If I could have borrowed without limit to pay for my education because the loans would later be forgiven, this wouldn’t have been my path. I wouldn’t have majored in accounting, transferred to Toledo, or even attended South Carolina. I would have attended a pricey private school on Uncle Sam’s dime and majored in political science—a subject I might have found more engaging if less remunerative.
Let’s say that a Democrat is elected president in 2020 and forgives most or all student loan debt, as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed. Will the government also change the name of the school on my diploma to Denison University, which I would have attended had my degree been free of cost? Will it compensate me for the intellectual fulfillment I lost out on by taking a course in accounting information systems rather than the politics of sub-Saharan Africa?
The answer to both questions is obviously no, which reveals the greatest flaw in plans to forgive student loans: Like all ex post facto policies, they would punish or reward people for decisions made based on laws and information available at the time, while casting an air of uncertainty over present decisions.