Vox (8/7/23) published a piece arguing that “the White House should admit that student debt forgiveness isn’t happening,” and instead make sure that borrowers are prepared for loan repayments to begin again in October. But it failed to disclose that the author is on the student loan industry’s payroll.
The Debt Collective, the nation’s first debtor’s union, noted on Twitter (8/7/23) that the author, Kevin Carey, works for a corporate-backed think tank funded in part by the student loan industry, and has worked to undermine student debt cancellation for over a decade.
As a result, Carey’s argument that cancellation is futile, and that the White House’s efforts should be focused on helping students restart payments and avoid delinquency, reeks of feigned sympathy. It calls to mind the white moderate from MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” who despite claiming to support the civil rights movement, “paternalistically” advised African Americans to wait for a “more convenient season” to achieve them.
Don’t Try To Cancel
Carey praises the White House’s new income-driven repayment plan, but claims that in order to connect these services with the millions of borrowers who may not know their payments have restarted, the Biden Administration must end its flirtation with cancellation, which he argues diverts focus and represents a “confused” communications strategy.
Making sure borrowers know what their repayment options are is a worthy cause, but at no point does Carey provide any real evidence that these two goals are incongruous. Instead, the article is riddled with phrases emphasizing the need for an “all-out effort” and “relentless focus,” seemingly hoping to convince the reader through repetition that trying to cancel student debt would be a hopeless distraction.
In reality, given the current circumstances, an “all-out effort” to help student borrowers would look more like what the Biden administration is doing, and what borrowers and advocates say they want, and less like what the creditor shill is asking for. Hence the multi-faceted approach.
Carey states that the Debt Collective is “actively discouraging their many followers from enrolling in repayment plans.” This is false. Instead, what advocates like the Debt Collective object to is taking tools off the table that help borrowers, like cancellation, especially given the rarity of an administration open to canceling student debt.
Obvious Conflict Of Interest
Carey is vice president of “education policy and knowledge management” at New America, and director of the think tank’s Education Center. The group is noted for its coziness with its corporate sponsors (Washingtonian, 6/24/18)–once firing a researcher, Barry Lynn, after he publicly criticized Google, a major donor. “We’re an organization that develops relationships with funders,” CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter told staffers by way of explaining his termination.
As the Debt Collective highlighted on Twitter, another one of New America’s funders is the ECMC Foundation, the nonprofit branch of the Educational Credit Management Corporation–a debt collector for the Education Department. Another funder is the Lumina Foundation, whose deep pockets originate from the student loan industry.
That Carey’s job is funded by corporations that stand to lose so much from Biden’s cancellation of federal student loans deserves a disclosure from Vox. Instead, the closest readers get is Casey noting that when asked for comment, a loan cancellation activist told him to “shill for student loan companies elsewhere”—followed by his ludicrous rebuttal that student loan companies “haven’t made federal student loans since 2010.”
This is perhaps supposed to absolve Carey of having a vested interest in payments restarting. But this is not the same as saying that these corporations don’t make money off these loans, which they do when they collect them. ECMC in particular has a well-documented history of using “ruthless” tactics for collecting loans (New York Times, 1/1/14; Mother Jones, 8/23).
It’s no surprise, then, that the main thrust of Carey’s argument, that the White House cannot walk and chew gum at the same time—that it can’t both help student borrowers avoid delinquency when payments restart in October and pursue its Plan B strategy to get debt cancellation through the Supreme Court—is exactly what ECMC and Lumina would be hoping for.
To not only neglect to disclose this obvious conflict of interest but to instead obfuscate and pretend it couldn’t exist—all in the name of preventing student borrowers from much needed relief—is a failure of the highest order. As the Debt Collective tweeted, “Kevin Carey knows who butters his bread, and he writes as ‘a student loan expert’ for Vox promoting the status quo.”
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