Following on from my previous post about the Student Loan Corporation email I got this morning, it looks like the plan President Obama is proposing is basically to eliminate a subsidy system for private loan corporations that the government has been running for the last fifty years. This WaPo op-ed does a great job of laying out the history.
In short, the government has been insuring low-interest student loans for all this time by basically guaranteeing profits for private banks like Citi Corp who give out those loans. Its a classic Frankenstein Washington program where those who insist on free market rules and those who insist on government assistance get together and insure that neither happens. The Obama plan eliminates the cost of maintaining this facade by letting the Department of Education provide the loans through Treasury.
How much will tax payers save because of this new plan, if adopted? Estimates put that number between $40 and $100 billion annually.
Citi’s email is, typically, effusive with unsupported “facts” about how this will negatively impact both the government’s bottom line and consumers. The claim that this new plan will increase the federal deficit “substantially” is unsubstantiated as yet: there’s no concrete plan that I can find on how the loans will be doled out. Logically, if we can afford multi-trillion dollar bailouts to banks like Citi, I’m sure we can handle a few student loans. The word “substantial” is subjective and relative. Meanwhile as a matter of bookkeeping, since student loans can last for decades without defaulting, they are a relatively stable investment. At the risk of recalling the Subprime problem, student loans can be handled as assets, not debts.
Their claim that this is an anti-choice plan presupposes that those of us who go to college are really in control of where we get loans from. In reality, the student loan game is a rigged one, just like health care. The word “choice” is a double entendre: it sounds like the choice is yours, but the choice is really made by corporations and large institutions – colleges or hospitals, depending on the example.
Citi lists a number of advantages of student loans that it claims are the result of competition, such as default prevention services, education and web access. It is debatable whether web access is an advantage or an inevitability, but default protection and education will surely both continue under the new plan. The problem with this entire line of argument, though, is that if there’s no risk then there’s no real competition. The current system is not a free market system and so the entire argument breaks down right there.