Democrats Are Holding Back The Economy By Not Advocating For Free College

After endorsing Hillary Clinton, Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC) thought it righteous and necessary to come out against the idea of free college – a clear response to Bernie Sanders’ “socialist” proposal. Here are Clyburn’s incredibly shallow, ahisotrical, and insulting reasons to deny such a right:

Well, let me put it this way. I do not believe there are any free lunches and certainly there’s not going to be any free education. I have made the White House aware of my disenchantment with the proposal they came out with because I do believe we ought to make education affordable. But I think for you to believe that they’re going to make education free, I don’t think that’s going to happen, not in my lifetime, and not in my children’s lifetime.

What a dreamer.

Seriously though, Clyburn’s comments are very disappointing. They come at a time where the average student now exits college with $35,051 in student debt. Combine these record levels of debt with stagnant wages and rising tuition and you wonder what world Clyburn is living in. How does he find the gall to tell young people that there isn’t such a thing as a “free lunch?” Tell that to Wall Street. Or the American auto industry.

Believe me, young people in America know they aren’t getting a free lunch. While Clyburn and many Congressional Democrats advocate for lowering student interest rates to 4.5 percent (oh goodie!), do they not recognize that such policy prescriptions have almost no inspirational quality? How will that stop college tuition from increasing year after year? How will that ease the burden of ever-expanding student debt?

As we often say here at Civic Skunk Works, civic innovation must keep pace with the times. If it does not, our society falls behind. We don’t get the outcomes we desire. Clyburn and Clinton need to recognize that reality as they lecture young people about college affordability.

Ultimately, Democrats like them are trying to pretend that lowering interest rates on student loans is an honest solution to student debt. It’s not. It’s a cop out. Their lack of political will to address this problem in a robust way will not only hurt Americans personally, it will also hurt our entire economy.

Take the housing market, for example. According to Dan Kadlec at TIME, “At the height of the housing boom, the U.S. was producing 1.4 million additional households every year. That figure plunged to 500,000 in the Great Recession. The number of new households is expanding again but remains stuck at 700,000—half the peak level. One big reason is underemployed new college graduates struggling with student debt and unable to contribute to the economy.”

Rohit Chopra, a student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, makes clear that there is clear correlation, adding that “three-fourths of the fall in household formation can be directly correlated to student debt.”

So politicians like Clinton and Clyburn can lecture Americans all they want about how college shouldn’t be free. But they should know that they are only hurting their own precious credibility on economic matters as well as the economic wellbeing of Americans. Eventually, they will see that “lower interest rates” simply aren’t going to cut it as a solution to this egregious problem. Until that day, I will keep writing about the necessity of free college.

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Nick Cassella
Nick Cassella graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2014. After graduating, he worked on the Initiative 594 campaign before joining Civic Ventures, where he now manages Civic Skunk Works' social media presence.