For several weeks I’d been getting what I thought were strange inquiries from telemarketers. They’d call asking to speak with “Kaetan Mazza (pronounced in a variety of humorous ways) regarding an important business matter.” I suffer from an extreme deficiency of “business matters,” and the few I do have can scarcely be described as “important.” Deftly identifying these requests as ruses, I tried to elicit information each time they called, without revealing my identity. I tried to be Kaetan’s “secretary” or his “brother,” but they were remarkably tight lipped. The mafia should start with these over-caffeinated Midwesterners when looking for recruits.
Finally, it dawned on me that I live in the 21st century. I searched their telephone number on Google. Turns out these sneaky devils were representatives of an agency looking to collect on my student loan debt. When I determined that I no longer wished to hear from them, I informed them with a heavy heart that our dear Kaetan had died. It was sudden. The calls were disturbing the grieving process.
I haven’t had a call in over a month. It dawned on me that more of us should do this.
America’s system of higher education is fucked. I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you. Another article detailing each and every manner in which it’s fucked would likely be dull and repetitive. Instead of cataloging the insanity and outright abuse, I think it more prudent to highlight the worst of it and suggest a clear plan of action (or more precisely, inaction).
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of the U.S. college and university system (though there are many) is the cottage industry it has created concerning the enormous amount of debt involved. The over one trillion dollars owed for education looms ominously over the entire economy, hindering the nation’s growth, employment and economic security. Student loan payments erode the purchasing power and saving potential of those just beginning to establish themselves financially. The cruelest of ironies is that many of those trapped in this burdensome debt system found that the service they borrowed for was neither as valuable, nor as noble, as they had been led to believe.
The cost of education at universities, both dubious and reputable, is surging along with demand. Banks weasel their way into the mix, bridging the wide gulf between the cost and the student’s means. It’s an interesting kind of predatory lending. The lender provides for something that is both valuable and invaluable, but in the process traps the borrower in a form of debt peonage.
Banks and the universities they fund wield the influence of their unholy alliance in Washington, crushing legal and political reform. The very same carpetbaggers who decry deadbeat student debt are buying these loans for pennies on the dollar from Uncle Sam, and embedding themselves into the financial livelihoods of countless unemployable former students. The cycle is as sinister as it is predictable: sympathetic calls looking to restructure the burdensome debt, then admonishing calls reminding the borrower of his or her “promise to pay,” followed by threats of legal action — every step grinding down the student’s credit rating. When and if the debt is ever “resolved,” it always results in a big profit for the collector, a bilking of the Federal Government, and an ass screwing of the student debtor.
Many people would like to see a change but find the power of their ballot impotent. Even with strong support for reform, universities continue to increase prices and banks continue cashing in on poorly informed young people trying to get an education.
How can young post graduates — probably the most underpaid, indebted, politically jaded, and hardest drinking demographic — affect change on a problem so big?
Taking note of the other great protest movements throughout history, I am convinced that the only way to stop the powerful from subverting the will of the masses is through direct action. Although democracy and speaking out are essential to this process, they are not enough. What we need is civil disobedience.
Whereas the labor organizers and civil rights proponents of yore had to picket factories and march on the capital, facing arrest, violence, and degradation, today’s opponents of modern day usury have it relatively easy. All we must do is ignore the student loan bill. Tell your lender to do to themselves what usually involves a partner. If you get tired of their calls, tell them you died.
You’re probably telling yourself that this is stupid. It would just hurt your credit score and plunge you deeper into debt. Alone, you’re probably right. But imagine for moment a mass default on all student debt. It wouldn’t require rallies, funding, or political upheaval. All it would take is a collective willingness to stand up to this absurd relationship. The only way it survives is if we perpetuate it.
By merely offering a united “no” to the extortionists we can make them feel the heat of shared frustration. As easy as it is to initiate, the usurers will put up a valiant fight as they begin their death throes. Those who refuse will be threatened and sanctioned but we must persevere. When the obscene gush of profits from this arrangement slow to a trickle the scale of power will begin to tip in our favor. Only then will we be able to begin to replace this broken system with one that’s fair, accessible, and respectful of a holistic education. If nothing else, we can at least make the bastards worry about their bills for once.