by Dan Savage
on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 11:58 AM
That's a short list—right off the top of my head—of all the nice things we can't have because we are Americans and we are so fucking screwed. Most Americans aren't aware of just how screwed we are. While other industrialized western nations—not all of them Greece or Spain—manage to provide health care for all their citizens, require (by law!) four weeks (or more!) of paid (paid!) vacation (vacation!), generously subsidize childcare programs for working parents (you're on your own, American moms and dads!), and invest heavily in mass transit as a public and an environmental good, our political class and our liberal media have managed to convince us that these kinds of programs and public investments—any spending to promote the general welfare, as some liberal loons once put it—is simply unpossible! It cannot be done! Because socialism! Because freedom! Because Hitler! (You know that old joke about how a conservative is a liberal who got mugged last night? A liberal is a conservative who spent two days in hospital on a trip to Germany.)
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....
Conservatives, meanwhile, with their usual “Fuck 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.”
Basically: Dems want very-nearly-ruinous student loan interest rates locked in permanently while Republicans are pretending to want slightly-less-ruinous interest rates when what they're really trying to do is derail the Dem plan and permanently screw over college students by crushing them under utterly-and-completely ruinous interest rates—because, you know, higher education is for snobs and elitists and the GOP is tripling down on stupid party voters. If the Dems manage to win this one—if they can secure those ever-so-slightly-less-ruinous interest rates—it'll feel like a big victory for liberals and students and progressives in the same way that Obamacare felt like a victory for liberals and progressives when it's actually a conservative plan.
And here's a story that will break the hearts of people being crushed by student loan debt: We were in Germany earlier this month and a friend came up from Austria to spend a couple of days with us while we were visiting Berlin. He's a working journalist—they still have lots of those over there—but he was able to come to Berlin on the spur of the moment because he's taking some time off work to finish his PhD. Naturally, as an American, I assumed he was taking out student loans to cover his living expenses and tuition while he finishes that PhD of his. Ha ha! What an idiot I am! What a stupid and duped and clueless fucking American I am!
When I asked my friend what interest rates on student loans were like over there—on the assumption that he would know because he must've just taken one out—he looked at me like I was fucking crazy. He didn't have to take out a loan, he explained to me, slowly and carefully, in the way that one talks to an idiot. Because, you see, the Austrian government is paying him 60% of his salary while he takes time off to finish his PhD... because, you see, society benefits from a highly educated workforce and so education is something his government invests in heavily. Obviously, right? Any government run be reasonably sane and responsible people do the same, right?
Ha! Ha ha... ha. Yeah. It would be funny if it weren't so fucking infuriating.
So remember, my fellow duped Americans, while we're debating just how ruinous student debt here should be—very nearly ruinous, a.k.a. the liberal position? utterly and completely ruinous, a.k.a. the conservative position?—the Austrian government is paying my Austrian friend to finish his PhD because the general welfare!
How much would it cost make every single public two- and four-year college and university in the United States tuition free for all students? Probably less than you think.
By our estimates, after stripping off the amount that the government already spends to subsidize higher education—including at predatory for-profit institutions—the total amount of new money necessary is less than $13 billion a year. Thirteen billion is a lot of money, to be sure, but within the scope of the Federal budget it is less than one tenth of one percent of yearly spending — merely a rounding error.