Inflation is still raging. Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan will only make it worse
- Year-over-year inflation rate remains high at 8.3%. While the latest monthly number, and the CPI reading from July, show that inflation has stalled, we’re not out of the woods yet.
- Reducing fiscal revenue by suspending the loan repayments adds to federal fiscal deficits.
- Labor market moral hazards will worsen the situation of students achieving meaningful education and solving the problem of their skills not matching what is needed in the labor market.
In September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.1% in August. However, the year-over-year inflation rate remains high at 8.3%. While the latest monthly number, and the CPI reading from July, show that inflation has stalled, we’re not out of the woods yet.
There are warning signals, including worldwide drought and continued energy disruptions, that inflation is not yet tamed. Moreover, Federal Reserve policy is refusing to allow the price level to come back down, meaning that most households will continue to contend with higher prices and lagging income growth.
Meanwhile, the administration in Washington is taking steps that will only worsen the inflationary environment by its fiscal policy that relies on overspending absent adequate revenue. An unexpected part of this is President Biden’s new plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for households making up to $250,000 a year.
We’ve already written about how this policy will end up hurting the poor and working class. But from a strictly economic perspective, the blanket student loan forgiveness action by the president raises two additional fundamental concerns.
- Deficit spending
Reducing fiscal revenue by suspending the loan repayments adds to federal fiscal deficits. Currently, the federal government is not running surpluses with a manageable national debt as if the federal government is in a financial position to be generous. The government itself is in a financial straitjacket where it must continue to borrow to pay for its expenses, and the interest payments on the national debt continues to grow not just from the additional borrowing but also from rising interest rates. Like a family with a large and growing minimum payment on credit card debt, it is crowding out other budget priorities.
Although no economist knows how much more debt the U.S. economy can withstand, there is widespread agreement among them across the political spectrum that worsening deficit spending only aggravates inflationary pressures. We may say that taxpayers will eventually pay for the loan forgiveness, but the reality may be that we will pay for it sooner with higher inflation.
Paying through inflation rather than taxes is regressive, impacting lower income Americans the most. Consider the Tax Policy Center estimate that 57% of households paid no federal income taxes in 2021 with many receiving a net gain instead. The Tax Policy Center expects that the percent of non-paying households will drop to about 40% over the next few years, consistent with pre-pandemic levels. Why is this important? Because it shows how an inflationary policy, instead of a fiscally sound policy, impacts low-income Americans worse.
- Labor market moral hazards
Second, it presents moral hazards that will worsen the situation of students achieving meaningful education and solving the problem of their skills not matching what is needed in the labor market.
The moral hazards will come about because given the history of entitlements in this country, once we begin on the path of creating a new entitlement, it opens the door for expanding that entitlement. Are not other students just as deserving of having their debt paid for now and in the future? And what about the past? Why not raise the thresholds so even more debt can be forgiven? What we’re creating here is an entitlement that has moral hazards. Even the expectation of future loan forgiveness will cause behavioral changes with the same moral hazards.
- The first hazard is with the students themselves. Choosing a career and what to study is a major life decision where one must weigh the benefits and costs. Already we have a problem with many students making bad decisions and studying things that will not help them develop the skills they need in finding good paying jobs. Installing a system where the cost of education is now paid for with other people’s money will give them yet another reason to rationalize their poor education decisions. While the debt of that education may be forgiven, the opportunity costs will be unforgiving because you can’t turn back the clock and erase the consequences of those bad decisions.
- The second hazard is with the post-secondary educational establishments themselves. Government involvement with guaranteed student loans already exacerbates the outrageous tuition price hikes we’ve witnessed over the past 50 years. Having the government now forgiving student debt will only reduce the financial incentives for higher education to rein in its exorbitant costs.
- Finally, where are the incentives for institutions of higher learning to adjust their content to match the needs of society and the economy? As the incentives are eroding for students to carefully choose what to study and for the educational institutions to rein in their costs, the arrangement provides yet another reason for academia to justify the assortment of degrees they offer and the courses they teach. Already we are witnessing a disconnect between the content of what students have studied with what they will need to be successful in their careers.These students typically learn this hard lesson once they graduate and are faced with the realities of life. This flaw in the education system is a contributing cause of the great mismatch between what skills and education people have and the skills needed by employers that fuels the economy. Our economy is currently suffering from this problem, which now will only grow worse.