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A radical idea for politicians: Make students pay off their debt

All of it

At no point is any college student, at any time, forced to take on any student loan debt against his or her will. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, it has never happened in the history of the United States. Every penny of student debt was willingly drawn, and every penny of it should consequently be paid back.

This is not a revolutionary idea; it’s just basic economics and basic fairness. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats keep coming up with increasingly novel ideas for freeing college graduates from their financial obligations, yet they never stop to explain why it is that voluntary debt should be so easily discharged. Warren claims that American families are “being squeezed by an economy that forced them to take on more debt to cling to their place in America’s middle class.” This is simply false: Nobody forced anyone to take on any debt at all. If Elizabeth Warren can find a single person who was forcibly compelled to sign a FAFSA application, she might have something approaching a point. Beyond that she is in effect saying: “If you borrowed a bunch of money, you’re not obligated to pay it back.”

But of course you are. If you take out a loan, you have to pay it back; if you borrow money, you’re obliged to repay it in full. The fact that you did so in order to finance a leisurely five-year jaunt through a state school from which you emerged with a Womxn’s Studies degree does not change the moral and economic principles at play here. Borrowed money is borrowed money; it does not magically transform into a moral quandary just because you’re having trouble finding full-time work.

A productive national conversation about student loan debt would focus on the fact that, for many people, college is an expensive and wasteful non-necessity—that the majority of liberal arts majors, at the very least, could have avoided all of the time and money and headache by just reading a bunch of books and pursuing some other vocation in the interim. We might all begin to explore whether or not the ubiquitous cultural impulse to attend college actually makes sense for anyone.

But before we can have that discussion, we have to admit it: Whether or not you’re happy with your decision to attend college, if you borrowed money to do it, you should pay that back instead of forcing other people to do it for you.

MORE: Expecting debt forgiveness, most students not reducing their student loan balances

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