Via Yglesias come this paragraph in the Nation:
Large debt–and the fear it creates–is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A. and even a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt. While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world. The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt. Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt. During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt.
Let’s just ignore the fact that most of the free universities in the Middle East are of very poor quality (although they do have smart students), the author seems to be drawing some spurious link between fear of providing for themselves and their family, and reluctance to protest. While I’m unaware of the student loan debt of each protester in Egypt and Iran I do know that at the very least they were aware of the consequences of their actions. Challenging the government in an authortirian society can cost one their job, leave them in jail, or dead, and even subject their extended family to the same treatment. Yet despite these costs – which are much higher than being unable to pay for a student loan in the US – people still took to the streets. People in these countries already faced economic uncertainty; that’s one of the reasons they protested.