Warren: No, I'm not saying "tough luck" to people who've already paid off their student loans

Warren: No, I'm not saying "tough luck" to people who've already paid off their student loans

Dude, she’s totally saying “tough luck” to people who’ve already paid off their student loans.

The occasion for this question was the incident John wrote about yesterday, a confrontation Warren had at one of her recent events with a dad who wanted to know whether he’d be reimbursed for working his ass off to make sure his daughter could pay for college without student debt. Do I get a check under your very generous loan-forgiveness plan, he asked her? “Of course not,” Warren replied.

“Of course not.” As if her logic for who should and shouldn’t be bailed out were so evident that he should feel silly for having asked.

CBS interviewed her this morning and put the question to her again. Isn’t she telling students and parents who behaved responsibly in minimizing their education debt that they’re S.O.L.? Not at all, argued Warren, unconvincingly.

“We build a future going forward by making it better,” she says at one point. “By that same logic, what would we have done? Not started Social Security because we didn’t start it last week for you, or last month for you?”

But that’s not analogous to what she’s proposing. It’d be one thing if her plan were purely prospective. We’re going to leave debt alone, she might say, but going forward education at state universities will be completely free, entirely taxpayer-funded. (And in fact that is part of her proposal for higher education.) The dad who confronted her at her rally would find that tolerable, I think, not only because she’s right that all prospective social programs have to start somewhere but because his daughter would still be better off than her peers thanks to his hard work. They’d still owe and she’d be debt-free. She would have narrowly missed the era of free state school but it’s unavoidable with any new entitlement that some people, through the sheer quirk of time and age, will miss the cut-off.

What Warren’s proposing with debt isn’t prospective. It’s retrospective. She’s not absolving future students, and only future students, of the burden of student loans. She’s offering to indemnify certain people for their past decisions. And if some will be indemnified, the question naturally arises why all shouldn’t be indemnified. Imagine a student who opted for a state school instead of an Ivy because she didn’t want to cope with debt into her 30s, suddenly forced to compete for jobs with peers who did lunge for the Ivy credential but are now just as debt-free as she is thanks to President Warren’s largesse. Imagine the dad who worked hard hours to cover his daughter’s tuition to spare her from debt, putting off home repairs, vacations, a new car, and what have you to do so, discovering that that effort was essentially wasted. He could have been much less responsible as a parent and simply voted socialist and then waited to be bailed out. Instead he worked hard. Like a chump.

It’s a gross moral hazard. And the resentment caused by the capricious selection of winners and losers under this policy will be ferocious.

I’ll say this for Warren, though. It’s strange to me how she’s ended up as the focal point for resentment towards progressives who support student-loan bailouts when her plan is actually *more* responsible than Bernie’s. Warren’s plan comes with a cap: You can have $50,000 of your student debt indemnified but any amount beyond that is your responsibility. There’s no cap on Sanders’s plan. If you go to Harvard and end up $150,000 in the hole for your pomo literature degree or whatever, you’re just as debt-free as the loser who scrimped and saved and made hard choices to minimize his or her debt exposure. (The biggest beneficiaries of the plan would be the elite with postgrad educations, not the working man Sanders is allegedly fighting for.) That’s the sort of equality Bernie has in mind.

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