“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” – Frederic Bastiat
President Obama has come out with a plan that will save students paltry sums on their crushing student loan burden. Naturally this calls for a peeling of the onion and the layers of economic and moral obscurity surrounding the issue.
Forget about “money” for a second. Money is just a store of production, a store of value. That is, you produce something and consume less, and hold the excess as money until you choose to consume it later. (Yes, money is also a medium of exchange … it can be both, can’t it?)
When I spend money, I am actually spending my time. I’m consuming the time that I have previously spend producing, which I have stored as money. Now time is a finite quantity; at least my time is a finite quantity. Thus, when I spend my money, my time, my production, I am willingly trading a portion of my life in exchange for a portion of someone else’s. We are trading, freely.
In a free market, people make decisions every day as to how they will trade their time, their lives. They decide how much to produce, and how much to trade away for the production of others with whom they relate. We then come to ask whether these decisions are by-and-large right or wrong? I ask this only as a canard, for it is an unimportant question. The appropriate question is whether the decisions are free? That is, is my life my own to spend as I will, or does it belong to another?
What does this have to do with student loans and college educations? Quite a bit.
Am I a free person?
When I go to the store, do I have the right to determine whether I will buy the $11 robo-widget, or the $15 robo-widget? Suppose I decide that they are of equal value to me, then rightly I would trade a smaller portion of my life to get them … I’ll buy the $11 robo-widget. After all, I value my life. I value that robo-widget too, but if I can keep an extra $4 of my time back for the same robo-widget, I gladly choose to do so.
And what about the robo-widget manufacturer? Well, he’ll hire people who want to produce robo-widgets. Who? Well, whoever he wants to. I guess he’ll hire the one with whom he can strike the best dollar-per-robo-widget contract. After all, he is paying them with prior production on his part (or borrowed production from another) and will want to get the best deal he can … because he values his own life.
So how much should he pay the robo-widget factory workers? Well, he should pay them what they produce. If the have skills, training, or even education that makes them better producers, then that will draw them larger paychecks (because they’ll produce more).
What is a college degree worth? In a free world, it is worth what the market agrees to pay for it. If the market will only pay $35,000 a year to someone with a degree in art history, then that is what it is worth. If the degree costs $135,000 to acquire, then I suppose that it is likely not worth the expected $35,000 annual salary. (Especially if the same person could reasonably expect to make $32,000 annually without the degree.)
Do I have a moral obligation to buy the $15 robo-widget because it was made by someone with an art history degree? Is my decision to buy the $11 robo-widget right, or wrong? Again, write or wrong doesn’t matter here – the only question is whether I am free. This is the only question of morality that we need to raise. Am I free, or am I a slave?
And what does a government program that subsidizes education and then forgives the debt for non-productive degree holders do? It says loudly to the market, rather to the free people of the world “you are wrong. You’re decisions about how to use your life and productivity, to trade your time with others are wrong. We will step in and adjust your decisions to something better. And when you decide not to pay for someone’s education by your free trade interactions, we will simply take your life, your productivity from you and transfer it to those same degree holders anyway.”
It is an assault on liberty. It is a decree of slavery. In is an attack on the personhood of us all.
Now, one will argue “education is worth more than just a paycheck.” I agree. If a person freely decides to get educated in political science at lavish expense, without working a day in the field, that is their decision. I support their right to make the decision, and I also agree with the notion that the degree is worth something other than a large paycheck. But none of this requires me to pay for their education myself – none of these arguments necessitates the forfeiture of the life of one for the education of another … or, as we might otherwise call it, slavery.