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Arnold Ahlert / Jan. 30, 2020

'Fairness' Is No Substitute for Moral Obligation

Why Elizabeth Warren's redistribution plan for forgive student loans is so very wrong.

By now, millions of Americans have seen the exchange between Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and the angry father who confronted her at a campaign stop in Iowa, regarding her promise to cancel outstanding student-loan debt. Unfortunately, there are also millions of other Americans who either don’t understand or aren’t particularly concerned with why this exchange was taken to heart by so many of their fellow citizens. It’s because moral obligation has, for almost all intents and purposes, been tossed on the ash heap of history.

“I just wanted to ask one question,” the father began. “My daughter is getting out of school. I’ve saved all my money. She doesn’t have any student loans. Am I going to get my money back?”

“Of course not,” Warren answered.

“So you’re going to pay for people who didn’t save any money and those of us who did the right thing get screwed? My buddy had fun, bought a car, and went on all the vacations. I saved my money. He makes more than I did. I worked a double shift. So, you’re laughing at me,” he continued, as Warren shook her head in denial. “Yeah, that’s exactly what you’re doing. We did the right thing and we get screwed.”

“I appreciate your time,” Warren responded before the man briskly walked away.

Sen. Warren might appreciate many things, but the extra time and effort that millions of Americans put in to do the right thing — rather than taking the easy way out — isn’t one of them.

Yet based on the current ethos of the nation, why should she? If there’s one thing Warren and her fellow Democrats know, it’s that there’s a cohort of Americans who have been carefully nurtured to believe they are, above all else, “victims.” Victims of a nation characterized by Democrats — depending on which group of constituents they are addressing — as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, nativist, or just plain bigoted. One where irredeemably evil rich people made their fortunes solely by screwing over wholly virtuous lower- and middle-class Americans.

Lower- and middle-class Americans who deserve redress, because “fairness” demands it.

Thus, Warren’s plan, estimated to cost $640 billion, would be underwritten by a 2% “wealth tax” on individuals earning greater than $50 million, which Warren claims would raise enough money to fund the cancellation of student-loan debts and universal pre-K. It would forgive $50,000 of student-loan debt for individuals in households earning less than $100,000 per year, while individuals in households earning more than $100,000 would receive a reduced amount of loan forgiveness, based on a sliding scale.

Bernie Sanders also has a plan. He would eliminate all education-related debt underwritten, guaranteed, or insured by the federal government, regardless of the borrowers’ current income.

Fox News columnist Justin Haskins points out some inconvenient truths about the issue, noting that only about 10% of students default on their loans and that the federal government already has several programs for canceling student debt. There are also income-based repayment plans, tying monthly student-loan payments to household income, rather than their total debt amount, and a program that provides loan forgiveness after 10 years of on-time, income-based repayments to those who work for a nonprofit organization or for the government.

Haskins also explains that the status quo fuels the crisis because the federal government ultimately guarantees student loans, allowing colleges to raise their costs with impunity, while various programs of debt reduction or forgiveness incentivize unwise borrowing decisions by parents and students.

Thus, he suggests “reforms” that would mitigate both. “Until we fix the foundational problems at the root of the student debt crisis, this important issue will never be resolved,” he concludes.

In reality, there is only one “foundational” problem here, one that has plagued this nation for decades: the virtual elimination of moral obligation that begets personal responsibility.

Columnist Katherine Timpf gets to the heart of the issue. Even if Warren had offered to pay back the Iowa father, “this man’s own suggestion for how to make things fair would still leave him (in his words) getting ‘screwed,’” she writes. “When he references the sacrifices that he and his family had to make to pay for his daughter’s college, what he’s implicitly saying is that his choice to be financially responsible has cost him things that money cannot replace.”

In Timpf’s case, it meant a series of life decisions that included withdrawing from Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism after she had been accepted, because she realized “I’d never be able to repay the $80,000 loan I’d have to take out out to attend my dream school.”

Instead, she chose to pursue unpaid internships to advance her career. She also made other choices with which millions of her fellow Americans are intimately familiar. They included going “months without a single day off,” “waking up at 4 a.m. and not getting home until after 11 at night,” and living in an apartment building that was “so dilapidated that you could effortlessly break into the front door with a credit card, so poorly run that I’d have no water without warning, and so downright filthy that I once had scabies and fleas in the same week.”

Thus Ms. Timpf, who currently writes for National Review and appears on Fox News, has little patience for the Democrats’ siren song. “I don’t think that I should have to pay for someone else making an irresponsible decision when they could have made a responsible one,” she writes. “What’s more, talking about this issue only in terms of money truly minimizes the fact that, really, it’s about so much more.”

It most certainly is. If freely undertaken contractual commitments with regard to student loans can be tossed aside, what other commitments or promises can be dispensed with when one finds them “problematic?” Mortgages? Car loans?

In a nation where one-third of marriages end in divorce, the out-of-wedlock birthrate is now 40%, more “adults” ages 18 to 34 are living at home with their parents than with a spouse, and 15% of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 still aren’t working despite a good economy, it should surprise no one that shirking obligations and/or avoiding commitments altogether resonates, especially when politicians deliberately obscure the reality of cost transfers — or insist those transfers to Americans with greater wherewithal constitute “social justice.”

Once concepts like “fairness,” “social justice,” or “free” anything are conflated with genuine morality and personal responsibility, all vote-buying schemes become viable. Add the aforementioned embrace of victimhood to the mix, and such concepts are construed as noble.

Does the American electorate wish to continue expanding a safety net — one that’s precipitated the lion’s share of our $23 trillion national debt — already covering a large number of able-bodied people who can rationalize anything and whose entire journey through life is traveled on the path of least resistance? And, with regard to college-loan forgiveness, relatively well-off Americans who don’t wish to abide by their freely made obligations?

President Trump once said a nation without borders is no nation at all. Neither is one where free-riding is promoted as justice and compassion.

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