Posts tagged with: debt

Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research and author of the book “Becoming Europe“, says one of America’s real debt dangers is our increasing sense of entitlement from the government. In today’s Investor’s Business Daily editorial, Gregg states our “insatiable appetites” are getting us into the very deep economic trouble that no one, least of all politicians, seems to want to face:

…Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker famously lamented in 2007: “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”

It’s tempting to see this as a peculiarly Western European problem. This is after all a continent in which even many nominally center-right governments’ default positions are essentially social democratic: i.e., extensive government intervention is simply considered normal.

But can anyone seriously deny that many American politicians — including some conservatives — play this game? Or that millions of Americans from all backgrounds have developed absurd expectations of what government “owes” them in economic terms?

And I’m not just talking about those who apparently regard any streamlining of social security as tantamount to homicide. I’m also referring to those businesses who think they’re entitled to receive corporate welfare instead of competing in the marketplace.

Gregg’s recommended remedy? “To put it bluntly, we need to accept that our participation in democracy cannot degenerate into voting for whoever promises us the most stuff.”

In today’s culture, there is always an abundance of news stories about the “War on Christmas.” In my commentary this week, I address that concern and the lack of understanding of the deeper meaning of Christmas. Here’s a highlight:

Every December cultural warriors mourn the incessant attacks on Christmas and secularism’s rise in society. News headlines carry stories of modern day Herods banning nativity scenes, religious performances, and even the word “Christmas.” Just as a majority of young people profess they will have less prosperity and opportunity than their parents, many people now expect less out of Christmas. Continual bickering over holiday messaging in corporate advertising itself points to a shrinking and limited Christmas.

Yet these problems are signs on the way to important truths, if we have the eyes to see. Record spending and debt, whether in Washington or the home, allude to a society trying to fill an emptiness of the heart. Even our disappointment in poor leadership in America reminds us that we crave a true King and are expectant of a greater day.

In 2010, I penned a related essay “Why the Nativity?” That post delves even deeper into the theology of the incarnation and the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Christmas is a hard time for many people because expectations for joy and changes in their life are so high. In my own life, I count myself among those that have had a difficult time at Christmas because I’m so reflective and I realize life isn’t always how I want it.

There is a sign in front of the church that I attend that reads, “Jesus is all you want, if Jesus is all you have.” I find that the more I deeply ponder the incarnation of Christ, the more I am amazed and my heart is transformed.

I quoted Charles Wesley in my commentary in where he called Christ the “desire of every nation,” and “joy of every longing heart.” The hymn is of course, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” The words are beautiful and I’ve always loved Wesley’s hymns because they deal with the deepest hopes of the heart and he personalizes the person of Christ for all.

Pin not actual size.

I commented last week on the “textbook bubble” (here) and have commented in the past on the “higher-ed bubble” and the character of American education more generally (see here, here, and here). To briefly summarize, over the last few decades the quality of higher education has diminished while the cost and the number of people receiving college degrees has increased. The cost is being paid for, in large part, through government subsidized loans. But with the drop in quality and increase in quantity, a college degree is not as impressive as it used to be; in many cases it no longer signals to employers what it used to. When a critical mass of those loans goes into default, we will have another housing-bubble-esque crisis on our hands. At the same time, government loans, which are largely indiscriminate with regard to the risk of the applicant and guaranteed on the backs of taxpayers, have incentivized colleges and universities to raise the costs to students for the sake of increased expenditures, inflating the bubble even more. Now, Alex Williams of The New Times reports last Friday,

The idea that a college diploma is an all-but-mandatory ticket to a successful career is showing fissures. Feeling squeezed by a sagging job market and mounting student debt, a groundswell of university-age heretics are pledging allegiance to new groups like UnCollege, dedicated to “hacking” higher education. Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

An increasing number of students are realizing that they, to quote Good Will Hunting, do not want to be $150,000 in debt for an education that they could have gotten “for a $1.50 in late charges at the public library.” (more…)

Over at Think Christian I take a look at the looming fiscal “cliff,” which we are being told from every conceivable quarter represents a significant danger to America’s fragile economic recovery:

But apart from the numbers themselves, the framing of the issue by politicians and pundits ought to give us pause. The idea that returning deficit spending to 2008 levels represents a “cliff” is not just political hyperbole. It reveals something deeply broken about not only our political system, but even more of our cultural expectations. As long as we continue to expect politicians to deliver programs and policies that are not sustainable, they will continue to promise them, and what is perhaps even worse, they will continue to try to make good on them, no matter the cost to current and future generations.

Today over at CNN Money, Paul R. La Monica tries to rein in some of the hype (HT: The Transom):

Yes, we all have the fiscal cliff on the brain. Wall Street is anxious. CEOs and labor leaders have headed to Washington to try and convince President Obama that the consequences of falling over the fiscal cliff would be dire. But is the fiscal cliff panic just a wee bit overdone?

La Monica’s answer isn’t an unqualified “yes,” but his piece does give some insights as to some of the political reasons for exaggerating the potential impact of sequestration.

The first presidential election I remember was the Ronald Reagan – Walter Mondale race in 1984. My kindergarten class in the Philadelphia suburbs held a mock vote that Reagan overwhelmingly won. It of course reflected the way our parents were voting. I can remember at the age of five, John Glenn was one of the Democrat candidates seeking the nomination and I knew he was a famous astronaut. The truth is, I’ve always been fascinated by presidential elections and Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms by Ed Rollins and Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater by John Brady are two political books that deeply influenced my thought. Both books remain relevant and offer valuable lessons today.

Frank Hill, who directs The Institute for the Public Trust, has a solid post discussing Robert Kennedy, self-government, and tomorrow’s election. Hill quotes Lord Acton in his essay as well. He cites Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation Address” in South Africa in 1966. It was a striking address, touching on the universal truths recognized by the West. Below is a great line from Kennedy’s speech that day:

At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.

Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign and Ronald Reagan’s 1976 campaign are probably the two campaigns that offer the most mystique and magic for liberals and conservatives. One campaign ended with a tragic assassination and the other left conservative activists heartbroken by a narrow defeat. Both candidates were treated to adoring fans and followers and shook up the political landscape. While they represented different ends of the political spectrum, they were both visionary presidential campaigns. Those two campaigns caused a lot of young people to get excited not just about politics or power but deeper ideas about government and the human person.

Tomorrow is a big election. We’ve rightfully placed a heavy emphasis on the limits of politics here at the Acton Institute. Politics will not solve the deeper issues and problems facing this nation. The topic was the overarching theme of Rev. Robert Sirico’s 2012 Annual Dinner address. Jordan Ballor and I hosted an Acton on Tap addressing that very question in 2010. But elections and politics are important and serve a purpose. There are clear philosophical differences between the candidates and the peaceful transition of power reflects well on the foundations of our country.

At Acton we’ve always tried to raise the discourse and talk about higher truths. In a country that now faces crippling debt, moral chaos, and threats to religious freedom, we would be wise to draw upon some words James Madison used to close a letter he penned to a friend in 1774. Madison, concerned about persecuted Baptists in Virginia wrote, “So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty and Conscience to revive among us.” I would think most of our readers would agree and wish that much would be so.

From a purely political standpoint last night’s Vice Presidential Debate was probably a victory for both candidates. Vice President Joe Biden fired up his base with his aggressive and somewhat dismissive behavior towards Congressman Paul Ryan. Ryan of course did nothing to hurt Romney and showed he is prepared to be president in an emergency.

Ultimately, the Vice Presidential Debate matters little to nothing in terms of outcome, and that’s why these two were probably in a better position to sit down together and have a candid and civil conversation about the economic and spending crisis this nation faces. It was not to be of course. And it’s probably too much to expect given the nature of the budgetary wars between the Republican Congress and the White House over the last two years. So much of the spending fight had already exhausted itself between these two behind the scenes in Washington.

Save for Ryan’s defense of a plan for cautious entitlement reform, much of the domestic argument came down to which team is better equipped to manage the bureaucracy. The federal government has now doubled in size from just over a decade ago. And it has funded that expansion all through borrowed money. We’ve spent $2 trillion on education at the federal level alone with no marked improvement, only educational decline. Greater urgency and details are needed from our leaders on how they are going to cut and limit federal spending. Everybody knows gutting subsidies to PBS won’t cut it.

Catholics can address the abortion question as it relates to Catholic Social Teaching and who is the serious thinker about their faith, but I also feel there was a real opportunity by both candidates last night to speak less politically about the debt and take moral leadership on an issue. Our spending problem is a visible sign of America’s holistic decline when it comes to our historic strong moral values, strong work ethic, and moral courage. Rev. Robert Sirico has said, “When one generation borrows what cannot be expected to be paid in the next generation, such a civilization is at a crossroads.” We need our leaders to embody those words or we need to replace them.

Blog author: jwitt
posted by on Monday, August 20, 2012

Some proponents of limited government understandably yearn to see Mitt Romney’s recently announced running mate, Paul Ryan, as something like the pure intellectual descendent of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Some on the left, meanwhile, will be tempted to portray him as a heartless monster who only wants to enrich the 1 percent. Paul Ryan the politician is more complex than either portrait. Far from throwing granny under the bus, his efforts at budget reform are an essential step in saving Social Security and Medicare, along with improving the long-term fiscal health of the nation. On the other hand, and although his American Conservative Union score is a solid 91.69, he did vote for TARP, the bank bailout, and the auto bailout–government intrusions he has said he now partially regrets.

The personal side of Paul Ryan also doesn’t fit neatly into many preconceived categories. His extended family is financially successful, but he lost his father when he was 16, attended a public university, and worked a variety of summer and side jobs during and after college to make ends meet. As a teenager he helped take care of his grandmother who had Alzheimer’s.

He’s a socially conservative Catholic, and a fan of grunge rock, Beethoven, Led Zeppelin, and Hank Williams, Jr. He’s an outdoorsman who bow hunts, does his own skinning and butchering, and kills catfish with his bare hands. And he’s married with three children, with a wife, Janna, who is a stay-at-home mom with degrees from Wellesley and George Washington University.

For more, here is a piece in which Ryan discusses his votes for TARP and the bailouts; here is a breakout of the American Conservative Union’s 91.69 conservative score for Ryan; and here is a short biography.

UPDATE: The Janesville Gazette has just published an Extra that pulls together their local pieces on Ryan and Janesville along with some national stories and policy resources–a nice one stop resource.

In addition to my post yesterday and other education related posts on the Powerblog (here, here, here, here, and here), I highly recommend this analysis of the higher ed bubble from educationviews.org if anyone is interested in learning more.

I would emphasize that this is not simply an economic problem but a moral one. We cannot in good conscience continue to promote higher education to our youth while its quality continues to diminish and its price continues to rise. To do so is to fail to fulfill our moral duty to leave an inheritance to the next generation from the good that previous generations have passed on to us. The bar needs to be raised as a matter of human dignity. On the whole, people will rise (or fall) to the level of the expectations that we have for them. The level of expectations placed upon a person sends a message about their perceived ability and value. In addition, needless spending needs to be cut, and our government and banks need to stop handing out loans like candy to pursue degrees that will not realistically secure the income needed to pay them back. This is a present moral failing that is leading us to a future economic collapse.

From the article:

As George Will describes it, the bubble is what happens “when parents and the children they send to college are paying rapidly rising prices for something of declining quality.” The point at which parents cease to be willing to pay those rising prices is when the bubble bursts. When that happens, the financial assumptions on which American higher education has been based for many decades will come crashing down.

There are, however, two highly unpredictable elements in the current situation. One is the willingness of the Obama administration to sustain the bubble by encouraging more and more students to attend college and by using student loans to support this expansion. The other is the bubble-deflating power of online education.

Read more . . .

On June 29, both Houses of Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a law maintaining Stafford student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent for one more year – two days before they were scheduled to double. A number of human rights groups and religious communities have praised this development. The Jubilee USA Network, a coalition of over seventy-five churches, has been pushing for passage of this bill, and now celebrates it as a living-out of the Biblical practice of periodic forgiveness of debts. Even the organization’s use of the word “Jubilee” in its name is a reference to a practice God commanded for the Israelites in the Old Testament: “Thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year, and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee,” (Leviticus 25:10). Similarly, the Catholic Church has a long tradition of periodically holding a Jubilee Year celebrating forgiveness. There’s no question that the concept of pardoning debts out of pure mercy is certainly a Judeo-Christian one. But intellectual honesty requires us to ask whether any particular event is an example of a given principle. Is maintaining the current Stafford student loan interest rate actually a Christian “jubilee” event?

The first Church-wide jubilee was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII on February 22, 1300, granting indulgences and remission of the penalty for sins to all the faithful who would make a pilgrimage to Rome and Saint Peter’s Basilica. As the concept of the Jubilee was gradually being developed, the details continued to change over the next hundred and fifty years (various lengths, such as 25, 33 and 100 years were proposed as the time span between Jubilees) but beginning in 1450, the Church has held Jubilees once every 50 years up to the present day, with only three omissions. (more…)

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Thursday, June 21, 2012

ABC’s Chancellors for Equity and Inclusion, 1985-1988
Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088885/

I have recently written on the moral implications of growing tuition costs and the resulting student loan debt (here). One factor I did not explore in depth was the reason for rising tuition costs, which, adjusted for inflation, have more than doubled since the 1980s. No doubt, there are many factors that have contributed to this, but George F. Will of the Boston Herald points to one possible cause: bureaucratic sprawl under the auspices of promoting diversity. Despite rising costs for students, Will writes,

UCSD found money to create a Vice Chancellorship for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. UC Davis has a Diversity Trainers Institute under an Administrator of Diversity Education, who presumably coordinates with the Cross-Cultural Center. It also has: a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center; a Sexual Harassment Education Program; a Diversity Program Coordinator; an Early Resolution Discrimination Coordinator; and Cross-Cultural Competency Certificates in “Understanding Diversity and Social Justice.” California’s budget crisis has not prevented UC San Francisco from creating a new Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Outreach to supplement UCSF’s Office of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity, and the Diversity Learning Center (which teaches how to become “a Diversity Change Agent”), and the Center for LGBT Health and Equity, and the Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention & Resolution, and the Chancellor’s Advisory Committees on Diversity, and on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, and on the Status of Women.

Personally, I think that fair treatment of all and appreciation of cultural heritage is a good thing, but do we really need more and more administrators to ensure it? Indeed, Will notes, “In 2009 the base salary of UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion was $194,000, almost four times that of starting assistant professors. And by 2006, academic administrators outnumbered faculty.” Surely there must be a more efficient (not to mention ethical) way. (more…)