On Student Debt Forgiveness
“Cancelling” the debts of students is not a good idea:
Higher education is admittedly expensive – especially in private schools. I did both public and private schooling for my two and a half degrees (I never did finish that PhD for various reasons). Most of the time during those eight or so years I worked as well as studied. I did all sorts of jobs, from house painting to security guard work to working in kitchens.
Despite being a full-time student and often working long hours as well, I managed to graduate with honours for my BA and highest honours for my MA. Millions of others students have done just the same. But one of the pet causes of the left is to cancel all debts. It could be the foreign debt of other nations for example, or it can be the debts of students.
US President Joe Biden now wants to cancel student loans for millions of Americans. This is yet another government subsidy that he and the Democrats love to roll out. But before I go any further I must let you know that I just stated a massive falsehood here.
There are no such things as government subsidies. Governments do not pay for a single thing. The taxpayer does. So when a student can write off his education loan, the government is not subsidising it – the taxpayer is being stuck with the bill. The details of Biden’s plan are these:
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced his long-awaited plan to deliver on a campaign promise to provide $US10,000 ($14,400) in student debt cancellation for millions of Americans — and up to $US10,000 more for those with the greatest financial need — along with new measures to lower the burden of repayment for their remaining federal student debt.
Borrowers who earn less than $US125,000 ($180,000) a year, or families earning less than $US250,000 ($361,000), would be eligible for the $US10,000 loan forgiveness, Biden announced in a tweet. For recipients of Pell Grants, which are reserved for undergraduates with the most significant financial need, the federal government would cancel up to an additional $US10,000 in federal loan debt. Biden is also extending a pause on federal student loan payments for what he called the “final time” through the end of 2022. https://www.9news.com.au/world/joe-biden-student-loan-forgiveness-plan-announced/21fefd63-3311-43f4-8396-62fed2bbb666
What are we to make of this debt cancellation or debt forgiveness? First, as already mentioned, we have to stop the useless euphemisms and call it what it is. No debts are being cancelled or forgiven – they are simply being transferred to someone else: the hardworking taxpayer.
Most of these taxpayers may never have gone to college – or, like me, they worked their way through college. But now they will be forced to pay for the loans of these students. This is what is known as socialism. The state coercively takes money from the people and distributes it wherever it wants to. And the hardworking citizen is the one who always gets slugged for this.
And here is another point worth keeping in mind: higher education certainly is not for everyone. The idea that unless you have some sort of college degree you will not be a productive or employable member of society is so much baloney. There are plenty of students with BAs, MAs and PhDs in all sorts of esoteric fields (eg., the sex lives of non-CIS-gendered albino earthworms in lower Guatemala) that are still unemployed and are contributing nothing to society.
Why in the world should you and I subsidise this? If they value their studies so much, let them pay for it. As one meme on the social media puts it: “If your college degree does not have enough value for you to pay it off, it certainly does not have enough value for me to pay it off.”
‘But is not this the Christian thing to do?’
At this point some rather clueless or lefty Christians might be asking, ‘But should we not forgive our debtors as Jesus said we should do?’ Or they might be raising this rather lame objection: ‘But what about debt relief as in the Year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25?’
Let me deal with each in turn. The quote of Jesus as found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 is part of his teaching on the Lord’s Prayer. The Matt. 6:14-15 version puts it this way: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
As can be seen, the word ‘debt’ is more properly translated as ‘trespass,’ as most newer translations have it. This is NOT about some student loan or some other financial debt. It is about forgiving the sins of others. And even if it were about economic matters, it is about one individual extending grace to another. It is NOT about government wealth confiscation and transfers.
This becomes even more clear in the Luke 11:2-4 version of this teaching:
And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
So this has nothing to do with governments transferring the debts of students onto the taxpayer. As to the second objection concerning Leviticus 25 – a favourite of religious lefties – and its discussion of the Year of Jubilee, one simply needs to read it in context. It is all about returning land to the original owners, and has nothing to do with socialist redistribution. It is quite pro-private property in others words, and not about government confiscation.
I have written about this elsewhere. As I said in a piece from 2010:
When Israelites found themselves in financial difficulties, they could sell themselves into indentured servitude, or sell off their properties. In both cases, the Jubilee Year reaffirmed the freedom which God had called His people to enjoy, as was so powerfully expressed at the Exodus. Thus this legislation provides for the return of lands to their original owners. These lands could not be permanently disposed of. See Numbers 36:9 as an example about this command to Israel.
I also quoted the American theologian and ethicist John Jefferson Davis:
“Leviticus 25 is not really concerned with income equalization but with the restoration of leased family lands.” He reminds us that “the incomes earned prior to the Jubilee were retained by the most recent owner.” He then makes this important point:
“The provisions of Leviticus 25 were intended to safeguard equal opportunity for Israelites to earn income without destroying the incentives to work and invest through normal economic activities. Unlike many modern welfare programs and systems of progressive taxation, the Jubilee laws, by allowing retention of income earned from the land, did not destroy the incentives to work and invest, which are essential to the economic well-being of a society. Notice also that Leviticus 25 is not a program of ‘expropriation’ or seizure as, for example, in the case of certain Latin American programs of ‘land reform.’ In the Jubilee laws, there is compensation for land restored to the original owner.”
He continues, “The intent of the Jubilee legislation was to preserve the broad ownership of property in Israel. When the prophet Micah looked forward to the blessings of the messianic age, he envisioned not vast collective farms operated by the state, but a society with ‘every man under his vine and under his fig tree’ (Mic. 4:4).” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/02/difficult-bible-passages-leviticus-25/
Thankfully some Christians are fully aware of the decidedly un-Christian nature of Biden’s policy re student loans. Black American commentator Samuel Sey just penned a piece with this title: “Why Christians Shouldn’t Support Student Loan Forgiveness”. He concludes his article this way:
“Cancelling” student loan debts won’t help anyone. In fact, it’ll only create more injustice and suffering. The Bible says, “the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7) Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that at a time when Americans (especially poor Americans) are already suffering record-high inflation, Obama’s and Biden’s top economic advisor during Obama’s presidency—Larry Summers—warned that student loan forgiveness would make inflation even worse.
Meaning, though 87% of Americans do not have student loan debts, 100% of Americans would pay for Biden’s plan. According to the Penn-Wharton Budget Model, this would cost Americans between $300 billion and $980 billion over the next ten years. In other words, Biden’s student loan “forgiveness” isn’t real forgiveness. It doesn’t cancel an individual’s debt, it redistributes their debt and forces others to pay for it.
Student loan forgiveness is like a person who “forgives” an individual of their debt by harassing the debtor’s grandparents until they pay for it. Student loan forgiveness doesn’t forgive anyone, it penalizes everyone. So those of us who know what real forgiveness looks like shouldn’t support this corrupt definition of forgiveness. We Christians shouldn’t support student loan “forgiveness.” https://slowtowrite.com/why-christians-shouldnt-support-student-loan-forgiveness/
We can expect the secular left to applaud this move by Biden. Sadly some religious lefties will also think it is a great, Christian thing to do. But the biblical believer will know that it is no such thing. Socialism never is.
9 Replies to “On Student Debt Forgiveness”
There are any number of things that make my head want to explode: abortion, the shoving of sexual perversion into the minds of kids in schools, wokeness, the cancel culture, and now this behemoth’s insane forgiveness of student debt. I went back to college at age 40 to complete my undergraduate studies and went on to get my MA. I took out student loans to do so as we had 7 kids of various ages still living at home. After graduation I literally worked my butt off to pay off those student loans, like we all did at that time (though I am sure there were some deadbeats who didn’t). Noone forced me to take the loans. I willingly took them because I needed them to complete my education. I am not aware of anyone forcing any recent students to take out student loans, yet now those debts are being forgiven. That absolutely makes no sense to me, other than the fact that the forgiveness of those debts is a thinly disguised way for the awful administration of Brandon (or Biden) to garner votes.
Many thanks Joe.
I paid my HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) debt after I graduated with a M.Soc.Sc as a mature-aged student around 2001. I felt it an obligation. I believe that some things that cost hard-earned dollars are more appreciated. In fact, I’ve seen the evidence of this in other situations, mainly in grant recipients.
Quite so Russell.
See more on this issue here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/08/27/jesus-socialism-and-forgiveness/
Thanks Bill, so true that taxpayers are really the ones paying for these debts. The Democrat Biden administration is making desperate moves like this student debt cancellation to win seats in the mid-term elections due in Nov. At the moment with Trump endorsing a lot of candidates it doesn’t look good for the Democrats.
Thank you for such a good explanation of why this debt cancellation is wrong. I dropped out my first year in college, I was having to work full time and was living on day-old bread and peanut butter. Not even knowing what I should be majoring in, I enlisted in the military due to their promise to help me pay for college if I served 4 years on active duty and 2 years in the reserves. It gave me some time to grow up and find direction. The college benefit was helpful but I still had to work my way through college, working at night. During my 5th year I had to work a mandatory unpaid internship, as my wife delivered our first child. She had medical issues so I took out a loan to cover the year. I paid off that loan as I promised to, even though my income was very low.
My story is not unusual—many in my generation worked their way through university to labored as apprentices in skilled trades. To see loans written off strikes me as unfair and unjust.
Thanks for this article, Bill. Nice to see a soprano saxophone in the lead picture!
I can’t comment on the US situation, but here in Australia, it’s simply not true that the “unemployed…are contributing nothing to society.” The Australian government tries to control inflation by maintaining a certain level of unemployment, around 4 to 5%.
Thus, the government buys the votes of “hard working Australians” by allowing them the luxury of blaming “dole bludgers” for the ills of society.
But, quite lot of bludging is done by people _with_ jobs. And a person with one hour’s work per fornight is not counted as ‘umemployed’…!
Most “dole bludgers” are hard-working people in casual employment with families to feed, who earn too much most fortnights to receive any income support. They simply register with Centrelink as an insurance against unscrupulous employers.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but under most industrial awards, employers are required to give casual staff only 2 hours’ notice, with absolutely no guarantee of any future work. Some employers give _no_ notice that work is over, and employees who complain won’t be asked back.
No-one _wants_ to be on the dole; it is so demeaning and degrading. Unlike their critics, most casual workers _volunteer_ to have tax deducted from any income support payments.
Under Australian law, a student loan like HECS/HELP is not a debt; it is a taxation obligation, which attracts no interest (in the financial sense!). It is paid back automatically through the tax system, once one’s income reaches a certain level.
Surely some law reform is needed, because there is currently no legal provision for it to be waived under any circumstance, unless you die.
People used to leave school at 14 or 15. Women generally left paid employment when they married. Households were satisfied with one “breadwinner”. But now, there will never be enough jobs for everyone.
Economic and educational reforms in the 1980s made matriculation virtually compulsory, and uni almost universal. These reforms keep young people out of the job market, artificially lower the unemployment rate, and help to divide society, so it’s easier to manipulate further.
How are students are to repay their debt through the taxation system, when it is government policy to keep a certain percentage of them unemployed?
Thanks Cathie. Yes my piece was on the US situation. Things can be different in other countries. But my broad concerns remain.