Thursday September 01, 2022

Is Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan fair?

Is Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan fair?

Activists call for the cancellation of student debt in Washington. Reuters

LZ Granderson, Tribune News Service

What is fair? That is the question of the hour, as politicians and everyday Americans on both sides of the aisle debate the pros and cons of President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student loan debt. Is it fair to those who didn’t go to college? Is it fair to those who “did the right thing’ and paid off their loans? In short: Is it fair to me?

These are all good questions. As is the question of cost. The White House says the average cost is $24 billion a year. Considering we’re already nearly $31 trillion in debt and Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, recently indicated that efforts to reduce inflation could bring “some pain to households and businesses,” asking how are we going to pay for this is a pressing question.

But to me, the most important question is actually who is going to pay for this? As in, who pays for what society needs to remain whole and healthy and who pays when it falls short?

I have a good friend by the name of Neil who is single, makes a good living and looks much younger than he actually is because he understood the importance of moisturizing early in life. Anyway, my buddy Neil never had any children but for more than 40 years he has had a portion of his tax dollars pay for services he does not use, like public schools.

Now, is that fair to Neil and other taxpayers without children? Or is paying for education for the next generation necessary to be part of a healthy society? A society where someone in Arizona can see Kentuckians struggling in the wake of devastating floods and be thankful the Federal Emergency Management Agency is there to help those people — as opposed to being resentful that no disaster requires FEMA aid in Arizona?

The answer to “who is going to pay for this?” is always “we are” — whether on the front end by addressing issues as a society or paying for the more expensive fallout from ignoring our problems. Time and time again, we are forced to face the reality that we are all in this together.

Certainly the expected cost of $300 billion for Biden’s loan forgiveness plan is significant. But what of the effect of having 45 million borrowers grappling with $1.6 trillion in student loan debt? What of the societal and fiscal cost of those millions of Americans stymied in their futures?

But we don’t think like that, we don’t vote like that and we don’t govern like that. That is why history is replete with billions spent on fixing problems that would have taken millions to prevent. Look no further than the homelessness crisis, which used to be “someone else’s problem” until it wasn’t.

Much has been made about the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and the other Republicans who have rabidly denounced student loan cancellations. Turns out, they had their own far larger Paycheck Protection Program loans forgiven. We know they have no shame and their supporters are not deterred by their blatant hypocrisy. And that’s how it has always been.

But for people genuinely asking about fairness or economic impact, there are issues to consider. If postsecondary education is the route to the middle class, is not college debt a sign of someone trying to pull themselves up?

Sure, we can find examples like Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s hypothetical slacker barista, who game the system, but we can also point to examples of businessmen who repeatedly file for bankruptcy and still get loans — but that doesn’t mean it’s the norm.

I was one of those individuals who graduated from college with student loan debt and went to bed hungry at times because of it. And when I was able to pay it off, I was happy. And I’m happy a portion of my tax dollars may go to relieve someone of that burden. Right now, millions of Americans, including the very poor, are drowning in student debt. I see this very much like a FEMA moment, and I’m thankful government is stepping up to help. Call me crazy but isn’t assisting those in need a principle of fairness as well?

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