Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Student debt peonage and emigration

Over at Slate, this young writer reflects on his near permanent student debt peonage:
Yes, I’ve been more fortunate than many: I was educated at elite schools, I live in a city with a strong economy, and I’ve had two good jobs. But I still struggle to find ways to retool myself for higher-paying careers that would help me dig out from my debt faster or to advance in my current path. My parents and I are working on ways to improve my situation. But, like many baby boomers, they are burdened with their own financial responsibilities, like taking care of my grandmother and their own health and saving for their retirement. It’s true that my parents and I made poor financial choices, but they were ones that the system strongly encouraged. I’ve worked hard to take responsibility, make my monthly payments, advance in my career, and live modestly. While I’ve been lucky enough to avoid some of the most disastrous consequences of having student loans, like default, I will still spend the majority of my emotional and intellectual energy trying to find a way out of this, rather than trying to forge a career and a life.
Except for the fact that the writer has a co-signer on some of his loans, there is a way out for him and those like him: emigrate. Leave the country. Find more congenial shores to "forge a career and a life", because talented, hard working young people like him should have a life, and a good one, making contributions to the society around them, rather than being valued primarily as a vector for interest payments to bond holders for a debt whose principle remains almost as fixed as the stars, no matter how many years of payments are made.

When I say, emigrate, I do not mean it in the sense of that tired false dilemma---America: love it or leave it. I mean it as a way that people have long seen emigration---as a chance for a better life. The way things are going now in the US, particularly for student debtors, that better life is not likely here. And these young people deserve better than what they face.

It would be a bitter yet telling judgment on the United States if our most talented, best educated young people began to flee the country, to escape years of crushing debt repayments, but it would be an apt one. Our educated populace is valued less for its knowledge and skills, but for its debt, available for packaging and repackaging into securities---trapping people into a lifetime of debt peonage values them primarily as an income stream---and financial institutions benefitting from constructing and packaging these instruments will block all avenues of debt relief. Except one: fleeing the country. The debt collectors can't follow.

So my advice to those languishing under crushing student loan debt: if you aren't leaving co-signers on the hook, or can take them with you--- emigrate. You can come back and visit your family, but make your life elsewhere. Your children will thank you.

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