I’ve been interested in and amused by plans that Democratic presidential candidates have been floating for making a college education more affordable. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan involves offering all those who currently hold student loans $50,000 of amnesty. It would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, which some conservatives find scary. My objection to the plan lies in the belief that it would cause eventual (and massive) increases in the cost of obtaining a higher education. When colleges find out that students will be able to borrow an additional $50k, do you expect them to freeze tuition and other costs? If so, I’ve got a bridge in Tibbee to sell you.
However, a more conservative qualm to Warren’s plan involves fairness. As Dan Meagan puts it in theatlantic.com, cultural conservatives have a fundamental problem with the way that it penalizes people who do things the proper way:
Consider a hypothetical comparison of two people who graduated from college five years ago with equal amounts of debt. Jessie successfully implemented a plan to pay off the debt in five years, while Sam still has much to repay. Warren’s plan forgives Sam’s debt, but offers nothing to Jessie, despite her industriousness and self-discipline. To add insult to injury, Jessie must contribute tax dollars to the $640 billion fund necessary to forgive outstanding loans, including Sam’s.
In this example, Jessie would rightfully feel put upon. More broadly speaking, conservatives have an understanding of what fair that relies on proportionality. If you put something into a system, you have the right to expect something out of it. This is the way Social Security and Medicare work. People perceive that it’s fair.
So, here’s the challenge: how can you have a plan that eases student debts but appeals to a sense of fairness that many people share?