Reframing “Ethnic Conflict” as “Politicized Ethnic Conflict”

Currently, “ethnic conflict” appears to be a useful label for understanding political and social violence around the world. One only needs to search for this term on an academic search engine or database to notice the plethora of studies and articles surrounding this topic. This paper strives to reframe the term “ethnic conflict” as “politicized ethnic conflict” in order to more accurately reflect both the ultimate and proximate causes of this type of violence. By using literature on ethnic conflict and politicized ethnicity, along with the comparative cases of Kenya and Tanzania, this paper argues for the incorporation of the term “politicized ethnic conflict” into the literature since it is evident that politicized ethnicity ultimately drives many instances of ethnic conflict, with ethnic difference serving as a proximate cause and delineator. 

While the apparent status quo in academia remains that  “ethnic conflict” as a term is useful, maintenance of this term is misguided. By employing this term, one implicitly argues that ethnicity is the main determinant and driver of conflict in absolute terms, or at least neglects to dispel this notion. Fearon and Laitin demonstrate that there is no consistent effect on the likelihood of civil conflict associated with variation in ethnic homogeneity. Additionally, Fearon and Laitin demonstrate that even areas where ethnic grievances are strongest, civil conflict is not more likely (Fearon & Laitin, 2003). This evidence indicates that ethnic grievances themselves are not sufficient to cause ethnic violence. The examples of Kenya and Tanzania support these findings against ethnicity as an ultimate determinant of civil, ethnic conflict. Malipula states that the literature on ethnic conflict has failed to explain why some heterogeneous countries such as Tanzania have not experienced ethnic conflict, while Ajulu argues that ethnic clashes in Kenya “are not tribal conflicts in the primordial sense” (Malipula, 2014) (Ajulu, 2002, p. 251). Although ethnicity is not the ultimate cause of “ethnic conflict” (in most cases), it is misguided to remove the “ethnic” characterization from the terminology addressing these types of conflict.

Eliminating ethnicity from the terminology of these types of conflicts entirely negates the role that ethnicity plays in delineating belligerents and serving as a direct motivating factor for violence. Brubaker and Laitin define ethnic violence as “violence perpetrated across ethnic lines, in which at least one party is not a state … and in which the violence is coded as having been meaningfully oriented in some way to the different ethnicity of the target” (Brubaker & Laitin, 1998, p. 428). Similarly, Fearon states that “a violent attack might be described as ‘ethnic’ if either (a) it is motivated by animosity towards ethnic others; (b) the victims are chosen by ethnic criteria; or (c) the attack is made in the name of an ethnic group” (Fearon 2008, p. 857). Both of these characterizations of ethnic violence do not maintain that ethnicity must be the ultimate cause and driving factor of violence, but rather that any conflict delineated by ethnicity should rightfully be described as “ethnic.” In numerous instances of civil conflict, it is blatantly evident that belligerents are structured according to ethnicity, and that many individuals commit violent acts specifically against people of other ethnicities (e.g. Rwandan genocide). In Kenya, there have been ethnically motivated clashes in the 1990s and notably in 2007 (Dercon & Gutiérrez-Romero, 2012). While these clashes occurred in the context of political contests, this fact does not negate that the proximate delineator and motivation of the violent acts was ethnic difference. Therefore, the maintenance of “ethnic” in describing these types of conflict is necessary, but a better framework and terminology would incorporate the role of politicized ethnicity in driving conflict. 

Reframing the term “ethnic conflict” as “politicized ethnic conflict” would result in a more accurate characterization of these conflicts that incorporates both their ultimate cause (politicized ethnicity) and proximate cause (ethnic difference). This approach neither overemphasizes the causal role of ethnicity in driving conflict nor neglects the role of ethnicity entirely, but rather makes the terminology more accurate and nuanced. Fearon introduces the concept of politicized ethnicity by stating that “ethnicity is politicized when political coalitions are organized along ethnic lines, or when access to political or economic benefits depends on ethnicity” (Fearon, 2008, p, 853). The politicization of ethnicity uncovers the ultimate source and political driver of ethnic conflict. Brubaker and Laitin explain that conflicts driven by political power struggles are framed in ethnic terms, thus demonstrating the causation from politicized ethnicity to violence delineated by ethnic difference (Brubaker & Laitin, 1998). One mechanism that exemplifies this causation is that ethnic conflict can occur when a minority ethnic group (which also serves as a political coalition) believes that its ability to fight for a better political outcome will decline in the future, demonstrating how political conflict takes on ethnic hues when political coalitions are divided along ethnic lines (Fearon, 2008). 

From a comparative perspective, Kenya and Tanzania demonstrate how politicized ethnicity serves as the key driver of ethnic conflict. In Kenya, there is high politicization of ethnicity (politics strongly divided along ethnic lines), while in Tanzania it is low (ethnicity plays little to no role in politics) (Weber, 2009). In fact, ethnicity has emerged as the preeminent factor in political competition in Kenya, thereby giving new and invigorating social salience to these identities (Ajulu, 2002). Therefore, when considering the lack of politicized ethnicity in neighboring Tanzania, it becomes evident why Kenya has experienced bouts of ethnic conflict while Tanzania has not. Rok Ajulu provides evidence to this causal relationship in the Kenyan context, describing how ethnic clashes are politically organized, and how oftentimes these conflicts are precipitated by political elites who use ethnic differences simply as an organizing principle to achieve their own political ends (e.g. by dividing the electorate along ethnic lines and establishing political rents) (Ajulu, 2002) (Dercon & Gutiérrez-Romero, 2012). On the contrary, the lack of politicized ethnicity in Tanzania means that violent confrontations between ethnic groups have been kept to a bare minimum (Cocodia, 2008).

Much of the current literature regarding whether “ethnic conflict” is a useful analytical label falls into polar opposite camps: those (often implicitly) regarding “ethnic conflict” as a useful term, and those pushing for the removal of the term in its entirety. Both of these approaches are misguided and fail to incorporate the nuances of what has historically been labeled “ethnic conflict.” The status quo camp, which supports the use of “ethnic conflict” in analytical terminology, fails to highlight the political considerations that serve as the ultimate drivers of ethnic conflict. As demonstrated above, ethnic difference does not cause ethnic conflict in its own right, and thus this terminology mischaracterizes the true causes and mechanisms of ethnic conflict.

The revisionist camp, which seeks to eliminate “ethnic conflict” as an analytical label, similarly fails to highlight an aspect of ethnic conflict, which in this case is ethnic difference. In “Against the Concept of Ethnic Conflict,” Gilley argues that ethnic conflict is not a concept, but rather a “messy descriptive label for a bunch of unrelated phenomena,” partially because what defines “ethnic conflict” is too vague in the first place (Gilley, 2004, p. 1161). While Gilley may be correct in that ethnic conflicts are not uniform in characterization, this does not support the complete elimination of the term “ethnic conflict” to explain conflicts in which they all have the same feature in common: violence delineated by ethnic difference. By assenting to Gilley’s suggestion, the critical aspect of ethnic difference in these conflicts disappears, running counter to Gilley’s intention of trying to better understand these conflicts. 

Another scholar in the revisionist camp, Charles King, concedes slightly more to the benefits of the “ethnic conflict” label, but ultimately argues against it. King writes that “the ‘ethnic conflict’ label is fine as an easy shorthand for wars in which the belligerents define themselves, in part, along cultural lines,” highlighting the distinction between wars delineated/not delineated along ethnic lines (King, 2001). However, King does not uphold this term for its rightful reason of inclusion: the fact that ethnic difference serves as a proximate driver of conflict, not just a delineator. It is one thing to only acknowledge that belligerents are divided along ethnic lines; it is another (and more accurate) to also acknowledge that people are mobilized to participate in acts of violence against people of other ethnic groups because of ethnic difference. If a combatant in an ethnic conflict is driven to believe that members of another ethnic group are the enemy and consequently resolves to acts of violence against them, it matters not why he believes this (e.g. political mobilization of ethnicity) or whether the other ethnic group truly is the enemy. If people are still committing acts of violence along ethnic lines, then dispelling with the notion that ethnic difference plays a unique role in these conflicts is truly misguided. Further, King argues that viewing ethnic conflicts as essentially different from other intra-state conflicts can be misleading, citing two reasons: ethnic grievances can be manufactured, and symbolically-created hatred is insufficient to cause violence (King, 2001). His first reason does not provide a sufficient explanation for why “ethnic conflict” should be eliminated as a concept entirely; while King is correct in that these ethnic grievances are often manufactured, that does not negate the fact that in some conflicts people are inspired to and do commit violence against members of other ethnic groups specifically, while in other conflicts this is not the case. King’s second reason similarly fails to negate the fact that people are still committing violence along ethnic lines, regardless of the political and leadership mechanisms required to spur this action. Therefore, King’s assertion that ethnic conflicts are not essentially different from other intra-state conflicts is misguided, and could lead to serious policy consequences in terms of conflict resolution. Although King’s two lines of reasoning do not support the elimination of “ethnic conflict” as an analytical concept in its entirety, they do support the incorporation of political elements in the analytical understanding of ethnic conflict. 

This paper has demonstrated that the question of whether “ethnic conflict” remains useful as a label for understanding political and social violence is nuanced due to the role that the politicization of ethnicity plays as an ultimate cause of many ethnic conflicts, and uses the comparative examples of Kenya and Tanzania to ground these arguments. From an analytical perspective, in order to improve understanding of the ultimate causal factors and mechanisms for these conflicts without losing sight of the importance that ethnic difference plays as a proximate cause and delineator, the term “politicized ethnic conflict” should arise as an analytical label. 

Bibliography

Ajulu, R. (2002). Politicised Ethnicity, Competitive Politics and Conflict in Kenya: A Historical Perspective. African Studies, 61(2), 251–268.

Brubaker, R., & Laitin, D. D. (1998). Ethnic and Nationalist Violence. Annual Review of Sociology, 24(1), 423–452. 

Cocodia, J. (2008). Exhuming Trends in Ethnic Conflict and Cooperation in Africa: Some Selected States. African Journal on Conflict Resolution, 8(3), 9–26.

Dercon, S., & Gutiérrez-Romero, R. (2012). Triggers and Characteristics of the 2007 Kenyan Electoral Violence. World Development, 40(4), 731–744.

Fearon, J. D., & Laitin, D. D. (2003). Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War. American Political Science Review, 97(01), 75–90.

Gilley, B. (2004). Against the Concept of Ethnic Conflict. Third World Quarterly, 25(6), 1155–1166.

King, C. (2001). The Myth of Ethnic Warfare. Foreign Affairs.

Malipula, M. (2014). Depoliticised Ethnicity in Tanzania: A Structural and Historical Narrative. Afrika Focus, 27(2), 49–70.

Weber, A. (2009). The Causes of Politicization of Ethnicity: A Comparative Case Study of Kenya and Tanzania. Center for International Studies.Weingast, B. R., Wittman, D. A., & Fearon, J. D. (2008). Ethnic Mobilization and Ethnic Violence. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy.

The Simpler the Better: Choosing Electoral Systems in Democracies

In order to make an argument as to the “best” electoral systems, it is necessary to first contextualize this subjective description. This paper will assess the “best” electoral systems in the context of democracy due to the fundamental necessity of elections in any democratic system. Thus, at the core, this paper seeks to demonstrate that the best electoral systems in a democracy are that which are the simplest to understand in two ways: using a definition of democracy and the paramountcy of accountability, and by assessing the implications of the accountability and representation tradeoff inherent to democratic electoral systems. The argument proceeds as follows: first, the paramount importance of accountability in democratic systems is presented using a definition of democracy; next, using both a generalized theoretical argument and the case of FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems, the connection between the simplest electoral systems and enhanced accountability is established, supporting the definitional argument; lastly, this paper proposes that the simplest electoral systems are not only best definitionally, but also in the context of the accountability/representation tradeoff as a function of accountability facilitating the increased ability for citizens to express preferences outside of elections, thus creating better representation. To clarify, although others have addressed the connection between simple executive systems and accountability, this paper will focus on the mechanism of legislative accountability to demonstrate that the simplest electoral systems are best for democracy (Hellwig & Samuels).

While democracy has a variety of definitions and necessary components, accountability is perhaps the most crucial element. Schmitter and Karl define modern political democracy as “a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens,” highlighting the paramount importance of accountability in any democratic system (Schmitter & Karl). Therefore, considering this definition of democracy, deciding which electoral systems are best for democracy equates to finding which electoral systems best promote accountability of politicians. 

In both general theory and through the proxy use of an example electoral system, the simplest electoral systems best provide accountability. According to Hellwig and Samuels, accountability is defined as the “voters’ capacity to reward or sanction incumbents,” and this capacity rests on two sets of conditions: the ability of voters to assign policy responsibility (to specific politicians) and the opportunity of voters to act on assigned responsibility. In a theoretical sense, the connection between simplicity of electoral systems and enhanced accountability is clear. In simpler systems, more voters will understand (and better understand) how the electoral system functions; as a result of understanding the system, voters are more likely to participate in the system and hold politicians accountable. This correlation exists because understanding facilitates assignment of policy responsibility and the opportunity to act on this determination, the key conditions of accountability. The details of these mechanisms can be explained by employing the example of FPTP, single-member constituencies as a proxy for the simplest electoral system. This proxy is practical because both FPTP and single-member constituencies have been described as extremely simple. Schmitter and Karl argue that the representation channel of democracy based on territorial constituencies is “the most visible and public” (Schmitter & Karl). Visibility and publicity are inherently related to simplicity in this context because like simplicity, they facilitate voters knowing who to hold accountable and provide the opportunity to do so. As for FPTP, Blais and Massicotte bluntly state that such a system “outperforms all other options in terms of its pristine simplicity” (Blais & Massicotte). Further, since Blais et al. and King explain the high correlation between FPTP and single-member constituencies, which are both simple, the electoral system that combines them serves as a proxy to more practically demonstrate the theoretical argument between the simplest electoral systems and accountability (Blais & Massicotte) (King).

Under a FPTP, single-member constituency electoral system, the two accountability conditions are easily achievable. First, it is easier to assign policy responsibility. Under this system, voters have assigned representatives (based on geographic constituencies); thus, responsibility is automatically assigned to that representative because there is an inherent connection between representative and voter. Consequently, a voter can simply decide if they agree or disagree with their representative’s policy decision. In systems where there is not an inherent and established connection between specific voters and representatives, voters may not know who to assign policy decisions to. Further, although a voter’s representative may not have supported a specific policy measure, the voter can still then assign a lack of responsibility for the passing of a certain measure. This situation in which responsibility is negated in a simple and effective manner would not be the case in systems where voters and representatives are not inherently connected. Second, the opportunity to act on this assigned responsibility is also best accomplished under this electoral system. In some ways this condition is endogenous to the previous. For example, by knowing whom to assign responsibility to and thus contact inherently provides the opportunity for such contact to take place. Being unaware of who is responsible (such as in electoral systems without assigned representatives) clearly lessens the opportunity to act on accountability mechanisms. However, the FPTP, single-member constituency electoral system also has an exogenous effect on widespread accountability. As a result of having assigned representatives based on geographic constituency, it follows that a larger number of representatives will be held accountable than in systems where voters do not have assigned representatives. When each representative has a specific constituency, that constituency holds that representative accountable, thus ensuring that no representative can operate without voter oversight. 

The opportunity of voters to act on assigned responsibility occurs both during and outside elections. In elections, a voter can hold their specific representative accountable by either voting for or against them, while in systems without assigned representatives and party list voting for example, it is more difficult to hold individual politicians accountable for their policies. Outside of elections, voters can contact their assigned representatives; such contact is less likely in other electoral systems because it would be less clear who to contact and because the voter lacks an established connection with the representative. Therefore, it is clear that in FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems, accountability is easier to achieve. And, since this type of electoral system is widely considered the simplest, it provides concrete evidence to the aforementioned theoretical argument that the simplest electoral systems best facilitate accountability. Lastly, because accountability is perhaps the most paramount aspect of democracy according to the cited definition, it follows that since the simplest electoral systems best facilitate accountability, that they are consequently the best electoral systems for democracy definitionally. However, not only are the simplest electoral systems best for democracy definitionally, but also by providing the best overall outcome in the accountability and representation tradeoff.

While it was established earlier that accountability is paramount to the definition of democracy, many other scholars discuss the counterbalancing relationship between accountability and representation as crucial factors in a democratic system. In a blog post entitled “Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems,” the author identifies the tradeoff between accountability and representation as fundamental to democracy, but also challenging in terms of choosing an electoral system. The author states that the tradeoff in terms of electoral system choice is that plurality systems (likely paired with single-member constituencies) are better at providing accountability, while PR systems are better at providing representation Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems). However, the argument that PR systems better provide representation is misguided because it solely focuses on representation in terms of translating votes to seats. In this sense, there is little doubt that PR systems better represent the preferences that voters wish to express during elections. But what about the ability of voters to express preferences outside of elections? Does that not constitute representation? In fact, expressing preferences outside of elections may be more important since there are more days without elections than with them, especially when incorporating the notion that “modern democracy … offers a variety (added emphasis) of competitive processes and channels for the expression of interests and values” (Schmitter & Karl). Considering this, the simplest electoral systems (e.g. FPTP, single-member constituency systems) actually lead to better representation across time via increased accountability and contact. As stated before, in the simplest systems, voters are more likely to know who to contact and follow through on it; this demonstrates that the simplest electoral systems better facilitate the expression of voter preferences outside the context of elections. While in PR systems the timeshot expressions of preferences (votes) may be better represented, PR systems are less receptive to representing voter preferences outside of elections. Consequently, because FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems can better represent voter preferences outside of elections and are superior in accountability, the tradeoff outcome rests favorably with such systems. And, because it has been demonstrated that FPTP, single-member constituency electoral systems are arguably the simplest, it follows that the simplest electoral systems result in the best tradeoff outcome between accountability and representation, two key factors of democracy. 

While Pippa Norris may argue that there is no best electoral system, this paper has demonstrated that when accounting for democracy definitionally (paramountcy of accountability) and in providing the best outcome of accountability and representation, that it is possible to determine which electoral systems are best for democracy (Norris). Therefore, because the simplest electoral systems best provide accountability and result in the best accountability/representation tradeoff, it is evident that the the best electoral systems (for democracy) are the ones that are simplest to understand.  

Bibliography

Blais, André, and Louis Massicotte. “Electoral Systems.” In Comparing Democracies 2: New Challenges in the Study of Elections and Voting, 2nd ed., 40–69. London: Thousand Oaks, 2002. 

Hellwig, Timothy, and David Samuels. “Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes.” British Journal of Political Science 38, no. 1 (January 2008): 65–90. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007123408000045

King, Charles. “Electoral Systems.” Georgetown University, 2000. http://faculty.georgetown.edu/kingch/Electoral_Systems.htm.

Norris, Pippa. “Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems.” International Political Science Review 18, no. 3 (July 1997): 297–312. https://doi.org/10.1177/019251297018003005

Schmitter, Philippe C, and Terry Lynn Karl. “What Democracy Is … and Is Not.” Journal of Democracy 2, no. 3 (1991): 75–88. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/225590/pdf

Unknown. “Representation, Accountability and Electoral Systems.” Unparliamentary Affairs. University of British Columbia, June 28, 2016. https://blogs.ubc.ca/unparliamentary/2016/06/28/representation-accountability-and-electoral-systems/

Over the Years: A Brief Summary of My Political Journey

My first political memory was of the 2004 presidential election, and from that point on, politics became my obsession. I remember asking my fellow preschoolers whether their parents were supporting Bush or Kerry. By 2008, after reading articles about different issues and how elections worked, I had a slightly better sense of where I leaned politically, but not enough to have legitimate conversations about them.

In 2010, Massachusetts had a US Senate election; I wanted to see what it was like from the grassroots, so I begged my mom to bring me to the Scott Brown’s campaign office in Framingham. When we got there, I was enamored by all the big signs, phones, and optimism that gave the office a unique charisma.

2012 was the first national election that I followed religiously. I remember talking with my friends at school, which taught me firsthand that most kids don’t care about or understand politics. I learned more every day by reading and talking to adults, two activities crucial to my understanding today.

Governor Charlie Baker’s victory in 2014 cemented my desire to understand and be involved in the political world. He embodies collaboration and compromise, and I respect how well and effectively he manages the state government. During his governance, I have become involved in state politics. I’m able to understand why certain Democrats chose him over their own party’s nominee, and why many conservative Republicans didn’t vote for him at all. I know which towns lean one way and which towns swing. I’ve learned how to navigate the vibrant emotions of election season when I interact with voters.

Today, I’m involved with elections, legislation, activism, and engagement. I’ve learned how to address certain crowds of people depending on their beliefs and how to effectively testify for a bipartisan bill I support. I’ve learned how to encourage youth to play more active roles in their communities. Combining all the small “talents” I’ve picked up along the way creates the talent of being a successful political activist. That’s my greatest talent, and I’m still just getting started.

Politics: Misconstrued and Underdiscussed

Sounds of excited students awaiting Christmas vacation rang throughout the lobby as my friends and I were debating the future role of the U.S. in Afghanistan, health care reform, the role of government in general, and even how young people would affect the presidential election just eleven months away.

Suddenly an idea popped into my head. “This should be a club that has an actual classroom and set topics.” Not only would founding PolitiX Club provide a better space to engage in political discourse, but it would also educate less politically aware students. The election was always a hot topic, but when it came to discussing actual policy, many students were unexposed to the current facts and proposals from various sides of the political spectrum.

As club president, I was torn between topics week to week. Some easy topics were sure to attract many more students, those that were certainly popular in the halls of a high school: gun control, abortion, and marijuana legalization. But what about the role of the US in a foreign genocide, the ramifications of net neutrality, and the intricate details of the tax code? “That’s too boring,” many would say when I announced one of these topics on a Monday afternoon. I believe what made these topics “boring” was that they were underdiscussed, nuanced, complicated, and required deep exploration of detailed facts to discover where one stands on the particular issue.

While club attendance was lower when we broke down tax rates and deductions, it was this type of underdiscussed topic that created productive and insightful discussion. Coming in with a fresh mind, unable to pick a verbal fight, allowed students to form their own opinions and have meaningful discussions. But, outside the walls of our club’s classroom, these crucial discussions were rare.

It’s always seemed counterproductive to me that at school, a supposed center for academic learning, real world awakening, and productive discussion, politics is suppressed. It’s like an evil spirit that lingers among minds and builds barriers of distrust and separation. It causes fists to clench and mouths to seal shut as verbal opinions stick to the tips of tongues. The unwritten rules and taboos dominate in the spirit’s presence, often overpowering it and keeping it away, creating an ignorant fantasy that the tension doesn’t exist.

Political conversations are not easy. It’s safer to bring up football scores or tell childhood stories over Thanksgiving dinner. But how productive and necessary are those conversations compared to politics? The foundation of our American republic relies on openly discussed political ideas. Our system exists to promote the rights and will of the people, but the people often choose communicative security over freedom and progress. Our own representatives in Congress often choose to only promote bills in line with their own party ideologies in order to pass easy and quick “solutions” because they’re terrified of admitting they’re wrong, and terrified of bipartisan dialogue and compromise.

Progress cannot occur without widespread and productive discussion. Politics has the ability to save and improve lives; it affects every single one of us, and ignoring it only allows others to dictate our lives and futures. It’s my mission to empower my generation to become active citizens and to enlighten young people of the immense capabilities we have to progress if we simply discuss politics openly and collaboratively.

I created PolitiX Club at my school to provide students with a firsthand, positive experience of discussing issues affecting our generation. From creating our own gun-related bills to discussing possible compromises on health care reform, PolitiX Club has boldly lived true to its mission. Empowering the youth and encouraging political activism is my passion because I firmly believe that my generation has the capacity to become a leader of progress in the world. Bringing this passion to my own school community and eventually college will help inspire my peers to learn, understand, and engage in a way that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom.

Article: Students push for education about government

Excited to get behind House Bill 2016! Here is the link to the article.

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While I firmly believe that our generation has the capacity to become a leader of progress in the political world, students must be aided by civics education and engagement. Without an apt knowledge and understanding regarding how our political system works, it will be very difficult to make the changes needed for progress and cooperation in the years to come.

Written Testimony in Support of Massachusetts House Bill 1582

Proud to have publicly testified in support of this legislation. Below is a transcript of the written testimony.

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Joint Committee on Revenue

Testimony in support of H.1582, An Act establishing a college tuition tax deduction

Chairperson Michael Brady, Chairperson Jay Kaufman, and members of the committee,

The Teenage Republicans of Massachusetts and the Youth Conservatives of Massachusetts strongly encourage the approval of H.1582, an Act establishing a college tuition tax deduction.

House Bill 1582 establishes a college tuition tax deduction that allows the individual (whether it be student or guardian) paying the tuition to deduct 50% of the cost of in-state public college tuition from their income.

As we high school students gear up for college, affordability and possible debt linger on our minds. We all value our education and seek to extend it to the college level, but many students our age across the Commonwealth simply cannot afford to attain that high level of education. We believe that government should strive to make a public college education cheaper through a bipartisan approach of tax deductions, not free tuition.

At the core, House Bill 1582 is a reward for students who choose to invest in their education and future. Students that choose to attend the public institutions in Massachusetts should be rewarded because they are generating more revenue for the state by staying here. While this tax deduction does not dramatically lower the cost of higher education, it still has a positive impact. For example, the current in-state tuition at UMass Amherst is $15,411 per year. As a result of this tax deduction, the individual paying tuition would save $392.98 per academic year, which would total $1571.92 over four years if there are no changes in tuition costs.

This tax deduction can be a deciding factor in choosing a public school versus a private school meaning there is a possibility that it would bring more revenue to the state. This bill incentivizes students to stay in-state for higher education, thus further pushing Massachusetts’ education system higher than it currently is (ie. makes it more competitive and successful).

Another positive effect of this bill is that the money that is saved by the students will either be put in the bank or reinvested in the economy while providing the students or guardians with more monetary flexibility without reducing any funding going toward the school directly.

Ideally we would support the 20% college tuition tax credit (S. 1590) to further enhance economic flexibility and college affordability, but we understand that in the budget’s current situation this credit would result in too much lost revenue for the state.

Ultimately, this bill serves as a bipartisan compromise that can appeal to those who want to provide relief from college costs as well as those who want to lower taxes.

Today more than yesterday, and yesterday more than the day before, students and their families are burdened with student debt. It is often reflected in our friends, our families, our neighbors, and our communities. Student debt has become a fundamental component of society, and therefore these struggling families ask you as legislators to aid them in a reasonable manner.

This bill incentivizes use of our public schools, allowing maintenance and growth, keeping Massachusetts at the forefront of education. As our schools continue to collect the unaffected cost of tuition, they will be able to further invest in on-campus developments.

This bill drives achievement, and achievement is bipartisan. We kindly ask for support of this bill regardless of political affiliation so that we can deliver common sense higher education reform to the people of the Commonwealth.

Sincerely, Mike Brodo, Brandon Fontaine and Samuel Leone

Trump is Wrong to End Michelle Obama’s Girls Education Program

I have linked my friend Sara’s article at the bottom. The text below includes some of my thoughts.

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As some of you know, I aspire to be a diplomat for the US State Department. Over the past few years, I have become more and more interested in being a diplomat in Africa with my primary focus being empowering women through education and achieving gender equality. Most of the problems in Africa are not as purely economic or material as they seem, but rather consequences of a society where half of the population’s knowledge, talents, and possible contributions are disregarded solely due to their sex. I am disappointed with the Trump administration for ending this more than worthy program. As the leading nation of the free world, we should be a shining example of gender equality, and thus promote female education programs around the world.

Source: Trump is Wrong to End Michelle Obama’s Girls’ Education Program