The experts at Bloomberg have noticed that student loans may be bad for the economy, reducing the purchasing power of the most educated members of society.
An article on Bloomberg takes a detailed look at how the continuing growth of student debt is affecting the economy. We learn from data provided by the US Federal Reserve that “In the decade through 2017, the value of student loans outstanding soared 153 percent.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The principal instrument devised to permit the institution of legalized slavery of the young and educated
We all know — and feel ethically relieved to know — that slavery was abolished in the aftermath of the Civil War. Students of American history (however indebted they may be) also know that at the beginning the American colonies’ economy depended on indentured servants in the North before the expansion of slavery in the South. Adult servants were “signed on” for four to seven years of labor and children for longer.
Restricting the freedom of other individuals to exploit their labor has now definitively disappeared from the legal ethos of the nation. But in a certain sense, the spirit lives on, or rather has been reborn. For decades, free education provided by state universities made it possible for the academically motivated to pursue a good degree and then arrive on the job market, a diploma in their hand, with the idea of making their way in a competitive economy.
All that has changed as education has been transformed into a financial transaction “facilitated” by the availability of student loans, leaving generations of young adults saddled with debt, often for decades. In a very real sense, for many of them their career plays out as a form of indentured repayment. This inevitably brings with it devastating psychological and social effects on the indebted individuals.
Now, the experts at Bloomberg have noticed it may also be bad for the economy, reducing the purchasing power of the most educated members of society. Although they don’t make the connection while providing the figures, this represents the equivalent of a 15% tax on net income for those who have made the choice to “purchase a diploma.” In a land that traditionally revolts against taxation, this turns out to be a subtle and ultimately crippling tax on intellectual investment.
Systems as well as people have strategies. Today’s philistine culture, drawing on the principles neoliberal economics — summed up in Milton Freidman’s “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” — has instituted a system that removes both the “liberal” and the “arts” from higher education’s “liberal arts” culture. Systematically indebting generations of students removes their economic “freedom.” The liberal arts of yore included mathematics, natural science, music, logic and rhetoric, human sciences and arts. In other words, wide-ranging human skills serving the needs of functional human performance in a plethora of professions. The concept was inclusive and aimed at building and maintaining the foundations of a rich and creative shared culture.
The focus on the cost of education and the “moral necessity” of consumers of education (students) accepting to assume that cost and dedicate their lives to paying it back has turned education into a pure commerce and transformed students into indentured servants, with an amount to pay rather than a fixed period of time. Creativity and critical thinking — two of the principal outcomes of university culture — have been left by the wayside. It’s all about what English poet William Wordsworth called “getting and spending”: getting a job and spending one’s salary to reimburse the debt.
In the US, indentured servitude — a British invention — competed with slavery for two centuries as a means of creating and controlling a docile working class. It began to fade in the first half of the 19th century, as wage labor became more competitive and less constraining on employers, a result of the massive immigration that populated the expanding nation. The British finally outlawed the indentured servitude in the Americas in 1917.
As historian Major Danny Sjursen reminds us, “for the first several decades, an interracial mix of slaves and servants worked the land in Virginia.” For a while, Southern landowners had to make a decision about which type of labor they preferred. Sjursen notes, “Unsurprisingly, ethics played little role, and cost was the defining factor.”
After several centuries of attempting not only to enter into the game of civilization, but even to become a leader — trumpeting democracy, equality and progress — the US economic and cultural system has returned to its roots, where ethics and humanity play second fiddle to economics, itself reduced to the evaluation of cost and the creation and manipulation of a docile labor force.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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