The federal government has made it easier than ever to borrow money for higher education - saddling a generation with crushing debts and inflating a bubble that could bring down the economy.
by Matt Taibbi
There are powerful reasons for both the left and the right to be willfully blind to the root problem. Democrats – who, incidentally, receive at least twice as much money from the education lobby as Republicans – like to see the raging river of free-flowing student loans as a triumph of educational access. Any suggestion that saddling befuddled youngsters with tens of thousands of dollars in school debts is somehow harmful or counterproductive to society is often swiftly shot down by politicians or industry insiders as an anti-student position. The idea that limitless government credit might be at least enabling high education costs tends to be derisively described as the "Bennett hypothesis," since right-wing moralist and notorious gambler/dick/hypocrite Bill Bennett once touted the same idea. "It is wrong to suggest that student aid is a cause for growing college costs, in any sector," David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, wrote in The Washington Post last year, bemoaning the "re-emergence" of the Bennett theory. "To argue so is counterproductive to the goal of making higher education accessible and affordable."
Conservatives, meanwhile, with their usual " everybody who complains about anything unless it's us" mentality, tend to portray the student-loan "problem" as a bunch of spoiled, irresponsible losers who are simply whining about having to pay back money they borrowed with their eyes wide open. When Yale and Penn recently began suing students who were defaulting on their federal Perkins loans, a Cato Institute analyst named Neal McCluskey pretty much summed up the conservative take. "You could take a job at Subway or wherever to pay the bills," he said. "It seems like basic responsibility to me."
But conservatives most of all should hate the current system for any number of reasons – for being a massive hidden tax, for being a market-defying subsidy artificially keeping ineffective and poor-performing institutions in business, and for being an example of arbitrary government power seizing not just money borrowed plus interest, but billions in additional fees and penalties from ordinary people.
Progressives should hate the predatory tactics of lenders and the sleazy way universities rely upon loan-shark collection methods to keep themselves in fancy new waterfalls, swimming pools and tenure-track jobs.