INDIANAPOLIS – We, the people of the United States, are indebted to the millions of students who took on considerable monetary debt to support their dreams and our colleges and universities.

Our nation needs dreamers and risk takers. A young person emerging from the morass of secondary education, ill-equipped for studies requiring reading, writing, and concentration, is faced with an array of choices.

a. Get a job and hope it is the bottom step of an escalator going up and not one at the bottom of a decayed ladder.

b. Go for training in an occupation which you will find interesting, remunerative, and will make your parents proud.

c. Go to college and learn how to think with tools from many disciplines. Then try to live a life that is interesting, elevating, and makes you proud.

These are difficult decisions for young people who generally get little useful guidance from their peers, parents, and counselors. These are youngsters ignorant of finance, to say nothing about collateralized tranches.

But the federal government and banks built a set of programs to encourage enrollment by reducing current outlays for training (which includes such jobs as cargo carriers and chiropodists) as well as for conventional colleges.

Some training programs failed their students by stealing their money. Most programs, however, failed theirs students by not clarifying the realities of the world they were to enter. Now students are criticized if they chose studies that did not reward them handsomely.

No matter. The students were expected to pay back the loans and the interest accrued thereon. Meanwhile, many parents enjoyed cruises and more prestigious addresses, relieved of the burden of supporting their children’s education.

Of course, dear reader, you were not among those parents.

President Biden has said some or all of the loans need not be paid back. This has raised an outcry of anguish. It’s unfair!

It’s amoral! It’s inflationary! It doesn’t reduce the federal debt! It doesn’t address the high price of education!

Worst of all, we refuse to accept student debt reduction as a national act of contrition. We don’t want to tell a full generation that they and we took a ride on multiple fantasies.

We imagined we sent students to good grade and high schools where they learned to be informed citizens.

We imagined a rising economic tide, based on advancing technology, was one that would lift all boats.

We imagined education administrators and trustees were persons of good sense and humility.

We imagined a piece of paper represented a store of knowledge and/or skill.

Now we know we were wrong. Now, with this act of penance, we have forgiven part or all of student debt. Will those students now forgive the debt we owe them for their disappointed dreams, their foregone opportunities? 

Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at