(COOK/OWNER of a tiny felafel place talks across the counter to a CUSTOMER)
“Yeah, I remember one of Maria Klaus’ speeches.”
“The one about the student debt crisis.”
“They say she did that speech for her nephews and nieces.”
“Yeah, that one she really put her heart into. Not that she didn’t put her heart into all her speeches, but she really was mad about this, you know. Because it was the young people. We had hurt them, she said, and how were we going to fix it?”
ON THE EDUCATION CRISIS
May 23, Year 3
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is done. We have killed the goose that laid the golden egg.
What is the golden egg of our country? The middle class. Why such fuss over the middle class? Because it is the motor of a capitalist system. They are the consumers of the goods and services that a capitalist system (or free market system as we like to call it) produces.
In one generation we have succeeded in killing the goose that lays them. So, there will be no more golden eggs coming.
Who is this goose that lays the golden egg, you ask. It is the college student. He/or she is the one who has the potential of becoming educated, getting a job, and moving into the solid middle class.
Up until a generation ago this was the safest path into achieving “the dream” or the “golden egg.” A social class blessed with the possibilities of car ownership, home ownership and of passing on to their children the access to opportunity.
But we have killed it. We have killed the dream by killing the goose.
First of all, we raised this goose from infancy to believe in a lie. We said to it, “if you are a good little goose, and study hard and go to college, you will be able to get a job. That job will enable you to partake of all the benefits of our society. Prosperity will sit on your nest. You will lay a golden egg, you will be an acting, partaking member of the middle class.
What’s more, we said, you are entitled to go to college, because this was our original goal in creating the middle class, and this is the fruit of our efforts. So if you want to be anybody, you must go to college. And all the good little geese said, “Okay. I will do this. I will be a good little goose, so that when I grow up I will be able to lay a golden egg.”
However, Ladies and Gentlemen, one thing we didn’t tell them, was that we wouldn’t be able to pay for it. That through a series of happenings which I won’t recount to you now, it had grown beyond our reach as parents, to send them to college. College was too expensive, we didn’t have enough money, we were squeezed already, and they had to fend for themselves.
And this is when the wolves began to appear. And since they came in sheep’s clothing nobody minded the city gates, we just let them all in, and let them play among our little geese. Well, they were not so little anymore. They were youth geese. Full of dreams and under great pressure to go to college.
These predator wolves now, that were not being watched, said to the youth geese, “I will lend you money to go to college. All the money you need to pay your exorbitant tuition, plus money to live while you go to your dream college, and I will do it at the modest interest rate of 10%. And you don’t have to pay me until you’re done and you have a great job that is paying you lots of money, so that paying back the loan will not even feel like a pin-prick in your vein.”
And off the youth geese went, and they borrowed $15,000 dollars for their first year, and with all the savings their parents could scrape together, they paid their $17,000 tuition, got a student grant, a government loan for $5,000 and a part time job, and were able to live like paupers through their first year. In their second year, they had to borrow a little bit more, $22,000, because tuition had gone up and their parents had no more savings. They took out another $5,000 government loan and made ends meet for that year. At this point they were $49,000 in debt and things started to weigh on them, they got a little depressed and had a bad semester in their third year, but their debt grew by another $29,000. At which point, their geese parents, who had co-signed on all these loans said; “Sorry, our credit is overextended, the wolves are at our door, and we cannot co-sign another loan for you because it looks like you might not make it to the promised land of the golden goose egg, and we might have to end up paying the wolves back ourselves, otherwise they will take our nest away.”
At this point, still with another year and a half to go to graduate, and already $78,000 in debt, the youth geese didn’t know what to do. They began to suspect that they might have been tricked by the wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that they had better not borrow anymore, so they left their dream colleges, which by now had become nightmare colleges, and started trying to find another way to get to the promised land of the golden egg.
But they found no job that would pay them, the wolves were constantly at their door, barking loudly for them to begin paying their loans back, saying that if they took ten years to pay it back, because of the 10% per year interest rate, the goose would have to pay back double what he had borrowed, that is $156,000. And when the young goose cried and said, “I can’t possibly pay you back in ten years,” they said, “Well, then pay us back in twenty, but you will have to pay three times what you borrowed.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point the youth goose, seeing that he would have to pay back $234,000, gave in to despair and said: “I shall have no life for this crushing debt that is upon me. I cannot ever afford to marry, or to have little geese, or to build a nest for them to live in. If I am lucky enough to find a job without my dream degree, it will only serve to pay back this crushing debt, and I will not even be able to support myself.”
At this point, Ladies and Gentlemen, the young geese in the land, realizing they had been lied to, tricked and sabotaged, hung down their heads on their necks, and drowned themselves in the river of despair. Their parent geese, highly incensed, tried to raise up a clamor against the wolves, but they only came and took their nests away, saying the debt must be paid.
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the story of how we killed the goose that laid the golden egg. And it is truly a grievous, sad tale.
Now. What can we do about it?
This is truly the crisis of our time. And I feel our whole country is in the balance. Here, at this juncture. How we respond to the present crisis, will determine whether we will lose the middle class, which is what protects us from devolving into a medieval darkness of complete extremes of rich and poor. As you know, I have said to you over and over, the salvation of our modern way of life, of the values we hold dear, is the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty. How can we allow these predatory wolves to pray upon our young people, setting up a horror scenario for the downfall of our civilization?
It has been suggested by some, that we simply ignore this generation of marginalized young gooses and try to do a better job from now on. After all, the middle classness of a person is not defined by their actual economic condition but by the label they were given at birth, the label they think defines their identity. So, no one will actually notice there is no middle class left as long as no one points out that they are standing in the middle of the room with no clothes on. After all, being a member of the middle class is a privilege, and we must pay for that privilege by not letting anyone know it if we no longer deserve to be there.
Others have suggested that we devise some bandaids for the problem. Such as, letting the young gooses pay back the massive debt by taking longer, or by paying it in proportion to their income. Have you ever heard of a poor person who could pay off a $234,000 debt? Centuries ago, some persons bought their way out of slavery or indentured servitude, but the cost was not so high. I call this a bandaid approach because it does not get at the root of the problem. The root is, that what we did wrong must be undone. That means any solution has to be retroactive, otherwise the goose will still be dead. And we will no longer have the dream.
It is true. We can never go backwards. How do we go forward? How do we deal with the wolves holding hostage the young geese and their parents?
Well, 15% of the debt is from governmental student loans. We have several options, to retroactively forgive the interest on those loans, or to retroactively forgive the loans, going back to a certain year, when the wolves began to arrive. This would undoubtedly stimulate the economy and rescue some of the young geese. It would be a bailout. Would our current budget be able to withstand foregoing this repayment? Perhaps. Would it bankrupt the student loan program? No. The legislature could appropriate a bigger slice of the GNP for this purpose. It would be an investment in our future. Can we afford not to do this? What would be the result if we don’t?
All these questions must be studied expeditiously and answered with simple mathematics.
Now, what can be done about the other 85% of the toxic student debt? The government can buy it, by refinancing the loans at a lower interest rate. How, you say? By creating an institution whose sole and non-profit purpose it is to administer student loans and promote education. It would remove the incentive from predatory lending to students by removing them from the private sector and confining them to the public sector. It would also help prevent the swelling of college tuition costs, by setting caps on per credit prices.
Now, some may say such a massive bailout amounts to paying a ransom to the wolves. And it is true. But it will also deprive them of ten or twenty years of future profits on the backs of the students. In effect, the government would be paying off the principal (which it would eventually recover from the students paying off their debt) and the high interest rate. It would recover some of this interest from the students and the rest could be recovered by instituting a program which I will call “Rescue the Middle Class.”
“Rescue the Middle Class,” is exactly that, a fund to which anyone wishing to contribute to salvaging the educational costs of this lost generation can donate. It is in effect, buying back our future, preventing an economic genocide, preserving the balance of classes in our country and the dream of the golden egg. A campaign of universal participation can be promoted, where small and large tax deductible contributions are encouraged, in the name of civic duty.
So, ladies and gentlemen. We made a mistake. Let’s own it. And let’s fix it.
I yield the floor.
As reported by Rhea Harmsen