Student Loan Forgiveness is an Assault on Justice
When was the last time when you were encouraged by anyone other than a bankruptcy lawyer to default on a loan? How often have you encouraged a reluctant parent, or been pleased with your own reluctance or inability
to save money for your child’s or your own education?
There are voices today — loud voices — calling for the retroactive cancellation of student loan debt. How ironic that some of these voices have labelled themselves under the misleading moniker “Justice” or “Progressive.” There is neither justice nor progress in their proposals. On the contrary, it is an assualt on justice and an insult to progress to promote such a bad policy. And is should make for bad politics, as well.
To be sure it has been well documented that there are plenty of Americans — approximately 1 in 6 — who would feel an immediate relief and gratification if such a proposal were to take effect, notwithstanding the fact that there is
scant evidence to support these proposals as an effective strategy to stimulate economic activity, or to help anyone more than the top 60% of income earners.
Even without these, bad policy is bad policy no matter how good it feels to some, and massive student loan forgiveness would do irreparable harm to every single American: 6 in 6 pall bearers.
I happen to be a poster child of the college debt crisis. When I graduated from state school in 2009 our country was in the throws of the great recession. I owed over $80k in student loans and I had peers who graduated a year
from my program ahead of me who still hadn’t found work. As an intern in a professional design firm my starting salary was $33k, and I was thrilled to get it. Together my wife and I had a combined salary of $68k, and a total student loan burden of over $120,000. That sum was good for three graduate degrees.
Together we made just enough to cover our most basic needs — food, rent, clothing and transportation — with some nickels to spare for a coffee on paydays, served with a hot side of financial desperation.
We hold no ill will toward our fellow borrowers. We understand the feeling of being so desperate to advance one’s own opportunities that one will take that risk on eighty grand just to get your shot.
We know first-hand what its like to live hand to mouth and still have too much month at the end of your money: the pain of staring through tired eyes at your $1,400 minimum monthly payment - just to avoid default -knowing that it can all be over in 15 years.
“We can really start living then, and maybe afford some new shoes.”
This reprobation is not about “those people.” I am one of those people.
The rancor is strictly reserved for bad policy makers: those people who should know that policy must be forward looking, for it can only inform future decisions and future outcomes. Better yet if it can help solve future problems
before they happen to people like me. Looking forward, then, can nobody see the many benefits such a policy would fore tell?
If student loans are forgiven retroactively, what incentive has any future student to avoid a light debt burden, any less a modest or heavy one? Pile it on!
With no incentive for students to avoid or even minimize debt, what incentive has any institution to reign in or stabilize the fees they charge? The bigger the better!
Then, what incentive has a future graduate to repay the money that they have borrowed? Won’t it only be forgiven if they default for long enough? Apparently it can’t hurt to try.
When debts are imminently forgiven, aren’t higher costs strictly advantageous? Can we find a way to say that higher salaried professors and administrators will spend more in their local economies? I’m sure we can!
If student loans are to be forgiven and, therefore, college is essentially free, what incentive has anyone to save for their future education at all, or that of their children?
A massive jubilee of loan forgiveness does nothing make future college tuition more free or more affordable. We can see by reason that it more likely has the opposite effect.
Now ask yourself: are the above perils the hallmarks of a brighter, freer and more prosperous future? Isn’t that a future we all share? Rather don’t they spell only more debt and more requisite forgiveness?
Is that what we’re aiming for with the policies we set today?
So then what are these politicians talking about if theirs is obviously not a crusade for a better future?
By their own admissions most of them are looking backwards at what they deem a poorly structured approach to educational funding. We agree that this perspective has merit.
But we also know that politicians looking backward aren’t thinking about progress. They’re more often trying to promote justice. These politicians we hope and have heard seek to rectify an injustice they’ve witnessed, even if they haven’t experienced it firsthand, like me.
But is debt forgiveness justice?
Is it justice to the savers with a recent high-school graduate who, having diligently sweat and saved for years, can now see that their effort holds no merit? Is it justice that their diligence is void, if everything that they have they would only have gotten anyway?
Is it justice to the people who themselves made a living having never gone to college, or to the many whose children will not pursue a college education as part of their career path? Is it justice that these should pay for the educations of their future, higher earning managers, lawyers and financiers?
Is it justice to those persons who worked their way through college and avoided debt? Is it justice that their extra time to complete their coursework, delaying their marriages or careers, was time only wasted?
Is it justice to that parent or student who took out a smarter, cheaper home equity loan to pay for educational expenses? Is it justice that these should not be forgiven, too?
Is it justice to those who paid their dues for decades and now? Finally now approaching or having just passed into the light at the end of that long, dark tunnel of trial?
Is it justice to those like me who, staring at that 15 year payment plan strove to do better, worked three jobs as we charged every dollar toward disbanding our debt and freed ourselves ahead of our scheduled release date?
Is it justice to have endured the mocks and sneers of others as we wore consignment suits, packed our own lunches and drove used cars, to be all for naught?
If only I would’ve known that our future leaders would rather appease our delinquent selves along with our delinquent peers! Or should we all be sorry for having absolved ourselves through trial, toil and tears?
If I’d have known in 2010 that my loans would be forgiven in 2020, would I have endured? Would I have a better apartment? Nicer car? Bigger retirement fund? Forgive me for feeling like loan forgiveness steals a substantial portion of past.
And is that good policy, now? To punish we pissants so to gift the grasshopper?
Thank you for reading my perspective.