This week Bernie Sanders — heretofore known as Santa Claus Sanders — unveiled a “plan” to forgive all college debt and make college free for everyone. I have to put the word “plan” in scare quotes because it’s a plan in the same sense that my son’s goal to grow up and become King Kong is a plan.
Santa Claus Sanders says that he will erase 1.6 trillion dollars in outstanding student debt, as well as guarantee free tuition to all Americans, with a modest tax on Wall Street. The trouble is that his tax will only allegedly raise 2.2 trillion dollars in 10 years. Even if that could take care of all the debt (which it can’t, because that 1.6 trillion figure would be significantly more than 1.6 trillion by the time the money has been raised), it would only leave a measly 600 billion to cover tuition for everyone, for any college, forever.
The thing that Santa Claus Sanders and his supporters don’t understand is that everything costs money and nothing will ever make it so that things don’t cost money. For instance, it costs almost five billion dollars to operate Harvard for one year. Harvard may be one of the more expensive schools to run, but there are also over 5,000 colleges in the country. All of them need money to operate — probably not as much money as they charge, but still they need money. That money has to come from somewhere, and Wall Street can’t and won’t carry the whole burden. Average working Americans will be called to “pay their fair share,” even if we are told otherwise today. But these are just the economic problems. There’s an even more serious moral dilemma involved here.
Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) tells the sob story of a young woman who was forced to take out a loan for $250,000 so that she could attend her “dream college.” I find that sob story somewhat uninspiring. Here’s mine: I didn’t attend any college because I couldn’t afford it. I spent most of my 20s broke and living on one meal a day. When I got married, I inherited my wife’s student debt, which I have been paying off for the past eight years. If the government waves its magic wand, makes all college debt disappear and offers free tuition to everyone, it would mean that I wasted an awful lot of money and made an awful lot of unnecessary sacrifices. I could maybe even be living in my dream house today if not for the monthly student loan expense. Where are my reparations? I want my money back. And I want that house I could have bought.
My demands are philosophically in line with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)’s recent proposal. She said that gays should receive 50 million dollars in reparations to make up for the tax breaks they would have received had gay marriage been legal these past few decades. If college graduates are entitled to loan forgiveness, and gays are entitled to reimbursement for tax breaks they may have theoretically once been granted, then I certainly am owed my own reimbursements. And I’m not the only one.
Many people have made enormous sacrifices and spent significant sums of money in order to meet their financial obligations. These are the responsible folks. Rather than reward their responsibility, “loan forgiveness” makes a mockery of it. That’s not right. They deserve restitution.
But even Santa Claus Sanders knows there has to be some kind of limit. We can’t possibly forgive all debt, and repay everyone who already paid their debt, and deliver reparations to everyone who made apparently unnecessary sacrifices. Some of these people are just going to have to suck it up and deal with it. But why some? Why not everyone? Why should some people get special treatment while others are left holding the bag? That seems rather unequal, undemocratic, and immoral.
Perhaps, on second thought, we should all just handle our own affairs and pay off our own debts. This may not be the most enjoyable solution, but it’s certainly the fairest one.