Son: Dad, I registered to vote in my first election.
Dad: I’m proud of you. That’s a responsibility every citizen should take seriously.
Son: I registered as a Democrat.
Dad: A Democrat, not an independent. Interesting. That’s your first political choice. You know I don’t agree, so help me understand why you made that decision.
Son: I appreciate the support you’ve given me to help me pay for college, but the cost of my student loan will still be overwhelming if I go to graduate school. Hillary Clinton wants to make college at public universities free for those families making less than $120,000. There are too many students who get out of school with nothing but debt. With a free education, more people will be able to get better jobs and start their careers without debt. The Republicans are for people who’ve already made it. A free college education will help turn that around; it would give hope for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance.
Dad: Hope is important. So is personal responsibility. Let’s assume Hillary wins in November, and college education at public universities is made free. If it is free, will more citizens take advantage of that opportunity? Will more go or even go back to college?
Son: Of course, it’s free.
Dad: What happens to the cost of college education when more go back to college?
Son: Dad, it’s free.
Dad: There’s an economic truth worth remembering. The higher the demand for anything, the greater the cost. More colleges, teachers, classrooms, and residence halls would be needed to handle the increased number of students. The cost to students would be lower, but the cost to the government making education “free” would skyrocket. Just making government-backed student loans available increased the cost of education and the student debts that you now complain about. Everyone complained about the cost of healthcare when it went up 235 percent. Over that same period, the cost of college went up 450 percent. “Free” stuff isn’t free. Somebody pays.
Son: The rich can afford to pay more taxes.
Dad: The rich tend not to pay the lion’s share of taxes. Most income taxes are on those successful people who are becoming rich, not the rich. The rich don’t take income; they invest and let their money work for them. If a given state or country increases taxes on them, they have the resources to move their home or business to places that will take less. They have options. Most high income taxes hit those working hard to live their dream. People coming out of schools trying to apply their skills, start companies, work hard and save for their family’s future are the ones that high income taxes hit. Work hard to become successful earns higher taxes. Not working is rewarded with more free stuff.
Son: They shouldn’t be so selfish.
Dad: I think every citizen who works above a certain low income should pay the same flat tax. You shouldn’t be able to vote for candidates who can give you free stuff at the expense of other citizens. It seems to me that the people who want more free stuff that they haven’t earned are the selfish ones. But let’s go back to free college. If college is free, do you think students would take more or less time to get their degrees?
Son: Probably more time.
Dad: Sure. Why finish early and support myself when I can have government support my slow progress to adulthood and enjoy the party life college provides. Why not keep getting more degrees? It’s free.
Son: That’s a low view of students.
Dad: I’ve been a student. When I talked to my dad about going to graduate school, he gave me a tough love message: “I wanted you to go to college, and I’m proud of your achievements, but I never expected you to get carried away with this. The rest of your education is on you.” Nothing like paying the bill to change my behavior. With tuition going up 10 percent a year, my goal was clear—finish as fast as I could, and I did. Then I worked hard to pay off my student loans.
Son: You didn’t owe as much.
Dad: I worked hard and fast to keep that low. But one final observation: free education promotes frivolous degrees. When an education costs more, you look at what kind of a career your education will provide. The more you owe, the more serious your career goals. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to pay for a student getting a worthless degree.
Son: I could never vote for Trump.
Dad: Clinton and Trump are competing for the least trusted and least liked candidate award. But you’re not just voting for president. You’re voting for the party and principles you want to guide the country for the next four years. Your vote has consequences. Understanding those consequences is important to every voter. Let’s keep talking.