“Demagogic,” “wrongheaded,” even “Trumpian”—those were the words used to describe the proposal put forward on Sunday by Pietro Grasso of the Free and Equal Party about eliminating university tuition fees in Italy. The barrage of criticism is coming from the Democratic Party, involving the whole of its Renzian wing—a sign that the proposal has struck a nerve.
This is not a novel suggestion on the Left. It is also found in paragraph 7 of the electoral platform of Power to the People, as part of a highly progressive reform of general taxation. However, many voices from the Left have come out against Grasso’s proposal on social media. What would amount to a tax cut of €1.7 billion (or around €1 billion, if the measure were to be applied only to public universities) might benefit the “rich,” worsening the very inequalities that the measure is supposed to reduce.
On the other hand, one can argue that education is a universal human right and not merely a commodity. If it is a right, schools and universities should be free, paid for through general taxation, which would have to be much more equitable: Those who have a lot should pay a lot, and those who have little or nothing should pay little or nothing. Admittedly, in the times of the “flat tax” and the elimination of the IMU property tax on the first house owned, these notions might sound like science fiction.