Bernie Sanders is racking up rallies on the West Coast this week, kicking off his Pacific jaunt with a rally for 20,000 Bernie-maniacs in Portland. Even though Bernie’s speech was ultimately to a very friendly audience of Portland artisanal craftspeople and alternative bookstore owners, it had to be enough to put Hillary Clinton on notice that she’s again being challenged by an upstart young whippersnapper with great grassroots potential.

I kid, obviously. About the whippersnapper part. Bernie tried to nationalize fire when his cave-mate discovered it.

At any rate, today Hillary Clinton is offering everyone a free college education, because desperate times call for desperate measures. She might be able to afford to lose Portland, but she can’t possibly be expected to lose all the youth she’s energizing with her pantsuits and her snapchats and her hip language.

Hillary Clinton is proposing an expansive program aimed at enabling students to attend public colleges and universities without taking on loans for tuition, her attempt to address a source of anxiety for American families while advancing one of the left’s most sweeping new ideas.

The plan—dubbed the “New College Compact” and estimated to cost $350 billion over 10 years—would fundamentally reshape the federal government’s role in higher education by offering new federal money, but with strings attached.

States would have to increase their own spending on higher education, and universities would be required to control spending, though the Democratic presidential front-runner hasn’t yet worked out details. Families still would be required to contribute, but students wouldn’t have to take out loans to attend public schools.

Forgive me for being blunt, but this might be the stupidest plan I’ve seen since the Tigers traded out their entire pitching staff midseason for a dude who lives in a van. I’m not just saying that because Hillary has very little cache on the issue – going up against Bernie Sanders who has waged the “free college” Quixotic crusade for decades – or because it’s blatant pandering. I’m saying it because it fundamentally misunderstands the student debt problem to begin with.

Yes, lots of people have borrowed lots of money, myself included. Occasionally, that money becomes difficult to pay back. And the cost of college is fundamentally out of whack with the economy, of course: as the supply of schools increases for students and demand for higher education decreases for colleges, it follows that higher education costs should go down and not up, even if the majority of the students attending those schools are getting useless degrees in midcentury French film.

But that’s not what’s happening – as the years go on, college gets more expensive and less necessary, and students are paying back scads of money to the federal government without an end in sight.

This is the fault of unrestricted student lending from the federal government, the kind Hillary wants to expand. Colleges know they can get any amount of money from students, and so, regularly raise their rates, thus asking for more money the government will undoubtedly approve. Students see no reason not to pay the higher prices, since those are akin to the going rates, and so take more and more money from the federal government and its licensed private lending corporations to pay colleges. As the federal government improves its lending program, colleges charge more, making the whole thing a vicious cycle, with students caught in the middle. The more the government lends, the more colleges charge, the more debt students are saddled with.

And to make matters worse, this is actually beneficial to the government. Student loan repayments are a more lucrative revenue stream for the federal government than income taxes. So the more they lend, the more the students pay back, the better the government does on its investment.

Hillary’s plan merely gives the money to the colleges directly. Thus, I suppose, it eliminates the middleman, but doesn’t make it any easier for college students to repay their massive loans or to get a quality education.

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