Everyone should pay back what they owe
Higher education is nominally supposed to prepare students for what we quaintly call “the real world.” That’s been the idea for a fair number of decades, anyway. It’s not all that fashionable anymore. One of the driving forces behind many Democratic candidacies for president, after all, is wide-scale forgiveness of student loan debt. This is a bad idea; few things could better cement the idea of college as just an expensive playground for childlike adults.
Summing up this sentiment very nicely, hard-left candidate Bernie Sanders declares on his website that he wants to “cancel the entire $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt for the 45 million borrowers who are weighed down by the crushing burden of student debt.” One imagines that $1.6 trillion is nothing in the eyes of a committed socialist, though to the rest of us it’s a fairly large number. Sanders has proposed funding this extravagant outlay by taxing Wall Street, or something. (Hopefully there will be enough left to tax after he extracts the $40 trillion necessary for his Medicare-for-All scheme.)
Here is a brutal but very simple truth: Those who are living under the “crushing burden of student debt” undertook that debt all on their own. Nobody takes out student loans under duress. True, our culture attaches an unconscionable amount of importance to attending college—most Americans grow up thinking that it’s the only possible way to a successful middle-class existence—and many students thus feel like it’s their own shot at a happy life, $40,000 of debt be damned. That should change. Just the same, even a perverse cultural incentive doesn’t count as compulsion. If you take out loans to pay for school, they’re your loans. Paying them back is consequently your responsibility.
The optimal outcome of this unhappy arrangement would be this: The current generation of college students dutifully pays back what they owe, while counseling their children and grandchildren that maybe taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to pay for increasingly devalued liberal arts degrees isn’t the wisest course of action. What’s needed here, in other words, is a paradigm shift away from the whole college-above-all mentality. That’s not going to happen, of course, if a government sugardaddy just pays for everything.
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