Receiving the fifth degree Biden
About one-third of American adults have a college degree and about one-fifth of all Americans have one. So just when you thought American policymaking couldn’t get any worse or more regressive (because didn’t the lockdowns shift massive wealth from the poor to the already rich and make up the best two years of all time for billionaires?), Joe Biden stumbles along and proves you wrong. Last week, he more or less simply announced that he was going to cancel between $10,000 and $20,000 of student debt, per person, for a whole bunch of American graduates. The Biden team, amazingly, says it’s all fully costed and yet when asked what that cost will be, his publicist replies that they don’t know. (You don’t need a degree to spot the problem with those two answers, do you?) A number of think tanks and economists have come up with their own estimates of the cost with a median hit of around 500 or 600 billion dollars, with more than one saying it will all cost a trillion dollars. Even a former economic adviser to Obama compares this to adding fuel to the already very bad inflationary fire in the United States.
Now, of course, when President Biden says he’s “cancelling” student debt, he’s wrong (or dithering). These are people who have already been to university and have graduated. The craziest adherent of modern monetary theory can see that the debt is not canceled but rather transferred to the general taxpayer. For the median price of $600 billion, that equates to about $6,000 for every American family. Think about it. In generalized and statistical terms, the wealthy go to college. Well over half of American adults didn’t go. This Team Biden policy asks those who didn’t go to college to subsidize (no, pay the tab for) those who did and are likely to earn more. Likewise, many Americans have paid off their student loans. As part of the Biden loan “cancellation” announcement, they are fools. Their sobriety and respect for the rules make them suckers. In fact, despite admission, more than a few Americans are forgoing the opportunity to attend expensive, elite, and prestigious private universities in favor of attending much cheaper public universities. They want to limit their debts later in life. Potatoes ! Dupes! Mugs! And why would anyone pay off student debt in the future? If you had six months, you couldn’t imagine a worse set of incentives for citizens in a modern democracy, at least if you couldn’t reuse our economic response to the pandemic.
Now, all of this would be bad enough if both houses of the US Congress had enacted a law to that effect. He does not have. There was no way Biden could get enough of his own Democrats on board. It therefore governs by executive decree. The claim is that a twenty-year-old post-9/11 law, the Heroes Act, which grants the executive the power to “renounce… [debts]… as part of a war or other military operation or national emergency,” allows Biden to do so. (And this despite Nancy Pelosi denying that exact claim in the past — not now, of course — and a senior Department of Education attorney doing so in 2021 as well.) The claim is more or less laughable if consideration is given to the intended meaning and scope of a law. But the Biden team says the national emergency is Covid and its aftermath. It’s a hard line for them to toe with a straight face, as they recently lifted the meager Title 42 border controls on the grounds that the Covid emergency was over. (Seriously. The Biden administration takes both positions simultaneously.)
Well, my take on this is that this executive branch action to “cancel” student debt will be found unconstitutional by the courts and the Biden team (not to say all sentient beings) knows it. That’s not the point. When it is struck down, it will be the judges appointed by Trump who will do so. Political gold for the Dems! Then there is the fact that the political spectrum has realigned across the Anglosphere and that the wealthy today (I speak in general terms) are voting left. And wealthy college graduates, especially white people, are the mainstay of the Democratic Party (along with black Americans, although the black vote is changing). This executive order on “cancelling” student loans is one of the most effective transfers of wealth imaginable from the average American to a Biden supporter. (By the way, it’s Nate Silver from FiveThirtyEight.com pretend, a Democrat if there ever was one, though it’s impossible to disagree.) If you’re incredibly cynical, you must also realize that enrollment in American universities is noticeably declining. Since universities are a strong bastion of left-wing institutional control, this debt cancellation program amounts to a short-term bailout or subsidy for a central Democratic constituency. Additionally, US universities will feel less pressure to moderate tuition fee increases. And best of all, this royal proclamation from Biden is likely to get young people voting for the looming midterm elections. Who cares if the courts ultimately strike down this blatant abuse of executive power? Not Joe Biden, I can assure you.
Therefore, the cynicism about steroids is entirely justified here. The massive likelihood of this being invalidated by the courts will not bother its initiators in the least. They might even want it overturned for reasons related to controlling inflation and their “blaming the judges on Trump” scheme.
That said, I have sympathy for young people who go into deep debt by taking courses that do not increase their employability at all (or even their knowledge of the Western canon). Still, that’s no excuse for plumbers or secretaries to have to subsidize those with degrees in gender studies. But I agree with those who think universities, including here in Australia, should be held accountable (directly, on the university’s bottom line) for defaulting student debt. Maybe then there would be fewer degree courses that shouldn’t be degree courses at all in a healthy setup. And perhaps that would put pressure on a trend that can be seen in Anglo-Saxon academia (although perhaps most glaring here in Oz): the massive explosion of academic bureaucracy to the point that ‘approximately two-thirds of salaries go not to teachers and researchers but to administrators. Every year of my seventeen years in Australia, universities have become more top-down, more administratively bloated, more centralized, more focused on student shuffling, more grade inflation, more woke and quietly leaning left , and yes, more and more top executives are earning the best salaries in the world. Unfortunately, all of these trends have also worsened each year of the nine years of recent coalition governments. The Libs have done almost nothing, not even to effectively defend Peter Ridd and free speech on campus.
Either way, yes, we can all feel sympathy for students with nearly worthless degrees. But taking their debts and handing them over to hard-working barbers and garbage collectors is immoral. Full stop. Even Joe Biden in one of his lucid moments should see it.