Originally Written – January 29, 2009
By – Robert Applebaum
President Obama recently signed into law a $787 billion stimulus package on top of Bush’s grossly mismanaged $700 billion TARP bailout from last September. Several weeks ago, the Federal Reserve basically printed an additional $1,000,000,000,000 to inject more funds into the monetary system which will undoubtedly have the effect of diminishing the purchasing power of the dollar. Since last fall, the government has paid out trillions of dollars in bailouts, handouts, loans and giveaways, with no end in sight as our leaders try anything and everything to try and get our spiraling economy under control. While some of what Washington has already done may act to stimulate the economy, much of the trillions of dollars already spent will, no doubt, turn out to be just money wasted.
Tax rebate checks do not stimulate the economy – history shows that people either spend such rebates on paying off credit card debt, or they simply save them, doing little to nothing to stimulate the economy. Presumably, that is why they were removed from the final version of the stimulus bill. The tax cuts that were included, however, amount to a whopping $44 per month for the rest of 2009, decreasing to an even more staggering $33 per month in 2010. This is hardly “relief” as it is likely to help nobody.
The Wall Street financial institutions, auto manufacturers, insurance companies and countless other irresponsible actors have now received TRILLIONS of taxpayer dollars(as demonstrated above, that’s a number with *12* zeros at the end of it) to bail them out of their self-created mess. This, too, does nothing to stimulate the economy. It merely rewards bad behavior and does nothing to encourage institutional change. There is a better way.
How many times have we heard from our leaders in Washington that education is the key to solving all of our underlying societal problems? The so-called “Silver Bullet.” For decades, presidents, senators and members of Congress have touted themselves as champions of education, yet they’ve done nothing to actually encourage the pursuit of one on an individual level.
Some of us have taken advantage of Federal Stafford Loans and other programs, including private loans, to finance higher education, presumably with the understanding that an advanced degree equates with higher earning power in the future. Many of us go into public service after attaining such degrees, something that’s also repeatedly proclaimed as something society should encourage. Yet, the debt we’ve accrued to obtain such degrees have crippled our ability to reap the benefits of our educations, causing many to make the unfortunate choice of leaving public service so as to earn enough money to pay off that debt.
Our economy is in the tank. There isn’t a reasonable economist alive who doesn’t believe that the economy needs stimulating immediately. The only debate now centers on how to go about doing it. While the new stimulus plan contains some worthy provisions, very little of it will have a significant and immediate stimulating effect on the economy. The Obama Administration itself doesn’t expect to see an upsurge in the economy until mid-to-late 2010.
Instead of funneling billions, if not trillions of additional dollars to banks, financial institutions, insurance companies and other institutions of greed that are responsible for the current economic crisis, why not allow educated, hardworking, middle-class Americans to get something in return? After all, they’re our tax dollars too!
Forgiving student loan debt would have an immediate stimulating effect on the economy. Responsible people who did nothing other than pursue a higher education would have hundreds, if not thousands of extra dollars per month to spend, fueling the economy now. Those extra dollars being pumped into the economy would have a multiplying effect, unlike many of the provisions of the new stimulus package. As a result, tax revenues would go up, the credit markets will unfreeze and jobs will be created. Consumer spending accounts for over two thirds of the entire U.S. economy and in recent months, consumer spending has declined at alarming, unprecedented rates. Therefore, it stands to reason that the fastest way to revive our ailing economy is to do something drastic to get consumers to spend.
This proposal would quickly revitalize the housing market, the ailing automobile industry, travel and tourism, durable goods and countless other sectors of the economy because the very people who sustain those sectors will automatically have hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of extra dollars per month to spend. The driving factor in today’s economy is fear. Unless and until the middle class feels comfortable enough that they’ll have their jobs, health insurance and extra money to spend not only next month, but the month after that, etc., the economy will not, indeed, cannot grow fast enough to stop the hemorrhaging.
Let me be clear. This is not about a free ride. This is about a new approach to economic stimulus, nothing more. To those who would argue that this proposal would cause the banking system to collapse or make student loans unavailable to future borrowers, please allow me to respond. I am in no way suggesting that the lending institutions who carry such debts on their balance sheets get legislatively shafted by having them wiped from their books. The banks and other financial institutions are going to get their money regardless because, in addition to the $700 TARP bailout, more bailout money is coming their way. This proposal merely suggests that in return for the trillions of dollars that has been and will continue to be handed over to the banks, educated, hardworking Americans who are saddled with student loan debt should get some relief as well, rather than sending those institutions another enormous blank check. Because the banks are being handed Trillions of dollars anyway, there would be no danger of making funds unavailable to future borrowers.
To avoid the moral hazard that this plan could potentially create, going forward, the way higher education in this country is financed MUST be reformed. Requiring students to amass enormous debt just to receive an education is an untenable approach, as demonstrated by the ever-growing student loan default rates. Having a loan-based system rather than one based on grants and scholarships or, ideally, public funding, has, over time, begun to have the unintended consequence of discouraging people from seeking higher education at all. That is no way for America to reclaim the mantle of the land of opportunity.
A well-educated workforce benefits society as a whole, not just the students who receive a higher education. It is often said that an undergraduate degree today is the equivalent of a high school diploma 30 or 40 years ago. Accepting the premise as true that society does, in fact, place the same value on an undergraduate degree today as it did on a HS diploma 30 or 40 years ago, then what is the rationale for cutting off public funding of education after the 12th grade? It seems to me that there is some dissonance in our values that needs to be reconciled. That, however, cannot come to pass until the millions of us already shackled with student loan debt are freed from the enormous economic burdens we’re presently carrying.
Many of the vocal nay-sayers to this proposal seem intent on ignoring the fact that Washington IS going to spend trillions of dollars, likely in the form of handing blank checks over to more and more banks, as a way of getting the economy under control. Normative assessments of how things should be are fine, but they don’t reflect reality. Accepting the premise that Washington will spend Trillions of dollars in unprecedented ways (a good portion of which will just be trial and error, since we’re in uncharted waters), what is the argument against directly helping middle class people who are struggling, rather than focusing solely on the banks and other financial institutions responsible for crisis to begin with?
Further accepting that there is an aggregate amount of outstanding student loan debt totaling approximately $550 Billion, (that’s Billion with a B, not a T), one is forced to ask again, what is the objection to helping real people with real hardships when all we’re talking about is a relative drop in the bucket as compared with what will be spent to dig us out of this hole?
In a perfect world, I share these biases towards personal responsibility and having people pay back what they owe and making good on the commitments they’ve made. But we don’t live in a perfect world and the global economy, not just the U.S. economy, is in a downward spiral, the likes of which nobody truly knows how to fix.
This proposal will immediately free up money for hardworking, educated Americans, giving them more money in their pockets every month, addressing the very real psychological aspects of the recession as much as the financial ones. Is it the only answer? No, of course not. But could it help millions of hardworking people who struggle every month to get by? Absolutely. Given the current economic climate, as well as the plans to spend trillions of additional dollars that are in the works, one must wonder what is so objectionable about giving a real helping hand to real people with real struggles.
2009 and the new Obama Administration is supposed to be about change. Nothing in the new economic stimulus package represents a significant departure from the way Washington has always operated – it’s merely a different set of priorities on a higher scale, but it’s certainly not materially different from any other economic stimulus package passed during the past few decades. Washington cannot simply print and borrow money to get us out of this crisis. We The People, however, can get this economy moving NOW. All we need is relief from debt that was accrued under the now-false promise that higher education equates with higher earnings.
Free us of our obligations to repay our out-of-control student loan debt and we, the hardworking, middle-class Americans who drive this economy will spend those extra dollars now.
If you believe that there’s a better way of climbing out of this economic crisis, one that empowers us to directly spend money, start businesses, free up credit and create jobs, then please join this group and encourage others to do so as well. There’s strength in numbers – the more people to join this group, the louder our voices and the greater the chances of being heard by President Obama and Congress.
Support real change we can believe in!