Paid for something, but others get for free - legit grounds for grievance?

Back when Elizabeth Warren was still a candidate in the running, one of her most-touted campaign platforms was a promise to forgive college student debt for millions of such debtors.

This, naturally, led to a backlash when people argued that this wasn’t fair to those who had scrimped and saved for years to pay off their college loans, only to see others get their debts erased for free by a President Warren (thus meaning that all of that scrimping and saving went for naught.)

One father angrily confronted Warren at a campaign event, "“My daughter’s getting out of school, I saved all my money, she doesn’t have any student loans…Am I going to get my money back?” (Warren replied, “Of course not.”) “You’re going to pay for people who didn’t save any money and those of us that did the right thing get screwed.”

My point isn’t to focus on college debt, per se (I don’t want this to turn into a thread about the merits or demerits of student loans,) but rather, a broader question: **Has someone really been “screwed” if they worked to obtain something, but others get it for free? **In both cases, they end up with the same outcome, it’s just that one had to work harder to get there.

Suppose that Billy really wants a Mercedes, and so he scrimps and saves and puts aside money for years to get a Mercedes. But then, after buying his dream car, his employer suddenly announces that all employees are going to be gifted a Mercedes for free - but then tells Billy, “Sorry, you already possess a Mercedes, so you won’t be eligible.” Is Billy justified in feeling screwed, or should he just focus on the fact that “we’re all equal because we all now have a Mercedes?”

Edit: Can’t change my title now, but I mean “legit reason to feel aggrieved” (the thread title might make people think *legal *grievance)

Well, Jesus said not, for what that’s worth:

I don’t think a spiritual analogy about Heaven is suited for a discussion about finances on Earth.

A real-life boss who paid his employees $100 per day regardless of whether employees worked one hour or ten would go out of business pretty much overnight (in America, at least.)

Heh, I thought this thread would be about GTA5.

But regarding college tuition, I do think that sounds unfair. It might be a better idea to require some community service in return for the loan forgiveness, like some towns do with medical school grads.

Not sure why you think America is special in this regard. Considering you’ve got some of the worst employee protection laws in the Western World.

I guess another viewpoint might be, do you maintain an awful, financially crippling system just because some people may miss out on the benefit of the change?

I don’t see where the Man said any workers were getting something for free. It looks to me like in-demand labor in a crunch getting higher pay!

In answer to the OP; no.

There’s a lot of unfairness in the world, a lot of hardship. And we as a society, try to address these things. We try to make things a little better for the next generation.

It’s only a minor thing by comparison, but when I did my A levels in the UK, my single-parent family could not afford the official textbooks. I had a weekend job, but it was a long time before I could afford them, and it did negatively affect my studies.
Then, a couple years later, the government created an allowance for buying educational materials.
And, of course, I don’t begrudge the next generation for having that. We saw a problem, and we fixed it; that’s what’s supposed to happen.

Wanting the next generation to struggle…it would be like insisting a new miraculous painkiller must be banned because everyone must experience severe pain.

Isn’t this the free school lunch problem all over again? Where the school lets poor kids run up lunch debt and don’t press them to pay, so the ‘not poor’ families stop paying their kid’s lunch debts, and soon, it’s in the news when the school threatens the kids can’t graduate if their debt isn’t paid. As I recall, it was such a mess it took a philanthropist to pay ALL the debt as the only solution! While it occasionally crops up elsewhere, it does seem to happen a lot in America.

The issue here is difficult to nail down because it comes from an abstract concept: fairness. And by that, I mean the evolved principle, not anything philosophical or theory-derived.

Almost every social mammal has this notion, and it applies to almost every interaction involving groups. What it actually means varies so wildly between individuals that it might not even have a concrete definition, but doing something like this is going to trip fairness circuits across the board. Same input, wildly different output. We can argue philosophical positions until we’re all long dead, nothing is going to override that instinctual reaction.

The only solution I can see that doesn’t trip this outright is not to pay currently existing student debts, but to pay people for retroactively having attended or currently attending college. So all college graduates get a refund whether they had loans or not, and current/future graduates don’t have to pay. Otherwise, a huge swath of the population goes apeshit.

The title of the thread is pretty misleading as it seems to imply that these two situations are happening simultaneously, which is also true in the silly (but cute) Capuchin experiment. Yes, that would be unfair. Warren proposes that everyone is treated fairly, but she isn’t willing to make the plan retroactive. She is simply trying to fix a problem that she thinks should have already been taken care of, but never was. Completely different and fine by me, even though I don’t personally benefit from it.

I’m betting those who are railing against her don’t fight tax cuts even though people in the past would have then had a higher tax burden.

Of course it’s not fair. But that’s not the question we should be asking. We should be asking, not whether it’s fair, but whether it’s just. And there is no injustice in this situation, and considerable injustice in the situation it’s attempting to replace.

That seems a rather glib way to dismiss the teachings of Jesus. A Christian would argue that the spiritual ways of Heaven are exactly how we should structure our dealings here on Earth.

I don’t know your religious beliefs, but…almost no Christians argue for that. For instance, in Heaven there is no need to take safety precautions, since there is no danger. Just about no Christians would argue that we no longer need to lock our house/car doors while here on Earth, or that we don’t need healthcare, or law enforcement.

Agree, and this is one of the problems with politicians talking about how they promote “fairness” or “equality.” Such words mean so maddeningly different things to everyone that it’s impossible to get everyone on the same page.

I think that, to some people, their definition of “fairness” is focused more on the end result than how one got there. So if Susie gets an A+ on her exam by working hard and answering all of the test questions correctly, but the teacher issues a freebie A+ to all other students who are now not even required to take the test at all, then Susie shouldn’t complain because she still has an A+ like everyone else. Etc. etc.

How about people who use this board and post here A LOT, but refuse to the modest *voluntary *annual fee and even get angry at the suggestion that they should pay something?

Not to delve too deeply into the minutae of the Straight Dope (more of an ATMB topic) but isn’t it the case that paying Dopers get certain perks that non-paying Dopers don’t?

I don’t see ads now, which is why I paid to begin with.

I don’t know, seems like we could never make any progress if we strictly adhered to some idea of “fairness.”

Would it be “unfair” to all those who went into bankruptcy because of medical debt if we passed a really good national health insurance program tomorrow, so that nobody would ever have to worry about medical bills again? Obviously there would be some who, say, got hit by a bus the week after the law went into effect, so that they wouldn’t have contribute financially (by way of taxation) to the program. Would it be “unfair” to treat them at no significant cost to the patient because some other dude got hit by a bus a year ago and went bankrupt trying to keep up with the bills?

Was it “unfair” to previous generations to pass Social Security, when so many in the past got nothing?

I think we have to put the idea of “unfairness” out of the discussion altogether. It simply boils down to “I didn’t get this [free education/health care/retirement/whatever] so nobody should.”

No, it’s not legitimate grounds for grievance.

In fact, the whole idea of “grievance” is another thing we have to toss. It’s a big part of how we got where we are now.

Yes, we should still lock our doors, because we don’t live in Heaven. But we should still strive to make this world into one where we don’t need to lock our doors.