On Student Debt, the Albatross and the Year of Jubilee

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung

So goes a stanza from the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The albatross, that grand bird which to the sailor of old meant the approaching of blessed land. A sign of good luck; but in the poem killed by a seafarer – who was afterward forced to wear the carcass around his neck by his fellow mariners, as a sign of shame and stupidity and arrogance as an evil fate befalls the ship and the sailor’s recklessness is shared with all his peers.

But what has this olden rhyme to do with now? We no longer sail ships, we no longer lust for land as the water turns brackish in the barrels and the hardtack begins to crawl with weevils. An allegory – a way of knowing that which we are losing as a civilization, unable to interpret the lessons from those at once wiser and also perhaps more fallen than we, but were they…? the hints of a knowledge as-yet undeveloped, do we eschew them? And if we do, how then do we consider the issues we are facing – for they are not new, as Ecclesiastes has said “There is nothing new under the sun.”

The albatross – I can think of no greater a metaphor for our student loan fiasco. The bird, a sign of great joy, of luck emerging from a perilous journey and a promise of future become instead a public display of stupidity, rotten and stinking to show for the world the ignorance and arrogance of youth. But is it their fault, is it really? For we, those of us with children, know that the reality is more complicated – that decision-making and the weighing of consequences is not fully gestated in the minds of boys until five and twenty years; how then are they asked to make such monumental decisions as to involve the killing – or not – of that olden albatross?

Of course, Whose fault is it? is a facile and unhelpful discussion – should these youths have committed murder in their delicate years, they would still be jailed. Should they be called, they will go to war; they can drink intoxicating spirits and vote upon the future of our great nation and operate motor-vehicles of all shapes and sizes; why not then accrue debt…? – mortgage their futures, if they wish, it is their right, their decision. Except that it is not, oh that albatross hangs heavy and stinking upon the necks of all of us now: $1,500,000,000,000 stone which we must consider.

Emerging recently into the minds of the know-nothings are solutions – a jubilee say most; naturally believing they are devising something new, something bold and innovative. Enter stage left Wayne Messam, Mayor of Miramar in Florida, competing amongst the madding horde to be our highest servant, “Americans are not going to have the same opportunity to achieve the American dream; this crippling student loan debt that 44 million Americans are dealing with [is] slowing down our economy. The U.S. Department of Education owns about 95 percent of America’s student loan debt making the mechanics of complete debt cancellation for the majority of the loans relatively straightforward.”

A jubilee!!

Except that in fact the jubilee is among the oldest of ideas, passed down to the people from God through Moses as he sat atop Mount Sinai. “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.” Leviticus 25:10

moses

Moses and the 10 Commandments

It is about justice – justice for the individual, because life is hard. But justice also for the society, for we must live together – and theft is, after all, still theft. Freedom from oppression, “Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 25:17. Not social justice, for that is simply a bait-and-switch, replacing ideas of law with “ancient prejudices and our legendary tolerance for injustice”, with the oppression of the minority by the majority flipped to that of the majority by the minority. The albatross or the jubilee – two stark choices, neither of them giving us freedom from oppression.

I have oft been accused of commentary without solution; criticism without rebuttals. To that end, and in deference to that critique I offer a simple resolution. Since those who seek my money for their mistakes offer Leviticus as an unknowing justification; fairness as their last best defense;  “I don’t think it’s fair that the student and the parent has to bear all of this risk when it’s benefiting the entire economy” as is so communistically put by Mayor Wayne Messam, and responding to their positivist replacement of God for the State – let me too offer my policy from the Bible, from Genesis in fact: “’Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Genesis 14: 19-20.

A tithe, let us have a tithe of 10% which will be wiped out in the manner of Leviticus 25:4 “But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.” Let them who graduate indebted and who so choose give back 10% of their income for seven years – and all will be wiped clean. And who knows, if Mayor Wayne Messam is correct – and they become millionaires and give back far more than they borrowed, then they truly will have been a benefit to the entire economy.

Author’s note – this is my policy recommendation, arising as it does from a man who has accumulated and paid all his own educational debt; but yet who nevertheless also has a small son, and wishes not that he have that ugly albatross stinking up his future long before he even begins it.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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