This society is notorious for making it difficult to peel a scam layer by layer, much like an onion, in order to expose the ugly, green, and tear-inducing core. This week’s lesson in “How We Get Screwed Everywhere We Turn” finds us confronting the sticky wicket of student loan debt, and the problem some people have with the idea that other people might get something that helps them.
This is how I have always understood it: If you can do it, you will excel in school. You get the grades and the extracurriculars right, building a portfolio of accomplishment that will make you more attractive to top institutions of higher education. You attend those schools if you can. If possible, you pay for it with scholarships or student loans. Although you may incur debt, it is based on the promise that the education and training that you receive will allow you to find the type of employment that financial compensation makes such debt permanent.
The cynic within me is forced note that you have been inducted into The American Way. Your salary provides you purchasing power that can be used in many industries (maybe even your own) You cater to. You buy a house and staple yourself to a mortgage, you buy cars and furniture and vacations, you have children of your own and aim them toward a future that is now your past … all because you volunteered to lock yourself into a debt cycle that bought the education which provides you with the salary required to participate in that American Way.
… and it can be utterly insidious, how it all goes sideways sometimes. Consider my friend, the lawyer. She did well in high school and was accepted to a top-tier college. With the exception of an ill-advised exploration into the mysterious brain cramps of organic chemistry, she passed college. She wanted to be a lawyer because she felt the greater good. Because of her outstanding grades, she was invited by one of the top law schools on the Eastern coast.
My friend, a newly-minted lawyer, had accumulated student debt that was large enough to enjoy its own gravity by the time she finished college and law school. The advocacy groups, the public defender’s office, all the places she wanted to apply her talents and intentions, paid far too little for her to be able to manage her debt, and so she wound up at a desk by the window of a glass-and-steel cage 30 stories above downtown, another associate “grinder” at another corporate law firm.
You want to know the secret to why corporations seem to win? That’s why. My friend the lawyer, who wanted to save the world, took a job in corporate law “just for a few years,” she said at the time, until her six-figure debt was paid off. Like many others, her talents became another tool for corporate America to keep its supremacy through the courts. She was bold enough to start a family and purchase a house. The lure of that salary drowned all her earlier dreams that had been buried in debt. It is a common tale that is repeated too often.
It’s there. How can you get the best students in the country to work as corporate lawyers? Bury them in debt and then lure them into six-figure careers – perhaps a partnership, or even a judge’s robe down the road – spent defending those corporations in court. As long as these students remain in debt, they will continue to be able to finance oil companies’ efforts to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a disaster zone. This allows corporations to spend money on politicians who can bring about things like Citizens UnitedYou live your best life and the wheel will turn.
In truth, it’s actually simpler than that, and worse. My friend the lawyer made her choices, but many students today who are heavily indebted face a dire future. The way The Way works – the Only way it works – is if there are legitimate means to pay down that accrued debt once the schooling is finished. Otherwise, it’s all just another O Henry! It’s a bait-and-switch story that sees people do what they are expected to, only to be hosed when they reach the podium to receive their suddenly useless diploma.
Welcome to the world that millions of student loan holders have endured. Education is now more expensive than it was twenty years ago. And post-education opportunities are very scarce in an economy that has a tendency to eat itself every now and again. Many people of previous generations have not had the opportunity to enjoy the G.I. Bill, properly funded public schools, climbed up to the top of the ladder and then pulled the ladder back behind them.
How? Voting for Republicans who hate public schools and public money. To pay less taxes. It wasn’t Millennials or Gen Z who threw 74 million votes at Donald Trump in 2020, but a whole lot of them did what was expected of them and got an expensive education on the promise of future opportunity, only to find that ladder missing and their grandparents waving at them from the now-unattainable economic high ground.
Irony is everywhere.
“On Wednesday,” reports Politico, “[President Joe]Biden finally signed his highly anticipated contract. student loan assistance package. The plan will deliver hundreds of billions of dollars of relief to tens of millions of borrowers and transform the federal government’s student loan program.”
After two years of deliberations, finally, we have reached another typical Biden administration moment: a decision not to do what is necessary, but to do more than many believed possible.
Biden’s student debt relief plan has inspired howls of outrage from Republicans desperate for something to howl about with the midterms looming. Cries of “socialism!” and “deadbeats!” rattled the Murdoch portraits on the walls of Fox News. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Biden’s plan a “slap in the face to every family who sacrificed to save for college,” and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy labeled the plan a “debt transfer scam.”
TuitionFor McConnell, tuition was $330 and for McCarthy, it was $800. Even a quick glance at a college ranking magazine will show that the days of affordable education have passed. Another way to put it: Nearly 30 year after I graduated, tuition at the alma mater is well over $72,000 per year. Think I’d be going there today with that price tag attached? Think again … and I’m Gen X. I remember when gasoline was less than two bucks a gallon. It ain’t like it used to be, Mitch. Perhaps you didn’t see the memo, which was dated 2001 and is still valid today.
You’d like to think the Republicans in high dudgeon over debt relief are trying to make a point without the usual dollop of hypocrisy on the side – you go into debt, you pay your debt – but you would be wrongTo all points on your compass.
GOP Reps. Vern and Marjorie Taylor Greene, together with Mike Kelly, Markwayne Mullins, and Kevin Hern, got snarky about the unfairness. This is kind of odd when you think about it. During the heights of the pandemic, every single person took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program’s debt forgiveness. Greene received $183,504 in PPP loans forgiveness. Kelly had $987 237 in forgiven loans. Buchanan had more than $2.3 million in PPP loans forgiven, and is now calling Biden’s new policy “reckless.”
Biden’s debt relief plan is not nearly enough to ameliorate the generational economic screwing currently endured by millions, but it helps. It is helpful if it only acknowledges the fact that The American Way, which was never made available to all, has been turned into a debt trap to lock people in a perpetual financial scramble while their few coppers are being wrung from their bones.
If you’re an advocate for The Way, you want these people to buy houses and cars and become part of the system, right? It works like a Ponzi scheme. The money freed up by this debt forgiveness is somebody’s down payment on a mortgage. That’s the whole point, right? Hello? Is this really happening?