Cory Doctorow interview on SuicideGirls

(via Boing Boing) This interview was supposed to be about Cory Doctorow's upcoming new book, Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother.  And, I suppose it is.  But really what it's mostly about is how incredibly terrifying the student loan system is, and, basically, how screwed I am for the rest of my life.

[Nicole Powers]:
This is the first time in history where students in England and America have a disincentive to get educated. In America now, because of rising college fees and falling wages, economically it’s arguable that you’d actually be better off investing the money you spent on education and working straight out of school. -
[Cory Doctorow]:
It’s not arguable, it’s true. Apart from a few Ivy League degrees, the rate of return on an investment in tertiary education, in most fields, in most universities in America is lower than the rate of return on gilts. Literally just buy bonds and you’ll get more money out of the system then you would on borrowing to get a university degree over the long run.
So we have a situation now on both sides of the Atlantic where there’s a disincentive to get educated.
Well, they share a certain common heritage. You mentioned for the first time there’s a disincentive to get an education, but what you don’t mention about the UK situation is that for the first time poor people have been given access to tertiary education. It’s not a coincidence that when tertiary education ceased to be the exclusive province of people who had a lot of political influence, that education ceased to be untouchable as an area for defunding by government. In other words, when universities were the exclusive province of rich people who were in close contact with the political classes, nobody took seriously the idea of defunding free education in this country. But when it became more broadly democratized, you could start talking about education as almost like a market proposition.

(emphasis mine.)

[CD: ...]
Also, the federal government can be successfully lobbied to do what they’ve done now over the last 10 years, which is make student debt the only kind of debt you can’t be relieved from in bankruptcy, and the only kind of debt that can be taken out of social security. This is a perfect storm of awful, where in order to get any kind of a good job you have to take a loan out for a hyper inflated university degree and that loan is then visited upon you forever.

You can’t be relieved of that debt through bankruptcy, even if it turns out you made the wrong decision, and the debt collection practices are set up so there’s almost no limits on them and they can impose arbitrary fees and penalties on you. Whatever your student loan was, you actually can never escape it because if you miss a single payment or even if a payment goes astray, suddenly you have these ballooning charges that could double or triple your student debt and those keep recurring through the life of your student debt, such that it becomes almost a form of indenture.

People also who carry a lot of debt are much more beholden to their employers. Especially a kind of debt where if you miss a payment you have ballooning charges and penalties, because you can’t afford to be made redundant, you can’t afford to be taken off the job, you certainly can’t afford to risk being fired. Those people become a more pliant workforce. So you have, again, this perfect storm of awfulness where all of these awful interests are aligned into making people indebted and unhappy and unable to fulfill their lives, fulfill their potential.

For one thing, people don’t start businesses if they can’t afford to quit their jobs. So all of that economic creativity that America has often benefited from…I mean, for all that America is a nation of military adventurism and conquest, it’s also a nation of entrepreneurship and an enormous amount of its economic mite has been driven not just by resource extraction from foreign economies, but also from the exporting of entrepreneurial ventures. You know, inventing stuff that other people in the world want a buy, that entrepreneurial zeal is increasingly locked up behind people who struggle with debt and can’t afford to quit their jobs to do something cool. This is why you have dot com millionaires who are actually offering cash prizes to people who have good grades not to go to university. They want those people unlocked from debt so they can go off and invent cool things and make jobs and unlock new economic growth for the country.

On the night of the Strike Debt launch [Strike Debt is an Occupy Wall Street affinity group which buys debt and forgives it order to raise awareness for the true cost of debt] I hosted a discussion via the SuicideGirls’ Twitter account using the Strike Debt hashtag. I just asked people about how debt had impacted their lives. Within the SuicideGirls’ demographic, I’d say 90% of the debt that people were talking about was student loans. And the worst thing is that Strike Debt can’t even buy student loans. It’s the one class of debt that they can’t purchase. The good guys can’t even buy the debt to clear it. And one of the most worrying sentiments that was coming through that night was that because people had no hope of ever paying their student loans off –– especially amongst those where the penalties were already accruing –– they were like, what’s the point of getting a job? I’m never going to get out from under my student debt. There’s literally a whole class of people who have a very real disincentive to find work because of the crippling weight of their student loans.

(emphasis mine.)

Read the whole interview here.