Middle class takes another hit

Your news item of December 10 tells us that the University of Virginia is increasing tuition fees in the coming year to $13,682 for Virginia students, and $44,724 for out-of-state students, in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Curry School of Education.

Most of us are generally aware of rising college costs, but these figures are stunning. In the 1940s, my out-of-state fees were less than one-fiftieth of the new cost, and my colleagues from Virginia paid less than one-hundredth of the amount they will soon be charged. Even when my son attended George Mason University, in the late 1970s, his costs had risen little more than 10% above mine.

Inflation can account for only a small part of the rise in costs.   Incompetence among the state and local officials controlling the University’s budget would hardly account for such monumental increases. No, the culprit is crass neglect and indifference to the hardships that such increases place upon families of middle and lower income. This is further evidence of the ongoing impoverishment of the middle class that has been evident as a result of Republican policies since the mid-1980s. Only the elite can afford the education that opens the doors to their own ranks.

Situations like this had much to do with the populist waves that dominated the 2016 election. Virginia then held firm as the only “blue” state in the Southeast, but we cannot be sure that this will continue in the face of such aggravations as these tuition costs.

JIM BURNS
Waynesboro

Note: This letter was published in the Waynesboro NEWS VIRGINIAN on December 17, 2017.

My Introduction to Politics

After retiring from the Civil Service, where my political activity was restricted, I continued for some years to have only a limited interest in politics. Most of the professionals in that field seemed unimpressive, and some downright lacking in integrity.  So I chose to give little attention while they went on doing their thing.

That changed during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. For the first time it became clear to me just how much damage the politicians were doing to people’s lives and welfare.  I didn’t use such a sharp term as class warfare, but I saw a growing suppression of the middle class under the policies of Reagan and his Republican successors.

The labor unions were weakened. Sharp limitations were put on governmental benefits – through lids placed on the existing benefits, proposals for privatization, and sharp opposition against new benefits.  A combination of technological advances and forced gains in productivity managed to reduce available jobs and to cap the growth of wages beneath the growth of inflation. The previously strong influence of Corporate America in politics has been expanded enormously.

To me, these developments were directly related to our lingering economic problems involving unemployment, declining tax revenues, and growing national debt. The reduced purchasing power of the middle class reduced demand for domestic products and services, from which the other problems were spawned.

Since the 1970s, I have never voted Republican, because I realize that their policies are against my interests as a member of the middle class. Unfortunately, many of my class continued voting Republican because they supported that party’s “cultural warfare” on such issues as abortion, gay rights, tax reform, climate change, and immigration.  This was warfare in name only, but it was an effective bait for voters.  The groups under Republican attack have consistently gained ground.  Middle-class Republican supporters were not only deceived about the warfare, but they have also seen their own economic situation shrink under Republican policies.

Business interests have repeatedly claimed that the solution to our economic problems is to get government out of the way and to minimize labor costs. They say that only capital can create wealth. This gave rise to my first published political utterance, a letter to the editor titled Capital, Labor, and Government Create Wealth.  Writings such as this became easier once the feet were first wetted.  And so, over the following years, I wrote more letters as more issues came into view.  Only those letters that met the test of publication have been featured in this blog.

I believe these political issues are so serious that I cannot simply rest after voting. I feel a further need to apply my skills as best I can, and to date this has been through writing and publication.