One of the policies which Democrats want to adopt is student debt forgiveness. This is a bad idea which should not be adopted.
One of the ideas that many candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination as well as other Democratic politicians have advocated is that the federal government should abolish or at least reduce the debt incurred by college students borrowing money to pay their tuition and other expenses. The most progressive Democrats wanted total debt forgiveness. Even Joe Biden, running as a moderate centrist, advocated the cancellation of up $10,000 of debt for each student. Given the probability that the GOP will recapture the Congress in 2022, Democrats will be pushing for debt forgiveness in the runup to next year’s elections.
The main reason offered by supporters of debt forgiveness is that it would stimulate the growth of the economy. Total student debt amounts to about $1.6 trillion dollars, and climbing. Economists supporting debt forgiveness say that freeing debtors of the obligation to repay their loans will give them an infusion of extra cash to save and/or spend as they see fit. This could cause the gross domestic product to surge by up to $108 billion a year.
But Washington Post columnist George Will reported the following exchange between a Democratic presidential candidate and a citizen critical of her debt forgiveness proposal:
One drama of Joe Biden’s infant presidency was foreshadowed 13 months ago in Iowa when a rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, answered a question. Her “a program for every problem” repertoire included as much as $50,000 of forgiveness for indebted students or former students from households making less than $100,000, declining to zero for $250,000 households. An Iowan said to her:
“My daughter is getting out of school. I’ve saved all my money [so that] she doesn’t have any student loans. Am I going to get my money back?”
Warren: “Of course not.”
Iowan: “So you’re going to pay for people who didn’t save any money, and those of us who did the right thing get screwed?”
But wait! There’s more!
Not only would this Iowan get nothing himself, but he would also have to help pay for the debt being cancelled for the Democrats’ would-be beneficiaries: After all, the federal funds loaned to students come from the taxpayers. If the loans aren’t paid back, the taxpayers are left holding the bag.
And it gets worse. About one third of adults over 25 have at least 4-year college degrees. They will earn, on average, about $1 million dollars more over the course of their lifetimes than those who don’t have college degrees. So any taxpayer-funded college loan program is one which takes money from many who don’t have degrees to finance the education of those pursuing, and earning, such degrees. Advocates of debt forgiveness also argue that with principle and interest, the amounts owed to the government could grow to onerous amounts. But Will reports that the average student-incurred debt is about $28,500, which could be retired if paid back at a monthly rate of $181.00 over 20 years. Surely at least part of the extra income that will go to those who earn their degrees can be used to pay their debts? Otherwise, to require taxpayers without degrees to help finance those pursuing degrees is to take from those who earn less, and give to those who earn more. That’s the sort of policy the Sheriff of Nottingham might approve of, but not Robin Hood.
None of this is to say that the cost of a college education isn’t overpriced, sometimes outrageously so. But rather than take money from the have-lesses and giving it to the prospective have- mores, we should recognize that the ease with which federal aid is afforded students encourages colleges and universities to admit more students to get their money, while increasing the costs of going to school because the federal government will indirectly pay the costs through lending more money to students. Bureaucratic bloat also contributes to higher education costs. As a fun activity, check out the number of Vice Presidents, Associate Vice Presidents, Assistant Vice Presidents, Deans, Associate Deans, etc., etc., etc. at a university near you.
Anyone who believes in rational and responsible public finances—a class which may consist of normal citizens but not necessarily of Democratic and Republican lawmakers—should hope that someday federal student loan programs will be brought under better control and administrative bloat in higher education will be reduced. But until then, we should adhere to the principle that if you borrow money, you need to repay it. Credit card companies, mortgage companies, banks, and other lenders are kind of funny in wanting their money back, with interest. As soon as those who borrow money understand that basic principle, the better off everyone will be. It’s certainly a good principle for college students to learn as well.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.