answering the call to irrigate the fields of those whose resources they have hitherto depleted. Of course, what makes this interpretation possible is the magnitude of exploitation that founds and facilitates the donors' largesse. I have posted before about the dirty secret of the charitable giving industry: that it functions primarily to recirculate wealth among and ensure the reproduction of the upper and middle classes. Because I work in higher education, I am especially agitated by the efficiency with which our colleges and universities perform this function. Harvard and Yale have recently recalculated their financial aid formulae to provide greater benefits for families earning up to $200,000 per year. At Yale,

Families earning less than $60,000 annually will not make any contribution toward the cost of a child’s education, and families earning $60,000 to $120,000 will typically contribute from 1% to 10% of total family income. The contribution of aided families earning above $120,000 will average 10% of income.

Yale also is increasing the number of families who qualify for aid, eliminating the need for students to take loans, enhancing its grants to families with more than one child attending college, exempting the first $200,000 of family assets from the assessment of need....

In reality, the population of Yale students from families earning less than $60,000 per year is almost hypothetical. The new financial aid policy is a benefit package for middle class students--those from families earning up to $200,000 per year. Now, given that Yale's undergraduate term bill for 2007-2008 is $43,050, families earning $200,000 might well need a break in order to afford a Yale student. But no one should be deceived about the purpose and beneficiaries of Yale's apparent generosity.

This op-ed piece in today's NYT gets it precisely right.

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