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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 7/30/17

Time to Solve the Student Debt Crisis

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From George Lakoff Website

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We teach young people that education will set them free. If you get an education, the doors of opportunity will open wide. The world will be your oyster and your life will be better. Yet for millions of Americans, the opposite is true. For them, education has not been the key to a brighter future. Instead, it's burdened them with crushing, lifelong debt.

And unlike the debt accrued by Wall Street fat cats and people like Donald Trump -- who declared bankruptcy four times -- ordinary Americans can't just declare bankruptcy to get out from under the debt. The debt will follow them for life because the debt collector is none other than the US government. What's worse is the fact that the government farms out the job of collecting student debt to private corporations like Navient.

According to an investigation by Reuters, Navient appears to have cheated many poor student debt holders. It did this by failing to inform them of income-based repayment programs that could have kept them from defaulting. Instead, Navient herded these eligible Americans into other programs to drive up the interest costs and fees. These unscrupulous practices have added $4 billion to the amount of student debt owed by Americans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Confronted by the CFPB in a lawsuit, Navient responded: "There is no expectation that the servicer will act in the interest of the consumer."

Wait a minute here. Navient was hired by the federal government to collect student debt from American citizens. American democracy is government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Shouldn't Navient, as a servant of the government, have a moral responsibility to act in the best interests of the American people? Holders of student debt are American citizens who are trying to improve their lives and improve our country. Shouldn't we do better by them?

Instead, the student debt crisis is crushing Americans. It keeps them from buying homes, getting married, and living fulfilled lives. It directly robs them of their freedom, their opportunity, and their pursuit of happiness. And this is not just a problem for young people. Student debt hurts entire families. In fact, the US government is currently garnishing the Social Security checks of 173,000 Americans. Companies like Navient even go after the disability checks of people in wheelchairs.

Our nation is long overdue for a conversation about the student debt crisis. It is a direct threat to the freedom and opportunity of a whole generation of young Americans. It is also completely unfair, because for decades public education in the United States was basically free. Now, the rules have changed. For at least 44 million Americans, the college diploma came with the ball and chain of serious debt.

As we might expect, Donald Trump is doing everything he can to make the problem worse. In fact, his Administration is considering handing over ALL student debt accounts to the unscrupulous Navient! The Democrats haven't done much better, offering tepid proposals to help "refinance" outrageously structured loans. They treat this crushing debt like a business deal rather than the fundamental issue of freedom, fairness, and opportunity that it is.

This is the kind of issue that progressives should aim to solve. I think it's time to end the student debt crisis once and for all. Do you agree? How has student debt affected your life or the life of someone you know? What do you think should be done about it?

Please leave your answers in the comments -- and let's get this conversation started.

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George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. He previously taught at Harvard (1965-69) and the (more...)

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