Thursday, August 25, 2022
It's Thursday, August 25th, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A Financial, Constitutional, and Moral Disaster: President Biden Drives U.S. into National Catastrophe With Vehicle of Student Loan Forgiveness
Well, President Joe Biden announced his much anticipated policy on the government forgiveness of student debt. I mentioned on The Briefing that this is a setup for national disaster, and President Biden has driven the nation right into a massive financial and moral disaster on the question of the forgiveness of student loans.
Now, as we talk about this, we need to recognize there are millions of Americans who have difficulty paying back those loans, but we also need to recognize that no one forced those loans on anyone, and there are several moral dimensions to this that the Administration certainly does not want us to talk about, but the bottom line is that President Joe Biden has acted largely as if he were elected czar of the United States of America to take an action that according to The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania will cost the country between $305 billion and $980 billion, so even before turning to the issue of student debt or the forgiveness of student debt, government-supported, government-funded student debt, then we need to understand that there really are massive constitutional issues here.
If there is no statutory or legislative prohibition to the President doing this, then at least we need to note this violates the spirit and the substance of the U.S. Constitution. Presidents are not to be given the power simply by the stroke of a pen and an executive order to take actions of economic consequence like this, that by the way, runs right in the face of what the President and his Administration have been saying about issues related to inflation and all the rest. If there is any action by the Federal government that is likely to add to inflation, it is adding to the economy right now an unexpected $305 to $980 billion of funding that can now be put into consumer spending. This is, by any measure, a radical act, and the President knows it's a radical act. The White House knows it's a radical act, and frankly, the Democratic Party knows it's a radical act, but in cultural terms, in moral terms, it's a lot bigger even than the news media and others are likely to recognize.
Let's just look at the specifics for a moment before we turn to the huge issues of worldview significance. We're talking about the White House policy, saying that individuals who are single and earn $125,000 or less will qualify for $10,000 in debt cancellation. If the debt is in the form of a Pell Grant, that $10,000 of cancellation is doubled to $20,000. Now, at the same time, at least The New York Times is reporting that the average student who has student debt, or the average graduate who holds student debt owes about $25,000, so according to this, unless they make $125,000 or more a year, then they'll have $10,000 forgiven, potentially $20,000 forgiven.
By the way, if the president gets away with this, as he is likely to do, then this sets the precedent for this president or future presidents basically to act in a similarly irresponsible manner with the money that actually belongs to the American taxpayer, but as Christians, let's step back for a moment and let's just remind ourselves that when we're talking about debt, we're talking about what even the Bible recognizes as one of the most significant moral issues that we face in the morality of human economics.
You look at debt, look at how much of the Old Testament refers to debt and debtors. Just consider the New Testament, even the parables of Jesus. Debt looms large as an issue. Here's one of the interesting things to think about. The Christian worldview, the Christian moral understanding, historic Christian ethics has never suggested that the morality of debt comes down to the fact that someone who willingly, voluntarily enters into indebtedness should count on that debt being forgiven.
As a matter of fact, even our salvation pictured as the removal of a debt we cannot pay due to the reality of our sin, the very fact that the atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ is described in the Scripture as grace and unmerited favor and an act that cannot be demanded by the debtor nor presumed upon. Understanding a biblical conception of justice, a debt voluntarily and justly entered into remains a debt that demands to be paid. Justice says that if you voluntarily borrow money on these terms, then you have a moral obligation to pay it back. No one force these loans upon people. Now, there are those who will say, especially those who will defend the president's actions, "Look, a lot of these people had no other option when it comes to education, but to take out these debts."
Furthermore, you actually have the argument, made by many in the Democratic Party right now, and I'll just say it, there are many in the Democratic Party who are making the argument that people who have entered into these student loan situations are victims of a system in which they had to borrow money in order to pay for whatever expenses were involved in higher education. In other words, the morality of someone taking out a loan here is just basically taken out of the picture as if this is nothing more than the structure of our society, but you'll notice, if you're thinking about justice, justice demands a much closer look at what the president did here. The president, just by the stroke of a pen and by a very politically convenient announcement by his administration said, "Look, you may owe this money. I'm just going to say you don't owe this money." but here's the difference between what might be a noble act and what I think here is an ignoble act. The president is not forgiving a debt owed to him.
The president is forgiving a debt owed to the American taxpayer. In other words, President Biden's not going to pay a penny of all of this that he is supposedly forgiven, rather, the American taxpayer will. Well, if you're going to shift these costs, and make no mistake, you can't just erase these debts without someone having to pay for them. The government paid all that money. It's not going to get that money back.
The American taxpayer is going to end up footing the bill, but there's more to it than that. As you're looking at the student debt, realize it was voluntarily entered into by choices made by people who sought the good of higher education. Here's the deal, there were people who sought that same good who did not take these loans in this way, or who actually did the unusual act of paying them back. Here's the other thing about the president's policy. You realize that someone who might be even in a greater situation of economic disadvantage, but who paid off his or her bills, say today, they gain nothing by this.
They are not receiving anything from this. Those who were stupid enough to pay their bills, they are the ones who are left realizing they're getting nothing out of this no matter how desperate their own economic situation. There are others who must line up and recognize the injustice of this. What about the people who didn't go to a more expensive school, but went to a less expensive school simply because they didn't want to take on the burden of debt, government-insured student debt or otherwise? What about the people who went to a less expensive school?
What about the people who took fewer hours per semester and actually worked more in order to be able to keep their payments current when it comes to higher education so they would have no debt? What about the people who actually decided not to go to college, but to go to some other form of vocational preparation? They're getting nothing out of this.
Now, the interesting thing here, and P. J. O'Rourke, the author pointed to this time and time again over the course of the last several decades. You have people who say they're conservative and they believe in basic conservative principles, but they say, "This will help someone," but here's where we just need to understand, government can act in any number of ways to give economic preference to people, and those people benefit by it, but there is no assurance that such an act is just. Furthermore, if the government can do that, then the government just becomes basically the free store, but of course, nothing's free.
Taxpayers are going to have to pay for this. What this is also is a craven act of political expediency, and you say, "Well, that's what a lot of people opposed to the Administration would say." No, that's actually what the Administration said. Over the course of the last several months, you've had people inside the Democratic Party and inside the Biden Administration who have said repeatedly, "We need to do this to forgive this student debt in order to incentivize the young, largely college-educated, liberal crowd of young adults who are crying out for this and demanding this, and in order to increase support for the Democratic Party and its candidates in the midterm elections in November, this has to be timed in such a way that the good news motivates young people to go out and vote, and that means doing it before the fall is too far along." Guess why the timing right now?
Now, again, I'm not saying that because I looked into some kind of magic political mirror. I'm saying that because prominent Democratic Party leaders and strategists said it out loud. The statement made by the White House, by the way, and the statement is available right now on the White House website, it includes the language that President Biden loves to use over and over again, "Providing families breathing room."
The president has used that in order to propose billions upon billions, indeed, trillions of dollars of federal spending in order to give American families breathing room, but here's what we need to recognize, that this is something like crack cocaine when it comes to American politics. You give people something now in cold cash for people who say they're having trouble paying their student loans, and no doubt, many people are having trouble paying their student loans.
You say, "Well, I'll come in and take care of that." You're going to take care at least of a large portion of it, but those costs don't go away. Those very same people are going to be taxpayers who are going to face, along with our children, insurmountable bills, because some president decided to take a policy by executive action to please constituencies in his own party in the name of giving American families breathing room.
The Perversity of the Higher Education Problem: The Government and Universities Created a Problem They Do Not Intend to Fix
When it comes to this policy, just from worldview analysis, and I'll admit, I'm quite animated about this, I find it reprehensible that the president and the administration have chosen one particular class of, in many cases, relatively privileged young people in our society and said, "We're going to help you pay your debt. We're going to forgive this debt. Meanwhile, the persons who worked hard not to take on student debt, you get nothing out of this. Indeed, you're going to have to pay their bills."
What about the people who actually paid off their bills on schedule, say yesterday or a year ago? Well, it turns out they shouldn't have been paying their bills, according to the president's incentive. They should have just held out until someone would forgive their debt. Just imagine how that works in the justice of our society and economy, but I have to look at this from another perspective as well, as the president of an educational institution, a college and a graduate school, a seminary.
I have to look at this and say, "I just want to be very clear that the Federal government's infusion of untold trillions of dollars in higher education is what has led to the vast escalation in educational costs. You give colleges and universities the opportunity to participate in these loan programs and they begin to double and triple their budgets. Then, you have a pernicious cycle, whereby students have to take out more because the costs are going up.
The federal government never takes responsibility for the fact that it's flooding of the economy of higher education with so many trillions of dollars is what has led to the higher costs that the administration now claims are the justification for expanding student loan opportunities, flooding the economy with even more student aid money, and what the White House calls forgiveness of student loans that were voluntarily taken out," but I want to go further than that and point out something that many people don't think about. By flooding higher education with all of this money and the name of Pell Grants and student aid funds, federally-insured, student borrowing, and all the rest, let me tell you what the Federal government did.
It tightened the ideological control of the federal government around the institutions that participate in that federal funding. You have Title IX, you have other things that have come in, and the higher educational institutions that receive those funds by government-controlled student loans and Pell Grants and all the rest, they come under all kinds of jurisdictional authorities in the Federal government, and make no mistake, that means right now, when it comes to, say LGBTQ issues, if you are taking that money, then if not compliant with those issues, you have to claim that you have some kind of religious exemption.
Let me be clear, Boyce College and Southern Seminary receive none of that money and we claim no exemption because we aren't participants in the program in the first place, precisely because I and the governing board of this institution are not going to give the federal government any kind of access to set the policies, say on sexuality and marriage and other issues for this institution. We're just not going to do it. Yes, when it comes to those who have taken out these loans, there is a sense in which many of them were actually victimized by a system that enticed them into taking out loans, and many of them took out loans that simply aren't justified.
By the way, it is arguable that the loans benefited the institution and not the students, and that's a part of the perversity of all of this, and it's true that many people who are taking out those loans didn't know all that they were doing, but again, who's responsible for that? Well, two parties in particular, the Federal government that offered this program and colleges and universities that played the game, and I promise you, we'll play it still, because here's another thing. How long will it be until there has to be yet another student loan forgiveness? Once the government has set the principle, or the precedent, that what it will do under political pressure is forgive these loans, then why wouldn't you take out such a loan tomorrow with the assumption that if you bring just enough political pressure, well, the government will have to do the same thing again? After all, at one point, President Biden had said that he didn't have the legal authority to do this, and yet, now he's done it, and if he gets away with it, what president in the future won't be under continual pressure to do the same thing? Just two other things to consider here.
For one thing, government often creates problems, and then it comes back and claims that it's going to have to spend untold amounts of money in order to fix the problem that it has created. That's exactly what we see here. It is the cycle of the pernicious effect of a government that spends this kind of money and distorts an entire economy. If higher education had to live within the bills of what people, who are sending their young people, or young people who are buying education, if the institutions had to live within those constraints, you would see the cost of higher education come down, but trust me, the cartel of higher education will find a way to make certain those costs never come down. The other thing to note is the classism in all of this.
It really is a classist situation. That is to say, if you are looking at this even from the perspective of the Left, this is a policy change that is going to give an advantage to a certain class of people, and in this case, it turns out to be those who arguably are more privileged rather than less privileged. You're going to be talking about many white-collar workers, professional workers who do have student debt, but who also have jobs, and it is these highly educated, young voters who also tend to be socially liberal, and let's face it, the Democratic Party knows that it cannot win elections without them, thus the timing. Again, "I didn't just see that," the leaders of the party have said it themselves. National Review, by the way, issued a report, indicating that, here's a coincidence, the majority of young White House staffers will be eligible for the president's student loan forgiveness.
Charles C. W. Cooke at National Review insightfully notes that the president's student debt forgiveness policy, which he describes as a bonfire, is a classist message to the uncredentialed, which is to say, "We don't care about you. We care about the credentialed class, those who are the college graduates. They're the ones who, under the stipulations of this policy, will come out with a financial advantage and with thousands upon thousands of dollars forgiven." Charles Cooke writes about the air conditioning technicians working in his house. He says, "As of today, the six air conditioning technicians in my house are on the hook for college loans that were signed, spent, and enjoyed by other people."
In economics, there's an important category known as moral risk, which means that there is always the danger in an economy that you will economically incentivize the wrong things, and in this case, that's exactly what will happen. The student loan forgiveness will incentivize colleges to cost even more, to raise their costs even more, because after all, you have the debtors who are now incentivized to borrow even more.
I'll just simply end by saying I think the rightful just response to this situation, which is a hardship on so many people, would be for the federal government to help people to pay the debt they have incurred, to help them to get to a place, to structure the economy, and strengthen the economy, and furthermore, even if necessary, at times to adjust the terms of a loan, the same way that would happen in the free market, but when it comes to the government, there are no such constraints. To sum all this up, the Christian worldview underlines the fact that there are few dimensions of human activity more laden with ethical, biblical, and worldview considerations than our economic lives. One of the issues that makes that point most clear is the taking on of debt and the handling of debt.
It's not wrong to be motivated to help people not to take on debt and to handle the debt that they have and pay it back. What's wrong is in a craven political act, such as this, to just add more moral risk to the entire economy.
Conservative Parents in Florida Take a Stand: Multiple School Boards Flip from Liberal to Conservative Majorities
But next, we are looking at the end of the primary season for the 2022 elections in Florida, was one of the States, had a primary Tuesday of this week. Very interestingly, Charlie Crist, who was formerly a Republican Governor of the State of Florida, has won the nomination of the Democratic party for that very same job. He's going to be running against incumbent Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Fascinating political landscape there.
Charlie Crist himself is a very interesting figure, and one of the interesting things about him is that he has had some trouble getting traction among Democrats precisely because at one point, some years ago, he was less ardent in his support for abortion rights than he claims to be now. As a matter of fact, his primary opponent in the democratic party argued that his position on abortion, which is basically pro-abortion, is not sufficient for the Democratic party going forward. Nonetheless, he won the Democratic nomination, and frankly, it wasn't even close. It's going to be a very interesting race. The Charlie Crist-Ron DeSantis race might become something of a stand-in and indicator for what the 2024 Presidential election might look like in the United States. By the way, in Florida, at the statewide election level, Val Demings won the Democratic nomination to run against incumbent Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
Val Demings is another interesting candidate. The voters of Florida are going to be presented with very clear choices by the time the November midterm elections come around, and very clear choices, by the way, not primarily in terms of the personality and the characters involved in these elections, but rather, the policies, the ideologies, the understanding of government, the basic understanding of the world and morality behind these two rival parties, two rival candidates. One little footnote here, by the way, Florida's been changing politically. In one sense, it was reliably blue, as in democratic for much of its history in the 20th century, and then less so, toward the end of the 20th century, turning somewhat purple, but now, by most measures, it's pretty much red. Now, it has metropolitan areas that are not so conservative, but as a Florida native, I can tell you, it would have been nearly unimaginable when I was a young person in Florida, that there would be more registered Republican voters in the State than registered Democrats, and furthermore, Republican voters are increasing by a faster rate than Democrats, so that's a trend that's likely actually to become even more significant.
What gets less attention than the statewide elections for offices like Governor and Senator are elections that have to do, for example, with school boards, but when it comes to where life is lived by many families, not to mention students in the public schools, the composition of those school boards turn out to be of incredible importance. The interesting barometer I'm looking at here is, in particular, the Miami-Dade school board in South Florida. It now becomes, because it flipped on Tuesday, towards conservative control, it now becomes the largest public school district in the United States, the largest public school system in the United States under conservative control.
Now, here's what's really, really interesting. Miami-Dade is one of the most multicultural, multi-ethnic school systems in the entire nation, and yet, voters turned out to replace a more liberal school board with a school board committed to a more conservative direction. Now, given the fact that Florida has a very significant Hispanic population, at least one indication here is the fact that Hispanic parents share a concern with so many other parents about what is being taught to their children, especially when it comes to ideologies and to sexual and gender theory.
All that is a special interest to me because it was not the school board in Miami-Dade, it was the County Commission that passed one of the first gay rights ordinances, that's what they were called, back during the 1970's, and that was the catalyst for the response and the mobilization of many conservative Christians, who for the first time, understood that these basic moral issues are very much at stake.
From a Christian worldview perspective, there's something else here that is really, really important, and from a biblical perspective, heartwarming, very affirming, and that is the fact that parents deeply care about their children. Parents, being invested by God, with a passion for the good of their children, care deeply about the education that their children will receive, and potentially, the ideologies to which their children might be subjected. All this is a reminder to us that even as I pointed out the moral dimensions of economics, if anything, the moral dimensions of economics are at least equaled by the moral dimensions of education.
As we have seen clearly today on numerous fronts, you add the two of them together, and it's almost impossible to calculate the moral importance and impact.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.