Money Back Guarantee

The breakdown, with exceptions, falls into two categories: if you’re struggling under what seems to be insurmountable students loans, you’re all for student loan cancellation. If not, you’re not. This could all be chalked up to enlightened self-interest, which is just as sound a justification as any, even if it’s wrapped up in inapt analogies and the stories of personal misery that are so favored by the young and insipid these days.

But then someone like Roxane Gay comes along to remind everyone why it’s just one small bit of the lazy litany of grievances.

Much of political division about student loan forgiveness can be explained by the fact that people want to benefit from the social contract without adhering to its terms. Or they only care about the social contract as it applies to the right kinds of people And, of course, there is the bootstrap mentality — If I have achieved success, surely you can too —  which is delusional at best. Then there are those who worship at the altar of personal responsibility: If you assume a debt, you must repay it. And worst of all, there’s the sufferance doctrine: If I have experienced hardship, you must experience hardship, too.

We have free, compulsory education through 12th grade, but not everyone has children, and not every child goes to a free public school. We have highways and interstates, bridges and tunnels, but not everyone drives on them. Gay has no children, but she pays her taxes. That, she contends, is the social contract, so why not revise the social contract to cancel her student loans?

Instead of explaining the rationale, she proffers the pragmatic response.

Damon Linker, a columnist for The Week, tweeted, “I think Dems are wildly underestimating the intensity of anger college loan cancellation is going to provoke. Those with college debt will be thrilled, of course. But lots and lots of people who didn’t go to college or who worked to pay off their debts? Gonna be bad.” This is what passes for political thinking these days — empty statements rising out of the notion that we have to govern from a place of fear about what might anger “lots and lots of people.”

And indeed, as was clear when this question was posed here, people will most assuredly be angry. But rather than seize upon the reasons why, Gay goes for the facile blow.

Here’s the thing about anger. We only seem to prioritize one kind — anger in reaction to progress. And we never seem to acknowledge the anger rising out of oppression, marginalization, and under representation. The end of slavery and desegregation angered lots and lots of people, and so did taxation, suffrage, marriage equality. Progress angers people, but change is not the problem. The rage and resentment are.

But we’re not talking about ending slavery, but canceling student debt, a distinction that only the laziest mind could ignore. Gay has loans to pay off a couple graduate degrees. She deserves a refund, for anyone who could be so incapable of thought was cheated by her university.

The analogies to public school and highways are poor in themselves, as they reflect benefits for any and every member of the public who chooses to avail themselves of them. Does every college accept every applicant? But more to the point, these reflect changes to the social contract, if you will, that was decided first and then put into action. These are not personal choices for personal benefit which, only after someone realized that their choices were poor or foolish, seek to be relieved of their burdens.

In public school, every student is theoretically given a basic education. What happens from there is up to them. They get to choose whether to attend college, and what degree to seek. If they choose a degree that fails to provide a remunerative future, and take out substantial student loans to pay for it, they are, without a doubt, going to struggle. This is a problem, both going in and coming out, and there is no shortage of fault, by the colleges, government, student, parents, advisors, and pundits who tell them to follow their passion and somehow they’ll end up riding unicorns on rainbows.

But what Gay does here is wrap it all up under the umbrella of “progress,” which might explain why some are called “progressives,” and why they are not the same as liberals.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that we must not trigger people by discussing radical ideas like universal health care, civil rights for the L.G.B.T.Q. community, reckoning with police violence and the carceral system, protecting women’s bodily autonomy, and of course, student debt forgiveness. Somehow, compromise has come to mean not doing anything to upset anyone who is completely fine with ignoring the most urgent problems of our day.

There is no compromise involved. There could be, at least in outcomes, but for Gay to suggest that there is any latitude on her chosen values is a sham. Adding debt cancellation to the laundry list of progressive desires doesn’t make it progress, and doesn’t make anything else on her list open to compromise. The problem isn’t that it “triggers” people, but that Gay wants others to pay for her wish list because her values are the “correct” values.

Students with loans are struggling. People who never went to college are struggling. People who went to college but paid their tuition or paid off their student loans are struggling. And some aren’t struggling, but they sacrificed for their choices, a concept foreign to Gay. It may well be that students were too young, too dumb, too shallow, to gasp that they were making choices to take on debt that would crush them in the future, and there is much to criticize about how and why this happened, and what to do about it. Adding it to the bottom of the progressive laundry list, and wrapping it up with ending slavery, is not an answer and may be the most insufferably lazy approach possible.

But then, Gay may not be the most articulate spokesperson despite her having attended Phillips Exeter before Yale, benefits that few others in Nebraska got to enjoy. Gay deserves a refund of her tuition rather than cancellation. Higher education failed her. Miserably. Too bad that colleges don’t offer a money back guarantee.

28 thoughts on “Money Back Guarantee

  1. DaveL

    It reminds me of that old pickup line, “Why don’t we grab some pizza, and have sex? What, don’t you like pizza?” Except Gay isn’t joking, and cheesy pickup lines used to not pass for serious political commentary.

  2. Jay

    You’re smarter than this. Picking on lazy arguments with your own just makes everyone stupider. Cancelling student loan debt is about putting money back into the economy instead of having it go to the government. But in a more important way it’s about putting an end to the government giving easy money to colleges, who in turn continually raised the cost of tuition in ways that should make them blush. Claiming that 18 year olds should know better is a facile argument. You’re better than this.

    1. Steve King

      i would like to point out that we give a crap ton of 18 year old people high powered rifles and send them off to break things and kill people, safe guard nuclear weapons, repair airplanes, drive ships, etc. They may be financially ignorant but they are not lacking in responsibility.

      1. SHG Post author

        To be fair, we were doing that with 18-year-olds for a very long time, but today’s 18-year-olds may not be quite as responsible as their fathers and grandfathers. Indeed, today’s 30-year-olds either.

    2. Pedantic Grammar Police

      I agree that putting an end to the university cartel’s “student loan” scam is more important than bailing out its victims and should be part of any bailout, but that isn’t on the table and never will be.

  3. Rengit

    There’s a facile comic going around in relation to this concerning the trolley problem, where a trolley that just ran over a bunch of people is careening toward another group of people, and the question mockingly posited is, “Would it be fair to the people the trolley just ran over to stop it before it runs over more people?”, to try to demonstrate other people’s suffering bears no relevance for the suffering of student loan borrowers.

    The truth is, from the perspective of the dead and their surviving loved ones, no, it wouldn’t be fair to stop the trolley now when it could have been stopped earlier, and people really do look at the world this way: see some of the reactions to the opioid epidemic and how it’s unfair and even racist to respond to it with compassion and care, rather than disregard and harshness, because the approach we took with the crack epidemic 25-30 years ago was much harsher with little support for crack addicts. At the personal level, I’m sure everybody has had friend or romantic or family squabbles that turn ugly over one person having done something nice for someone, and someone else takes it personally by saying “Why did you do that for X, but you didn’t do that earlier for me when I could have used it?”

    1. SHG Post author

      I’ve seen that trolley meme. It’s cute.
      The problem is that it’s a fallacious argument. The money has already been borrowed from lenders and paid to colleges, and it will have to be repaid. To make the analogy work, the dead people would only be injured, but still alive, and the trolley would either run over the new people who took out the loans or the old people who already paid over again, but it’s going to run over someone either way and the only question is whom.

      1. Richard Parker

        The trolley should back up to finish the job. I once saw a woman accidentally kill a cat twice. She hit a cat at modest speed. The cat might have survived. Confused, she backed up slowly to see what had happened. The cat didn’t survive that.

        This has something to do with America in 2020. I’m not sure exactly what though.

  4. Pedantic Grammar Police

    Universities aren’t selling the ability to think. If they are selling anything it is the ability to make money, and it appears that Roxanne is doing that just fine, unlike the vast majority of her fellow grievance studies students.

  5. Jake

    “And indeed, as was clear when this question was posed here, people will most assuredly be angry.”

    Some people. Others realize the economy will demand more sacrifices before the current crisis is over and recognize the risks of continuing the favor the lenders’ pocketbooks when things go poorly on a balance sheet.

      1. Jake

        No, the vast majority of your readers will be angry. That we are even discussing the possibility a presidential administration might execute such a policy is proof enough it has the support of more than a ‘tiny minority’ of Americans.

          1. Jake

            ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I could say the same of you the last couple of days, my friend. Or I could point you to hundreds of articles surveys that support my claim -but you know how to use Google. Debt forgiveness is currently a mainstream conversation for a reason. Don’t support it? Fine. Argue against it? Fine again. Dismissively insulting people who disagree with you will not make your arguments more convincing.

            Now go ahead and tell me I’m done today, as is the pattern when I challenge SJ orthodoxy. Or have a donut and think fondly of Scotch O’Clock. I’ll still love you either way.

            1. SHG Post author

              As we’ve already discussed, your fascination with your serial comments exceeds other readers here. You don’t care (which is fine), but I try to accommodate everyone’s interests, and I’m the guy who has to field the complaints.

              You’ve made a different arg this comment than last, which is something you do frequently, usually referred to as moving the goalposts, and is unfortunately apparent to pretty much everybody but you. People are for a lot of things until they realize that the loans aren’t really being canceled, but that payment is being shifted from the students to them.

        1. Miles

          Who wants to cancel students loans? [Everybody raises their hand]
          Who wants to pay for the canceled students loans? [Nobody raises their hand]

    1. delurking

      “and recognize the risks of continuing the [sic] favor the lenders’ pocketbooks when things go poorly on a balance sheet.”

      I’m sorry, can you please remind me who the lenders are in this scenario?

      1. Jake

        Sorry delurking, if your request is genuine, Google 101 class is not in session. On the other hand, if this is just a ham-handed suggestion that I am unaware of who ultimately backs federal student loans I doubt you will be surprised to learn that my point of view is simple: If we can materialize trillions of dollars to bail out Wall Street, we can do the same for Main Street.

    2. Dan J

      Who do I petition to get my mortgage canceled? Since mortgage debt is many multiples of student loan debt, it just makes sense to get rid of that first. Then all the problems will go away.

        1. SHG Post author

          If you ever demonstrated the impulse control not to have the last word, I wouldn’t have to cut you off. Not that I don’t love you, old friend.

  6. B. McLeod

    Not sure how a random gift to those who happen to have current loan balances qualifies as progress in anybody’s book. The trolley meme is equally stupid because the proposal isn’t to make university free for future students. The trolley is not being “diverted” at all. They’re just letting one group of debtors off the tracks, for no particular reason.

  7. KP

    Ah, The Left..

    (Trump getting into power) angered lots and lots of people, and so did taxation, suffrage, marriage equality. Progress angers people, but change is not the problem. The rage and resentment are.

  8. orthogon

    “A great many Americans are concerned with fairness only when they think someone else might get something they won’t get.“

    Not surprising so many Americans believe this, as it is the definition of fair.

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