I saw this Tweet from Congressman Dan Crenshaw:
When you say #cancelstudentdebt, you’re saying a minority of people who had the advantage of obtaining a degree should have their debt paid off by hardworking taxpayers, 2/3 of whom don’t have degrees themselves, or already paid their own student debt off.
This is immoral.
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) June 25, 2019
He is, of course, 100% right.
But there is a much bigger criticism of the free college movement that I have not seen from anybody else yet.
There is an issue that has been studied in the field of economics for almost two hundred years and was discussed by ancient Greek and Roman philosophers before that.
It is the Tragedy of the Commons. In its strictest sense, the Tragedy of the Commons says that people will abuse or misuse a common resource. This first entered the field of economics when William Forster Lloyd noticed that farmers would overgraze on public pastures but not on private ones.
The bigger picture of the Tragedy of the Commons is that people do not respect what they do not own or pay for from the fruits of their labor.
It has been shown that poor people who do not receive food benefits budget their food purchases better and buy better food. Those who receive food benefits budget poorly and buy more junk food. Simply for the reason that they are spending money that they didn’t work for.
We see the same issue in public or subsidized housing. That falls into disrepair and dilapidation quickly, because the natural incentive to take care of what you work for vanishes.
So what happens when we extend the Tragedy of the Commons to the public college or university system?
How quickly will it be abused? Predictions are not hard to make.
The flunk out rate will go up as kids who lose interest stop attending class. The number of kids who change majors frequently or fail to matriculate in a field will go up. The number of economically useless niche majors will multiply.
Free public colleges will complete their transformation into daycares where kids go for four, five, or six years after high school. Any outside incentive that kids have to earn a degree and get a good job will evaporate.
That leaves only those who are self-motivated to achieve and stuck in a devalued institution.
The other economic law of note, the Law of Unintended Consequences, will kick in and the only institutions with degrees that have any value will be private institutions that are not free.
This will further segregate society as the kids who can’t afford private schools but are motivated find themselves lumped in with the academic overgrazers and are unable to get jobs because a public college degree will be worth as much as a public high school diploma, i.e., senior burger-flipper.
The natural laws of economics – those derived by watching how people behave in the real world – are just as unavoidable as the natural laws of science.
Free public college will destroy the public college and university system quickly and as effectively as public housing is turned into slums, and for exactly the same reason.