The American Dream

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At this very moment, the U.S.’s collective student debt amounts to $1.5 trillion. However, things may be changing in the near-future with President-elect Joe Biden and there are a lot of opinions surrounding this issue.

First, an article titled “The class folly of canceling student loans” from The Week, a news magazine in the U.K., argues that it would be appalling if Biden wiped out student loan debt. The author, Damon Linker, uses verbiage with pejorative connotations like “bailout”. He contends that in the middle of a pandemic student loan debt forgiveness should not be a top priority, “Their indebtedness is a burden, but their education is a ticket to earnings significantly higher than those without it…Those who carry student debt are nowhere near the neediest people in the country.” Linker seems to have a strong meritocratic belief in the American job and education system. A major tone throughout is a sense of American individualism and loftiness.  Linker argues the actual number of Americans who carry student debt is overestimated and backs his statement with census data. Linker leverages his position by calling on fairness –– what about the people who have already paid off all of their loans? He also tries to cast doubt on his readers, particularly democrat readers, citing that canceling loans (or what he calls “handouts”) will lead to de facto federal control of universities and strongly claims that is not democracy itself.

In contrast, an article titled, “Student-Loan Debt is Immoral” by the Intelligencer is dripping with anger and imagery by author Sarah Jones. She uses rhetoric like “deep societal rot” and “everything is fucked.” Contrary to Linker’s position, Jones asserts that the narrative we grew up with––degree=job––is outdated. Interestingly enough, both writers argue their positions using the pandemic. Linker argues that student debt should not be forgiven because it is not a priority amid the pandemic, whereas Jones argues that it is a priority because of the pandemic. Linker argues money should be focused elsewhere, but Jones states that student loan debt cancellation would allow Americans to breathe during a time where people don’t have jobs, healthcare and can barely afford to pay rent. Compared to Linker, Jones employs lots of pathos by including personal stories as well. Additionally, Linker talks about social mobility but never once mentioned structural racism, whereas Jones cites statistics about how Black students have greater loan amounts than the average white student and how student loans just increase the wealth gap. By stating this, Jones nullifies Linker’s argument of social mobility because a college degree can’t solve larger social problems. 

While both articles present compelling cases, it’s clear that much of Linker’s arguments seem to be framed in functionalist beliefs of meritocracy and social mobility. However, Linker never once turns to look at the government’s own role in perpetuating inequality, whereas Jones harshly criticizes the government and turns Linker’s own argument (people who have already paid loans) right back around and agrees that people have a right to be angry but with the government and college institutions, not other borrowers. As Jones says, “You don’t solve one injustice by refusing to rectify another when you can. Biden shouldn’t hold debtors hostage to a broken system.” This is true, but there is also some truth to Linker’s argument. If Biden does wipe student debt then this will no doubt turn into a political mess of right vs left and yes, this relief will only be temporary. As Adeiye Oluwaseun-Sobo’s pointed out in her blog, the existence of a current system may work for some individuals but certainly not all and their existence is a sign of a failed education system. So the big question and the next step are how do we radically reshape higher education?

Written by Amy Yang

References:

  1. Jones, S. (2020, November 16). Student-Loan Debt Is Immoral. NY Mag. Retrieved November 22, 2020 from https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/11/biden-student-loan-forgiveness-plan-college-debt-is-immoral.html 
  2. Linker, D. (2020, November 18). The class folly of canceling student loans. The Week. Retrieved November 22, 2020 from https://theweek.com/articles/950359/class-folly-canceling-student-loans 
  3. Oluwaseun-Sobo, A. (2020, October 9). Emergency Funds- Were We Not Already In a State of Emergency?. Four Continents One Blog. Retrieved November 22, 2020 from https://4continents1blog.wordpress.com/2020/10/09/emergency-funds-were-we-not-already-in-a-state-of-emergency/ 

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