Declaration of dependence

Salon’s “New Declaration of Independence,” which calls for a “jubilee” to wipe out student debts, annoyed Matt Welch, who thinks adults are responsible for their choices.

The “99 percent” complain they’ve “played by the rules,” then learned the game was rigged. Salon writes:

For the young, higher education was said to be a ticket to class mobility, or at least a secure career. Instead, middle-class students have taken on billions of dollars of inescapable debt during a prolonged jobs crisis. Lower-income students are blatantly ripped off by usurious scam artists working for educationally dubious for-profit schools. Even those seeking to join the professional class, through medical school or law school, find themselves with mountains of debt and dwindling job prospects. The rapidly rising cost of higher education pushes bright students into lucrative but socially destructive fields, like finance. […]

“Cradle-to-grave employment (at least outside the public sector) has been dead since at least the end of the Cold War,” Welch responds. English, Film, Sociology, Philosophy and similar degrees “have had debatable workplace utility” for a generation or more.  

Adult human beings have agency, the ability (even responsibility!) to run their own cost/benefit analyses and choose accordingly. You could go to a state school (or community college) instead of an over-inflated prestige mill. You could pay for a 10-year-old car in cash, instead of a new one on installments. . . .  offloading 100% of the blame for your own mountain of debt on a group of Greedy McBanksters who “forced” you to “play by the rules” is more than a little pathetic.

“A ‘debt jubilee’ will not be a party, unless your idea of a wild time is to eliminate consumer credit as we know it,”  adds Welch. No repayment? No new loans.

A “free” (completely taxpayer-funded) higher education system is likely to be much smaller. The taxpayers will be willing to fund bright students to train as engineers or nurses, I suspect, but balk at funding students interested in English, Film, Sociology, Philosophy or (see Florida) Anthropology.

About Joanne


  1. I can see both sides of the problem.

    On the one hand, you shouldn’t go into debt to get a degree that won’t allow you to pay said debt off. And despite the whining you largely knew that going into college. Maybe not about Medicine or Law, but about most of the degrees in basket weaving out there.

    On the other hand the kids taking out loans are probably making their first major financial decisions. We’re talking about 18 year-olds who are lucky to have bought a car yet. And the way we’ve structured student loan finance as a nation means that if they make a poor one, they’re going to be paying for it their entire life. That’s a stupid way to do things.

  2. The colleges bear some blame here, too. They award “financial aid” packages that are highly tilted towards loans, and the students have to make a choice within a limited time window.

  3. Could you expand on the Florida reference in your last sentence?

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    She’s referencing one of the current controversies… the Florida governor more or less said that the country doesn’t need more anthropology majors. It has been perceived (perhaps wrongly, perhaps not) as a way of saying that anthro isn’t an important major, and perhaps a threat to cut off funding to anthropology departments.

    For more info from reasonable, not-quite-so-vitriolic-and-rabidly-partisan sources:

  5. *Some* people will balk at funding English, Film, Sociology, Philosophy or Anthropology. But others, probably the majority, will understand that a society cannot subsist on science and engineering alone, and that it is neither desirable nor feasible to fund only that segment of education.

    • And *some* people will wonder why, if English, Film, Sociology, Philosophy or Anthropology are so nutritionally precious to society the demand for those specialties isn’t greater.

      That’s quite the little paradox, hey? Society desperately needs mobs of English, Film, Sociology, Philosophy or Anthropology majors yet few are willing to pay for their services.

      It’s just one of the crimes of this era that there too few people with the refinement and insight to employ all those kids.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ref useless majors: I got a BA in psychology because I needed a degree for OCS. Longer-range planning seemed like a waste of time. But here I am.
    Many degrees in the non-technical fields will get you into a sales job, which is frequently the entry level position for white collar advancement.
    On the other hand, the question is whether the nation should fund, which is to say take money from the less-educated making less money to give to the potentially more educated so they can make more money, for majors which will not make enough money to pay back society for fronting the money.
    It’s nice to have philosophers, I think, and film makers. But why not have them pay for their whims? Society has limited funds–has anybody noticed–and we need to make sure we place what we have where it will do us the most good.
    Said before, liberal arts used to be for the folks who’d already made it, usually by being born to the wealthy.

  7. dangermom says:

    I agree, Stephen, but IME there are an awful lot of Psychology and Sociology majors out there who have no particular desire to actually be sociologists or psychologists. They just don’t know what they do want to do. A lot of those humanities-type majors either need grad school degrees to turn into jobs, or else are really meant for mental enrichment more than wage-earning. I’m all for mental enrichment and the liberal arts—but that doesn’t get many people a job.

    I’ve been thinking for a few years now that we have something of a disconnect between these two ways of looking at higher ed–there’s practical material like chemical engineering or CS, and then there’s quite a lot that doesn’t lead to a job but is valuable because it broadens the mind. (I, for example, was a comparative literature major! I then got an MLIS.)

    The trouble is, when you’re 17 and want to be an English major, you’re not thinking about how you’re going to pay those loans off. I know, I did it too, but college was cheaper then and I had a good grant, so it didn’t cripple me. You just sort of figure it will work out–and then the real world slaps you in the face. I’m not sure how to fix the collision between the value of English literature, the cost of college, and the need to make a living afterward.

  8. Ignernt person says:

    “lucrative but socially destructive”? Finance is socially destructive? This shows the mindset of the author very well.

    • Maybe if more people had a better understanding of finance and economics, we wouldn’t be in the current situation; said people would have avoided loans (home or college) they were unlikely to be able to repay.

      • The problem is that Griggs vs. Duke Power has made a bachelor’s degree the essential employment credential for non-menial work, and just about any field of study will do for a great many occupations.  Until the jobs dry up but the debt remains, of course.

  9. I don’t think the voters are going to go for it (of course, they may not be asked). Too many of these folks are idiots who deserve what they got, such as this clown who quit his teaching job to get a masters in Puppetry:

    That guy needs to suffer the consequences, else the moral hazard of these sorts of things will just skyrocket.

    I agree that the colleges, some of them at least, are culpable here as well. However, the bubble will pop and their punishment will be severe, it’s always that way with bubbles.

    I expect that there will be some limited concessions to those with lots of student loan debt, but I don’t really think the taxpayers are going to go for complete forgiveness. If we were dumb enough to do that, we’d be right back in another bubble in a few years.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Forgiveness would surely be a poke in the eye to the prudent and the honest who either avoided debt or repaid it. And to the troops who earned their college the hard way.
    For the proponents, is that a bug or a feature?