Skoog: And with WHOSE taxes?

There is a difference between hate-reading and rage-fueled reluctance to read.

by Caroline Skoog

Immersed in the 24-hour news cycle, our own understanding of the world is shaped by the media we choose to view and avoid. Amidst the democratic debates, I’ve seen articles that cover democratic talking points, particularly college tuition and student loan debt, shared online and coupled with a cynical comment:

And WHO will be paying for it? 

Look, I know the saturation of media can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. But sometimes the answer to your question can be located inside of the article that you’ve shared for the purpose of mocking. There’s a willingness to misunderstand concepts in order to uphold the status quo. 

What is Bernie Sanders’ proposed College for All Act, and how does he plan to fund it? 

The College for All Act would eliminate undergraduate tuition at four year public colleges and universities. Sanders’ plan asserts that the federal government will cover 67 percent of the total public college tuition, with each qualifying state covering 33 percent and receiving an annual $47 billion from the federal government. This legislation would apply to anyone attending or hoping to attend college. 

To fund this legislation, Sanders proposes a Wall Street speculation fee, referred to as a Robin Hood Tax in the proposal summary, that would apply a 0.5 percent fee on stock trades, a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee on derivatives. Sort of like a sales tax on Wall Street. Some people – I’ll go out on a limb here and assume about 1 percent – cringe at the idea of a Wall Street tax, as it might disrupt our fragile economy. Even without a sales tax, though, Wall Street poses hazards to the economy’s stability. 

Robert Pollin, a professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, estimates that the Wall Street tax could generate 300 billion dollars per year in government revenue, after accounting for a 50 percent decrease in stock trading due to the tax.  

How does Elizabeth Warren plan to forgive student loan debt?

Warren’s student debt relief calls for “the cancellation of up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million Americans.” Although less universal than Sanders’ plan, Warren still aims to eliminate some student debt for 95 percent of Americans paying off student loans. Whereas Sanders’ vision applies to everyone, Warren caps the debt relief at households with incomes above $250,000 (which she says is the top 5 percent). Essentially, Warren’s plan strategizes debt phaseouts based on income.

While Warren hasn’t explicitly stated her plans for funding this arrangement, her proposed “Ultra-Millionaire Tax”, which would enforce an annual 2 percent tax on the 75,000 families with a net worth of at least $50 million, would likely go towards this issue. 

Despite how Google-able this information is, accessible higher education is often still treated like an ivory tower pipe dream. There are people who declare their own pragmatism, allowing them to sympathize with the notion of tuition-free education but doubt its plausibility and try to stomp out support with quasi-statistics. 

Plus, there are individuals who have emerged from the pool of student loan debt, many years later, full of resentment and mad at the idea of student debt forgiveness. I don’t know what to say to those people other than I think pro-student debt is a weird stance to dig your heels into. It feels a lot like an older sibling who’s mad their little sister has a later curfew than they did at that age. I know you think that because you suffered, everyone else should have to suffer, but that’s an exhausting way to approach life.

The primary argument I’ve heard against tuition-free education is its supposed impact on taxes. However, doing the work, for instance typing questions into Google, and reading the proposal summaries (the College for All Act is one page), reveals that the richest classes in the U.S. would experience this impact. It’s a matter of looking into it. The education system has fed us a narrative that passed grade 12 ⁠— education is a commodity and not a priority — in effect laying the groundwork for misconceptions about the government’s relation to higher education. But the positive impacts of higher education on society are undeniable, and the U.S. has the means to provide quality higher education to all of its citizens. 

I know I sound smug boasting for others to “look into it” when in reality, we all believe what we want to believe. Different facts from different sources, sought out with different intentions. Well, I want to believe in a better future. For the U.S., sure, but also for me (I am a millennial after all.). I want to believe that things can get better, and if it’s the status quo that landed 44 million people into a collective total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, the status quo won’t have a hand in fixing the matter. 

The country’s past can’t be looked to as evidence or examples for a solution, because neither conditions of the past or present are interchangeable: We need change now, and now more than ever.