Friday, December 13, 2019

When Betsy DeVos Tells You Who She Is, Listen

Yesterday, Erica Green did a masterful job of covering Betsy DeVos's appearance before the House Education Committee to defend her continued efforts to resist any sort of debt relief for students bilked by for-profit schools. The New York Times article isn't accessible to everybody, and that's too bad, because the hearings are a perfect little picture of what values drive DeVos through her work at USED. Green has caught some key quotes that let DeVos tell us who she is. We should listen.

Because DeVos is rich, folks often accuse her of being greedy. I don't think that's true-- past a certain point, money stops being about greed-based utilitarian acquisition of stuff, but about keeping score in other sorts of games. Because DeVos often makes statements that don't make sense from a particular point of view, folks often accuse her of being dumb. I don't think that's true, either.

Here's an absolutely DeVosian quote from the proceedings:

I understand that some of you here just want to have blanket forgiveness for anyone who raises their hand and files a claim, but that simply is not right.

Ah yes-- the smirk.
This is DeVos-- she knows what's right, and she's going to stand up for it. And's what is right is that Those People shouldn't be able to get away with not paying their debts. Those People should not be allowed to stiff their Betters. Because you know that Those People are probably lying about how badly they were hurt, anyway, because Those People are always trying to get things they don't deserve. This "anyone who raises their hand and files a claim" characterization that DeVos has been using is such a flip way to dismiss the damage done by for-profit collges, an d here it matters what DeVos doesn't say-- she doesn't say that there are people out there who played by the rules, tried to bootstrap themselves to a better life through education, and got fleeced, and we should provide those people some real relief. She has never seriously acknowledged that harm.

But that takes us to the other DeVosian value that's on display here.

Ms. DeVos maintained that it was “probably the case” that Corinthian Colleges deceived students, but she also said she believed that the “prior administration basically forced schools like Corinthian out of business” with onerous financial restrictions. She rebuffed questions about an investigation by career staff, unveiled in January 2017 memos published by NPR on Wednesday, that concluded that Corinthian students deserved full loan forgiveness because they received no educational benefit.

Businesses fleecing customers is not outrageous. What's outrageous is government interfering with the operations and practices of businesses. There is an extra layer of irony here-- the Obama administration actually was pretty damn slow to take any useful action against Corinthian, and even helped bail them out for a time, and any good Obama-bashing Trumpian might hammer that point home, but DeVos can't see that because for her there is no greater sin than interfering with the operation of a business.

She's made variations of that point again and again, all the way back to the confirmation hearing when she couldn't imagine any misbehavior that would prompt her, as a government official, to step in and say "Stop!" Businesses matter more than people.

It seems at first like a contradiction for her to use rhetoric claiming that choice is all about parenmts and students and families, because what she means by "choice" and "freedom" is that private businesses must have open and unrestricted access to the education market, but I believe that unlike most of the bullshit artists and grifters in this administration, DeVos is a true believer, who really and truly believes that the way to make this country great is to let private businesses roam free and unfettered.

“I don’t agree with that narrative,” she said. “I think there are many students that received a valuable education, just like they do from many other institutions. The question is what students among them were financially harmed.”

"I don't agree with that narrative" is DeVos's nod to this world, a world that she is, in Christian parlance, "in and not of." I get it, she says. You unwashed Godless Lessers like to tell yourselves little stories about things, but I see with God's own eyes, and your made-up stories don't move me.

DeVos is what you get when you combine unmovable righteousness with a belief that the invisible hand of the free market is, in fact, God's hand. If Those People deserved to be rich, well, then, they would be. And if they did not exercise enough care to avoid being fleeced, well, that's their character deficiency, and trying to get the government to change that outcome is to interfere with the natural moral order of the world. No wonder she signed off on loan forgiveness "with extreme displeasure."

It is no wonder that the new DeVos loan forgiveness rules are going to make almost nobody eligible for relief. Watch this clip to understand just how bad the new rules are. These rules essentially argue that if you end up just as poor as you were probably going to be anyway, then no harm has been done and you aren't entitled to a refund. But they are perfectly in keeping with the DeVosian view: Those People should pay the price for their own inadequacies. Taxpayers should not pay a monetary price, and businesses should not pay a regulatory price.

This is why Education Freedom tax credits are the dream-- businesses and rich folks get to fund their favorite private school instead of paying taxes, and those private schools are still free to operate as they wish. Some of Those People may get a choice of school, and those that don't probably don't deserve one. And if some of them use their Education Freedom Bux at a predatory, con job of a school, well, that was your choice and your problem.


  1. Thank you for your writing. Good stuff. One small typo in the penultimate paragraph. Pretty sure 'oor' should be 'poor'.

    Keep up the great work. :)

  2. Devos before the Great White Throne: When Lord? When did I see you saddled under unbearable debt that blighted your life? When did I see you defrauded by a profit-grubbing school that gave you no education? When did I fail to show compassion toward you?

    For those missing the reference, the Lord will reply: When you failed to do it for the least of people, you failed to do it for me.