A mismatch between the title and subtitle of Matt Lewis’ April 18 column in The Daily Beast – “Student loan debt write-off leaves only a broken system in place” and “Democrats are delusional if they think canceling student loan debt will save them and Biden at the polls” – perfectly illustrates the fallacy of confusing bad policy with bad policy.
In the body of the article, Lewis makes some reasonable political arguments against canceling student debt: it benefits the rich more than the poor and perpetuates a “higher education bubble” in which students pay far too much. expensive for their studies given the economic situation. benefits they can expect from a degree.
Lewis veers off the shoulder and unleashes the rumble tape, however, when he tries to shift from those political arguments to claiming that a move by President Joe Biden to write off student debt would hurt rather than help Democrats in November’s midterm.
His case, in a nutshell: Many people without student debt will resent subsidizing forgiveness and blame it on Democrats. “[T]here are about 43 million people who are the “winners” of this policy, [but it] probably pisses off more people than he wants.”
I’m a soft “no” to student loan forgiveness — I’m in favor of just making student debt eligible for bankruptcy discharge like other debt — but on politics, Lewis is all wet.
First of all, its number of “winners” is low.
Suppose there are 43 million student debtors who will be satisfied with forgiveness.
Suppose each of them has only one living parent, who will probably be happy to see a child get out of crippling debt.
Suppose that only 10 million of the 40 million have spouses or children of voting age who do not have student debt but who will be happy for the household to benefit from it.
That’s at least 96 million people — 15 million more than those who voted for Joe Biden for president in 2020.
That’s an average of over 220,000 people per US House district. By my quick count, only 14 of the 435 winners of the 2020 Congressional elections enjoyed a margin of victory greater than that 220,000. In close races, even a fraction of those “winners” can make a big difference.
Now for the other side of the ledger: people who forgive student loans “suck it”.
There’s an old adage about government programs: Benefits are concentrated, costs are diffused. Ditto gratitude for these benefits and resentment for these costs. That’s why we have, for example, corporate welfare. Companies are constantly pushing. Taxpayers kinda care about that for about a minute.
In this case, the “winners” will be more motivated than the “losers” in terms of their votes (and their enthusiasm to vote).
The “winners” got a big favor. The “losers” might eventually see, and might even notice, a small tax increase.
Canceling student loans may not prevent Democrats from losing the House and Senate in November, but it certainly won’t hurt them at the polls. And that really has nothing to do with whether forgiveness is good policy.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in North Central Florida.