Morality and student debt

  • 30 April 2019
  • NormanL

One of the big progressive agenda items Democratic presidential candidates have embraced is a so-called "free" college education. Or, if not free, at greatly reduced prices. But in the search for traction and attention in the crowded Democratic field, merely proposing free stuff, like free college, isn't enough.  So Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed erasing the student loan debt of hundreds of thousands of graduates, and making the richest of the rich pay for it. As Reason's Nick Gillespie writes, this policy isn't just bonkers, it's immoral:

Warren's plan is of a piece with progressive Democrats pushing for more and more goods and services to be provided by the government regardless of citizens' ability to cover their own costs. From a financial perspective, this sort of reflex is flatly unsustainable in a country that has already run up a $22 trillion tab and whose rising debt service will cost more than Medicaid next year and more than military spending in 2023. But there's also a moral argument to be made here: Why shouldn't we expect people who can pay for their own education, health care, and retirement to do so? And why shouldn't we expect people who benefit from something to fund all or most of their activity?

Because fine details like that get in the way of the sales pitch: the super-rich will pay for it all through a new tax, so why not? Plus, Warren promises something for free -- and in marketing, as in elections, "free" is powerful. 

But that doesn't make it any smarter, let alone moral:

There's nothing wrong with asking people who benefit from something to shoulder all or part of the costs. Our national finances are falling apart largely because we keep insisting that all benefits be universal and that nobody pay their own way when it comes to big-ticket items such as health care, education, and retirement. One result in those areas are markets that don't function as efficiently as they would otherwise. Another is a pervasive belief that we can always pass the costs of our choices onto other people. Our government is trying to be all things to all people It would be better to let it focus on helping people who can't help themselves, and let the rest of us get on our with our own lives.

Which is exactly the right...unless you happen to be running for the Demcoratic presidential nomination. In that case, the closer to seem to Santa Claus, the more likely you are to win.