July 2, 2023

Discrimination and the Student Loan Forgiveness Program

I have mixed feelings about the Supreme Court’s having struck down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program in Biden v. Nebraska two days ago. Indeed, there were strong arguments both for and against the program. Democrats were especially disappointed because it fulfilled a campaign promise made to a small but important group of voters, and it was expected to have a positive effect on the economy. Nevertheless, it was not supported broadly, and the process by which the administration sought to forgive student loans was questionable.

One of the arguments advanced against the program, however, deserves special comment. It was asserted that the plan discriminated against people who didn’t go to college or didn’t have student loans. This complaint misunderstands how the government works. The Fourteenth Amendment assures that people in similar circumstances must be treated equally. It does not assure that everything the government does benefits everyone equally.

Arguing that the loan forgiveness program was discriminatory has interesting, though pernicious implications. By this reasoning, I should be able to question the legitimacy of government subsidies to agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and big sugar. After all, since I do not grow corn, process petroleum, or refine sugar, I am being discriminated against, since I am not a beneficiary of those subsidies. I consider those subsidies unwise and undemocratic, but an argument that they discriminate against me personally is simply ludicrous.

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