I seem to have stumbled onto a hot issue. Yesterday, I wrote Silly and serious about student loan debt from Samantha Bee and NBC News after not having written about the topic since 2018. This morning, I see that Vox has uploaded All student debt in the US, visualized to its YouTube channel. Please join me in watching it.
What if all of this debt was canceled? This is what that would look like.In the video description, Vox links to four articles on its website that examine the arguments in detail. I recommend reading Democrats’ ongoing argument about free college, explained. It looks at the plans of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren after making the following points about the issue.
Student loan debt has increased exponentially in the past few decades. So now, some Democratic presidential candidates propose canceling those debts — all $1.6 trillion of it. But is this a good idea? Who exactly does it benefit?
It’s a debate that cleaves two philosophically distinct approaches to politics: one a mentality of hoarding scarce resources for the most efficient uses, and the other a broad, aspirational vision of public luxury in which there’s little need to quibble about exactly who gets what.Vox then recommends articles about each candidate's proposal, beginning with Elizabeth Warren has the biggest free college plan yet. Its takeaway is "Warren doesn’t just want tuition-free college. She also wants to cancel millions of Americans’ student debt."
But it also speaks to the generational divide in Democratic politics. To older voters, accustomed to the cheap college tuition that prevailed decades ago, “free college” sounds quixotic and frivolous; to younger people burdened by today’s much higher tuition structure and loan-based financing system, it’s a clear commitment to fix a broken system.
Yet the federal government is a secondary actor in higher education. State governments allowed higher education cost structures to rise even while pulling back on funding, pushing more costs onto students. It’s ultimately state governments that will need to decide whether they’re willing to spend more on higher education, cut costs, or both. The candidates arguing about this are running for president, not governor, and when you look under the hoods of their plans, there may be less to the contrast than the broad philosophical discussion would suggest.
Vox then recommends two more articles, Bernie Sanders’s free college proposal just got a whole lot bigger, which describes how "Sanders wants to cancel all student loan debt," and Wonks hate Bernie Sanders’s debt relief plan. That’s the point. The latter observes that "Angering Democratic policy wonks seems to be a feature, not a bug, of Sanders’s campaign." It's also part of his appeal. Sanders may not be the most liberal candidate according to his votes, but he has the most radical attitude. This includes telling off the experts.
If this issue stays salient throughout the Democratic nomination contest, I'll be sure to write more about it. In the meantime, stay tuned.