If Michael Mann's infamous hockey stick graph should be taken seriously as evidence that human activity is causing global climate change that must be stopped, or else it will trigger positive feedback effects that will result in a catastrophe that will ruin the lives of millions of people, what then are we to make of the following chart showing how the U.S. federal government is running up its own debt for the sake of loaning out money to college students?
Here, we find that the federal government has sharply increased the amount of money it borrows for the sake of loaning it right back out to college students since 2008. Beginning in 2009, the net increase in those borrowings account for 2.9% of the entire increase in the U.S. national debt observed since 2008. That amount is above and beyond the amount directly added to the nation's total public debt outstanding by the federal government's annual budget deficits.
In this case, the disaster that would directly affect the lives of millions of people means being forced at the direction of government bureaucrats into a dramatically lower standard of living for the sake of being able to make the payments on their student loans to the U.S. federal government, without any real hope of being able to discharge that debt through bankruptcy.
That, in turn, has the real potential to indirectly hurt millions of other people, because student loan payments are rising at the rapid pace supported by the government-subsidized cost of tuition, even though college graduates are entering into jobs that pay far below what is required to both live well and to support their super-sized student loan debt.
It is quite possible then that we have reached a point where higher education hurts the economic growth of the nation, rather than helps it:
Student loans could be the next asset class to school the United States about poor debt management. Graduates are now forking over more of their disposable income in repayments than 10 years ago, defaults are rising and with Uncle Sam now directly holding $450 billion of student debt, taxpayers are on the hook again. That could put U.S. higher education in the embarrassing position of hindering, rather than helping to fuel, economic growth.
Here's how: first, the size of the student loan market has mushroomed. Bachelor-degree debt at graduation has grown 250 percent over the past decade, according to finaid.org. At $867 billion, it exceeds both credit-card and auto debt in the United States, according to a study by the New York Federal Reserve. If this trend continues, by 2021 it'll be equivalent to 1.3 percent of GDP, triple its current level, assuming GDP cleaves to its 4.5 percent 15-year average nominal growth.
Next, average payments have risen by 83 percent over the past decade while median income for those aged 25 to 34 has increased by just a fifth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That leaves less money for graduates to spend or save. Extrapolate ahead 10 years, and former students will be paying $125 billion extra a year. By then, that would equate to two-thirds of a percentage point of GDP.
We wonder how the higher education bubble and federal budget crisis deniers will react to this hockey stick chart....
U.S. Treasury. Monthly Statement of the Public Debt of the United States, September 30, 2011.
U.S. Treasury. Monthly Statement of the Public Debt of the United States, September 30, 2008.