New York governor Andrew Cuomo, not content with President Obama’s proposal to make junior colleges free, recently introduced his own plan for New York to essentially waive the first two years of student debt payments for college graduates living in the state.
As such plans go, this is par for the course -- it wouldn't do a damn thing to make college more affordable for anyone, much like the president’s uninspired proposal to make junior college tuition free for all. Most of the benefits will go to the wealthy, once they figure out how to game the system.
But what’s most interesting about this initiative isn’t in the nuts and bolts of its implementation or the political prospects for its passage: It’s how the New York Times chose to cover it -- unrelentingly positive, of course, capped with a profile of a recent college graduate meant to typify the plight of the debt-laden young professional.
Except that to most people, this person’s plight would be unexceptional and unworthy of any government subsidy at all. The person profiled -- Robert Noonan, who, to his credit, seems like a pretty capable kid -- has a monthly student loan payment of $95 and owes about $30,000 in total. Until recently, he had been working as a political organizer for a nonprofit, the New York Public Interest Research Group -- the same one that helped start a young Barack Obama’s career as a community organizer.
How on earth did the Times decide to profile this person? Did the Times -- which presumably thinks this student loan plan is a good idea, since it involves the government giving away money to someone -- presume that this person’s story would generate empathy amongst its readers, and if so, could it possibly be right? I have a hard time seeing anyone who doesn’t live on the Upper East Side able to find even a pang of sympathy for this kid, who’s got a pretty manageable debt payment and decent earning potential, and who is living in the most expensive city in America. Did that not occur to the editor, or did the reporter interview a friend of a friend who had the right amount of student debt, and then turn in copy too late for the editor to ask her to profile someone else?
It’s an important question, because it would show whether the Old Gray Lady is just lazy or else so ponderously out of touch that it actually thinks that its readership agrees that the government should help intelligent and idealistic college grads make $95 monthly loan payments while they work for do-gooder non-profits.
The piece came up with a variety of examples of people who wouldn’t be helped by such a program. Folks who ring up debt but never graduate from college would not be allowed to participate, and the piece also lamented the higher debt of people who go to for-profit colleges, although it’s not at all clear what that had to do with the gist of the piece.
One last possibility is that the Times actually wanted to sabotage the insufficiently liberal Andrew Cuomo and his far-too-modest college subsidy plan, and contrived this lame example on purpose, hoping to put people off of the plan, and trigger an avalanche of mockery at a proposal that would help people who don’t necessarily need any, while costing the government millions of dollars that could be much better spent elsewhere.
If so, I’m happy to help them.
Ike Brannon is president of Capital Policy Analytics, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C.