Alyssa Ahlgren: Canceling student loan debt is regressive, among other problems

“What Ilhan Omar, Bernie Sanders, and many other Democratic politicians advocating for student loan relief are saying is that the vast majority of Americans who statistically earn less should pay off the debt of the degree holders who earn more and will earn more on average."

Alyssa Ahlgren

This commentary was originally submitted and published by Pioneer Press


Minnesota’s own Ilhan Omar is standing alongside presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in a proposal to cancel student loan debt. This “cancellation” would relieve about 45 million Americans of a total of $1.6 trillion of student debt. The student loan crisis has been a hot button issue, with Democrats calling for an outright bailout and Republicans asking why the rest of America should foot the bill for the voluntarily signed loans of others. There is no question the rise in tuition costs and student debt is an immense problem, but the why and how of the issue are what is contested along party lines.

First, let’s look at the “why?” Why is student debt piling up and tuition costs skyrocketing? The short answer – government. When demand is artificially created without an increase in supply, prices go up. This is what happened with higher education. The government decided to curtail tuition prices by subsidizing the industry in the form of federal loans (spoiler alert: federal subsidizing never ends well for the consumer). Since there is guaranteed money flowing, there is incentive to hike up prices. When good intentions are being promulgated by the federal government you can almost always assume it will backfire.

Let’s address the “how?” How do we deal with the student loan crisis? This is where there is a fundamental disagreement among ideologies. My simple answer is removing government from the game; however, there is a caveat. Many argue that tuition prices were rising before federal aid, and they would be right. That is because culture has painted a picture of higher education that is false; society has treated it as though it is an inelastic factor of life. Meaning, the decision to go to college does not change with circumstance or price. This is utterly false. Getting a piece of paper after four years at a liberal arts college does not automatically get you a career, six-figure salary, make you smarter, or put you in a higher classification than those who don’t attend college. If you can’t afford to pay back a loan, don’t take one out. If you will not major in something that actually needs that piece of paper, don’t go.

College is an elastic commodity. A rise in price or a conflicting circumstance allows the consumer to visit alternatives: community college or a less expensive school, working after high school first to save money, an apprenticeship, an internship, etc. Thinking you have to attend a university right after high school, or at all, is giving into a misguided societal stigma that only fuels the student loan crisis.

Canceling student loan debt is another degree of separation from responsibility. Being responsible for our decisions is the cornerstone of liberty. You cannot have rights and privileges without upholding the duties that come with them. Going to college is a privilege. Signing on the dotted line of a loan agreement is a responsibility – a consenting responsibility. This cornerstone is being deteriorated anytime you hear the word “free” accompanied by a legislative proposal. Making debt disappear and making college free diminishes the value of a degree while creating a less accountable society.

Rep. Omar voiced her support of canceling student loan debt with a tweet on June 24: “Corporations and the wealthiest Americans have repeatedly gotten tax breaks and bailouts. It’s time for a bailout for the 45 million Americans who are shackled with student debt.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the irony in this tweet. Omar is against the bailouts and tax breaks of corporations and wealthy Americans and yet she’s using them as a justification to do the same thing for student loans. She accurately portrays the bailouts as a negative and in the same breath advocates for one. The inconsistent standard is cutting into her case. But I digress. The most glaring injustice of canceling student loans is that the debt doesn’t just disappear; someone is footing the bill. And that someone is everyone else.

Two-thirds of Americans do not have a college degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time workers with only a high school diploma earn an average of $718 a week while workers with a bachelor’s degree earn $1,189. What Ilhan Omar, Bernie Sanders, and many other Democratic politicians advocating for student loan relief are saying is that the vast majority of Americans who statistically earn less should pay off the debt of the degree holders who earn more and will earn more on average. We also can’t forget about the degree holders who have already paid off their loans. Why should they pay for others who made different decisions? Should those who paid off their debt receive reparations? Wherever you fall on the ideological spectrum, I think we can all agree that such a policy is immoral and regressive.

Relieving debt sounds great. Student loans are hounding many Americans and are indeed a source of financial stress. However, footing the bill to the rest of the nation that had nothing to do with someone else agreeing to a loan and their college education is not solving the problem. Exacerbating the student loan crisis by avoiding the actual issue of rising cost due to federal subsidies will foster irresponsibility and a lack of duty in the generations to come. We need to tell our children that going to college is not the only option. We need to set a standard that says going to USC to major in gender studies is not worth it because “at least you’re getting a degree.” We also need to tell the government through our votes that we don’t need intervention that continually makes goods and services more expensive for us.

Take responsibility. Realize the reality of your situation and act in accordance to that reality. Rep. Ilhan Omar, however good her intentions may be, is not helping the American people by calling for the appropriation of debt to unrelated and unwilling third parties. Repeatedly diminishing duty in favor of fiscal comfort for the few (one-third of Americans) is not justice. Regardless of your tax bracket or income level, paying for another’s personal choices is not an ideal America was founded upon. Owning your choices and individual responsibility is American exceptionalism. Canceling student loan debt will create further class warfare while solidifying our dependence on a federal government that worsened the problem in the first place.

Alyssa Ahlgren, an analyst in corporate finance who lives in Minneapolis, is a columnist and commentator for Alpha News MN.

Alyssa Ahlgren

Alyssa has her Bachelor’s in Business Administration and currently works as an analyst in corporate finance. She grew up in northern Wisconsin and is a former collegiate hockey player. Alyssa is pursuing her passion for current events and politics through writing and being an advocate for the conservative movement.