Lee Siegel: Bad Op-Ed, Bad Thinking

Without rehashing the fine points made by AEI’s Andrew Kelly and Slate’s Jordan Weissmann about the irresponsible advice dispensed in Lee Siegel’s op-ed in the New York Times it’s worth noting a few points on the purported virtues of defaulting on student loans.

First, Siegel seems to give the impression he was already under a substantial debt burden “by the end of my sophomore year at a small private liberal arts college.” But how much could his obligations realistically have been at that point? The explosive growth in nominal tuition prices didn’t begin until the 1980s, and if Siegel (b. 1957) was twenty in 1977, then it is hard to take seriously his claims that he was already shouldering a truly lifelong, crippling student loan burden at the dawn of his adulthood.

Secondly, Siegel’s remonstrances over being forced to choose between following his vocational passion of being a writer and working a less-preferred job are glib insults to people who actually make the responsible choice of working a less desirable job to meet financial responsibilities. As with so many people who find themselves trapped under huge amounts of student loan debts, the question of how they wound up there reverts back to a question of unconsidered or unrealistic expectations for career earnings based on degree pursued. Apparently giving no thought to how much (or how little) his lifetime earnings might be as a writer, Siegel was comfortable racking up multiple graduate degrees without any sense of how the money would be repaid. It’s clear Siegel, apparently smart enough to obtain admittance to Columbia, suffered from a lack of common sense much more than from a predatory student loan system.

Lastly, Siegel’s government-heavy solutions to making college affordable ignore how our current policy spawned cautionary tales like his. “Instead of guaranteeing loans, the government would have to guarantee a college education,” Siegel writes. If Siegel’s great object is to help young people avoid financial malaise because of education spending, he might well consider the cost, in the form of taxes and borrowing, of unleashing a massive wave of subsidies that will only increase the price of higher education. Is Siegel comfortable placing the burden of a dead loan on the back of the American taxpayers, many of whom are younger than him?

Siegel also falsely characterizes the student loan mess as a problem entirely localized to young people, when in fact, 700,000 households headed by people 65+ have student debt. Because of his own default, he will never be counted in that number.

David Wilezol

David Wilezol is the co-author of "Is College Worth It?" with former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

One thought on “Lee Siegel: Bad Op-Ed, Bad Thinking”

  1. Great. Next time write it in Latin (a nod to your awesome Latin segment on Bill Bennett’s radio show).

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