Contracts are one of the most important human institutions which contribute to our continued peaceful coexistence and to our flourishing. Saying that, how could I support National Democratic Party of Canada leader, Jagmeet Singh’s, plan to cancel student debt? If students agreed to pay some amount of money at a future date, should they be bound to such an agreement?
Of course, if this were a contract between two innocent people or groups of people, I would agree. If you make a contract, it should be honored. But the contract which students signed in agreeing to repay federal funds at some future date is quite different. Instead of being between two innocent parties in which both sides are exchanging their own property, one party, the federal government, is a criminal party exchanging stolen property. The order of events goes something like this: 1) The federal government, under threat of violence, takes money from innocent taxpayers, depriving them of their just property. 2) The federal government takes that stolen money and says to students, “I agree to give you $x today and, in exchange, you will give me $x + i at future date t“. 3) When date t arrives, the student is expected to pay $x + i to the federal government.
With this in mind, it is not clear that the student has an obligation to pay the money to the federal government. Certainly, the student is not entitled to the money, I won’t deny that; they gained that money only because it was originally stolen from an innocent third party. But the federal government has even less of a claim to that money. They stole it! Surely, they should not be allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains. Since the student doesn’t know who the money belongs to, it is at least better than they keep the money than return it to the thieving federal government.
Consider the following scenario: You are desperate for money. So desperate, in fact, that you are willing to go to a well-known criminal organization in order to get a loan from a loan shark. The loan shark offers you a loan at an incredibly low interest rate (what luck!). You know that the criminal organization gets all of its money from shakedowns and violent robberies, but you really need the money. After all, you didn’t commit those shakedowns or robberies. So, you take the money and get on your merry way. Five years later your loan comes due and the loan shark hunts you down. But another stroke of luck has hit you, the loan shark doesn’t want his money back! He says, “Return that money if you want, but we don’t need it. We were going to spend that money on weapons for shakedowns as well as pay our henchmen with it, but if you decide, feel free not to pay us back, it’s cool.” By now, you have the money, but the mob is letting you off the hook, what should you do? The answer, I think, is obvious: You shouldn’t pay them a dime! After all, it wasn’t theirs to begin with, and they’re just going to use the money to further their criminal operations.
The above is an allegory to the decision that we face in deciding whether or not to support student debt cancellation. The state is a criminal organization who gains all of its revenue from coercive, violent, and criminal means! If you don’t pay your taxes, you are threatened with being locked in a steel cage for years (and you don’t want to know what will happen if you resist going to the steel cage). If you can take some money away from that evil organization, then you should! Even better if you can get away without paying it back in the future! What you’ve done, in essence, is taken the ill-gotten gains from the mob, and brought it back into the private sphere where people must produce and exchange, not use violence, in order to make money.
Singh’s proposal would forgive up to $20,000 in federal student debt per student. As Singh notes, “Since they have been in government, the Liberals have taken over $4 billion from students in interest payments – profiting off the backs of young people already feeling the squeeze.” Do we want a criminal organization to profit from its contracts or do we want them to take on losses, limiting their ability to continue their criminal activities in the future? The answer, I think, is obvious. Let those wonderful young people do its damage to the federal government! Let them deprive them of their ill-gotten gains!