President Biden announced yesterday that he would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for Americans earning less than $125,000 per year or households earning less than $250,000.
The White House claims that 90 percent of the relief will go to households earning $75,000 a year or less. Students who received Pell grants, which are for low-income students, will be eligible to receive an additional $10,000 in debt forgiveness.
Arguments for student loan forgiveness
According to the White House, the move is necessary because federal support has not kept pace with the cost of attending college. Pell Grants, for example, once covered nearly 80 percent of college costs but now cover only a third. Many students from low- and middle-income families thus had no choice but to borrow to get a college degree.
The administration claims that the move will help middle-class borrowers buy homes, put away money for retirement, and start small businesses. It will also help more vulnerable borrowers who could not complete their degrees due to financial constraints and now have debt but no degree. And the announcement noted that student debt falls disproportionately on Black borrowers.
On its face, according to the New York Times, the announcement could cost taxpayers about $300 billion or more in money that they effectively lent but will never be repaid. However, much of that debt was unlikely ever to be repaid: more than eight million people—one in five borrowers with a payment due—had already defaulted on their loans even before the coronavirus pandemic.
Arguments against student loan forgiveness
Many are questioning the legality of the president’s decision. The Office of the General Counsel of the US Department of Education previously determined that a presidential administration “does not have the statutory authority to provide blanket or mass cancelation, compromise, discharge, or forgiveness of student loan principal balances, and/or to materially modify the repayment amounts or terms thereof.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also stated that the president lacks the executive authority to cancel student loan debt. And she noted that under such an action, Americans would be “paying taxes to forgive somebody else’s obligations.”
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget warns that canceling student debt will add to inflation and will undermine the Inflation Reduction Act. Critics also claim that the action is unfair to those who chose not to go to college, those paying back loans taken for other purposes (such as small business loans), those who have already paid off their student loans, those who chose colleges that required them to borrow less money, and those who will take out student loans in the future (since the president’s action is only for current loans).
The political consequences are yet to be seen. USA Today notes this morning that the president’s move “is a major gamble, presenting both an opportunity to energize young voters and handing Republicans new lines of attack on fairness and wealth.” Republican pollster Frank Luntz responded: “Make no mistake, you cut college debt and individuals in their twenties will reward Biden in record numbers. It’s just that the other people who paid off their debt will be really angry.”
How to become human
If you are like most of us, my guess is that you’re processing this debate through the prism of your personal perspective. If you’re a supporter of the president, you probably support his decision. If you’re a critic, you’re probably critical. If your student loans just got canceled, you’re probably grateful. If you paid back your student loans, you’re probably angry that some will not have to pay back theirs.
It is human nature to measure the world through our personal experience. After all, you have no eyes through which to see the world but your own. But we must beware: our fallen condition prompts us to be our own god (Genesis 3:5), a desire empowered by scientific and technological advances that enable us to bend the world to our will more than ever before.
Paradoxically, this quest for self-advancement comes at the detriment of the self.
In his book Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl observed: “Man is originally characterized by his ‘search for meaning’ rather than his ‘search for himself.’ The more he forgets himself—giving himself to a cause or another person—the more human he is. And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself, the more he becomes himself” (his emphases).
Has this day come for you?
Jesus took this theme a step further: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). “Loses” translates a Greek word meaning “to destroy utterly, to bring to ruin.” If we obliterate our life for Jesus’ sake, we will find it—guaranteed. And only then.
The Bible repeatedly calls us to submit our lives completely to God with the promise that he will give us in return a life we could never achieve or experience otherwise:
- “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).
- “Trust in the Lᴏʀᴅ with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).
- “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
- “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
In The Normal Christian Life, the Chinese theologian Watchman Nee wrote: “A day must come in our lives, as definite as the day of our conversion, when we give up all right to ourselves and submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Has this day come for you?
Here’s one way to know. Nee asked, “Is there anything God is asking of you that you are withholding from him? Is there any point of contention between you and him?” He added: “Not till every controversy is settled and the Holy Spirit is given full sway can he reproduce the life of Christ in the heart of any believer.”
Can the Spirit “reproduce the life of Christ” in your heart today?