This past week President Biden went to the podium once again and attempted to justify his efforts to grow the welfare state with his plan to pay off student loans. Current estimates put the price tag for his student loan bailout at over $400 billion. He justifies the massive expense because ostensibly people who knowingly entered into a contract for which they received a benefit shouldn’t have to be held accountable to their contractual obligations because... well, because its “hard”, or something equally insulting.
The bottom line is that there is no free lunch. Wholly unrelated to war, or poverty, or natural disaster, such government bailouts are instead simply related to the misguided idea of rescuing people from their own bad decision making. But they have to be paid for by someone. Like I said, there ain’t no free lunch.
There are a number of things wrong with the concept of bailing out student loans. It can be dissected from all angles: legal, ethical, mental, and even moral.
From a legal standpoint, Biden arguably does not have the authority to pay off the loans as planned. The legislative branch has not authorized such an expenditure.
Secondly, I would have to argue the notion of selectively using public funds to pay off an individual’s debts is ethically wrong. Not just legally, but ethically. Consider it: how can a President, who has a fiduciary responsibility to the whole of the American public ethically justify the position that just because times are hard that the government needs to lighten the contractual obligations of certain individual citizens without consideration to those who carry similar burdens?
But what about the mental assent required for this decision? What about the internal thought processes that had to go into making the final determination to spend someone else’s money to pay off another person’s contract under the guise that doing so is because of hard economic times brought on by a pandemic?
So legally, ethically, and mentally the argument can be made against this student loan bailout without much trouble. But there is another argument that I believe bears equal, and perhaps even greater weight. Can this student loan bailout can be defended morally?
A healthy society cannot survive on the notion that no one should be held accountable for their own actions. The millions and millions of productive citizens out there making a go of it and contributing to their communities who take the great risks, and know the great failures, but also know the great achievements and the satisfaction of hard work, those are the people now being called upon to pat the poor souls on the head that have been said to have borne the ignominy, the burden, the pain of being asked to pay their own debts.
Legally, ethically, mentally, and morally the Biden student loan bailout is a bad idea fraught with negative second and third order effects. It cannot go forward, and all necessary action should be taken to stop it.
There is no free lunch.
Phil Williams is a former State Senator, retired Army Colonel and combat veteran, and a practicing Attorney.