Leaves of Grass, director Tim Blake Nelson's cinematic paean to Oklahoma culture, tells a story about Bill and Brady Kincaid, twin brothers who grew up in Little Dixie (southeastern Oklahoma). Edward Norton brilliantly plays both parts.
Bill Kincaid escapes his redneck upbringing, improves his diction, and becomes a philosophy professor at Brown University. Brady, his twin brother, remains in Oklahoma, where he retains his Oklahoma accent and grows hydroponic marijuana.
When Professor Bill reluctantly returns to his roots, Brady, the stay-at-home brother, tells Bill that he reads all of Bill's scholarly publications. Brady observes that Bill and his colleagues never write about a topic; instead, they write about what other scholars have written. Professor Bill admits this is true.
"Well," Brady says with a perfect Oklahoma twang, "Why don't I write a book for all y'all, and I'll title it What's the F-cking Point?
I thought about this line from Leaves of Grass after perusing a scholarly article written by Professors Prentis Cox, Judith Fox, and Stacey Tutt. The three wrote about a serious public policy problem: private student-loan borrowers' lack of consumer protection from fraud and abuse.
Cox, Fox, and Tutt are right. Students have taken out about $150 billion in private student loans, and these loans do not have the consumer protections afforded to federal-loan borrowers.
Besides, most private lenders require students to get a co-signer on their loans---usually mom or dad. Students and their parents who run into financial trouble can't discharge these loans in bankruptcy unless they can show "undue hardship"--a standard that is almost impossible to meet.
These scholars examined this problem in great detail; their law review article is 59 pages long, comprises 27,000 words, and is buttressed by 323 footnotes. What do they recommend?
The authors propose the passage of two model statutes by all 50 state legislatures that would correct the evils they identified. The first statute is titled the Private Student Borrowers Protection Act, and the second law is labeled the Private Student Loan Mediation Act.
I have a couple of questions about the Cox, Fox, and Tutt proposal:
First, what are the chances that even one state legislature will pass either of these laws? I would say zero.
Second, how many people will even read the professors' turgid, footnote-studded article? And by reading, I don't mean skimming over the introduction and conclusion as I did. How many people will read the whole damn thing--all 59 pages, all 27,000 words, all 323 footnotes? I would say about two dozen.
I don't mean to denigrate academic endeavors. Some scholarly topics are complicated; I understand that. But--let's not overthink things.
Private student loans are onerous and predatory for two reasons: 1) the banks require co-signers for these loans, and 2) the student borrower and the co-signer are virtually barred from bankruptcy relief--even if they are insolvent.
I have a proposal for addressing these problems, and it is only nine words long: Delete the "undue hardship" language from the Bankruptcy Code.
Virtually everyone agrees that the federal student loan program and the private student-loan industry have created a shit show for people who just want to get a college degree. Federal and private student loans have saddled millions of Americans with massive student-loan debt they can't repay. Politicians, professors, and public-policy wonks all have solutions, but most of these solutions protect the status quo.
Everyone wants to fix the student-loan program, but most reformers don't want to stem the flow of federal and private-loan money into college coffers. Like drug addicts, the universities must get their regular infusions of borrowed cash--even if they ruin their students' lives.
But if Congress would just strike the undue hardship language from the Bankruptcy Code, then student loans would be treated like any other consumer debt. That single change would allow distressed student debtors to get relief from onerous loans in the bankruptcy courts.
But nobody wants to do the obvious and straightforward thing. Most reformers just want to add elaborate, bureaucratic trappings to a con game that keeps the student-loan scam alive for a few more years.
But isn't it time for Americans to ask the question Brady Kincaid asked his philosopher brother: "What's the f-cking point?
|Redneck Brady, to his twin brother, Professor Bill: "What's the f-cking point?"
Prentiss Cox, Judith Fox, & Stacy Tutt. Forgotten Borrowers: Protecting Private Student Loan Borrowers Through State Law. 11 University of California-Irvine Law Review 43 (2020).