Long: Student debt forgiveness a viable option

Craig Long

Credit card debt was surpassed within the past year as the highest contributor to American’s debt by student loan debt. As college students, particularly at Iowa State, you don’t need to be told twice. I doubt there is any student on this campus that isn’t deeply in debt to attend school, or know someone in that situation. With a sour looking economy, with little signs of improvement, it will be difficult to find well-paying jobs out of college to pay down this debt. But what if it was forgiven?

I know that many, many Americans went to college in the past, paid off their debt, and got along fine. So why can’t we? It isn’t everyone else’s job to pay for my education. That’s a fair point. However, those who paid their own way in the past, and thus think we should do the same, paid on average 650 percent less than we do. That’s accounting for inflation, too.

That increase in tuition, along with an ever-increasing number of college students, has drawn student-loan debt close to $1 trillion. Some of it is privately held, some of it is from the federal government (in the form of Stafford loans and others). Any forgiveness would have to come from the government, paying the creditors so they did not fail, and taking a hit for the rest of it. That is a whole lot of money, to be sure.

It isn’t as though the government hasn’t paid out copious amounts of money to try and resuscitate the economy, though. For instance, $700 billion was paid out in funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to help the “too big to fail” banks. The auto industry required their own bailout, and that’s not counting the stimulus checks we got a few years ago.

But how would debt forgiveness stimulate the economy? We tried stimulus checks, and that didn’t help. But that was a one-time check. Many people used it (wisely) to save or pay toward bills they owed, instead of paying it toward consumer goods. Thus, it was largely ineffective. However, there is a big difference between giving out a one-time check and relieving thousands of dollars of debt. The effect is, that instead of giving out a one-time $600 or $1200 check, it’s several hundred dollars every month. Not everyone benefits, but the benefit is focused on those most likely to use it to stimulate the economy.

That may seem to be an unsubstantiated claim, but think about it. When you leave college and (hopefully) find a job, what would you do next if you were debt free? Your income suddenly went from a few thousand dollars a year (if you are able to hold down a job in school, that is) to tens of thousands of dollars annually. For me, I would start by buying a new car. Maybe you’d buy a house, or start a family. The money would go into two industries that required bailouts (auto and home/finance), or to support a family, you’ll purchase vast quantities of commercial goods that you normally would not need. When you graduate, if you owe too much debt, you may delay any/all of these purchases. The money doesn’t hit the economy, and no one benefits.

On the other hand, if you already have a nice house, car, and the kids are out of the house (as is true for many older people without student debt), they aren’t going to invest in another new house, or car. They’re much more likely to put it away in a savings account to use for retirement, thus, the entrance of that money into the economy is delayed.

Of course, this would be met with a tax increase to offset costs. But, the net personal gain for those who receive forgiveness would outweigh the tax increase. And, at a time when 78 of the 280 largest companies in America paid no taxes from 2008-2010, despite the 280 cumulatively profiting $1.4 trillion dollars (according to Sunday’s Des Moines Register Editorial), there is tax money to be had. Tax rates on the top earners in the country and on unearned income have been spiraling down for decades, a tax increase wouldn’t kill them either.

I know we, as Americans, have a definite concept of self-reliance, and this only helps a slice of the population (those with student loan debt). It may seem to be an unusual way to bolster the economy, but it seems as though anything else we’ve tried has had limited effect. Make no mistake; this is different from paying off peoples mortgages, or funding other “non-essential” goods: Education prepares a person to operate in a high capacity in the economy, strengthening it over time.

It is time to begin discussing other alternatives, such as this, and implementing them. We’ll all be better off for it.