Living with your “choices”

Opponents of economic justice spend an awful lot of time talking about people’s “choices.”

They talk as if such a thing as free choice actually exists, upholding the thing they call the free market (which, supposedly exists).

Don’t like your ISP? Change it, they say! Except… there’s actually just the one ISP for your entire area.

Employer doesn’t offer decent health care? Get a new one! Except…. you can’t afford to be out of work because of your debt and anyway, there aren’t any jobs to be had.

And what about that debt? If you didn’t want it you could have chosen not to go to college! It’s your own fault! Except… you probably decided to go to college as a teenager after a whole life of being raised in the idea that it was right and good and necessary for success. You probably didn’t have a realistic idea of what your other options were at the time (if you really did have any other options). Maybe your parents even pushed it, though lord knows you weren’t rich. And maybe it turns out you did need that degree, just to get your foot in the door of the glorious world of low-or-no paying entry level skilled labor jobs. Welcome. Enjoy.

Because that’s the thing. The thing they never want to talk about or admit. Our choices are constrained. Sometimes they are constrained quite deliberately. Sometimes they are just constrained by the nature of the field and the players. Limited options to begin with, imperfect knowledge of what those options are, imperfect understanding of what those options are going to mean, in real terms, five or ten or twenty years down the road.

I remember going to the Financial Aid department at my college. I had this naive idea that they were there to work with me and, well, aid me in paying for school. Silly now, I know. I didn’t know about all the options out there. I didn’t know about things like Pell grants. I had done research, but I just hadn’t come across them. And no one let me know, either. They steered me straight into private loans.

My worst one has the same interest rate as my credit card. But back then, I’d never had a credit card before either. I’d never paid on an interest bearing loan. Today I’d take one look at the numbers on that contract and run screaming, but back then? I just didn’t know what I needed to in order to make the best decision. I had to rely on the adults around me for guidance, and we see how that’s worked out.

Quite frankly we shouldn’t be expecting young people to be able to make the perfect right decision when they lack a lot of meaningful experience about the world. Especially at that age, even a very little time to experience things can make a world of difference. 23 year old me would have made much better decisions about loans than 18 year old me did, and 28 year old me has gotten a lot better at this money thing than 23 year old me was.

And the really perverse thing is that we’ve set up a system that allows and even encourages young people to make decisions —possibly mistakes, that will hamstring —possibly ruin their lives for decades to come. What kind of a society does that? Should the goal be to equip young people to succeed instead?

Why do even we have such a system?

Why isn’t there a consistent, mandatory curriculum of what it’s going to be like in real terms to deal with your finances as an adult? Using examples that  students will relate to, examples that they will grasp as impacting their lives.

Why don’t financial aid departments have an affirmative, legal obligation to find non-massively-endebtening method for a student before referring them along to private loan companies?

Why aren’t non-college options like apprenticeships covered more and covered more positively?

Why can’t we get some more paid apprenticeships even for post-college careers instead of these bullshit internship programs?

Why the fuck aren’t student loans not covered by bankruptcy?

Why does school cost so much in the first place?

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    Sometimes I wonder if I would hate myself as much for all the “wrong choices” as I do right now, if I’d come out of an...
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    Why is this debt capitalized? I have never understood that and it seems to me to be one of the biggest factors and no...
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