Forgiveness of student loan debt is very similar to Solon’s seisachtheia in principle, but the intent, details, and consequences make it drastically different than Solon’s program.
The idea of forgiving debt is one that dates all the way back to Solon, a respected wiseman from Athens in Ancient Greece. This theme of free education is also cropping up more and more in modern political campaigns. While the basic concept is the same today as it was back then, the details of the deal does not match up with Solon’s seisachtheia. Right off the bat, it is clear that the two are different because Solon was elected by his people before implementing his plan, and then was made unpopular by his plan (Plutarch 68). Candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who are running with student debt forgiveness and free college education as a part of their platforms today are attempting to reach the many young voters who are suffering because of their debt along with many of their families, who often attempt to support them through their difficult times. These voters could have a major impact on the course of an election, and turn the tide in favor of Sanders and Warren. On the other hand, Solon won his election because his people believed in him and called for him to serve, and then Solon went on to implement his program and gained much ill will from the rich, who lost money, as well as the poor, who wished that Solon had done more to help them. Solon himself actually lost between 10 and 20 gold coins that he had loaned (Plutarch 70)!
Additionally, the consequences of cancelling student debt would have a major impact on money flow. Many banks and the flow of currency that are keeping the United States of America’s massive economy, along with the global economy that runs mainly on American dollars, would be severely impacted by a student debt forgiveness program and the disappearance of 1.5 trillion dollars (Ben Miller). Today’s economy is only as good as how stable it is, and such a gigantic fluctuation could cause panic and an inevitable downward spiral. In contrast, Solon’s seisachtheia only saw the wealthy citizens of Athens lose money. While these nobles were very displeased at their loss of both money and property, it was money and property that they could afford to lose. Today, a free college education would deflate an already undervalued undergraduate degree, and could turn many prospective STEM students towards liberal arts degrees, which while important for culture and quality of life are not essential to keeping the world’s top two economy spinning. Solon’s program, on the other hand, set everyone on equal ground in terms of basic human rights, returning those in debt to their original citizen status and also returning their land, which interestingly enough was one of Locke’s three basic human rights, upon which the United States of America based its Declaration of Independence. If Solon was here today, he would say that we need to first focus on providing a means to live, a true equality, and a better property system before affording free college.
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One thought on “Debt”
Seth makes very good observations here in regards to debt cancellation and the consequences that go along with it. However, I would argue that Solon’s debt cancellation program and the current debt cancellation programs headed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are actually pretty similar. While Solon does not cover student debt, which was obviously not a thing, the scenario is similar in that people in debt are being offered complete forgiveness. At the end of the day, this is going to create enormous issues, as it did in Solon’s time when people revolted because they were losing money. In the same way, if this were to happen with student debt today, people would become outraged and it would cause an uproar, as well as negatively impact the economy. I do like Seth’s point that this would deflate an already undervalued degree. This goes for all goods and services, as it is just simple economics. When the price of a good like education lowers, quantity demanded increases, thus more education is consumed. When more and more people are obtaining college degrees, that degree is far less valuable and thus the debt forgiveness doesn’t help the individual all that much in the first place.