If It Was Voluntary, Why Expect Forgiveness?

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A recent news story reignited a spark of outrage about a contemporary issue; the idea of “forgiving” student debt.

I’ve written about this before (read it here) and thought a recent Supreme Court decision had laid the issue to rest, but alas it rises again. (I leave the genesis and motivation of the court case for another argument.)

Now, the act of forgiveness is an honorable concept, yet is generally reserved for when someone wrongs another person or group. The proposal here is to “forgive” student loans because of the crushing debt it imposes on those who incurred it. Where is the wrong in this matter? What are we forgiving, poor decisions? Buyer’s remorse? The sting of reality?

Any harm here was self-inflicted. Regret alone is not a valid reason for seeking absolution. One must accept responsibility for one’s own actions, not seek to take advantage of other’s eleemosynary inclinations. (Use your degree to figure out the meaning. See if it worked.)

On September 1st, the moratorium on accruing interest on these loans ends and payment will once again resume. The Biden administration is seeking an end run around the court decision to accomplish their original goals.

I won’t revisit all the arguments for and against such policies. Instead, I just want to talk about my gut reaction.


There, I feel better.

The estimated cost of this program is $400,000,000,000 (4 × 1011)for you math majors.) Last I heard, the administration had set aside $95,000,000 (95 × 106) for aid to the devastation on Maui. A bit incongruous don’t you think? Offering the equivalent of 0.0002375% of the money earmarked for people who created their own problem to people who suffered loss and tragedy through no fault of their own.

It is un-American.

Again, wtf!

Now, if the President were to propose a policy linking forgiveness to joining the military or the Peace Corps, agreeing to become a teacher, police officer, or other public safety professional, or committing to some form of long-term public service—helping rebuild Lahaina, Maui perhaps—I would be inclined to agree with a graduated reduction of student debt for such a commitment.

Even a long term proposal to pay for education at a public college is worth discussion, but not an ex post facto implementation. Write a law, let Congress debate it, and then pass it or not but make it a public discourse.

But a carte blanche elimination of a debt incurred voluntarily with public funds, with no obligation to provide any contribution to society other than paying taxes, is a step too far. Everyone who either paid their loans or never took them out in the first place did deserves equal treatment and timing shouldn’t be an element of that equality.


Emphasis Author

The idea that we should pay the cost of education for someone who earned a degree with no intention of doing anything but getting a better job than they might with a high school diploma is inherently unfair.

We guarantee the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit part is guaranteed, the success of this is not.

I will bet anyone who took out a loan to start a business or mortgage to buy a house understood they could not rely on the banks “forgiving” those loans as a sound financial plan. They entered these agreements voluntarily with the full knowledge they would have to be repaid or they would face consequences.

The same holds for those who voluntarily took the loans to go to school.

If you needed the education to secure a job and build a career, then this is a responsibility you incurred and a choice you made.

If your plan involved hoping the government would step in and make this obligation go away, it shows a character flaw. And it is a poor plan.

Responsible people abide by their obligations, they don’t seek to use other people’s money to do it for them.

The government is here to provide for the safety and security of the governed, not to pay their voluntarily incurred bills because they are burdensome.

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8 thoughts on “If It Was Voluntary, Why Expect Forgiveness?

  1. Joe, finally an article by you, I can wholeheartedly disagree with. What your argument misses, is that higher education for the most part up till the ‘Great Recession’, kept raising rates well above the cost of living (because they could). This inflated rate was passed along to students (and their families). This inflated rate was paid for by most via loans. Higher education opens doors for personal and professional development. Higher education fuels the economy. If you wanted a degree, loans were the only way forward for many. Now saddled with education debt and inflated prices for basic needs (like housing), Biden proposed $10 K in debt relief (a modest but helpful amount ). Seems reasonable to me.

    1. And that is the beauty of free speech. The article is reflective of my gut reaction to the program. A more nuanced look might be less opposed. But I am glad I could write something you could disagree with. Thanks for taking the time to respond. Let’s see if I can come up with others.

  2. Hi, Joe, I am with Kent. How can a high schooler know that the B.S. that they are told they should get in order to be a viable adult will cost them $150,000 by the time they get it? That sure is BS! They are told that the education will make it so they can make enough money, that to pay the loan back would be no problem…their education would equal a better job, right?! I mean, the companies loan them the dough because they are solvent enough to pay them back, right? Just like qualifying for a credit card? Wrong! They get saddled with the unbelievable debt…just sign here! And, they don’t land those jobs, mostly, so they suffer trying to pay back the debt. Students can’t claim bankruptcy, did you know that? They will, sometimes, never pay off the debt! When we went to college, it was more affordable…I mean, for me tuition was $900 per year! Now, it is more like $55,000 per year…wtf! I understand your view that students sign for the loans, but, colleges soak them. And, what is the alternative? Have the potential med student who is brilliant, not go to school because he can’t afford it? Then, we have that brilliant student working at McDonald’s? Our society suffers the less we educate our populace. I am for free education…we would all benefit from a more educated society.

    1. HI Camille, thanks for taking time to read and reply. You make valid points, but as I said my piece was a gut reaction. There is a need for change within the educational system. Way back when, the same argument about the need for higher education was made to make high school mandatory. Then the argument was taking labor away from the family farm or business for an “unnecessary” education that offered no discernible benefit. It was a short-sighted argument, of course more education is beneficial.

      Now, we have reached the point where a BS or BA is the minimum level of education for a successful career. I would argue free education even to the master’s level is an investment with great public benefit. Private schools, especially the Ivy League, have become businesses. They are driven by increasing the endowment balance and driving the market to put a higher value on private education.

      Is there a higher value in a Harvard, Brown, or Yale degree? Perhaps, but choosing such schools is still a choice.

      I agree investment in Public Education is a wise public policy and should include free tuition for BS and MS degrees. I’ve travelled quite extensively and it always amazes me the countries where undergrad, masters, and even PhD degrees are free (there is competition for the advanced degrees but that is the nature of such career choices. Just because someone wants to be a doctor doesn’t mean they should.)

      I would argue that trade schools, i.e. plumbers, electricians, etc. should be free as well.

      But my gut feeling still nags at me when I consider the idea of paying for something I had no voice in choosing, may receive only tangential benefits from, and have little say in who this accrues to.

      We would all benefit from a better educated society, it might prevent things like the Trump/MAGA from ever arising. But this also raises the issue of the quality of public education which is a whole other discussion.

      1. Hi, Joe, I like a lot of what you say and we agree on universal education…I guess the rub is how to make that a reality. It is like climate change…we know we are causing it, but, the uneducated Trump-supporting crowd would like to ignore it. Existential crises on both fronts!

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