What does School Privatization Have to Do With the Crisis?

Following the Chicago teacher strike over the Democratic Party’s push to privatizae public schools, with the “Race to the Top” initiative, I was reminded of a couple texts about the relationship between the current crisis and the thrust towards the privatization of the public sector, with the latter becoming an increasingly important site for the profitable investment of over-accumulated capital.

Reclamations, a journal that emerged out of the California student demonstrations of 2009, has been producing very interesting material relating the crisis to the university. They argue that by the late 1990s, “the leading edge of restructuring [centered around “privatization, neoliberalization, financialization and commercialization”] shifted from the university’s rationalization to its integration as a site of accumulation and investment in the circulatory system of capital.” (emphasis added) (Whitener/Nemser, ;”Circulation and the New University”, 06.08.12)

According to them, “the univesrity is no longer primarily a site of production (of a national labor force or national culture) as it was in the 1970s and 90s, but has become primarily a site of capital investment and accumulation.” For them, a central mechanism behind this is “the post-crisis context of capital over-accumulation” in which there exists a “surplus of capital with no profitable investment outlet”, whereby the university becomes “a key site for capital accumulation and the investment of over-accumulated capital.” (emphasis added).

To read the details of their argument, check out the very good article linked to above. Here I cite it in thinking about the recent clash in Chicago over “school reform”, between Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Teachers Union, over the privatization of public schools through the establishment of charter schools, under the name “Race to the Top.”

Last year, John Bellamy Foster wrote in Monthly Review a similar vain about the privatization of public schools as sites for capital investment. He wrote:

“A consequence of the slow growth endemic to the developed economies is that the giant corporations that dominate today’s economic world are compelled to search for new markets for investment, outside their traditional fields of operation, leading to the takeover and privatization of key elements of the state economy. The political counterpart of monopoly-finance capital is therefore neoliberal restructuring, in which the state is increasingly cannibalized by private interests.” (Foster, “Education and the Structural Crisis of Capitalism: The U.S. Case“).

And for a longer historical view, he writes:

“the conditions leading to the neoliberal assault on the schools can be attributed to the current historical period of economic stagnation, financialization, and economic restructuring, characteristic of the age of monopoly-finance capital. The slowdown in economic growth, beginning in the 1970s, weakened the capacity of labor to struggle by purely economic means, while also weakening workers’ political clout, as conservative, corporate forces strengthened their hegemony over the society. The relative growth of financial and information capital, spurred by the stagnation of production, created a new impetus for digital-based Taylorism and tight financial management in the schools. At the same time, inequality, poverty, and unemployment soared, as capital shifted the economic losses to the working class and the poor. When the new burdens resulting from slow growth, increasing inequality, and rising child poverty were coupled with tightened restraints on state spending, the schools went into a rapid downward spiral. Public schools, as the ultimate social safety net for most children and communities, were forced to step in to make up for the collapsing social and economic fabric.”

This might be an interesting line of inquiry for coming conflicts over school privatization, pushed by both Democrats and Republicans, as a crisis management strategy to open up sites for the profitable investment of over-accumulated capital.

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