A conservative case for student loan forgiveness

Had a long discussion about student loans recently, as several Democratic candidates are floating the idea of loan forgiveness.

My friend started from the standard Republican position of, “If you took a loan you are responsible for paying it back. Screw these spoiled kids who want something for nothing!”

I used to think this way, and in many ways I still do, but as I’ve gotten older, I believe this characterization is not entirely fair.

My buddy forced me to articulate why.

As a general principle, of course, people who take loans should take personal responsibility and pay them back, but I think student loans are unique, and because they’re so unusual, spanning generations of public policy and cultural pressure, the lender must bear some responsibility for who they gave the money to and why.

These are not ordinary loans. These are loans that follow you for your entire life.

These are not ordinary loans. These are loans that follow you for your entire life. They can follow you longer than a 30-year mortgage. They can follow you into retirement, they can follow you all the way to Social Security.

They’re guaranteed by the government and can’t be discharged, so banks feel comfortable making loans that could never be justified under a true free market.

I also believe there’s an increasing degree of fraud being committed by people who push these loans. Financial aid officers are there to help you fill out paperwork, they’re not life counselors who are going to ask you to reconsider your entire career path.

I think the problem starts even earlier than that, with the expectations of teachers, parents, and guidance counselors.

From the day we start school we are told to go to the most prestigious, most expensive school we can, with the understanding that the more expensive the school, the better your whole life will be when you get out. Parents internalize this and begin to believe their child’s entire future depends on how much they spend on preschool and property taxes.

And then, if little Debbie or Johnny doesn’t quite have the grades to get a full ride, you get them into the most expensive program you can, even if they have to take student loans, because you are convinced that going to an expensive school won’t just determine their career, but has a good chance of determining who their husband or wife will be.

Are parents really going to send their kids to Second Chance College and risk having Johnny come back with a recovering drug addict or a single mom? College isn’t just about education. Indeed, these days, education is the least important part.

College is about status, and status determines what parties you get invited to, what frats you get to pledge, what calibre of women you get introduced to, and ultimately, what connections you can make with people in the highest possible income bracket.

Your righteous, debt-free butt will be sitting home playing Fortnite while the kids you go to class with are binge drinking with their future wives.

Being fiscally responsible may be optimal in the long term, but the short term can be lonely and you pay a price for defying the herd.

Being fiscally responsible may be optimal in the long term, but the short term can be lonely and you pay a price for defying the herd.

I know it’s pure evil to say this out loud, but this is what every parent is thinking as they sift through college applications. You can argue that education should not be wrapped up in this hideous package deal, but it is and discrimination based on these credentials works all the way down, even to what kind of jobs you can get in your home town.

You know the smartest long-term choice is to let Johnny become a welder and get his first credits at community college so he can avoid crushing debt, but every teacher, every administrator, every counselor, and every parent you’ve talked to for 18 years has told you college, college, college and you’re terrified of sabotaging your kid’s future just so you can save a few bucks in the here and now.

How can you fight the whole system and risk sticking your kid with an underperforming career for the next 20 years?

Do student loans still feel like an “optional” free market choice in light of this?

You don’t worry about the loans because every teacher, every counselor, and every other parent you talk to says they’re no big deal and you’ll have plenty of time to pay them off. It’s just part of growing up, they say.

Do the people who told you these things bear any responsibility for the money you took out? Do social climbing parents bear any responsibility for the expectations they put on their kids? Does the government bear any responsibility for inflating the cost of education to 13 times what our parents paid?

Does the government bear any responsibility for creating a system that preserves student debt forever while everything else rolls off in seven years?

But maybe you don’t believe in bankruptcy and debt forgiveness, either. Personal responsibility, right?

But every Republican I know who makes that argument has gone through some kind of bankruptcy and now has their life together because of some kind of debt forgiveness.

If banks weren’t willing to forgive the stupid stuff I did in my 20s, I wouldn’t even have a checking account right now, and unless you had a strong family, neither would you.

Businesses can go bankrupt. Corporations can make bad decisions and dissolve like dust in the wind, leaving creditors hung out to dry. If individuals should be morally responsible for debts from cradle to grave, shouldn’t companies and their boards of directors be held to the same standard?

Loans are a choice, but interest rates are a choice, too. Extending credit is a choice, and the risk is calculated to eight decimal places. Borrowers pay for the privilege of credit and risk of default is part of the equation.

If those risks are distorted by free money and insane low interest rates, who is responsible for that?

I’m not asking for “free college” and I’m not asking for a debt jubilee, but if we make these debts dischargeable, if we charge these bad loans back and start holding these colleges responsible for the promises they make, maybe we can fix the system without bending our principles too far out of shape.

I believe in fair play and personal responsibility, but we’re playing against a dealer who demands your cards face up and collects double the chips if you lose. Should we really insist on holding to principle against a system that is built around cheating us?

I believe in honor as much as the next guy, but not to the point of masochism.

If a politician comes up to me and says, “If I win, I’ll make this college stop kicking you in the —–.” I don’t much care if his tie is red or blue. I’ll worry about principles after they stop kicking me.

Jared Braddock is a technology writer in Williston, Florida, where he lives with one loud beagle, two ornery goats, and several very angry chickens.  This article was originally posted in the New Right group on Reddit. Republished with permission.