Student loans and the new dependent class

27 10 2011

To all those students burning the midnight oil for midterms, here’s something to help keep you awake at night: Student loans outstanding will exceed $1 trillion this year.

Back in April, I reported that student loan debt had surpassed national credit card debt and was set to hit the big $1 trillion before the end of 2011. Looks like student debt accumulators gave it the ol’ college try, and might beat the projections by a few months, leading to a renewed round of fretting about the “higher education bubble” and its impact on recent graduates hobbled by financial obligations.

No one can predict precisely when the bubble will burst, but at this rate, it won’t be long before the increase in costs to a firm hiring a college-educated worker will offset any supposed gains in productivity said worker might provide. It might begin to make sense to simply hire non-credentialed employees at lower rates and train them. Of course, this will only make it more difficult for indebted graduates to pay off their ever-growing debt load. Since student debt is virtually non-dischargable, it’s not immediately clear what impact failure to meet student loan obligations will have on credit markets – but it isn’t going to be pretty.

Amidst all of this, it’s no surprise student loan debt is one of the chief concerns of the economic illiterates at the Occupy protests. Rather than recognizing the proliferation of subsidized loans and grants as the rocket fuel that drives tuition (and thus, debt) ever higher, the young and indebted would prefer, predictably, loan forgiveness and increased subsidies.

A bizarre new segment of the electorate is beginning to take shape: a highly credentialed, deeply indebted class resentful towards the “corporate jobs” that allow them to pay their bills–a class eager and willing to support any politician that nods in their general direction and tantalizes them with the hope of student loan debt relief.

True to form, Obama is already vying for the votes of this disillusioned, credentialed elite with a completely ineffective student reform loan plan. The ineffectiveness is, of course, a feature and not a defect; one of the first rules of effective politicking is that it is better to offer the promise of relief every election cycle than to actually follow through and provide it.

Until the tuition bubble bursts, a college degree will continue to look less like a symbol of personal empowerment and ever more like a badge of membership to a new dependent class.


What I’ve been up to: Researching the Bank of England

22 10 2011

The past week of classes was both hellish and satisfying: hellish because I had to contend with multiple midterms, a paper, and multiple technological meltdowns (it all seems to go at once, doesn’t it?), but satisfying because I feel like actually learned something useful for once–at least if you consider knowing a lot about the Bank of England useful.

I think I need to do some field research. You know, to make sure I have my facts in order.

I’ve attached the paper below your erudition; my goal is to use this report, which I only had a few days to write, as a rough draft for a much longer piece critical of central banks with a focus on the funding of government war and welfare-state debt. I had a lot of fund doing some independent research (made possible by the stack of books loaned to me by University of Detroit Mercy’s Harry Veryser) and hope to do more work in this vein over the next few months.

Here’s the PDF: Financing Empire

Understanding the Cult of Paul

13 10 2011

A few weeks ago, I received a group email from a concerned conservative acquaintance. The subject: Texas Congressman and presidential hopeful Ron Paul’s comments on the causes of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the United States’ ongoing reaction.

Real hope for America?

My correspondent was shocked at Paul attribution of anti-American terrorist activity to a policy of military aggression and overseas “occupation.” In his mind, Paul was not merely attacking US military and diplomatic policy: he was criticizing American society and our way of life. He didn’t understand how Paul could consider himself a Republican, or for that matter, how anyone could support his presidential campaign.

I didn’t take the time to respond and explain that I am, in fact, a Ron Paul supporter; perhaps I should have set aside a few minutes to make my case. In any event, his comments made me take a moment to reflect on the Ron Paul movement–specifically how strange, contradictory, and even threatening it might appear to an establishment-aligned outsider. Read the rest of this entry »

In Which I Review Jennifer Granholm’s Book

12 10 2011

I was about halfway through former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s book, A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future, when I realized: I really need to find more interesting things to do with my Friday nights.

There are few reasons for a well-adjusted, sane individual to read a political memoir, no matter the author. But Granholm was an incredibly polarizing figure–a governor blamed for so many of the problems Michigan is still tackling, yet one still able to win a second term despite massive opposition.

A Governor’s Story, which Granholm coauthored with her husband Dan Mulhern, could have been a fascinating peek inside the mind of a woman who tried to steer Michigan away from the rocks in its darkest hour. It could have been a compendium of sage advice–a record of lessons learned the hard way, a cautionary tale for politicians and businessmen alike. It wasn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Steve Jobs and the beginning of the end of an era

5 10 2011

For anyone reading this, a personal computer isn’t likely a thing of wonder. At best, it’s an entertainment and communication portal; at worst, it’s a tool of drudgery, an efficiency-maximizing appliance.

But it didn’t used to be that way. Though I can scarcely remember a time when personal computers weren’t a part of daily life, it wasn’t long ago that that million-dollar mainframes with the computational capacity of a calculator were an individual’s sole point of contact with the digital world.

We can thanks the likes of Steve Jobs for incredible, lightning-fast transformation of the computer from an inaccessible monolith to an affordable, approachable consumer good. I’m not the best person to eulogize Jobs, and I’ll leave it up to others with a better grasp on technology to discuss his accomplishments or his storied involvement with Apple.

Instead, sitting here with my aging but reliable MacBook Pro on my lap, I can’t help but think of Jobs’ passing as a sort of bookend for a remarkable era – the era of digitization. Or rather, one of many bookends to come. Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and their fellow digital pioneers are still with us, but some day they too will join Ford, Edison, and now Jobs in the pantheon of innovators who have made our advanced way of life a reality.

Polarizing as Jobs could be, he was a genius, and the loss of a genius calls for reflection. As you read this on the screen of your computer or web-enabled portable device, pause for a moment and think of how far the contributions of one brilliant man – Steve Jobs – went towards making it all possible.

The Entitled 99 Percent

5 10 2011

I typically ignore popular protests, from animal rights activism to Westboro Baptist Church bigotry. They tend to be little more than futile acts of self-aggrandizement, easy to simply brush aside.

Not so with Occupy Wall Street. While many of the protesters’ premises are deeply misguided, the event as a whole has resonated quite profoundly with me because so many of the “occupiers” are arguably my peers: twentysomethings, in college or recently graduated, with uncertain futures.

Many are heavily in debt and have no marketable skills to speak of, but hold a dearly purchased liberal arts diploma which, they were assured, was to be their ticket to success.

They call themselves the 99 Percent –which means, in their minds at least, that they represent the non-kleptocratic American majority – and their state of affairs is undeniably tragic. But it doesn’t excuse their pervasive entitlement mentality, which is spreading like wildfire across my generation. Read the rest of this entry »

Call me Mister Six Million

4 10 2011

The last two hectic weekends have been fine examples of low-cost, high-value entertainment. I spent this past Saturday and Sunday in Chicago for the Students for Liberty Midwest Regional Conference (total cost to me: $20 plus whatever I ended up spending on Chicago’s overpriced booze). The week before that, I caught the season’s last Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course.

The weekend-long course, taught at Washtenaw Community College, cost a grand total of $25. That included an evening of classroom time followed by two days of hands-on motorcycle training and range riding. The instructors were approachable, helpful, and above all, patient. Read the rest of this entry »