Crazy right? How could student debt cancellation be bad? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Bernie Sanders, and nearly all progressive Democrats support student debt cancellation. So, who am I to waltz into the conversation and say student debt cancellation sucks? Well, the issue with cancelling student debt is a multi-faceted one. The right loves to complain about the unfairness of cancelling student debt when they had to pay their student loans. “How is it possibly fair that I had to pay back all my student loans, but some kid gets to go to college for free?” It’s easy to look at this position as one of high privilege. You can find a half dozen tweets from AOC dunking on people that hold this position and those counter arguments tend to sound like: “’Things were bad for me, so they should stay bad for everyone else’ is not a good argument against debt cancellation – student, medical, or otherwise. #CancelStudentDebt”. This position seems to be an obvious one, and for leftists ought to be the default, but is it actually fair? Sure, the idea of cancellation feels nice, but it is fundamentally flawed. The language of cancellation is rooted in an unfairness to the marginalized. The people that have been shackled with a seemingly never-ending debt payment that looms larger than life. There is no out. There is no escape. Cancelling that debt gives the people a mobility that is otherwise impossible. But what about the people that paid their debt. That got away from the shackles through their work or perhaps a lifetime of wage slavery. Is it truly fair to them to simply say “well other people shouldn’t suffer”? Does that mean they deserved to suffer? What makes Monday, when people have to pay off their loans, different to Tuesday, when those loans are cancelled? If the loans are wrong on Tuesday, surely, they were wrong on Monday. And if the loans were wrong on Monday, how can we morally and ethically justify keeping the money we took on Monday? The issue with loan cancellation is it leaves those who were forced to participate in a broken system out to dry. How is it possible to retain money that we now consider illegal to collect? Is it actually wrong to collect student loans, or did it become wrong one day? If it became wrong one day, that implies that there was a period of time in which it was right, and that implication means the system ought to be required to go back to when it was right. But no one suggests that the system was ever right. The tuition system is not right. It is fundamentally wrong. And being fundamentally wrong, it must be made right. Progressives believe that making it right is cancellation, but in reality, making it right lies in the language of restitution. 

Restitution is the notion that the government owes the people the money it has stolen from them through the propagation of a fundamentally broken system. In any other case of theft, the thief is not allowed to keep the money and simply apologize for stealing it. The thief is required to pay the money back. In the past 20 years, tuition has over tripled from $3,583 to $11,171. Not including the many, many miscellaneous fees associated with attending college, tuition comes to nearly $50,000 for a standard four year degree. Including those fees puts it to well over $50,000. Go to your bank right now and ask for a $50,000 loan for a house and you will get laughed out of the building. Say it’s for college and they’ll be tripping over themselves to give you that money? What’s the difference? You are legally unable to default on student loans. The banks cannot lose if they give you a student loan. The only out is literally death. Unable to pay your student loans? They’ll steal from your paycheck directly, liquidate your assets, and harass you for the rest of your life while the interest skyrockets to a point where your $50,000 loan ends up costing you $150,000 to pay back. They have the audacity to charge you triple what you took out, and now we say, after you’ve slaved your entire life to pay them back, everyone else is free, don’t complain. It’s an unreasonable request. Why were you required to suffer? Why were you required to pay money that we fundamentally deem illegal? It’s because the language neglects you. Cancellation looks forward, neglecting entirely what came before. How is that fair? What social mobility would you have gained if you weren’t required to pay back more money than you took out? What if you had managed to save that $150,000? Where would you be right now? How is it conscionable to say that your sacrifice is less than the sacrifice that is going to be made. The government and big banks stole your money, held you under their boot until you paid it back, and told you to get over it when other people were treated with the kindness and respect that you feel you deserve. You were stolen from. Cancellation erases that theft. Restitution makes it right. 

By Felix Thibodeau, Contributor