Headlines all over the internet last week read like this: “Student Loan Debt: $1 Trillion and Counting.” The Forbes Magazine blog, like so many other mainstream news vehicles asks the insipid question, “Whatever happened to the American dream of going to college, landing a great job and living happily ever after?” Yeah and whatever happened to the fucking tooth fairy?
If you happen to be a member of Generation X or younger, that simplistic version of the “American Dream” is just a lie–the perfect con.
The “American Dream” to go to college and get a great job was always a lie. The lie just wasn’t as apparent to your grandparents who got to take advantage (at least if they were white) of a GI Bill in the late 1940s and 1950s that provided free education or your parents, who, through the 1960s and 1970s, went to public colleges and universities that were free or relatively cheap.
Both of those generations bought into an old upper class strategy. Expensive universities were simply devises to for young rich assholes to meet, make future business connections and marry. Education for it’s own sake meant little to the upper crust.
That was also true for the new middle class. College was a mechanism for upward mobility and there were plenty of jobs available for new college graduates–managers, bureaucrats, teachers, lawyers and scientists were in high demand.
By the time Ronald Reagan started gutting the University of California, vast numbers of the so-called “Greatest Generation”, the first and last American generation to receive cradle to grave socialist benefits, expressed their frustration with their hippie children by supporting a war on public education among the other social wars advanced by so-called conservatives. We got ours, fuck you.
Your parents, also the beneficiaries of inexpensive liberal education (After all they did read the Autobiography of Malcolm X.) seemed to be missing in action while public universities withered. They had other things on their minds, like snorting cocaine off of each others tits, questioning the value of public education (validly) and turning their attention to privatized enrichment like the Universal University of Advanced Integral Woo Woo Studies or est.
Yet neither generation doubted the old adage that going to college could get you a good job, in fact some of them exploited it and higher education became big business.
The Perfect Con
Everybody knows you have to go to college to get a good job. But these days public universities are as expensive as private universities. Gone are the days when you could go to the University of California for free. So if you want a good job, you need a big loan, actually several big loans. And because everybody knows you have to go to college to get a good job, your friendly congressperson will guarantee those loans, up to a point. The federal government won’t subsidize public education any more, but it will, sure as shit, subsidize banks.
Rich assholes can still afford to send their kids to prestigious universities notwithstanding their kids’ qualifications. (Think, Yale and George W. Bush.) That’s just good for business. They may even let your sorry ass in, but you’re going to pay and pay big.
It’s a con, the perfect con. Even if you do get a good job, a large part your disposable income is sucked up by a vampire squid.
If you don’t get a good job ( and there are far fewer around these days) you’re SOL. Sallie May (Tony Soprano in drag) threatens:
Unless you can show that your education loan payment is an “undue hardship” on you, your family, and your dependents, your student loans are ineligible for cancellation (discharge) in bankruptcy.
It is difficult to prove “undue hardship” unless you are physically unable to work and there is no chance of your making money. To discharge your student loans under this special case, you must file a separate motion with the bankruptcy court and present your situation before a judge.
To top it off, no matter how much annual interest you pay on your student loans you can only write off $2,500.00 and if you make more than $75,000.00 per year, you can’t write off any interest–another benefit from your congressperson.
As folks who are not as easily fitted for blinders (often socialists) put it: “The picture that emerges is of a society uninterested in the education and intellectual progress of the vast majority, except insofar as it profits rapacious corporate interests.”
The unsung benefit of burgeoning student debt to rapacious corporations is that those who owe their jobs to their education cannot easily quit. If, as Kofi Annan asserts, “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development,” those yolked to their jobs because they must pay their student debt are less likely to transform, less likely to be free.
William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.” Student loans are the bucket of water that douse the fire. And that’s just the way rich assholes want it.