But in practice, you can’t follow these patients around and notify everyone they expose to risk. And though recklessly exposing others to harm may technically be a criminal offense, I don’t know that anyone in New York has been charged with it. The burden, ultimately, lies with everyone to do his or her best to maintain social distancing with the strangers with whom they share the streets. As with so many problems of this sort, our best option is simply the less bad one.
I’m an associate at a small media-and-entertainment law firm in New York. Though my family is not wealthy, they were able to contribute to my law-school tuition, and this, combined with odd jobs I did while in school, enabled me to graduate without much student debt. Three years later, I now have just over $10,000 in outstanding loans, which I could pay off by dipping into savings. However, I keep seeing headlines about President-elect Biden’s proposal to eliminate $10,000 of every American’s student-loan debt. Assuming this plan materializes, would it be wrong for me not to pay off my student loans and just wait until they’re canceled? If so, would it still be wrong if I donated some of the money I saved to support disadvantaged students? Sam, Brooklyn
That’s a big assumption. President-elect Biden’s plan, which involves using federal funds toward paying down private loans (the current administration has already introduced a temporary moratorium on the repayment of federal loans and suspension of interest on them), will presumably require legislation that the Senate may not agree to. But if the pledge indeed becomes a program, the first $10,000 in debt relief — which isn’t conditioned on the current income of the debtor — is meant to be part of a stimulus that will help deal with the economic effects of the pandemic. Given the stated objective, the fact that you don’t need the loan canceled doesn’t make it inappropriate to accept the offer, so long as it increases your spending on other things.
The way you talk about focusing your spending on the disadvantaged suggests that you will have somehow wronged them. This isn’t the case. It’s commendable to give money to good causes, but it would perhaps be more commendable if you did so not out of a misplaced sense of guilt but out of a sense of purpose. You should support these causes because you believe in them.
Of course, you may not want to participate in the loan-forgiveness program because you think this form of stimulus is wrong or just wrongheaded. Some people ask why the money isn’t being directed specifically to lower-income people, many of whom don’t have college student loans. Others ask whether the proposed program is fair to those who have already successfully struggled to pay off their loans. Still others argue that college education is a public good and therefore tuition debt is itself unfair, because college ought to be free. There’s an array of arguments here, trailing an array of empirical and ethical considerations. But the right way to respond to such issues isn’t to refuse to participate; it’s to engage in the public debate about what we should be doing with money that, in some sense, belongs to all of us.