Thursday, December 13, 2012

37 schools may face closure in Philadelphia

Yesterday I received a real estate tax bill in the mail that says I owe about 20% more than I paid last year.  This morning I read a front-page story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about how 37 public schools in the city will probably be closed.  So, the city government is telling me that we will have to pay more money for fewer services.  This is the Christmas present the city government has given to it’s residents.  In order to fully appreciate the complete insanity of these policies, we need to give some background to the story.

Tax abatements

In the past few years Philadelphia has had the largest tax abatement program in the nation.  This means that the owners of many new and expensive skyscrapers in the city pay no taxes for ten years.  While the affluent owners of these buildings are enjoying their tax abatements, the school system has been cut to the tune of $400 million.

Racial discrimination

One of the borders of Philadelphia is City Line Avenue.  On the other side of City Line Avenue is the Lower Merion School district.  Per student funding for public schools in Lower Merion is double of what it is in Philadelphia.  The student population in Philadelphia is overwhelmingly Black and Latino.  The student population in Lower Merion is overwhelmingly white.

Back in 1954 the Supreme Court made its decision of Brown, v. Board of Education.  In this decision the court ruled that: “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”  In this decision, the Supreme Court argued that segregated education is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution that supports equal protection for all citizens.

The reason why there is gross disparity in educational funding is because there was an exception in the Brown v. Board of education ruling.  This ruling only applies to discrimination within cities.  Governments can discriminate all they want as long as this discrimination takes place outside the city limits.

The insanity of the capitalist system

When politicians talk about the need for cutbacks in social services, they know that the resources have been available for about 100 years to do away with poverty in the world.  Certainly there are sufficient numbers of people who would like to teach children the things we all need to know.  Certainly there are enough people who would like to see this happen so educational services could be vastly improved.

We can also say that there are enough workers as well as raw materials to make vast improvements in the standard of living in the world.  Yes, we all need and want: food, clothing, housing, health care, education, transportation, communication, as well as access to cultural activities.  The resources exist to provide everyone in the world with all these goods and services.  So, what is the problem?

We live in a society where the political and economic system is capitalism.  In this system human needs are not the priority.  Corporate profits determine all government action and dictate what will and will not be produced.

One would think that since the owners of capital have so much money, they would be satisfied with their wealth and allow everyone to have the means to live.  This is not how capitalism works.

In 1929 there was a depression and in the year 2008 the world nearly avoided another total economic collapse.  The fact that depressions are a constant feature of capitalism demonstrates how these events will continually occur as long as capitalism exists.

Clearly no one wants schools to close or depressions to happen.  Yet, these are the necessary consequences of the natural functioning of the capitalist system.

The Cuban reality

About 100 miles south of the United States is the island nation of Cuba.  The Cuban people had a political revolution and abolished capitalist property relations.  As a result, today Cuba has more teachers and doctors than any other nation in the world.  This is in a nation that is 100% Latino and about 40% Black. 

Clearly Cuba had many serious problems.  The revolutionary government inherited a nation that had an inadequate manufacturing infrastructure.  Cuba also exists in a predominantly capitalist world that is hostile to a government where human needs are the priority.  This means that the Cuban people lack in many of the goods that people have in developed capitalist nations.

However, the fact that Cuba has been able to survive and advance health care and education in the face of an all out crisis of capitalism is something we need to look at.  Cuba has shown the world that it is possible to make vast improvements in the standard of living of workers and farmers, if we advance a government where human needs are seen as more important than profits.

When we see taxes increase, as schools close, and jobs are eliminated, while we are expected to do more work, for effectively less money, yes, we can look at the Cuban road with a different perspective.  We can make this planet a much better place to live.  We can only do this when we have a government of working people that believes that human needs are more important than profits.     

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