That’s discrimination?

Phyllis Schlafly is against big-government subsidies for education.  Especially in providing subsidized guaranteed student loans.  For one, she says it's like the housing bubble — lots of debt, a product of decreasing value, and the taxpayer on the hook.  That may be right, but is she asking the government to step in and regulate a market? Regardless of what she thinks needs to happen on that front, Shlafly follows  with the argument that college loans are discriminatory:

The entire structure of college loans is discriminatory. It forces people who don't want or are not able to go to college or who work to pay their own way, to contribute taxes to support those who go to college at other people's expense, often at pricey elite colleges.

I, for the life of me, can't make sense of this claim.  First, the taxes don't support these people. The tax money just guarantees their loan — if they can't pay it back, then the taxes are used.  But that's not discrimination, that's just taxes for services.  I pay taxes for services others use, but that's not unfair… that's civilization.  Second, the argument seems to go that because these taxpayers either don't want to or can't go to college, paying taxes so others can discriminates against them.  Not clear why.  If they don't want to, then they're not being discriminated against, and if they can't, it likely is because of some desideratum of selection (e.g., scores, grades, aptitude).  That's not discrimination in the sense that's necessary for this to be a moral claim.  NS readers, any ideas?

Oh, and don't miss the populism shot with "pricey elite colleges"! 

10 thoughts on “That’s discrimination?”

  1. The "student loan bubble" is becoming a standard right-wing talking point. Which isn't to say that there isn't merit to the concern, but somehow I don't think that the solution will be to find ways to shift student debt off of students or to make private colleges more responsible in the event of default. Don't look for logic – look for an agenda.

  2. In some ways it is discrimination:  policymakers have determined that for whatever reason, it would be good policy to encourage and make it easier for people to pursue postsecondary education.  Therefore, they have devised a policy that favors (i.e., "discriminates" in favor of ) those who would seek to higher degrees.  What Schlafly seems to be saying, however, is that this discrimination is somehow invidious, on a par with arbitrary forms of discrimination (race, sex, etc).  She's using an emotionally-laden word to describe a situation, and she is relying on the (mostly unacknowledged) emotional laden-ness to do most of the work for her.
    I will quibble with you a little bit on your claim that taxes do not support student loan recipients.  First, it's not only cases of default in which tax money is relied on.  Some direct loans are subsidized and so presumably tax money–or some fungible variant thereof–goes to service the interest-subsidized loans.  Second, I imagine the loan guarantees work in some actuarial way (I'm not an account, full disclosure) as a "cost" against the government, compelling it, on some margin, to forgo doing some things rather than others.  I seriously doubt the cost is all that great on the big scheme of things.  But there you go.

  3. Aaron, the point's well-taken: when one cannot reconstruct an argument from someone associated with the Eagle Forum, your defaults should be that it is merely a dog-whistle.
    Pierre, I'll concede the point about support, at least for the sake of saying that even if a loan subsidy is support, that doesn't amount to discrimination.  Imagine Newt Gingrich of the 90's saying that welfare is discriminatory because it selectively supports only the poor. 
    Now, if I were a libertarian-free-market guy, here'd be my argument:  the problem with education is that the government has been subsidizing loans to students, so that's artificially driven up the cost of a degree — it's increased the market and increased individual buying power, so demand has gone up.  Markets are designed to reflect the value of the good on offer, but the good hasn't been rising in proportion to the price we can and will pay for it.  There won't be any corrections in the market until either it crashes or the forces of inflation are eliminated.  The latter is preferable.   See?  It isn't hard to give a relatively cogent argument as a right-winger.  Sometimes, it's like they don't even try.

  4. Scott, nice post.  And Aaron is right about the dog-whistling.  The word "discrimination" can indeed mean "pay for some and not others" but it only does so when one intends to pay for some and not others in virtue of race, religion, etc..  To Schlafly I might reply, not everyone uses roads, therefore, etc.  Of course she might reply that the commerce that travels upon roads benefits everyone, and there we are back to education.

  5. John,
    I think that was part of the point I was trying to make in my comment about discrimination, except I would start by saying that government technically "discriminates" all the time when it makes choices.  It other words, I would call your examples of roads, etc., examples of "discrimination" in a very literal (and not commonly used) sense.  The problem I have with Scohlafly–which seems slightly different from the problem you and Scott seem to have with it–is not that it doesn't count as discrimination, but that she is exploiting the emotional weight of that word to do a lot of her work for her.  Perhaps I'm being too literal, and either way, we get to pretty much the same point.
    Good point.

  6. Hey PC,

    You're right, I think we agree on the key point.  I'd disagree however that discrimination is the appropriate term at all.  The government is not "technically" discriminating if it favors non-discriminatory (in the meaningful sense) support of education, roads, and other public goods.  If there is any meaningful sense in which that kind action is discriminatory, then we need a different word.

  7. One last point about 'discrimination' and the equivocation parade by the Right.  It's been going on for a very long time.  I have my old copy of Rush Limbaugh's 1993 See, I Told You So! in front of me, and here's his line:  "Sometimes, discrimination's a good thing.  I"ve been searching for a place to live . . . . I've found some good, and others lacking.  In other words, I've discriminated. . . . Therefore, discrimination is not always bad, is it?" (278)  BooYah!

  8. It might be a mistake for Scott to try to make sense of Schlafly's argument. Demagoguery isn't supposed to make sense, and her rant uses "discrimination" and "people who don't want to work" as racial euphemisms to appeal to white resentment.

  9. Hi Tonio,  Both you and Aaron are probably right that the line here, and perhaps most of the article, isn't argument but dogwhistling.  In fact, I've pretty much come to that conclusion, given the comments above.  But I wll take issue with one thing, though.  I think it's a better policy to have your defaults set on interpreting others as giving reasons than otherwise, because I'd rather have it that we scramble around with nonsense and catch a few good arguments than treat most of what others say as nonsense and miss the good arguments.  When Ann Coulter says of liberals that they don't argue, just spout progressive platitudes, I think to myself that she's not listening.  I don't want that to be true of me, too.

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