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When people debate whether to forgive some or all of the $1.75 trillion in student debt weighing on millions of American families, opponents often argue that it would be wasteful and unfair: Too many relatively well-off, well-educated people would benefit at the expense of all taxpayers, many of whom never had the desire or opportunity to attend college.

Reasonable as this might sound, it’s the wrong way to think about a policy that could actually do a lot of good, for both individuals and the broader economy. It relies on a misleading concept of who counts as rich and ignores the extent to which the debt itself is a manifestation of unfairness.

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