This piece was originally published at New York.
Late last year, congressional Republicans passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut, which delivered the lion’s share of its benefits to the wealthy and corporations. The GOP did not justify this policy on the grounds that all corporate shareholders and trust-fund hipsters deserved to have their wealth increased. Rather, the party argued that, however one felt about making the rich richer, the tax cuts would ultimately benefit all Americans by increasing economic growth and lowering unemployment.
But what if we could have achieved those objectives, at roughly the same price, by forgoing tax cuts — and wiping out every penny of student debt in the United States, instead?
A new research paper from the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College suggests this was, in fact, an option.
In America today, 44 million people collectively carry $1.4 trillion in student debt. That giant pile of financial obligations isn’t just a burden on individual borrowers, but on the nation’s entire economy. The astronomical rise in the cost of college tuition — combined with the stagnation of entry-level wages for college graduates — has depressed the purchasing power of a broad, and growing, part of the labor force. Many of these workers are struggling to keep their heads above water; 11 percent of aggregate student loan debt is now more than 90 days past due, or delinquent. Others are unable to invest in a home, vehicle, or start a family (and engage in all the myriad acts of consumption that go with that).
Thus, if the government were to forgive all the student debt it owns (which makes up more than 90 percent of all outstanding student debt), and bought out all private holders of such debt, a surge in consumer demand — and thus, employment and economic growth — would ensue…