But people with outstanding student loans as a class?
As a class, we've already benefited from subsidies to higher education, we've acquired human capital and a credential that sets us apart from most people on the planet, and we're certainly not the Americans in most dire need of help, though we are more politically influential than the less fortunate. "If we think it more important to spend this dough on education," says Will Wilkinson, "then we
should hand out the $6 billion in the form of scholarships to deserving
prospective collegians of modest means, to help them earn their degrees
without having to take out any loans at all."
Yet look at how President Obama talks about this issue:
This is not something I read in a briefing book. This
is not some abstract idea for us. We've been in your shoes. When we
graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt, both
of us. That means when we got married, we got poorer together. We added our assets together, and they were zero. And then we added our liabilities together, and they were a
We paid more for our student loans than we paid for our mortgage each
month when we first bought our small condo in Chicago. And we were
lucky to land good jobs with a steady income, but we only finished
paying off our student loans about eight years ago. Think about that.
I'm the President of the United States and -- (laughter and applause) --
so here I am, and we were writing those checks every month. And that
wasn't easy, especially when we had Malia and Sasha, because at that
point, we're supposed to be saving for their college educations, and
we're still paying off on our college educations. So I've been in your
shoes. I know what I am talking about here. This is not something that
I just read about.
This makes my point.
Obama earned degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. His wife, Michelle, graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School. Once you've done that it doesn't matter how much you've borrowed. You're in the one percent. The Obamas ought to have been writing those checks every month, because to subsidize couples with four graduate degrees from Ivy League schools between them -- in a country with impoverished immigrants and struggling high school dropouts and hard-pressed single mothers -- is perverse. That Obama offered up his own story in that way is a testament to our collective loss of perspective on this.
Of course, most people with student loan debt don't have Ivy League degrees. They're still generally better off than people without diplomas. And while decreasing the cost of college for those who've yet to attend ought to be a public policy goal, especially since educational subsidies have been structured in a way that helped to drive up costs to begin with, there is no good reason to subsidize not just hard up folks with student debt, but folks with student debt generally.
It's a pander. People like me would benefit from it. But I don't like it.