Under current law, the federal government will forgive some student loans if their recipients work in "public service." But what is "public service" really?
It's dispiriting, for anyone who cares about the sheer capacity of government to implement policy, to learn that the Department of Education has failed to process 99% of requests for student loan forgiveness submitted by some 1.2 million borrowers who believe they qualify for a discount program aimed at helping those engaged in public service jobs.
The report from the Government Accountability Office, based on its review of the Obama-era program, does not do much to instill more trust in government. But that's not the most important problem with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
The core idea — that government can know, by job description, what's a public service and what isn't — is itself flawed. Its fundamental problem: the assumption that only government or non-profit employment provides a public service. And it's part of a larger syndrome that's infecting private investment and even philanthropy: The idea that select causes have an inherent moral superiority that can be known in advance.
Howard Husock is vice president for research and publications at the Manhattan Institute and a City Journal contributing editor. He is writing a book on the history of social services in America, to be published by Encounter.