Acting Consumer Fraud Protection Bureau director Mick Mulvaney is very concerned that people are taking out student loans to pay for college without considering the “moral” consequences of paying those loans back.

Mulvaney’s comments, best heard in your head in the voice of an 18th century French nobleman decrying the work ethic of the common man, seems to be rooted in a couple elitist, out of touch ideas.

First, that those who can’t afford college costs out-of-pocket are inherently scammers and criminals whose primary aim is to take from the system without contributing to it at all. It’s the equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s famous – and fictional – “welfare queen,” a criminal out to steal from the well-meaning taxpayer and an example of how entitlement programs encourage grifting.

Second, that everyone who goes to college is automatically handed a $150,000/year job at the same time as their degree.

He couldn’t be more wrong on both counts.

His claims came at about the same time a new study was released showing the fastest demographic group now living in poverty, as it’s defined in the US, is individuals with at least a bachelor’s degree. In 2013, 4.4% of of those with a college degree lived at or below the poverty line while in 2017 it grew to 4.8%. That growth happened at the same time other income groups living in poverty diminished.

They also come at the same time we’re making the 10 year anniversary of the 2008 collapse of the US – and global – financial market. The fact that it wasn’t worse, though the middle class has never really recovered, is largely due to bailouts for the rich whose effectiveness is still up for debate.

The idea that not paying back student loans is a “moral” choice overlooks the questionable moral position debt as a concept itself holds. That’s doubly true for education debt, which is accrued in the quest someone undertakes to better themselves and their position. Student loan debt can’t be wiped out in bankruptcy, the only kind to hold that designation. Making that even more burdensome and troubling is that many students owe more after several years of regular payments.

College in America is more expensive – and comes with less assurance of a job afterward – than it is in other countries and the student population much different than the traditional image might suggest. And while some might hold that low income students can work their way through school to help pay for it, doing so is difficult to near impossible for many.

I wonder how Mulvaney expects former students to pay off their loans when two-thirds have trouble finding work out of college, meaning they’re not earning anywhere near what’s needed to not only establish their own lives but also service the massive debt that’s been racked up. Whatever his thinking, it seems to be in line with fellow Trump administration official Betsy DeVos, who wants to make it harder for those who have been scammed by the for-profit college industry to have their debts erased.

When you put their goals and statements together, you begin to see a picture emerge: The idea seems to be that students who can’t afford to pay for college out of pocket should be discouraged, if not barred, from attending anything but a for-profit university. The loans they then take out should stick with them for as long as it takes with no possibility of forgiveness or relief. To do so, they should take whatever jobs are available, if they offer no chance of advancement, don’t come with benefits and otherwise are less than what was once hoped for.

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