Should we cancel student debt?

No.

Elizabeth Warren was in the news this week saying not only should we cancel student debt, we should do it by executive fiat.  Hmmmm.

First, as to cancelling student debt.  Not-exactly-the-Heritage-Foundation, but Brookings’ Adam Looney released an analysis on this last year on why this should be  problem for liberals:

Despite her best intentions and her description of the plan as progressive, a quick analysis finds the Warren proposal to be regressive, expensive, and full of uncertainties. As I show below, the top 20 percent of households receive about 27 percent of all annual savings, and the top 40 percent about 66 percent. The bottom 20 percent of borrowers by income get only 4 percent of the savings. Borrowers with advanced degrees represent 27 percent of borrowers, but would claim 37 percent of the annual benefit. [emphases mine]

It’s unclear in the proposal where our education system would go next if this proposal were adopted. While Senator Warren’s proposal offers “free college” at public institutions (another regressive element given 35 percent of public college students are from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution), millions of students will continue to borrow to attend private institutions, graduate and professional schools, and to cover living expenses while enrolled.[1] How can we sustain a system with open-ended borrowing and broadly available loan forgiveness?

The simple fact is that it’s hard to design a progressive and coherent loan relief policy. In one way, it’s like the subprime crisis: too many borrowers were fooled (or fooled themselves) into taking out speculative loans that were impossible to repay. But the vast majority of prime borrowers were responsible, made conservative choices, and continued to pay their loan obligations. We struggled then to differentiate the deserving from undeserving, responsible from irresponsible, and with the potential costs of widespread write-downs.

Debt relief for student loan borrowers, of course, only benefits those who have gone to college, and those who have gone to college generally fare much better in our economy than those who don’t. So any student-loan debt relief proposal needs first to confront a simple question: Why are those who went to college more deserving of aid than those who didn’t? More than 90 percent of children from the highest-income families have attended college by age 22 versus 35 percent from the lowest-income families.

As for the executive fiat part, Drum:

This is getting out of hand. When President Obama signed the DACA executive order, which defers deportation for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, he did so under the theory that immigration law gave an unusual amount of latitude to the executive branch. That was questionable, and it will eventually be decided by the courts, but at least it was a theory. Conversely, the notion that the executive can simply choose not to collect debt seems no more plausible than Donald Trump’s notion that he can withhold aid to Ukraine just because he feels like it.

For starters, no, this isn’t “just the same thing” as prosecutorial discretion. That’s a longstanding prerogative at all levels of government. Unilaterally canceling debt isn’t.

And while the power to create debt may include the power to cancel it, that’s not at issue here. The question is who gets to cancel it. Congress certainly can, but there’s no reason to think that the president can do it without clear statutory authority.

Finally, how far do we want to take this? Can President Trump eliminate the corporate income tax by simply directing the IRS not to collect it? Could President Sanders hand out loans to renewable energy companies and then turn them into outright grants by deciding not to collect them? Once we go down this road, there’s no telling where it stops.

Congress has the power to delegate broad authority to executive branch agencies, but while that power may be broad, it’s not infinite. It depends largely on the wording of the enabling statute. So the key question is the one at the end of the excerpt above: did Congress intend to give the education secretary power to cancel vast swaths of student debt unilaterally? I think we all know the answer to that.

Ugh.  As you know, I like Warren.  In large part because she is typically so thoughtful about public policy.  In a great Gist segment, I think Mike Pesca got to what really bothered me:

Elizabeth Warren’s brand has been I have a plan for that, but I always took the unstated premise to be I have a researched, considered, possibly tried and tested plan for that. This plan is not any of those things, not even much of a plan. It’s a salvo in a seemingly desperate one at that.

As for what policy steps to actually take?  Adam Looney is on that, too.

What really frustrates me as that I know Elizabeth Warren is too smart to truly think this is a good idea.  Or, if she has somehow motivated reasoned herself into thinking it is, I’ve got to question her judgment.  Now, I still think there’s an excellent case to be made for Warren as president and I would enthusiastically support her in the general election.  But, as for the best choice among the Democratic contenders, I really don’t know.  I want Booker back!

Quick hits

1) Jennifer Rubin, “Hillary Clinton is the most exonerated politician ever”

2) This Op-Ed from Peggy Orenstein on teen boys and sex is really, really good.  (I’m pretty sure I linked to her Atlantic piece last month).  I thought about just sending it to my 8th grader to read (I send him a fair amount of good stuff), but realized it would be a parental cop-out if I didn’t make these points myself.  I did– not that either of enjoyed it.  But I’m glad I did.

Yet that silence has troubling implications. According to a 2017 national survey of 3,000 high school students and young adults by the Making Caring Common Project, a large majority of boys never had a single conversation with their parents about, for instance, how to be sure that your partner “wants to be — and is comfortable — having sex with you,” or about what it meant to be a “a caring and respectful sexual partner.” About two-thirds had never heard from their parents that they shouldn’t have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent. Most had never been told by parents not to catcall girls or use degrading terms such as “bitches” or “hoes” — this despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of the girls in the survey reported having been sexually harassed.

3a) Tom Steyer has been talking up term limits.  Jon Bernstein on why they are a “terrible” idea.

He’s for Congressional term limits. That’s a solution in search of a problem. As the scholar of Congress Josh Huder notes, “65% of the Senate and 70% of the House have served 10 years or less.” Today’s Congress is historically weak, and one reason is the relatively short tenure of many members. As it is, short-timers allow themselves to be bossed around by experienced leaders or by the White House. That’s bad enough, but if experienced leaders were eliminated, Congress would find itself bossed by the White House and by large organized interest groups. That’s not just the logic of the situation; it’s also what political scientists who have studied term limits in state legislatures have found.

Politicians who want long careers in Congress tend to work hard to represent their constituents. Politicians who know they’ll be seeking a different job soon won’t have any incentive to care about the people who voted for them — and won’t develop the skills needed to represent them even if they want to try.

3b) Jamelle Bouie is on it, too:

It’s worth saying, to start, that the “problem” of long-serving lawmakers — the problem a term limit purports to solve — isn’t actually a problem at all. The congressional scholar Josh Huder notes that just 35 senators (and less than a third of the House) have served 10 years or more. Likewise, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, average tenure in the past two Congresses sat at roughly 10 years. Long-serving lawmakers are highly visible — often because they occupy key leadership roles — but they aren’t particularly common.

Not that this would be a problem, even if it were true. Time in office doesn’t inexorably lead to poor performance — just the reverse. It’s no coincidence that some of the most effective lawmakers in American history — architects of epochal bills like the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act — served for decades accumulating political and legislative expertise. And if voters want to reward an effective legislator or representative with more time in office, they should have that right. Forced retirement cuts against the idea that voters have an absolute right to choose their representatives.

If the goal of term limits is to bring new faces and fresh ideas to Washington, then the solution isn’t a blanket restriction on all lawmakers. The solution is more competition, to make it easier for interested people to run for office and win. There are ways to make that happen. Nonpartisan redistricting in all 50 states would break partisan gerrymandering and force incumbents to compete for votes. Public financing of campaigns would give challengers a fighting chance in a general election. And if part of the problem is low turnout, you can lower the barrier to voting and increase participation through universal registration and mail-in balloting.

4) What  it takes to hold your breath for 24 minutes (filling up on pure oxygen first, among other things).

5) David Hopkins on whether Democrats have a diversity problem:

But out in the mass Democratic Party, the pursuit of group interest is only sometimes channeled through supporting members of the group for elective office, and most citizens are resistant to—or even offended by—assumptions that they will or should line up behind a particular candidate simply because of shared social identity. Much has been made of Joe Biden’s success among black Democrats so far, persuasively explained as a combination of these voters’ collective ideological moderation, political pragmatism, and affection for Biden’s service under Barack Obama. But even the decidedly non-moderate and non-Obamaite Bernie Sanders was winning substantially more black support than Booker was before his withdrawal, just as Biden, Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren all easily outpolled Castro among Latino Democrats.

Mass-level Democratic voters of all races simply are not currently placing descriptive diversity above other priorities—defeating Donald Trump, achieving policy goals, ideologically recalibrating the party—to the same degree as the disproportionately audible voices of the journalistic and academic left. The historical milestone of Obama’s presidency has removed some urgency, at least in the short term, from efforts to elect another non-white candidate, and perceptions that women face a greater challenge than men in winning the presidency seem to have worked to the disadvantage of the female candidates in the 2020 race—perceptions that some feminist commentators have themselves unintentionally promoted. And the remaining Democratic field is not short on demographic diversity by traditional standards: Warren remains a leading contender, two major candidates are Jewish, and one is openly gay (it is, perhaps, a testament to the recent successes of the gay rights movement that much of the trendy left doesn’t celebrate Pete Buttigieg as a pathbreaking figure but instead mocks him as a square, co-opted incrementalist).

The demographic diversity of the 2020 presidential contenders in fact compares quite favorably to the larger officeholding class in American politics, where severe proportional discrepancies in social group representation remain rampant. (For example, Harris and Booker are two of only three black senators currently in office, and Patrick is one of only two elected black governors in the modern history of the nation.) On this issue, as on many others, the presidency receives excessive attention from American culture at the expense of the rest of the political system. But there is surely a distinction worth making between voters freely choosing across lines of group membership not to support a particular candidate or set of candidates in a large and wide-ranging field, as has occurred so far in 2020, and the more formidable social inequities in electoral politics that continue to shape the composition of the larger pool of political leadership in America.

6) Francis Wilkinson on Virginia and the NRA’s utter nonsense on guns:

The National Rifle Association, which has its headquarters in Virginia, and other gun-rights groups are rallying to fight the proposals, sometimes with a curious inattention to detail. Last month Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, and Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, released a 12-page letter to the people of Virginia. Over 12-single-spaced pages, they never quite get around to saying what those proposed regulations are — their broad outlines were debated in the campaign — or what makes them so awful. You will search the document in vain for the phrase “background check” or the word “silencer.”…

“Looking at a map of Virginia,” Pratt and Van Cleave wrote, “it becomes clear that only a few, geographically small, yet heavily populated, jurisdictions have declined to stand up against the current threats to the Virginia and United States Constitutions.” [emphases mine]

In other words, the “heavily populated” parts of Virginia do not have the same view of gun rights as the sparsely populated parts. And since the Virginia legislature was duly elected by popular vote, legislators will likely be more responsive to the interests of the majority than of the minority.

America is a representative democracy. But the gun lobby and other parts of the conservative coalition are increasingly skeptical of that. Armed with an all-purpose Constitution that means whatever they want it to mean, they seek to block popular government action.  

The Second Amendment sanctuaries emerging in Virginia and elsewhere may mark a burgeoning conservative counterculture. Contempt for the “geographically small, yet heavily populated” regions where most Americans reside is becoming a conservative tic. It’s the impetus behind those triumphal MAGA maps depicting countless hectares of American forest, farm and pasture in bold Republican red, while little enclaves such as Brooklyn, with a higher population than 15 states, are dismissed with a tiny blotch of blue.

Densely populated America, in other words, is not real America, and opposing real America is by definition unconstitutional. What the gun sanctuary movement is seeking is not protection from government overreach, but from democracy.

7) I just hate stuff like this, “Fox News goes to desperate lengths to gin up outrage over clip of Vince Vaughn chatting with Trump”  It’s bad enough that some would want to “cancel” Vaughn for talking with the president without Fox News basically pretending there was some widespread liberal reaction that wasn’t actually there.

8) Teaching middle-school sex education in the age of consent.  I’ll be curious to see what my 8th grader gets next semester (so far, it’s been pretty much biology, I think).

9) If 47 is really the most miserable age I’m doing awesome.  (Though, it’s 47.2 and I’m 47.9).

10) Trump’s absurd impeachment defense team (good Lord, is their any more embarrassing hack then Ken Starr?!) recruited from Fox News, of course:

What does this all-star team have in common? Between them, these four have appeared on Fox News over 350 times in the past year, according to Media Matters for America. Which no doubt left Jeanine Pirro asking why she didn’t make the cut.

11) Really liked Anand Giridharadas review of Michael Lind’s entirely class-based (and in some pretty bizarre ways) analysis of Trump’s populism:

Look, writing a book about Trump-era populism without a lens of racial awareness must be hard. Here’s how Lind describes political correctness, for instance: “the artificial dialect devised by leftist activists and spread by university and corporate bureaucrats that serves as a class marker distinguishing the college-educated from the vulgar majority below them.” In this framing, all the new awarenesses and sensitivities and humilities — for which I am profoundly thankful, since these days I’m much less often asked where I’m really from or told my English is impressive (thanks, they teach us well in Ohio!) — are just a ploy by leftists to hold white working-class people down. This understanding portrays the victims as the white working class, and the oppressors as those students who no longer wish to be called “faggots” and secretaries tired of being “sweetie.” I, for one, am grateful for all the thinking and doing that have changed how Americans navigate one another’s identities, and I do not have the luxury of dismissing the improvement in the dignity I am accorded daily as an “artificial dialect.”

Now, if you are going to present Trump as the receptacle of the cries of the unheard, you will need to funhouse-mirror him beyond recognition. Lind is on it. He takes the quintessential racist moment of Trump’s presidency — his famous comments on Charlottesville — and defends them: “Phrases from his remarks were taken out of context, recombined and misconstrued so they could fit into the Trump-is-Hitler narrative.” He also dismisses concerns about Russia’s role in the 2016 election as “mythological thinking.” “Liberal democracy in the West today is not endangered by Russian machinations or resurgent fascism,” Lind writes, describing a world I would love to live in. In fact, get this: Lind believes the “paranoid demonological thinking” represented by worries about Russia and fascism “has the potential to be a greater danger to liberal democracy in the West than any particular populist movements.”…

12) I really enjoy reading contemporary historical takes on Johnson’s impeachment as I got it so wrong in my AP US History paper in 11th grade based almost entirely upon sources which were basically by confederate apologists.  Unsurprisingly, Mike Pence’s history is still in the 1980’s:

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Vice President Mike Pence urging Senate Democrats to follow the example of Edmund G. Ross, who “bucked his party and voted to acquit Andrew Johnson.” Pence praised Ross, who served as a Republican senator during Johnson’s presidency, for resisting “pressure” from his party and staying “true to his own convictions” to “render a fair judgment.” He favorably cites John F. Kennedy’s 1956 book Profiles in Courage, which depicts Ross who resisted “legislative mob rule” and “partisan impeachment.” The vice president draws parallels between Johnson and Donald Trump, asking, “Who, among the Senate Democrats, will stand up to the passions of their party this time?”

Pence’s op-ed is profoundly ahistorical, inaccurate, and oddly reliant upon a view of Johnson promoted by the Ku Klux Klan during its resurgence in the early 20th century. Far from a principled independent, Ross was an unscrupulous politician who exploited his impeachment vote to obtain favors from the president and may well have been bribed to acquit. Historian Brenda Wineapple’s extraordinary book The Impeachers, published in 2019, details the true story of Ross’ corrupt bargain to save Johnson’s catastrophic presidency. We spoke on Friday about the many errors in Pence’s op-ed. Our interview has been edited for length.

13) On the practical value of a liberal arts education:

A study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce finds that over the course of a career, a liberal arts education is remarkably practical, providing a median return on investment 40 years after enrollment that approaches $1 million. The results, searchable and sortable by institution, were released Tuesday…

The Georgetown study finds that the return on a liberal arts education is not typically immediate — at 10 years, the median return is $62,000 — but over the decades of a career, it is solid. Only doctoral universities with the two highest levels of research activity, well-known institutions such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fared better in the school’s estimated return on investment. The median 40-year return of $918,000 at liberal arts colleges is more than 25 percent higher than the median for all colleges, researchers found.

Over a long period, the ideal preparation includes education in a field linked to a career, such as engineering, with the addition of general education that allows a person to be flexible and draw on a wealth of knowledge, according to Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the education and workforce center at Georgetown.

14) This is cool on many levels– living concrete:

For centuries, builders have been making concrete roughly the same way: by mixing hard materials like sand with various binders, and hoping it stays fixed and rigid for a long time to come.

Now, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has created a rather different kind of concrete — one that is alive and can even reproduce.

Minerals in the new material are deposited not by chemistry but by cyanobacteria, a common class of microbes that capture energy through photosynthesis. The photosynthetic process absorbs carbon dioxide, in stark contrast to the production of regular concrete, which spews huge amounts of that greenhouse gas…

The blocks also have the advantage of being made from a variety of common materials. Most concrete requires virgin sand that comes from rivers, lakes and oceans, which is running short worldwide, largely because of the enormous demand for concrete. The new living material is not so picky. “We’re not pigeonholed into using some particular kind of sand,” Dr. Srubar said. “We could use waste materials like ground glass or recycled concrete.”

The research team is working to make the material more practical by making the concrete stronger; increasing the bacteria’s resistance to dehydration; reconfiguring the materials so they can be flat-packed and easily assembled, like slabs of drywall; and finding a different kind of cyanobacteria that doesn’t require the addition of a gel.

Eventually, Dr. Srubar said, the tools of synthetic biology could dramatically expand the realm of possibilities: for instance, building materials that can detect and respond to toxic chemicals, or that light up to reveal structural damage. Living concrete might help in environments harsher than even the driest deserts: other planets, like Mars.

15) Nature shows are all the rage (and the Greene family is on-board).  I love that I shared watching National Geographic specials, etc., with my mom when I was a kid and now I’m watching David Attenborough with my kids.

16) Interesting, revisionist take on the 100th anniversary of Prohibition:

In reality, the temperance movement was anything but pinky-raising Victorians forbidding society to drink. Temperance was the longest-running, most widely supported social movement in both American and global history. Its foe wasn’t the drink in the bottle or the drunk who drank it, but the drink traffic: powerful business interests — protected by a government reliant on liquor taxes — getting men addicted to booze, and then profiting handsomely by bleeding them and their families dry.

In the 19th century, saloonkeepers across the United States and around the world were seen as parasites on the local community. This wasn’t Ted Danson, the friendly bartender in “Cheers!” There was no sending home a customer for having too much; that was lost profit. And since the saloonkeeper was often also the town pawnbroker, once you had drunk up your last penny, he might take your shirt, hat and watch too — if his hired pickpockets didn’t pinch them first.

Since fleecing customers was often illegal, the saloonkeeper’s profits paid kickbacks to the police, judges and mayor. Pop histories describe the saloon as a “symbol” — of masculinity, of drunkenness, of social ills. But the saloon wasn’t the symbol of some other problem; it was the problem itself.

This is why the powerful prohibitionist organization was called the Anti-Saloon League, not the Anti-Drinking Society. This is why neither the 18th Amendment nor state-level prohibitions ever outlawed drinking alcohol, but instead focused on its sale. It wasn’t taking a drink every now and then that got reformers’ hackles up; it was the idea of the rich getting richer by making the poor poorer through addiction.

One legislator called for prohibition “for the safety and redemption of the people from the social, political and moral curse of the saloon.” That zealot was Abraham Lincoln, rising to support Illinois’s statewide prohibition in 1855. Similar sentiments were expressed by Frederick Douglass, Theodore Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, William Jennings Bryan, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many other progressive leaders.

Our inability to comprehend the past comes from taking current worldviews and projecting them backward. And the fact that Prohibition largely failed at the national level, and was later repealed, doesn’t mean that its proponents were crackpots or radicals.

17) The short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall sounds interesting and provocative.  A shame that the publisher ultimately had to remove it

At the beginning of this year, the science fiction and fantasy magazine Clarkesworld published a short story called “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall. The story, which appears to be Fall’s debut, follows the first “somatic female” to undergo “tactical-role gender reassignment” surgery. She becomes, more or less literally, an Army helicopter. “When I was a woman I wanted my skin to be as smooth and dark as the sintered stone countertop in our kitchen,” the narrator says. “Now my skin is boron-carbide and Kevlar.” The experience of the narrator seemed to reflect the real-world struggles of transitioning. “Severe gender dysphoria,” Fall writes, “can be a flight risk.” The story took the offensive meme, slapped some rotors on it, and flew away to surprising places.

Responses were vehement. Readers who liked it saw an author being intentionally subversive. “I expected the worst when I saw the title,” wrote Reddit user Terminus0. “But I like how it leans into and treats seriously the saying … that people use to dismiss gender fluidity and makes it literal.” Most others in the thread agreed, saying they found the piece gripping, pleasantly surprising, or reminiscent of erotic sci-fi’s preeminent provocateur, Chuck Tingle. “I have been talking for days to everyone I meet about ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,’” @hoverpope tweeted. “It was immediately canonized for me.” Other celebrators of the work included noted author Carmen Maria Machado, who praised the story’s messy boldness. She also called out the critics—of which there seemed to be just as many. “My heart is so crushed and my brain is so angry,” Machado tweeted.

18) I’ll watch pretty much anything from Aardman animation.  And especially if it’s short and for a good cause like saving the oceans.

19) If you haven’t seen this from Buzzfeed, it really is amazing, “Here Are 20 Headlines Comparing Meghan Markle To Kate Middleton That May Show Why She And Prince Harry Are Cutting Off Royal Reporters”

 

 

 

 

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