Why Have Student Loans At All? Let's Get the Burdens of Debt off College Students' Backs -- And Make Wall St. Pick Up the Tab
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Anyone with a heartbeat knows that Wall Street took down the economy, killed millions of jobs and hasn't had to pay a penny for the damage it caused. In fact we are paying them for crashing the economy in the form of trillions in bailouts and low interest loans.
Well, maybe it's time for Wall Street to contribute, rather than siphoning off our wealth. How about a sales tax on all transfers of stocks, bonds, and derivatives in order to fund tuition-free higher education?
Why are high schools free but colleges aren't?
Access to higher education is vital to our economy and to our democracy. Today a college degree or post-high school professional training are the equivalent to what a high school diploma provided and signified a generation ago. For over 150 years, our nation has recognized that tuition-free primary and secondary schools were absolutely vital to the growth and functioning of our commonwealth.
By the middle of the 19th century, New York City also provided free higher education through what would become the City College of New York. Hunter and Brooklyn colleges also were tuition-free, as was California's rapidly growing post-WWII state college and university system. The GI Bill of Rights after WWII provided significant resources to over three million returning veterans to go to school tuition-free, which in no small part, helped to build American prosperity for the next generation. (Tuition was even provided if GIs attended private colleges and universities.) A further impetus to free higher education came as America fell behind the USSR during the Sputnik-era space race.
But the spread of free higher education stalled and then retreated precisely as Wall Street began to grab more and more of the nation's wealth. As financialization transformed the economy starting in the late 1970s, average wages flattened while Wall Street incomes shot through the roof. At the same time taxes on the super-rich collapsed placing more and more of the burden on working people. Lo and behold, free higher education rapidly became "unaffordable." Wall Street then swooped in with loans as students and their families loaded up on debt in order to gain access to higher education. This is the very definition of financialization.
As Student Loans Rise, the Rich get Richer
As student loan debt climbed ever higher, the super-rich continued to rake in more and more income, especially in comparison to the rest of us.
Many financial elites rose to riches by packaging and selling every kind of toxic asset imaginable. They made fabulous amounts as they pumped up the housing bubble, and then made even more as it imploded. It turns out that wealth was based on hot air, as well as plain old cheating. (See How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour for a detailed account.) So far, neither Wall Street nor its super-rich patrons have been forced to pay for the damage they caused.
How to Make Wall Street Pay
It's not easy to tax the super-rich when they have their hooks so deeply into both political parties. However, the student debt crisis opens the door to force a provocative public debate:
Are we resigned to be vassals to Wall Street elites or can we redirect resources to invest in our young people?
Are we going to saddle our kids with decades of debt or are we going to make the Wall Street gamblers pay the damage they caused?
The financial transaction tax (aka Robin Hood Tax or Speculation Tax) hits hard at Wall Street gambling. A small sales tax on all financial transactions will come almost entirely from those who are gaming the system by rapidly moving money in and out of markets. Eleven European nations are about to institute such a tax and have found excellent ways to enforce it. (If you or affiliates don't pay by using shell companies and other tricks, you don't do business in our country.) England has had one on stocks for the past 300 years and it works just fine. Clearly, a sales tax would successfully collect from the superrich.