Many of you might remember Lee Siegel as the former New Republic writer who fulsomely praised himself using a sock puppet named “sprezzatura”:
Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep.
Siegel is back today, regaling readers of the New York Times with a masterpiece of haughty rationalization titled Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans:
I defaulted on my student loans.
As difficult as it has been, I’ve never looked back. The millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example.
It struck me as absurd that one could amass crippling debt as a result, not of drug addiction or reckless borrowing and spending, but of going to college. [Isn’t it reckless borrowing if you can’t pay it back? — Ed.] Having opened a new life to me beyond my modest origins, the education system was now going to call in its chits and prevent me from pursuing that new life, simply because I had the misfortune of coming from modest origins. [Many of us came from modest origins and still paid back our loans, Siegel. — Ed.]
Am I a deadbeat? [Yes. — Ed.] In the eyes of the law I am. Indifferent to the claim that repaying student loans is the road to character? Yes. Blind to the reality of countless numbers of people struggling to repay their debts, no matter their circumstances, many worse than mine? My heart goes out to them. To my mind, they have learned to live with a social arrangement that is legal, but not moral.
Never was there a story of more woe, as Siegel describes narrowly escaping the unthinkable fate of ending up as a district manager of a shoe store:
Maybe the problem was that I had reached beyond my lower-middle-class origins and taken out loans to attend a small private college to begin with. [That’s certainly part of the problem, yes. — Ed.] Maybe I should have stayed at a store called The Wild Pair, where I once had a nice stable job selling shoes after dropping out of the state college because I thought I deserved better, and naïvely tried to turn myself into a professional reader and writer on my own [What’s a professional “reader”? — Ed.], without a college degree. I’d probably be district manager by now.
Don’t flatter yourself, bub. Somehow I think you lack the people skills to make district manager.
Here’s the thing: there is indeed a problem with the price of higher education. One of the main problems is that the price results from a bubble caused in no small part by government subsidies. To economists, this is no surprise. When you subsidize something, the price goes up. But leftist writers think the cause is actually the solution, leading to unintentionally humorous headlines like this recent deck headline from the Atlantic:
Despite spiraling tuition, government subsidies for higher education are—contrary to popular belief—at an all-time high.
One is reminded of the famous New York Times headline: Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates. The amusing “Despite Predictable Result, The Cause of That Result Exists” headline pattern is fun to mock, of course — but the stupefying ignorance revealed by these sorts of headlines isn’t funny.
Tuition costs are out of control, and the reasons aren’t a big mystery to economists. As economist Andrew Gillen put it:
As higher financial aid pushes costs higher, it inevitably puts upward pressure on tuition. Higher tuition, of course, reduces college affordability, leading to calls for more financial aid, setting the vicious cycle in motion all over again.
This vicious spiral is what we always see when government acts to “save” us from the high costs of a good or service.
Although government is a big part of the problem, you can be sure that a chucklehead like Lee Siegel will advocate government as at least part of the solution. And you would be right — although the second plank of his platform may send you into giggling hysterics:
I am sharply aware of the strongest objection to my lapse into default. If everyone acted as I did, chaos would result. The entire structure of American higher education would change.
The collection agencies retained by the Department of Education would be exposed as the greedy vultures that they are. The government would get out of the loan-making and the loan-enforcement business. Congress might even explore a special, universal education tax that would make higher education affordable.
There would be a national shaming of colleges and universities for charging soaring tuition rates that are reaching lunatic levels.
I have listened carefully — with a furrowed brow and serious, thoughtful expression — to Siegel’s argument that college tuition can be lowered through a program of “national shaming of colleges and universities.” After a scrupulous and meticulous consideration of the merits of his argument, I present to you my response:
But the point is, the fact that higher education costs are out of control — and the fact that these costs will never be reined in as long as we listen to the likes of Lee Siegel — does not mean Lee Siegel gets to default on his loans and expect us to say “there there” and give him a sympathetic pat on the back.
Like Lee Siegel, I came from a lower middle class background. So did my wife. Like many, many other Americans in our circumstances, we paid our student loan debts. Siegel doesn’t get to default on his and pretend his shameful abandonment of his obligations is justified.
The biographical note at the end of Siegel’s piece states: “Lee Siegel is the author of five books who is writing a memoir about money.” Good. I hope his memoir about money is successful, and that he makes a lot of cash from its sales.
And I hope Siegel’s creditors take every penny.