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March 30, 2016

CARL DIGGLER OP-ED: Millennials Don’t Understand How Great Student Loan Debt Is

After racism, misogyny, cuckoldry, and e-mails, the high cost of college tuition is the issue du jour in the Democratic primary. This week Hillary Clinton came under fire for her college plan, which among other things, requires students to work 10 hours a week to receive financial aid. Then you have Bernie Sanders’ platform of universal free college, which entices his legions of greedy spoiled children.

But both candidates are wrong for pandering to students who complain about paying for their education. The question shouldn’t be “how do we reduce the price of college?” It should be “how do we maximize the value of college?”

Today’s young people assume they’re entitled to a life without debt. To them, modern universities are daycares, restaurants, hook-up hotspots, WiFi cafes, TED Talks, and craft beer bars all rolled into one. Millennials take a look at these wonderful accommodations and think that they shouldn’t have to pay one red cent for them.

The fact is, most adults carry a healthy amount of debt, and that’s without having experienced the luxury resorts that are today’s colleges and universities. I consider myself a typical Gen Xer, and I am currently in debt somewhere in the mid-six figures.

You see, life experience comes with a cost. Maybe you had a failed business venture, or a costly relationship with a younger partner. Perhaps family court judges that collude with a shadowy cabal of ex-wives to financially humiliate fathers took a piece out of your hide. Whatever it is, you’ve lived a full life, and you have the receipts to prove it.

There’s nothing onerous about starting your professional life with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans (or hundreds, in the case of our best and brightest). If anything, debt is an opportunity. In my generation, we didn’t truly learn how to save money till far later in life. If I had been swamped in massive debt when I graduated Wellesley, perhaps I’d be on sounder financial footing today.

In 2016 the average college student will graduate with $35,000 in debt, which in my mind gives them a leg up. These cost-conscious new grads will be thriftsters on par with even the most unpleasant elderly Floridians. They may have to forgo some luxuries afforded to more established adults, such as expensive dating websites like LiveJasmin or high-end beers like Michelob and Michelob Ultra. Instead of hiring a fancy lawyer, they can represent themselves with the volumes of knowledge available on Reddit’s r/legaladvice. High-end antidepressants could be replaced with cute baby animal videos totally free on YouTube.

Now, I always hear Sanders and his surrogates screech about the “economic danger” of college debt. But where cowards see danger, brave men and women see opportunity. A new generation of financially-burdened young people has the chance to start something I like to call “The Economy of Saving.” In the Economy of Saving, there’s no more tipping. Sorry, Charlie! We’re all in this together, and no one gets a special gift when they’re already being paid a wage to deliver treats to customers. But don’t cry for those service employees. They’ll pass the savings on by buying cheaper products and living in more size-efficient apartments. In turn, surplus will grow until all debt is paid down, and we can collectively splurge. I’ve always said, nothing feels better than taking a tight pair of shoes off at the end of the day and letting your sweaty, red feet breathe. Would it feel as good to just walk around barefoot all day? Probably not. In this scenario, young people are the feet, and the shoes are the debt. Like shoes, they protect (from spending too much money), and like shoes, releasing their suffocating tightness after a good 35 years of responsibility is almost its own reward.

But for those short-sighted college kids who don’t want to graduate with student loan debt, there is a simple alternative: it’s called working your way through school. Fringe candidate Bernie Sanders apparently sees something wrong in working class kids having to work, even though “working” is clearly in their name. Not me. I know from experience that students prosper when they mix coursework with a healthy amount of labor.

In the late 80s and early 90s, I paid my own way through Wellesley by having a weekend job at a foreign firm. I was all of 18, and still I landed a job at a multinational company using grit and perseverance. At my interview with Mr. Ase, he eyed me through his aviator sunglasses and demanded, “Are you willing to sweat for me?” You bet your bottom dollar my answer was, “As much as you need, sir!”

There I was, a bright, budding pundit, not ashamed to be performing tough manual labor for Ero Ase-mamire No Futotta Otoko Firumu-gaisha, a VHS film company. Every day I clocked in bright and early at 7 AM at a sweltering warehouse, where I was made to lift heavy boxes up and down until I worked up a healthy sweat that stained my Hanes white tee a rich mustard color. I moved those boxes so well that they even trained their cameras on me, every single day, to make what I assume were training videos of me panting and perspiring buckets, so I could be a role model to every Japanese worker of how hard we work here in the U.S.A. I like to think my hard work helped us win the trade war with Japan back in the 80s. Once Japanese folks got a gander of a big, strong, secreting American worker, they realized they could never match Uncle Sam’s elbow grease.

So when young voters give Hillary blow back for her modest request that they work 10 hours a week if they’re poor, just think of Young Dig sweating in that warehouse instead of taking handouts. It’s your world, millennials, even if you don’t believe it. Now start acting like it!

Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at [email protected] or Tweet to @carl_diggler.

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