E26: re:joinder - Pro-Free College, Pro-Loan Forgiveness, Pro-Human

In this re:joinder episode, producers and co-hosts Alex and Calvin are re-joined by contributor and co-producer Sophie to roast two op-eds that criticize proposed plans to lower the price of college tuition and eliminate student loan debt.

In the first article, Who Will Take a Paycut for Free College, published in the august and impartial Wallstreet Journal, author Joseph Epstein argues that we while the promise of free college might sound appealing, when it comes to higher education, “you get what you pay for.” Taking for granted that tuition funding would need to come out of the budgets of higher education institutions themselves, Epstein suggests that universities might do well to eliminate courses in ‘victimology,’ pay professors by the hour, and turn over profits from university sports programs to the federal government to foot the bill of free college for all. Parsing the many cynical assumptions that underpin this argument, Alex, Calvin, and Sophie note that Epstein has handily overlooked the fact that the costs of these proposals would be shouldered by taxes on the wealthy and on Wall Street transactions (a plan that many economists have determined would be sound fiscal policy). Our co-hosts push back on Epstein’s attempt to coerce his audience into believing that free higher education would be bad through a series of “hypotheticals” about what this kind of change would require, and criticize the author’s failure to try and understand the price of attending a modern university. 

In the second article, published in Human Events, Mary Claire Amselem argues “no. Period. Your student loan debt should not be forgiven. Period.” Amselem invokes the grim specters of senators Sanders and Warren to blast the notion that we could forgive student loan debt and provide free university education. In a flurry of nominalizations, the author concedes that student loan debt is undesirable and burdensome, but nevertheless maintains that loan forgiveness would create more problems than it solves. Citing imaginary consensus that eliminating student loan debt would be bad policy because it would promote fiscal irresponsibility, Anselem makes the bogus claim that student loan debt is only incurred by those too irresponsible to manage their finances and make smart decisions, and that student loan forgiveness plans would burden the American taxpayer. Our hosts point out that Anselem’s argument relies not only on stark a lack of data about the cost of higher education, but also on the false dichotomies she draws in order to pit the middle class against itself (namely, students vs. taxpayers, and low-wage earners vs. the college educated). Though Amselem would have us believe that low earners will be forced to subsidize other people’s debt under these plans, our hosts once again point out that in fact, the funding for these programs would come from progressive taxation on the wealthy and targeted taxing of Wall Street speculation. Like Epstein, Amselem invokes cynical rhetoric to encourage her readers to see the enemy next them rather than the enemy up above, in an effort to manipulate the audience into seeing things her way. 

We round out the episode pointing out that both authors arguments are based not on factual support, but instead on cruel assumptions and an unwillingness to examine the facts and data about the cost of education today, as well as the economic forces that have brought about the student loan crisis in the first place. Both authors seem to overlook the structural inequalities that have worked to create the well-educated but low earning college graduates lambasted in the articles. We conclude that both athour’s arguments attempt to confirm people’s worst suspicions about higher education, and we question the material interests working behind the scenes at both publications that are invested in promoting these cynical perspectives.

Works and Concepts Cited in this Episode

Amselem, M. C. (2019, 28 June). No, your student loans should not be forgiven. Human Events. Retrieved from: https://humanevents.com/2019/06/28/no-your-student-loans-should-not-be-forgiven/

Epstein, J. (2019, 17 July). Who’ll take a pay cut for free college? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/wholl-take-a-pay-cut-for-free-college-11563404022?mod=rsswn

Grewal, D. (2012, 10 Apr.). How wealth reduces compassion: As riches grow, empathy for others seems to decline. Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-wealth-reduces-compassion/

Piff, P. K., Stancato, D.M., Côté, S., Mendoza-Denton, R., Keltner, D. (2012). Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar. 2012, 109(11), pp. 4086-4091. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1118373109

Stiglitz, J. E. (2014). Reforming taxation to promote growth and equity. Roosevelt Institute. Retrieved from: https://rooseveltinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Stiglitz_Reforming_Taxation_White_Paper_Roosevelt_Institute.pdf [White paper from Nobel Laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz advocating for the utility of progressive taxation policies and financial transaction taxes]

Alex Helberg