Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
President Obama's proposal for tuition-free community college education, and the broader discussion which it has inspired, confirms our belief that it is time for a comprehensive solution to a $1.3 trillion problem: student debt in the United States.
We strongly support the concept of tuition-free public higher education, and are encouraged by renewed arguments in its favor. But we must also confront what has been done to the last several generations of students. They have been forced to take on debt that is crippling to them, to our economy and our society.
A student debt "jubilee" would reflect both the values upon which this nation was founded, and the economic principles which have sustained it through its greatest periods of growth and prosperity.
It is time for a truly transformative idea: Let's Abolish All Student Loan Debt in America.
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Jubilees Then and Now
The Liberty Bell represents our nation's core values, combining personal freedom with community action. The words inscribed on the Bell -- "Proclaim liberty throughout the land, and to all the inhabitants thereof" -- are from the Book of Leviticus and refer to a Biblical "Year of Jubilee," when all debts were periodically forgiven by the nation's rulers.
Those Jubilee years -- proclaimed at 49-year intervals for over 4,000 years - were both moral and practical in nature. On one hand, they were an acknowledgement that prolonged and excessive debt was an unconscionable burden. That morality is woven into the ethical foundation of Western civilization, which accepts the notion of fair debt but rejects indebtedness which is usurious or impinges on human freedom.
But they were also an economic necessity, preserving social harmony while ensuring uninterrupted production. The practical value of debt forgiveness has been explored by scholars who note that it reinforces social cohesion and prevents large groups of people from falling into poverty or oppression.
These goals remain as important today as they were in ancient times. A vibrant middle class is the engine of a functioning economy. A sustainable future is impractical without it.
While "Jubilee Years" were created long ago, the concept lives on today in different forms. Most modern Western societies have drawn on similar moral and practical arguments to end usury, indentured servitude, and slavery. Bankruptcy laws extend a kind of individualized "jubilee" to people who are over-burdened with debt. (Ironically, student debt is exempted from most forms of bankruptcy relief.)
Now we face a new moral challenge. We need a new and transformative movement, one which echoes the struggles of recent history while drawing its inspiration from ancient traditions. Our massive student debt burden is a moral and ethical challenge. This debt draws upon the as-yet unearned wealth of each new generation, mortgaging tomorrow's wealth and inhibiting the prosperity of the future.
How did we get here?
The Rise of Student Debt
There was a time in living memory when many Americans could obtain public higher education at little or no tuition cost. Today a college degree has become prohibitively expensive for many, while millions of others are required to borrow extensively in order to meet its soaring costs.