Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts

Monday, April 10, 2017

The New York Times rightly criticizes Betsy Devos for rescinding DOE directive forbidding lenders from gouging student-loan defaulters: But the Times ignores the harm caused by income-driven repayment plans

A few days ago, the New York Times criticized Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for rescinding a Department of Education directive forbidding student-loan debt collectors from gouging borrowers who default on their  student loans. Under President Obama, DOE directed the debt collectors not to assess 16 percent penalties on defaulters who quickly agreed to payment plans that would bring their loans back into good standing.

The Time is right to Criticize DeVos. As the Times pointed out in its editorial, student borrowers in the government's direct student-loan program are now defaulting at the rate of 3,000 a day. It is unjust to assess penalties against defaulters that far exceed the administrative cost of bring defaulted loans back into good standing.

But the Times rebuke went off the rails when it touted the virtues of long-term income-driven repayment plans for distressed debtors. The Times cited allegations that the lenders were not telling loan defaulters about "affordable" income-driven repayment plans (IDRs) that might cost borrowers as little as zero a month.

The Times is simply wrong to tout IDRs as "affordable." It is true that people who enter these plans may only be obligated to make token payments and perhaps no payment at all if they are unemployed or live below the poverty line.

But many people in IDRs are making monthly payments so small that the payments do not cover accruing interest. Thus their loan balances grow larger with each passing month. People in 20- and 25-year repayment plans will find they owe much  more than they borrowed when their payment obligations come to an end.

It is true that the unpaid portion of their loans will be forgiven for people who successfully complete these IDRs, but the amount of the cancelled debt is considered income by the IRS.  Under current IRS regulations, the only people who can escape that tax bill are people who are insolvent at the time the debt is forgiven.

Does that sound affordable to you?

The pitfalls of IDRs are illustrated in Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, a 2016 bankruptcy court decision out of Kansas. The Murrays borrowed $77,000 in the 1990s to get undergraduate and graduate degrees, and they consolidated their debt in 1996 at 9 percent interest. Over the years, they made substantial payments. According to the bankruptcy judge, they paid $54,000 on their loans--about 70 percent of the amount borrowed.

But the Murrays' loans were put into deferment for some period of time when the couple could not afford to make their monthly payments. Meanwhile, interest accrued, and by 2015, their $77,000 debt had ballooned to $311,000--four times what they borrowed!

ECMC argued that the Murrays should be put into an IDR. The most generous plan called for monthly payments set at 10 percent of the Murrays' adjusted gross income.  Their monthly payment would then be only $635 a month, quite manageable for a couple whose joint income was approximately $95,000 a year.

But the bankruptcy judge rejected ECMC's proposal.  The judge pointed out that interest was growing at $65 a day--around $2,000 a month. Thus, the Murrays' monthly payments would amount to less than half of the monthly accruing interest. The Murrays' debt would grow to well over half a million dollars over the 20-year repayment period.

Thus, if the Murrays signed up for a 20-year IDR, one of two fates awaited them: either they would be faced with an enormous tax bill or they would be so broke their tax liability would be extinguished on the grounds of insolvency. In any event, the Murrays would be in their late 60s and in no financial shape to retire.

The Obama administration promoted IDRs and even rolled out new ones: PAYE and REPAYE. These plans give struggling debtors short-term relief, but a majority of the people who sign up for an IDR will never pay off their student loans.

Almost 6 million people are currently enrolled in one IDR or another, and most are not making payments large enough to cover accruing interest. Although  IDR enrollees are not technically in default, few will ever pay back their loans.

What is the solution for these people? There is only one solution: a discharge of their loan obligations in bankruptcy.  DOE will not admit this stark fact, and neither will the New York Times. But the bankruptcy courts are beginning to figure out that IDRs do not provide the "fresh start" that the bankruptcy process is intended to provide..  We should look for some blockbuster bankruptcy court decisions in the near future as the judges wake up to the charade of IDRs.

References

Editorial, The Wrong Move on Student Loans. New York Times, April 76, 2017.

Monday, May 2, 2016

David Kirp's platitudes for cutting college dropout rates: Keep them sophomores movin'


Keep movin', movin', movin'
Though they're disapprovin'
Keep them doggies movin', rawhide
Don't try to understand 'em
Just rope, throw an' brand 'em
Soon we'll be livin' high an' wide

Theme from Rawhide
Written by Dimitri Tiomkin & Ned Washington

David Kirp wrote an op ed essay in the Sunday Times suggesting ways to cut college dropout rates. College dropout rates are indeed high. As Kirp pointed out, only 53 percent of college freshmen earn a four-year degree within six years. Among community-college students, the six-year completion rate is even lower.

Kirp's prescription for keeping students in college boils down to this: More individualized attention and early intervention for struggling students. I'm sure he's right.

It's not easy to get college professors to care about students

I have two gentle criticisms of Kirp's thesis. First, everyone knows that caring teachers and administrators and individualized attention for struggling students produce better academic outcomes. That is true at both the K-12 and college level. There is nothing new about this observation.

The problem is finding enough faculty members and administrators who care about student success. You can't just snap your figures and make professors more caring. I've worked at four public universities, and I've seen instructors who regularly failed to show up to teach their classes. I've seen faculty members who were sexual predators; and I've known professors who didn't give students any feedback on their written work--they just gave all their students As. And I've seen a lot of professors who are simply burned out.

As I'm sure Professor Kirp is aware, we have tenure at American universities; and we must keep professors on the payroll whether they care about their students or not. I suppose universities could take some sort of remedial action to get professors to up their game, but in my opinion, most of the disengaged and lazy faculty members who work at our universities are irredeemable.   They will hang on to their jobs until they reach retirement age or even longer.

Staying in college doesn't always make sense

Second, it only makes sense to keep students from dropping out  of college if they are in degree programs that lead to well paying jobs.  We're not doing students any favor if we entice them to take out more and  more student loans in order to get college degrees that don't pay well enough to service their college-loan debt.

Paul Campos made this point in his book Don't Go to Law School (Unless).  The job market is so bad for lawyers who graduate from second- and third-tier law schools, Campos argued, that students at these schools whose first-year grades don't put them at the top of their class would be better off dropping out of law school than incurring more debt to continue their studies and get a law degree.

Campos' observation works for undergraduates as well. I have a nephew who flunked out of college at the end of his freshman year and got a job as a pipe fitter's apprentice. He is making good money in the shipbuilding trade--more than he would have made had he continued in college and gotten a liberal arts degree. It would make absolutely no sense for my nephew to leave a good job and go back to college.

The Truth: Most colleges are trying to keep dropout rates down in order to maximize their revenues

Here's the truth of the matter. Most colleges are not trying to cut their attrition rates because they care about students. They're simply trying to keep kids in school to maximize their revenues. In fact, Kirp implicitly acknowledged this fact when he wrote, "The good news for financially strapped universities: not only do these [attrition cutting] initiatives change students' lives, they more than pay for themselves."  After all students who stay in school generate more student-loan revenue and more Pell Grant money.

In reality, college administrators are like the cattlemen who herded Longhorn cows up the Chisholm Trail from South Texas to the Kansas rail heads during the 1870s. Those cowboys didn't care about individual cows, but every little doggie that made it to Abilene meant more money. And what happened to the cows that survived the trail drive? They got shipped to the Chicago slaughter houses.

Likewise, college administrators want to keep as many tuition-paying students in school as they can, even if those students are borrowing money to pursue worthless degrees.  They gotta keep them doggies movin'.

Image result for cattle drive
Keep them sophomores movin'

References

David L. Kirp. What Can Stop Kids From Dropping Out. New York Times, May 1, 2016, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Paul Krugman ranks Hillary as best presidential candidate to handle an economic crisis: Why am I not surprised that Krugman ignored Bernie?

In 1928, Myles Connolly (1897-1964), wrote a brilliant Catholic novella entitled Mr. Blue. The title character is a sort of modern-day St. Francis who delivers a series of zingers about secular American culture. Books, Mr. Blue observes at one point in the narrative, are for people who have already made up their minds or have no minds to make up.

We might say much the same thing about the New York Times.  Day after day it dishes out its so-called "progressive" drivel, lecturing the whole world on how to behave--from the North Carolina legislature to Vladimir Putin.  Without a doubt, the Times is the publication of choice for people who have already made up their minds or are totally incapable of doing their own thinking.

So I was not surprised to read Paul Krugman's recent op ed essay in the Times arguing that Hillary Clinton would be the best President to deal with a major economic crisis.  Although he purported to make logical arguments, Krugman was totally dismissive of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. "The Donald doesn't know much," Krugman sneered contemptuously, "but Ted Cruz knows a lot that isn't so" (stealing a line from Mark Twain).

Krugman essentially writes the same essay over and over, for which the Times compensates him handsomely. Day after day, he assures his idiot readers that Barack Obama does everything right and that massive deficit spending is the smartest way to manage the American economy.  And now of course he lavishes the same fawning praise on Hillary Clinton that he slathered on Obama for the last eight years.

Normally, I wouldn't comment on Krugman's screeds, but his latest piece on Hillary deserves a response.  First of all, although Krugman expressed utter contempt for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in his essay about presidential qualifications, he didn't even mention Bernie Sanders, the only presidential candidate who has articulated a coherent and principled economic policy.

I feel sure Krugman's omission was intentional. Ignoring Bernie was Krugman's insinuating way of suggesting that Bernie is such a minor political figure that he doesn't even deserve comment. After all, Krugman doesn't dare offend Hillary in the slightest way by giving even an iota of credibility to her dogged opponent.

Second, Krugman basically acknowledged that a major economic crisis is coming to the United States. But look at where he predicts it will come from. "China has a severely unbalanced economy," he tells us, and there's also a potential for an oil crisis.

Basically, Krugman is already laying the groundwork for putting the blame for the next economic crisis on forces outside President Obama's control.

What sophistry! Americans have some pretty good ideas about where the next economic storm is coming from, and they didn't need a Nobel Prize in Economics to figure it out. Here are some things to worry about that Krugman did not bother to mention:

  • Radical Islam. Jihadists from the Middle East are brutal nihilists who will do anything to destroy what we once charmingly called Western Civilization. If they get the capacity to deliver a cyber attack on our global financial network, they will certainly launch one. If they can figure out a way to inflict massive casualties on American civilians, they will certainly do it. 
  • The collapse of the European Union under the relentless tide of Islamic refugees, which could trigger a fascist backlash as Europeans see the erosion of their ancient cultures.
  • A global financial crisis caused by chicanery and greed in the international banking industry.
  • War between Israel and Iran, which will soon be a nuclear power.
  • The destruction of the American middle class as American working people are sacrificed to satiate the greed of  the global oligarchs and young people are suffocated by student-loan debt they acquired to obtain worthless undergraduate and professional degrees.
Krugman did not mention any of these possible scenarios--scenarios that keep Americans up at night-- because a catastrophe from any of these sources could be fairly blamed at least partly on President Obama--the liberal elite's Sun King. 

So keep reading Paul Krugman if you believe the political, academic and media elites know what's best for us or if you are so intellectually lazy that you want someone else to do your thinking. After all, that's exactly what the Times and its columnists are there for--to do your thinking for you.

Image result for paul krugman
Paul Krugman: Bernie who?


References

Paul Krugman. The 8 A.M. Call. New York Times, April 25, 2016.  Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/25/opinion/the-8-am-call.html?_r=0















Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Occasionally, The New York Times Says Something Sensible About the Student Loan Crisis: Bankruptcy Relief for Private Student Loan Borrowers

Last month, the Student Loan Ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)issued a report highlighting the hardships experienced by students who took out private loans to attend college. Unlike the federal student loan program, which offers income-based repayment plans and economic hardship deferments to student-loan borrowers who run into financial trouble, private lenders generally do not offer any type of relief for distressed student-loan borrowers.

What the CFPB did not say in its report is that private student-loan borrowers, like borrowers in the federal student loan program, cannot discharge their student loans in bankruptcy unless they can show "undue hardship," a very difficult standard to meet.
All the CFPB report offered as a remedy to this problem was a form letter that student-loan borrowers could modify and send to their private lenders to beg for relief.  That is really not much of a solution.

Yesterday, however, the New York Times commented on the CFPB report and made a sensible suggestion. The Times proposed that Congress repeal the 2005 "undue hardship" provision that makes it almost impossible for private student-loan borrowers to discharge their loans in bankruptcy. In the alternative, the Times added, legislation should be passed that requires private lenders to modify loan terms for distressed student-loan borrowers. "Now it's time for Congress to fix [the error it made when it passed the 2005 law]," the Times editorialized, "by rescinding the bankruptcy provision or requiring lenders to create clearly advertised flexible payment plans in exchange for retaining it."

Respected commentators have recommended rescinding the 2005 Bankruptcy Code provision for years. In 2009, Rafael Pardo, a law professor and noted researcher on the student-loan crisis, testified before a Congressional committee on the special hardships suffered by individuals who took out private student loans to finance their college studies.  Here is what Professor Pardo said:
Because the costs of private student loans can quickly spiral out of control, and because there exist limited nonbankruptcy options for mitigating the financial distress imposed by such costs, borrowers of private student loans are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of undue-hardship discharge litigation.  If they end up seeking relief through the bankruptcy system and subsequently fail to prevail in their claim of undue hardship, they will find themselves struggling interminably under an oppressive amount of educational debt with little to no other options for relief.
In short, Professor Pardo told the Congressional committee:
By stripping away the one social safety net that existed for borrowers of private student loans--that is, the automatic discharge of such loans in bankruptcy--Congress has likely condemned certain student-loan debtors to the Sisyphean task of repaying obligations that will never be extinguished. [Emphasis supplied.]
In his testimony, Professor Pardo stated unequivocally that Congress should repeal the 2005 "undue hardship" provision that has made it almost impossible for individuals to discharge their private student-loan debts in bankruptcy.  Pardo testified as follows:
I respectfully urge Congress to restrike the balance between student-loan debtors and lenders of private student loans by restoring the automatically dischargeable status of private student loans in bankruptcy.
Without a doubt, repeal of the 2005 Bankruptcy Code provision is essential to providing relief to distressed college borrowers who took out private student loans.  It is refreshing to see that the New York Times essentially agrees with Professor Pardo on this issue, although the Times equivocated a bit by saying that Congress might pass a law requiring private student-loan lenders to offer flexible payment terms as an alternative to repealing the 2005 Bankruptcy Code provision.

Everyone in higher education should be clamoring for repeal of the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship provision for all student-loan borrowers, whether they borrowed from the federal student loan program or borrowed from private lenders.  Literally millions of distressed student-loan borrowers are suffering  because they cannot repay their loans and have no real means of relief in the bankruptcy courts.

But if across-the-board reform cannot be achieved politically, at least Congress should repeal the "undue hardship" provision as it applies to people who took out student loans from the private banks. Even the New York Times, which at times seems almost clueless about the student-loan crisis, has figured that out.

References

Editorial. Driving Student Borrowers Into Default. New York Times, November 3, 2014.

Rafael Pardo. ABI Members Testify on Discharging Student Loan Debt in Bankruptcy. ABI Journal, November 2009, p. 10. Accessible at: http://www.abiworld.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&CONTENTID=59097&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The New York Times Said Something Sensible Today About Predatory For-Profit Trade Schools

I seldom agree with the New York Times.  I live in the real world, and the Times editorial writers and op ed essayists live in the land of gobbledygook.  Nevertheless, every now and then the Times makes contact with planet earth and says something sensible.

And today is such a day. In an editorial entitled "Reining in Predatory Schools," the Times commended the Obama administration for its attempts to regulate the predatory for-profit trade-school industry that has hurt so many poor and disadvantaged students.

The Obama administration seeks to impose reasonable rules on the for-profit trade schools, requiring them to maintain average debt levels for their graduates that don't exceed 8 percent of their total annual earnings. In addition, to remain eligible for student-aid money, the trade schools must keep their student loan default rates at no more than 30 percent.

These are good rules, and the Obama administration deserves credit for pushing these rules forward in spite of ferocious opposition from the for-profit college industry, its lobbyists, and the lap-dog legislators who receive receive campaign contributions from the for-profits and do the industry's bidding.  But--as the Times noted--the rules do not go far enough.

Currently, the for-profits risk being kicked out of the federal student-loan program if their student-loan default rates exceed 25 percent for three consecutive years.  As I have pointed out before, the Feds only measure loan defaults during the first three years of a student's repayment period.  Any student who defaults after three years is not counted in an institution's default rate.

The for-profits have been successful in hiding their true default rates by encouraging their former students to sign up for economic hardship deferments, which excuse students from making their loan payments.  In fact, many for-profits have formal "default management" programs that target former students and help them get deferments.

Hundreds of thousands of former trade-school students who obtained economic hardship deferments will never pay back their loans and for all practical purposes are in default.  The Times is right to say that this problem must be addressed.

And just as importantly, the federal government needs to identify all the people who took out federal loans to pay for worthless for-profit training programs-well over a million people--and forgive these loans. Otherwise, all the people who defaulted on these loans will be hounded by their student loan debts for the rest of their lives.  As I have said before, these people deserve reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts.

I could say more on this topic, but today I simply tip my hat to the Obama administration for its efforts to rein in the predatory trade-school industry and to the New York Times for supporting the Obama administration and urging it to do more.

References

Editorial. Reining In Predatory Schools. New York Times, April 17, 2014, p. A20.



Sunday, January 19, 2014

We live on different planets: The World of the New York Times is not the world of the average American

I live in fly-over country and can't get home delivery of the New York Times. Nevertheless, I get the Sunday Times  delivered to my home; and I can pick up a copy of the weekday issues at Benny's Car Wash on Perkins Road. I try to read it every day as part of my effort to stay informed about world events.

Lately, however, I have begun to suspect that the New York Times writers and I don't live on the same planet.  And today's issue heightened my suspicion.  Here are some stories that make me shake my head.

First, I read Frank Bruni's op ed essay excoriating the state of Texas for keeping an unborn baby alive even though its mother is brain dead, the victim of a pulmonary embolism.  The woman's husband and parents want the pregnancy terminated, but doctors say they are bound by law to bring the pregnancy to term.

As Bruni himself said, there are no happy outcomes to this sad scenario, but Bruni says Texas is devaluing the lives of the baby's father and it grandparents by not snuffing out the baby's life. 

I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. I think most husbands would want the baby to live in this situation and so would most grandparents.  I think it is unfortunate that they apparently find the baby inconvenient.  But to say that the state of Texas and the doctors in charge of this unborn baby's care are cruel is nonsense.

Let's move on.  Today's Sunday Review section contained two--count-em two--positive articles about legalized gambling.  Moises Velasquez-Manoff  wrote a piece on Indian casinos in which she compared casino distributions to Native American families to a mother nurturing her child  Yeah, right.  Ms. Velasquez-Manoff should spend some time strolling around the nation's casinos. She will see a lot of stressed-out, chain smoking elderly people pumping cash into slot machines--cash that most of them don't have to spare. Do those people looked nurtured?

And then there is an article by Greg Grandin, a professor at New York University (where students graduate with the highest average student-loan debt in the country).  Grandin analyzed an obscure Melville novel that Barack Obama once read and somehow linked it with contemporary American racism, Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, and the Tea Party.  Wonder what it costs NYU students to take a course from this guy?

Then we have an essay by Sam Polk, a wealthy former financier who claims to have been addicted to making money.  He was dissatisfied, he confessed when he only got a  bonus of $3.6 million.  Hey, fellah. Dorothy Day's got a cure for that addiction. Read Matthew 25.

And finally we have an op ed essay by Thomas Friedman, who urges President Obama to tell Americans in his next State of the Union speech that American kids are not doing as well in school as kids in other countries because American parents aren't demanding that their children be challenged more in the classroom.  OK, we get it.  The American education crisis is the parents' fault.

After pondering all this, I felt like I was reading news from a parallel universe--a world in which I do not live.  Some people might point out that the New York Times is not meant to be read by people like me and that I should stick to reading the Farmer's Almanac.  And they may be right. Certainly, all the advertisements for luxury goods that appear in the Times' supplements are not aimed at me or my family.

But here is the problem.  The  New York Times, the people who read the Times and the politicians that the Times adores (Barack Obama) are contemptuous of the people who live in fly-over country; but they want to dictate how these people live. They express outrage when state legislatures try to put reasonable restrictions on abortion or try to maintain marriage in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  They imply that politicians who speak for some of us are white supremacists. They show disdain for American values but they want people who hold those values to fight and die in foreign wars the Obama administration doesn't even believe in.

I do not write this from a partisan political perspective. I am no red-stater.  I have no more regard for Sarah Palin than the New York Times editorial board.  I write from the perspective of a person who believes that traditional American culture--what we might call middle-class culture or Judeo-Christian culture--is basically benign and healthy. And I am alarmed to see powerful political forces  show disdain for the traditional values that served this nation pretty well for over 200 years.

References

Thomas Friedman. Obama's Homework Assignment. New York Times, Sunday Review section p. 1.

Greg Grandin. Obama, Melville and the Tea Party. New York Times, Sunday Review section p. 6.

Sam Polk. For the Love of Money. New York Times, Sunday Review section p. 1.

Monica Velasquez-Manoff. When the Poor Get Cash. New York Times, Sunday Review section, p. 12.




Monday, December 23, 2013

Bah humbug: Why are the secularists so mean spirited?

Ross Douthat  recently wrote a perceptive essay in the New York Times about the spiritual condition of American society.   Today, Douthat wrote, Americans can be categorized into three groups.  The
first group is made up of people who have a biblical view of the world. They believe God literally entered history in the form of a man named Jesus and redeemed humanity.

Catholics and evangelical Protestants belong to this group, but Catholics believe something more. We believe that Mary is the mother of God and fulfills a unique roll in God's salvation plan for humanity. We also believe that Christ is present in real form in the wine and bread of the Eucharist.

A second group, Douthat explained, has a spiritual view of the world. For this group, "the divine  is active in human affairs [and] every person is precious in God's sight." But broadly speaking, people with a spiritual point of view "[don't] sweat the details." For them, religion is "Christian-ish, but syncretistic; adaptable, easygoing and egalitarian."

Many Americans with a spiritual worldview don't care whether Jesus was born of a virgin or whether an angel conversed with Joseph.  But they ascribe to the Christian virtues; they are kind-hearted, congenial, and generous.  And just as importantly, they are tolerant of other world views, lifestyles and cultures

Finally,  Douthat identifies a third group of Americans--the secularists. This group "proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory." As Douthat points out, the purely secularist world view is rare among most Americans, but predominates among the intelligentsia--including the nation's political and media elites.

Douthat ascribes moral purpose to this last group--a commitment to "liberty, fraternity and human rights." Indeed, as Douthat points out, although secularists renounce a spiritual meaning to human existence, they "insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th century New England preacher."

 Douthat is right to compare contemporary secularists to 17th century Puritans. In fact, the priggish self-righteousness of postmodern secularists is evocative of Cotton Mather.  We see this puritanical intolerance exhibited daily in the New York Times and especially in the writings of Bill Keller and Frank Bruni.

And here is where I disagree with Ross Douthat's description of secularism. Unlike Douthat, I do not believe there is any moral center to secularism, any real commitment to human rights. On the contrary, once you scratch the surface of secularism, you find only shrillness, intolerance and mean-spiritedness.

The atheist-sponsored Times Square billboard, proclaiming that  no one needs Christ in Christmas, says it all.  The secularists are the Ebenezer Scrooges of the 21st century: Christianity? Bah, humbug.

We also see the true nature of secularism in the presidency of Barack Obama, the nation's supreme postmodern secularist. Contrary to the President's rhetoric about hope and change, we see nothing in his leadership but deception, manipulation and hollowness--dished out with an air of self-righteous superiority.

Douthat concludes his essay by asking where the nation is headed. Will biblical religion gain some of its lost ground, he asks, or will  the spiritual worldview ultimately prevail? He also asks whether "the intelligentsia's  fusion  of scientific materialism and liberal egalitarianism  will eventually crack up and give way to something new."

Personally, I don't think the secularists' world  view will long prevail in the United States. How can secularists insist they have a moral purpose if they believe that human life has no ultimate meaning? If there is no God, why not turn toward materialism, why not join the empty quest for power and recognition--which in fact is what the secularists have largely done.

I agree with Alexis de Tocqueville's  prediction about the future of American religion, which he made in 1835.  O]ur posterity," he observed, "will tend more and more to a division into only two parts, some relinquishing Christianity entirely and others returning to the Church of Rome." In other words, the day will come when Americans will either be Catholics or nothing at all.

It is a lonely view, I grant you, but I believe that the foundations of Western civilization were laid on the bedrock of the Catholic faith. Eventually, as  de Tocqueville has said, Americans will drift into one of two camps--Catholicism or secularism. Although the secularists appear now to be in the saddle, God moves through history in mysterious ways.  In God's own time, He will send us new saints who will witness to God's presence in the world and inspire us to return to the ancient doctrines of our Mother Church.

Even now we have the lives of past saints to inspire and guide us: Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Edith Stein, Saint Katharine Drexel, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Servant of God Dorothy Day.  And though the secularists may say "Bah, humbug," let us cling to our childlike belief in the Christmas story.

References

 Ross Douthat. Ideas From a Manger. New York Times, December 22, 2013, Sunday Review Section,p. 11.

Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America, edited by Phillips Bradley. New York; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1945.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Doting Mother Syndrome: The New York Times endorses America's gross insult to India

When it comes to President Obama and his administration, the New York Times is like the doting mother of a spoiled brat. You know the type. The kid is usually a little bully--disrespectful, sneaky,  and disrespectful.  But mama always takes the kid's side.  People who complain about her son just don't understand little Johnny, who is too special to be expected to behave decently or to comply with the rules of civil behavior that apply to ordinary people.

Without question, the United States government blundered when federal agents arrested Devyani  Khobragade, an Indian diplomat, in front of her child's school.  Federal officials then cuffed her, subjected her to a body cavity search, and threw her in a cell with common criminals.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should apologize to Ms. Khobragade and the Indian government for this outrageous breech of civility; and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney who ordered Ms. Khobragade's arrest, should be fired.

Preet Bharara should be fired
But the New York Times simply doesn't get it. "India's reaction to the arrest of one of its diplomats . . . is unworthy of a democratic government," The Times said in an editorial yesterday. In fact, in the Times' opinion, Secretary of State John Kerry should not even have issued his vague statement of regret over the incident.

In today's issue, the Times went further, printing an op ed essay by Anana Bhattacharyya, who lectured the Indians about their  "feudal mindset." Bhattacharyya seems to think the United States did India a favor by humiliating one of its diplomats. "I can only hope that [this] case will make Indians look inward and see that feelings of patriotic fervor aside, India has a serious problem."

Such drivel! The Times is behaving exactly like the doting mother of a spoiled brat, which is what President Obama increasingly resembles.   Since taking office, Obama has lied to the American public, misused the Internal Revenue Service, spied on our allies, and launched drone attacks that have killed innocent civilians indiscriminately.  He has insulted the Catholic Church, and he behaved boorishly at Nelson Mandela's memorial service.

And yet the Times mindlessly defends the Obama administration, like a dotty mama standing up for little Johnny after the principal caught him scrawling graffiti in the school bathroom.

Admittedly the facts of this affair are murky. The United States says Ms. Khobragade committed visa fraud, and the Indian government maintains that Ms. Khobragade's housekeeper tried to blackmail her.

But even if the facts are exactly like the federal prosecutor claims them to be, a civilized government does not conduct a body cavity search on another nation's diplomat based on such a petty charge.

No, Ms. Khobragade deserves an apology. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is too cool to ever say he's sorry.  And the New York Times, Mr. Obama's neurotic enabler, has made matters worse  by interpreting the whole affair as a reflection of the flaws in Indian society.

But I would like Ms. Khobragade and the nation of India to know that at least one humble American is ashamed of the way the American government behaved in this disgraceful affair. So on behalf of myself and decent Americans all over the United States, let me just say this: Ms. Khobragade, we are sorry for the behavior of our government, and we are deeply ashamed.

References

Ananya Bhattacharya. Having a Servant is Not a Right. New York Times, December 21, 2013, p. A19.

Editorial. India's Misplaced Outrage. New York Times, December 20, 2013, p. A26.





Monday, December 9, 2013

President Obama talks about a safety net, but there is no safety net for student-loan defaulters

President Obama made a speech recently about income inequality in America, and Paul Krugman swooned like a 1950s-era school girl at a Buddy Holly concert. Only cynics, Krugman suggested, would discount the importance of President Obama's great speech. 

Rah! Rah! Rah!
Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize Winner, loved President Obama's speech on income inequality

I'm sorry, Paul. But until the President backs up his soaring rhetoric with some action, I will remain cynical.

President Obama talked a lot in his speech  about strengthening the safety net for people who fall on hard times. "We've . . . got to strengthen our safety net for a new age," the President said, "so it doesn't just protect people who hit a run of bad luck from falling into poverty, but also propels them back out of poverty."

These are fine words, but let's look at the millions of people who took out federal student loans to get a college education and can't pay them back. There is no safety net for them. No, for them, there is only a cascading river of woe.

First of all, people who default on their student loans find that it all but impossible to discharge their student-loan debt in bankruptcy.  And this is true even for people who financed their education through private banks and not the federal student-loan program.

Second, many students enrolled at for-profit universities based on misrepresentations, but they
can't sue the institutions that defrauded them. We know that students who attended for-profit colleges have the highest student-loan default rate and the highest level of student-loan debt. Nevertheless, even if they accumulated debt based on a for-profit college's false promises, students are often unable to seek relief in the courts. That's because many--probably most--of the for-profit colleges make students sign arbitration agreements whereby students waive their right to sue fraudulent institutions in court.

Third, many student-loan defaulters find that the amount they owe on their loans is double or even triple the amount they borrowed. That's because interest accumulates on the unpaid debt and the government's debt collectors add a 25 percent penalty.  As we saw in the Roth case (discussed in a previous blog), a woman who borrowed $33,000 to obtain a degree she never completed owed $95,000 by the time she sought bankruptcy relief.

And there is no statute of limitations on collecting unpaid student loans. Thus, the government and its agents can wait 20 years, 25 years, even  40 years to sue a student-loan defaulter. And the government can garnish elderly defaulters' Social Security checks and apply the amount collected to their student loan debt.

Do see any safety net for these people?

How many people have their backs against the wall due to their college loans? Millions. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 15 million people whose loans are in the repayment stage aren't making payments.  Six million are in default, and almost 9 million more have obtained deferments or forbearances that allow them not to make payments. 

In his speech, President Obama acknowledged that people have had trouble paying off their loans, but he said federal grants and loans go farther under his administration than they did before.  Of course if that were true, student-loan indebtedness would not be going up every year.

The President also said that the government has made it "more practical" for students to repay their loans.  I take it he means that the government is encouraging students to sign up for income-based repayment plans that obligate them to make loan payments for 25 years.  The President may think 25-year loan repayment plans makes loan repayment more practical.  But in fact, these plans are a 21st century version of the indentured servant system.

In addition, the President said his administration was advancing "an aggressive strategy to promote innovation that reins in student costs," an apparent reference to his vague college rating system. "We've got lower costs so that young people are not burdened by enormous debt when they make the right decision to get higher education," he asserted.

But this simply isn't true.  Total student-loan indebtedness has grown to $1.2 billion, and average indebtedness for a college graduate is risen to more than $29,000.

 Of course President Obama could construct a real safety net for distressed student-loan debtors if he chose to do so. He could promote an amendment to the Bankruptcy Code that would allow destitute student-loan debtors to discharge their college loans in bankruptcy.  He could bar for-profits from forcing their students to sign litigation waivers as a condition of enrollment.  He could reform the student-loan debt collection protocol to lower the fees and penalties that debt collectors charge defaulters.  He could stop the practice of garnishing elderly defaulters' Social Security checks.

As he done any of these things? Has he even proposed doing any of things? No, he has not.  And although it is true that President Obama does not have a cooperative Congress, he could begin weaving at least a partial "safety net" through executive orders.  A lot of the abuses in the for-profit industry and abusive debt-collection practices could be stopped by executive action or administrative regulations.

So, yes, Mr. Krugman, I am cynical about President Obama's speech. And Mr. Krugman should be cynical too.  After all, he is a Nobel-Prize winning economist who surely knows that crushing student-loan debt has thrown millions of people out of the American economy. 

Mr. Krugman rebukes the cynicism of the so-called "pundit class," but it is Mr. Krugman, The New York Times and the entire elitist media that appear cynical to me.  Our liberal media have become nothing more than cheerleaders for an aimless President, while millions of young Americans who sought a college education in good faith suffer from an insane federal student-loan program and a rapacious for-profit college industry.

References

Editorial. The President on Inequality. New York Times, December 5, 2013, p. A30.

Paul Krugman. Obama Gets Real. New York Times, December 6, 2013, p. A31.

President Barack Obama. Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility. White House Press release, December 4, 2013.





Monday, September 16, 2013

Paul Krugman, President Obama's Head Cheerleader, Finally Wrote Something Useful About Education and the Economy in the NY Times

Paul Krugman finally wrote something useful about education and the economy in the New York Times. In a recent Times essay entitled "Rich Man's Recovery," Krugman began by pointing out what everyone already knows--that the rich live in "a different social and material universe" from the middle class. The enduring American belief that children can grow up to become more prosperous than their parents is dead.
Paul Krugman's Big Idea:
Print More Money
Everywhere, young Americans who grew up in middle class homes are desperately struggling just to stay in the middle class--to avoid falling off the economic ladder and becoming one of the faceless working poor.

And then Mr. Krugman made an interesting point. Rising inequality in the United States has nothing to do with education. As Krugman perceptively observed, "Only a small fraction of college graduates make it into the charmed circle of the 1 percent. Meanwhile, many, even most, highly educated young people are having a very rough time."

Many people--myself once included--pathetically believe they will catapult themselves into a new more glamorous milieu if only they can acquire a prestigious graduate degree from an elite university. And so they borrow money--sometimes a lot of money--to get a degree from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc.  Often they learn that even if they get into the prestigious graduate school of their choice that class lines are already drawn.  Even at Harvard Business School, the NY Times reported, the  ultra rich students are separated from other students along lines drawn by status and money.

How can we stop the growing division between the ultra rich and the rest of the United States? How can we restore the prospects of the middle class along with the middle class belief that talent and hard work will lead us to a better life?

Unfortunately, Mr. Krugman has no good answers to these questions.  Like so many NY Times writers, he is very good at identifying problems but not so good at offering real solutions. His essay ends with the lame suggestion that we should tax the rich a bit more.

Thanks a lot, Paul.  Is that the best idea a Nobel Prize winning economist can think of?

No, to restore equality of opportunity in the United States, the wealthy plutocracy that runs this country must be destroyed. Devastating financial regulations are called for--regulations so draconian that the corporate banks will disappear and be replaced by financial institutions on a more human scale.

Taxes on the rich need to be much higher. We will know we are taxing people enough when Tom Cruz and Donald Trump fly commercial and no one has the cash to buy a $250,000 automobile.

And our imperious and arrogant elite universities need to be demythologized.  We need to stop choosing our national leaders from among people who went to Harvard and Yale.  And imperial college presidents need to be sent back to the classroom to teach freshman composition.

But is anyone in the media talking about radical reforms of our economy or our educational system? No. Paul Krugman, the nation's most ardent cheerleader for President Obama's economic policy, wrote an essay in today's NY Times essentially saying Ben Bernanke should continue printing money, a policy designed to do nothing more than delay our nation's economic collapse until President Obama has finished his term of office.

Where is all of this heading--this accelerating disparity in wealth that Mr. Krugman wrote about?

I don't know.  I do know that Germany's economic policy in the 1930s--its reckless printing of money--is very similar to President Obama's economic policy.  And we know what happened to Germany.

One thing is clear. Our nation is now run by an arrogant and selfish plutocracy that manipulates our civic and political life in order to elevate compliant politicians like Barack Obama who will perpetuate the status quo of economic inequality.  And the training grounds for these compliant politicians are our nation's elite universities.

After me--the deluge
The young people of the shrinking middle class won't change this putrid landscape by borrowing money to attend prestigious colleges and elite graduate schools. They have essentially three options: They can fight politically to elect leaders who are truly progressive and not just blatherers who take their marching orders from Goldman Sachs. They can emigrate to a society that offers more opportunities to people of talent. Or they can accept their slow decline into a new kind of servitude--spending their lives paying off student loans they took out to obtain an education that did not improve their economic condition and perhaps made it worse.


References

Jodu Kantor. Class Is Seen Dividing Harvard Business School. New York Times, September 9, 2013.

Paul Krugman. Give Jobs a Chance. New York Times, September 16, 2013, p. A19.

Paul Krugman. Rich Man's Recovery. New York Times, September 13, 2013. P. A19.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Young People Hopelessly Mired in Heavy Student Loan Debt: It’s Not Their Fault

Jennifer Silva wrote an excellent essay for the Sunday Times about the alienation and isolation of working-class young people “who are trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in a world of disappearing jobs, soaring education costs and shrinking social support networks.” Many of these young people are in dead-end jobs and a lot of them have college-loan debts for educational experiences that did not open the door to a middle-class income.


Photo credit: USA Today
As Silva pointed out, the economic hardships these people have suffered is well documented. What society as a whole fails to realize, however, are the so-called “hidden injuries” these young people have endured.  “Increasingly disconnected from institutions of work, family and community, they grow up learning that counting on others will only hurt them in the end,” Silva wrote. Many feel betrayed by the institutions in their lives--“colleges, the health care system, employers or government.”

One of Silva’s observations struck me as particularly poignant--the fact that many young people who have failed to achieve economic self-sufficiency blame themselves. “[T]hese young men and women don’t want your pity--and they don’t expect a handout,” Silva wrote. “They are quick to blame themselves for the milestones they have not yet (and may never) achieve.”

This tendency for young people to blame themselves for their economic misfortunes seems particularly prominent among young people who borrowed money to attend college and were then unable to pay off their loans. “It was my fault,” many of them say, “that I borrowed too much money, chose the wrong major, or dropped out of college without finishing.”

This tendency toward self blame was illustrated in a New York Times story about Cortney Munna, a woman who took out nearly $100,000 in loans to obtain an interdisciplinary degree in religious and women’s studies at New York University. At the time the article was published, Cortney had been out of college nearly five years and was making $22 an hour.

As the New York Times author put it, Cortney longed for a do-over of the previous decade of her life. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life slaving away to pay for an education I got for four years and would happily give back,” she said. “It feels wrong to me.”

Later, Cortney apparently regretted that statement--taking full responsibility for her predicament. In an essay published in the Times, this is what Cortney said:
First and foremost, I openly acknowledge my responsibility for my current situation, as well as the naïveté in my estimation of the return on investment of a “high quality” education and a liberal arts degree. My only explanation is that once I was in school, I didn’t think much about tuition beyond filling out the paperwork, and I did what I always had done: focused on my education. 
I accept that this was negligent on my part, but unfortunately, I was too young to know better. I also willingly admit that I am responsible for repaying the money I borrowed. I have been doing this, to the best of my ability, over the course of the last five years and have every intention of continuing to do so. The one part of this process that I regret is being quoted as saying I would happily give back my degree. That’s an emotionally charged statement that only comes out during moments of my most intense frustration.
Personally, I am sorry Cortney recanted her original statement about happily giving back her degree.  That statement--in my opinion--accurately implied that part of the blame for her predicament should be attributed to other parties--including Citibank, who loaned her $40,000 after she was already heavily indebted. As the Times writer observed, “[W]hat was Citi thinking, handing over $40,000 to an undergraduate who had already amassed debt well into the five figures?”

Unfortunately, I think many former college students who are hopelessly indebted by their student loans are like Cortney--they primarily blame themselves. And that attitude has allowed the status quo to continue to the benefit of the wrong parties, including the banks, the universities, and overpaid university executives.

I was heartened for awhile by the Occupy Wall Street movement, hoping that this protest movement might take fire and ignite change.  But the Occupy protesters were put down in short order by brutal police tactics.  At UC Davis, for example, campus police officers assaulted the Occupy protesters with pepper spray.

Returning to the recent essay by Jennifer Silva, this is the point I wish to make. Silva is right that many young people who were badly treated by the new economy and by higher education are blaming themselves for their predicament. In my opinion, these people are victims who should be assigning a majority of the blame to other parties.

It is true that the federal student loan program has helped millions of young people obtain a college education.  But it has also ruined the lives millions more.

Currently, Americans are burdened by more than a trillion dollars in student-loan indebtedness.  Congress refuses to amend the bankruptcy laws to provide relief for the people who deserve relief.  It refuses to rein in the for-profit universities, which have the highest student-loan default rates. Universities--both public and private--have feasted off the student loan program, and their executives are making obscene amounts of money.  Private banks have their noses at the trough, recklessly loaning money to students at high interest rates.

In short--a lot of parties are at fault for our current predicament. Personally, I hope overstressed student-loan debtors stop blaming themselves and get angry at the people who created this mess.

References

Ron Lieber. (2010, May 28). Placing the Blame as Students Are Buried in Debt. New York Times. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/29/your-money/student-loans/29money.html?pagewanted=all

Cortney Munna. (2010, June 1). More on Cortney Munna’s Student Loan Tale. New York Times. Accessible at: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/more-on-cortney-munnas-student-loan-saga/


Jennifer Silva. Young and Isolated. New York Times, Sunday Review Section, p. 7.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Let's face reality: The federal student loan program is not a problem; it is a catastrophe.

We reached those last days when we could endure neither our vices nor their remedies.
 
                                                                                    Titus Livy, on the decline of Rome
 
 
 
If Congress does not act, interest rates for the federal student loan program will rise to 6.8percent in July of this year. 
 
Last week, three Republican senators published an op ed essay in the New York Times suggesting what they think is a better way for setting student loan rates than the current system.  Senators Lamar Alexander, Tom Coburn and Richard Burr proposed that student-loan interest rates be set at the fluctuating 10-year Treasury rate plus 3 percent.
 
Keeping interest rates low for student loans is obviously a good thing for students. But let's face it, the student loan program is a catastrophe, and low interest rates for student loans won't fix this enormous problem.
 
First of all, although the federal government has never revealed the true default rate on student loans, evidence from many sources shows that it quite high. For students who attend for-profit institutions, the default rate over the lifetime of the repayment period is probably 40 to 50 percent.  Lowering interest rates is not likely to shrink the default rates--especially in the for-profit sector.
 
Second, income-based repayment plans, which are being pushed as a way to ease the burden on overstressed student-loan debtors, are making the default problem worse.  Lowering default rates will provide some marginal relief to former students in IBRPs, but it won't solve their underlying problem, which is that they borrowed more money than they can pay back.

Under an IBRP, students pay back their loans over a long period of time--20 to 25 years--based on a percentage of their income.  Any unpaid amount at the end of the repayment period is forgiven.
 
This may sound like a great idea, but this is the harsh reality:  A lot of student-loan debtors who participate in IBRPs, probably a majority of them, will never pay back their total loan obligations even if they make every loan payment on time.

Why? Because under an IBRP, the monthly loan payment will not be enough to cover accruing interest for many student-loan debtors. Thus, their debt will continue to grow even if they faithfully make their monthly payments.
 
A recent New York Times story illustrates this problem. The Times reported on a veterinary school graduate who borrowed $300,000 to attend a for-profit veterinary school in the Caribbean.  She obtained a job as a veterinarian--which is a good thing, and she is paying back her loans under an income-based repayment plan.
 
Unfortunately, her loan payments are not enough to pay back the accruing interest on her loans.  The New York Times estimated that the total amount of her debt will grow to $600,000 by the time her loan repayment obligations end even if she makes every payment on time!
 
Back when I was practicing law, my senior law partner told me I should admit my mistakes as soon as I realized I had made an error.  The longer I went without acknowledging my mistakes, my partner stressed, the bigger my problems would become. 
 
Over the years, I have found my former law partner's observation to be true 100 percent of the time.  The whole premise of the federal student loan program is flawed.  Over time it has grown into a $100 billion a year industry that has benefited colleges and universities but has hurt a lot of students. Total outstanding indebtedness is now over $1 trillion--making student loan debt the second biggest consumer-debt sector in  the American economy after home mortgages.
 
Fixing this mess won't be easy, and it will be painful.  But if we don't take drastic action, the federal student loan program (and the accompanying private student loan industry) will destroy American higher education. Indeed, it has already seriously undermined legal education.
 
What must we do? 
 
First, we must allow overstressed student-loan debtors reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts.  Let's face facts: most defaulting student-loan debtors are never going to pay back their loans, even if they are denied bankruptcy relief.  It would be far better both for debtors and the national economy if these unfortunate people were permitted to clear their debts in bankruptcy and go on with their lives.
 
Second, we must stop allowing for-profit colleges and universities to participate in the student loan program.  Even if all for-profit institutions were acting in good faith--and some of them are not--the default rate in this sector is simply too high to justify for-profit participation in the student loan program.
 
Furthermore, the U.S. has plenty of non-profit and public institutions to serve the needs of postsecondary students. In my opinion, postsecondary students would have plenty of good options for obtaining a college degree even if the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University and Capella University did not exist.
 
Finally, every college and university in the United States must be obligated to freeze tuition and fees at the current level as a condition of participating in the federal student loan program: and they must be further obligated to freeze salaries and benefits of their top executives.
 
President Obama, Congress, and the higher-education industry want to tinker with the student-loan problem, which is growing bigger every day. But lowering interest rates and encouraging students to go into income-based repayment programs will not fix this problem.  The solutions must be drastic, and they must be painful.

References

Lamar Alexander, Tom Coburn and Richard Burr. Playing Politics With Student Debt. New York Times, June 5, 2013, p. A21.

David Segal, High Debt and Falling Demand Trap Vets. New York Times, February 23, 2013, p. A1.

 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Arne Duncan Did Such A Great Job Managing the Student Loan Crisis, Let's Make Him Secretary of State!

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
After Arne, the deluge
credit(Wikipedia)
In a recent New York Times editorial, Thomas Friedman endorsed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as the next Secretary of State. Right.  Duncan has done such a great job managing the nation's student loan crisis, let's put him in charge of the Middle East.

Without a doubt, the federal student loan program is DOE's biggest challenge. As everyone knows, the program has about $1 trillion in outstanding student loans and about 6 million people are either behind on their loan payments or in programs designed to help people who can't make their regular payments.

What has DOE done about the federal student loan program under Secretary Duncan's watch?

First, DOE has increased the measurement period for computing default rates from two years after the loan repayment period begins to three years. This is a good thing, because it moves us closer to determining what the real default rate is.

But research shows that most student-loan debtors default after three years,and we know that some For-Profits have encouraged their former students to apply for economic hardship deferments to keep those students from showing up as defaulters. We still don't know what the default rate is over the life of students' repayment period, but it is much higher than DOE reports. The default rate for students attending for-profit schools is quite high--maybe 50percent.

Second, the Obama administration has eased the repayment terms for borrowers who elect to enter the Income-Based Repayment Program, which is also a good thing. But we are not solving the student-loan crisis by putting borrowers in 20 year repayment plans.  In fact, we may be creating a new class of indentured servants, people who pay a percentage of their income to the federal loan program for the majority of their working lives.

I realize the federal student loan program has enormous economic and political dimensions, with many powerful players wedded to the status quo.  I would not expect Arne Duncan to solve all the problems associated with the program without broad political support.

Nevertheless, these are the things that President Obama and Secretary Duncan could have done and should have done, whether or not there was Congressional support.

Number One: DOE needs to report an accurate student-loan default rate, which it has not done. Instead, the public has had to rely on outside agencies to provide some clues as to what is going on. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's recent report is enormously informative, but the Reserve Bank relied on a credit agency, not DOE, to get data to assess the student loan program.

Number Two: The Obama administration and DOE could stop the garnishment of elderly student-loan debtors' Social Security checks. Social Security income is exempt from garnishment for a wide variety of debt, but not student loans.  This year, the government garnished Social Security checks of 119,000 elderly people (Lewin, 2012). This practice is a scandal and undermines President Obama's image as a person who truly cares about Americans suffering economic hardship.

Number Three:  I know I am repeating myself, but we must provide reasonable avenues for people to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. Presently, a significant percentage of people make bad choices when borrowing money to attend college. Instead of enhancing their economic future, they have sealed their economic fate--basically casting themselves out of the middle class because they are saddled by unmanageable student-loan debt.  For these people, the student-loan mess is not just an economic crisis, it is a crisis of human suffering.

In years to come, when Arne Duncan's tenure as DOE Secretary is assessed, historians will say he did an admirable job of managing the student-loan crisis, which grows bigger every day. But we don't need a problem manager to head DOE right now, we need a problem solver.  Arne Duncan has not been a problem solver, and for someone of Thomas Friedman's status to suggest that Duncan should run the State Department is difficult for me to understand.  (Fortunately, Duncan said no to Friedman's suggestion (Fabian, 2012).

References

Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Maricar Mabutas, and Wilbert van der Klaauw. (2012). Grading Student Loans. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2012/03/grading-student-loans.html

Fabian, Jordan (November 28, 2012). Education Secretary Says No to Secretary of State. ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/education-secretary-arne-duncan-secretary-state/story?id=17826816#.ULd-4Ky5Plg

Thomas L. Friedman (November 27, 2012). My Secretary of State, New York Times.

Tamar Lewin (November 12, 2012). Child's Education, but Parents' Crushing Loans. New York Times.


 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Borrowing money at interest: The root cause of the student loan crisis

Many people underestimate the magnitude of the student loan crisis because they forget that student-loan debtors are borrowing money at interest and that this interest gets added to the amount borrowed if the borrowers get behind on their payments.

Thus, when we read the published bankruptcy court opinions, we see debtor after debtor who is trying to discharge a debt that is two times or even three times the amount they orginially borrowed. For example, in In re Bene (2012), Donna Bene borrowed about $17,000 in the 1980s to finance an education that she never completed due to the fact she had to leave school to care for her aging parents. She was unable to make her loan payments, and by the time she filed for bankruptcy, the amount of her debt, including fees and accrued interest, was $56,000--three times the amount she originally borrowed!

The York Times, the Obama administration, and other fuzzy-minded liberals think that economic hardship deferments and income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) provide meaningful relief for overburdened student-loan borrowers, but they  are apparently ignoring the fact that interest accrues while people participate in these programs. People who obtain economic hardship deferments for a period of even three or four years will find the amount they owe has grown substantially. 

The case of In re Halverson illustrates this phenomenon. Mr. Halvserson obtained economic hardship deferments on his student loans for many years and was never in default. Nevertheless, by the time he filed for bankruptcy, when he was in his 60s, his $132,000 debt and grown to almost $300,000.

Likewise, people who participate in IBRPs and whose adjusted payments are less than the accruing interest on their loans will discover the amount they owe will grow over the years--not shrink--because the interest is piling up even though they are making regular payments.

The student-loan guarantee agencies, which are the creditors in student-loan bankruptcy cases, have been asking the bankruptcy courts to put debtors on 25-year IBRPs, which is just crazy.  Ms. Bene and Mr. Halverson would have both been in their 90s before completing their IBRPS had they been required to do so. Fortunately, the bankruptcy courts discharged their debts and did not make these unfortunate people go through such a heartless and fruitless exercise.

There was a time--in pre-Reformation Europe--when loaning money at interest was considered sinful. And not so long ago, the states had enforceable usury laws that put limits on the amount of interest that could be charged on a debt.   In the jurisdiction where I practiced law, a creditor could charge no more than 10.5 percent on most debts.  Today, however, banks and credit card agencies are virtually unrestricted in the amount of interest they can charge.

Dorothy Day, the greatest American Catholic of the 20th century and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, subscribed to the ancient Catholic doctrine on usury, and she refused to accept interest on money owed to the Catholic Worker.  In 1960, she famously returned interest on money owed the Catholic Worker by the City of New York. The City had bought a piece of property from the Catholic Worker for $68,700, but there was some delay in making payment. When the check arrived, it included an additional $3,579.39 in accrued interest.

Dorothy sent the interest money back to the City of New York with this explanation (Day, 1963, p. 191):
We are returning interest on the money we have recently received because we do not believe in "money-lending at interest." As Catholics we are acquainted with the early teaching of the Church. All the early Councils forbade it, declaring it reprehensible to make money by lending it out at interest . . . .
Today, unfortunately, American society runs on borrowed money.  Presently, our government is keeping interest rates low for the expressed purpose of encouraging people to buy and borrow more. And where has all this borrowing gotten us? Americans now owe trillions of dollars in debt, including $1 trillion in student-loan debt alone.  College tuition is now so high at both public and private colleges that students are forced to borrow in order to get an education.

There is no easy way back from the abyss, but we can start by easing the burdens being borne by overstressed student-loan borrowers and by putting firm caps on college tuition costs.

References

Dorothy Day. Loaves and Fishes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1963.

In re Bene, 474 B.R. 56 (Bankr. W.D.N.Y. 2012).

In re Halverson, 401 B.R. 378 (Bankr. D. Minn. 2009).