But conservatives most of all should hate the current system for any number of reasons – for being a massive hidden tax, for being a market-defying subsidy artificially keeping ineffective and poor-performing institutions in business, and for being an example of arbitrary government power seizing not just money borrowed plus interest, but billions in additional fees and penalties from ordinary people.
Progressives should hate the predatory tactics of lenders and the sleazy way universities rely upon loan-shark collection methods to keep themselves in fancy new waterfalls, swimming pools and tenure-track jobs.
But nobody hates it enough, except for the people actually trying to pay the bills with increasingly worthless degrees. Instead, the credit keeps flowing and the debt bubble keeps expanding, thanks to leaders like John Boehner (whose daughter reportedly works at Sallie Mae's student-collections firm, General Revenue Corp.) and Dianne Feinstein (who introduced legislation to increase limits on Pell grants while her husband was heavily invested in for-profit colleges).
In a way, America itself is violating the Truth in Lending Act. It's cheering millions of high school graduates toward college every year, feeding them into the debt grinder under the banner of increased opportunity, when full disclosure would require admitting that there isn't a hell of a lot waiting for them on the other side, where the middle class has nearly vanished and full employment is going the way of the dodo.
We're doing the worst thing people can do: lying to our young. Nobody, not even this president, who was swept to victory in large part by the raw enthusiasm of college kids, has the stones to tell the truth: that a lot of them will end up being pawns in a predatory con game designed to extract the equivalent of home-mortgage commitment from 17-year-olds dreaming of impossible careers as nautical archaeologists or orchestra conductors. One former law student I contacted for this story had a nervous breakdown while struggling to pay off six-figure debt. It wasn't until he tapped into one of the few growth industries open to young Americans that his outlook brightened. "I got my life back on track by working for a marijuana delivery service in Manhattan," he says. "I've had to compromise who I am . . . because I started down a path that I couldn't turn away from. Student loans aren't hope. They're despair."
This story is from the August 29th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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