Morris: ‘Forgiving’ Student Loans
My heartfelt congratulations to President Biden. He is proposing an idea so bad that it replaces the No. 1 choice of worst federal government scheme of my lifetime.
My guideline in judging federal programs is whether they honor the fundamental relationship between the government and the governed – that of government as a servant of the people – or attempt to flip that relationship by making people the servants of government.
Using that criterion, federal income tax withholding is the gold standard of government gone bad. By taking a little of our money at a time from each paycheck instead of hitting us with one gigantic bill, the government lulls us into complacent acceptance. Furthermore, the whole concept of “withholding” resets the default from “this money is mine, and the government must make the case for taking it” to “this money is the government’s, and I must make the case for keeping it.’
But that was before my lifetime.
The worst policy implementation I witnessed as a horrified voter was President Nixon’s revenue-sharing plan in which the federal government dispensed money to local units of government with few of the usual strings attached. It was free money – some $85 billion doled out during the program’s 14-year history – and there was jubilation in the land.
Of course, the money given to local units had been taken from local taxpayers in the first place. We were being bribed with our own money, and the idea of Washington as the great benefactor was further solidified. President Roosevelt would have been delighted.
There will always be new ways for Washington to assert its dominance. Here comes Biden with his wonderful student-loan forgiveness pledge, perhaps up to $10,000 per borrower, perhaps $50,000 or even more. The move, it is said, would free a certain group’s money anxiety in a time of great economic turmoil.
It would also add a bit to the national debt, which is but one part of the plan’s shortcomings.
It would be a slap in the face to those who have already moved heaven and earth to pay back their loans. It would insult all those Americans who never even dreamed of going to college. It would give people who should not dream of it the notion of giving it a whirl anyway, on somebody else’s dime. It would make other debtors, such as homeowners, start to wonder.
And, such real-world results aside, the plan fails on the very concept it is built upon: Do any old thing you want, and do not fear the potential negative consequences because the government will be there to pick up the pieces. All that’s asked in return is for you to put yourselves in its care forever.
But of course, that means the government chooses the winners and losers, and though it may decide in your favor today, it might just turn against you tomorrow. Living or dying by the whim of the ruler – isn’t that why we got rid of kings?
I admit to not being a disinterested observer here.
My parents could not afford to send me to college, so I came up with a brilliant way to get the government to send me. I joined the Army, then got my education by way of the G.I. Bill.
All it cost me was three years of my life.
Perhaps the government would like to cancel that debt for me. All it has to do is add three years to my life. And I don’t want three more affliction-prone, senior citizen years. I want three more youthful, zest-for-life years.
Do you think my expectations might be too high?
Well, whose fault is that?
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.