I received my J.D. 11 years ago. I was able to attend law school only thanks to a generous academic scholarship. Another merit-based scholarship had paid my way through undergrad. I never had any student loan debt.
Obviously, I worked very hard to avoid accumulating student loan debt. Despite my own history (or maybe because of it), I was not remotely upset about President Biden’s plan to forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for almost everyone who still owes it, and to forgive up to $20,000 for some of the neediest borrowers.
I can’t say I’ve understood much about the decisions of GOP lawmakers over the past decade. But their batshit, frothing-at-the-mouth meltdown over $10,000 in student loan forgiveness for individuals is a real headscratcher even by 2022 standards.
Had I known that after finishing law school maybe I could have had $10,000 in remaining student debt wiped out, would I have worked less hard to get and keep an excellent scholarship? Of course not, because that would be insane.
Do I sit around these days steaming over this $10,000 benefit that other people got that I didn’t get? Well, no, not any more than I pass every day in a fury because people go to the food bank even though I don’t have to, personally.
You know, Texas gets hit by hurricanes all the time. Zero dollars for federal hurricane relief have ever poured into my home state of Minnesota. Yet, it’s not something I spend a great deal of time thinking about.
Approximately 8.7% of American families don’t have a car, and even so, they cannot opt out of contributing to the $200 billion plus in government money that we spend on roads every year.
Just about everything the government provides benefits different people differently. And that’s fine, because everyone’s situation is different.
This student loan debt forgiveness policy is just another example of how government always works and is actually supposed to work. We’re all collectively building a country here. If you could just opt out of everything that didn’t benefit you directly, then nobody would bail you out when your need was greater than your contributions either (which will happen at some point in life to every one of us).
Pick a government policy. They almost all benefit some group of people more than others. Farm subsidies cost the U.S. government as much as $25 billion annually. Farmers account for only about 1% of the U.S. population. You have to be 62 or older to collect Social Security payments. That only benefits about one in five Americans. I guess you could say, “Oh, we shouldn’t support these lazy older Americans who no longer work and failed to save enough for retirement due to their own lack of foresight,” but you probably wouldn’t say that, because you’re not a sociopath. Maybe that’s next for the GOP though because they sure seem bent on insulting and alienating everyone out there who’s not an unsalvageable Trump cultist.
Every time the United States has ever invested anything into education, it’s been a good investment. Free public high school, the GI bill, public universities, Pell Grants; without these sorts of things we wouldn’t have beaten Russia to the moon or invented the iPhone. Expensive educations do not always work out well for every individual, sure, and $10,000 in student loan debt forgiveness is not going to fix everything that’s wrong with our system of higher education. But it’s a start.
Not everyone can go to college. Not everyone chooses to go to college. That’s OK. But every single American, whether they went to college or not, benefits tremendously from things that we would not have, things that would not exist, without a lot of people who did go to college.
So, I hope none of you out there are buying the GOP’s cynical, self-serving attempt to drive even more of a wedge between college-educated voters and those who did not go to college. Education is a national resource just like functioning farms and regional disaster relief. We all benefit when our national resources are being well-managed. Unfortunately, our higher education system is not being particularly well-managed compared to those of our international competitors. This student debt relief package will start to help address that.
Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at email@example.com.