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Joe Biden, the Student Loan Crisis, and the Problem with Economic Stimulus

Critics will always argue whether it's "worth it" to help people in need.

After its precipitous fall in February of 2020, the government took major steps to stabilize it.

By Monday, November 16th, the Dow had surpassed all previous records, closing at 29,950. Meanwhile, the national death rate as a result of COVID-19 was rising toward its horrifying January peak. Meanwhile, working Americans continued to struggle and suffer, wasting their gas money waiting in endless lines for limited supplies of free food.

If you, like nearly half of U.S. adults, don't own any stock at all, the numbers above are essentially meaningless. Even for most of the people who are invested in the stock market, their investment isn't substantial enough to make up for issues like widespread underemployment.

And yet, the Federal Reserve has poured $4 trillion into maintaining the stability of investment markets and ensuring that the Dow, the S&P 500 and various other numbers on charts that seem increasingly disconnected from reality move in the right direction. Why is that?

The answer to that question is complicated, but it is closely linked to the reason why President Joe Biden has been on the receiving end of a lot of scrutiny and pushback on the topic of student loan forgiveness — and why he hasn't already taken steps to cancel some or all of student debt already.

Recently the amount of student loan debt in the United States surpassed $1.7 trillion. That amount has more than tripled in the last 15 years, with around 45 million Americans currently holding some amount of student loan debt, and an average burden in excess of $30,000.

Most of that debt is nearly impossible to discharge through the standard bankruptcy process. And the fact that most of that burden falls on young people — whose careers are less established and who face generational declines in wages and wealth — exacerbates the impact of that debt. It's a major factor in the worrying declines in rates of home ownership, marriage, and birth rate among millennials.

It is widely acknowledged that the cost of higher education has ballooned out of control while it has increasingly been pushed as a necessary step on the path to prosperity. Underlying this problem is the fact that — unlike many developed nations — our federal government doesn't offer affordable public universities or fund education in fields like medicine and engineering where we always need more skilled professionals.

Why Is College So Expensive in America? | Making Cents | NowThis www.youtube.com

Instead we offer government-backed loans and guarantees that incentivize institutions to invest in administrative bloat and in expensive development projects to enhance their prestige and entice prospective students with unnecessary luxuries. Teenagers instilled with little sense of the financial commitments — but an unwavering belief in the necessity of college — have become cash cows.

The system as it stands is clearly broken, and whatever other reforms are called for, the resulting debt crisis is interfering with the spending power and attainment of an entire generation. In the context of a pandemic that has affected the livelihoods of so many, it would seem like an uncontroversial act for the government to alleviate some of that burden of student debt.

And for the most part, it is. Opinion polling shows that the notion of providing some amount of student loan forgiveness is broadly popular across partisan lines.

The exception is among the pundit class — and the wealthy donors they represent. Because, while various political figures — including Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren — have urged Joe Biden to make student loan forgiveness an early focus of his presidency, others in politics and the news media have done their best to push back.

At the moment, a forbearance measure laid out in the CARES act has been extended through the remainder of 2020 — allowing those with federal student loans to defer payments for the time being. But further action being proposed would include forgiveness for debt owed to private companies.

Among the wide range of suggestions are legislation to provide $10,000 of debt forgiveness for individuals meeting certain restrictive criteria and $50,000 of automatic forgiveness for all student debt holders — which Joe Biden could theoretically have delivered through an executive order as soon as he took office.

In either case, some would still be left with large burdens of debt, and some would likely be hit with unmanageable tax bills — as debt forgiveness is considered a form of income. But the debate has not largely involved addressing those shortcomings. Rather, many have questioned whether we should be considering these proposals at all.

The objections tend to fall into three categories: It wouldn't help the right people, it wouldn't stimulate the economy as much as other measures, and "I paid off my student loans, so why shouldn't they?"

The last is patently asinine, and should be ignored or mocked as it applies equally to any form of progress — "My face healed after smashing against the dashboard, so why should we add airbags now?" If the people espousing this perspective want to be acknowledged for their fiscal responsibility, here's the entirety of the praise they deserve: Good for you.

The fact remains that many people are not able to pay off their student loan debts, which can have a ruinous effect on their credit rating, affecting everything from interest rates on other loans to — in a cruel twist — their employment prospects. There is a disturbing potential for an accelerating debt cycle that becomes impossible to escape.

Even for those who are able to pay off their debts may feel pressured by the monthly payments to accept employment that they otherwise wouldn't — contributing to an imbalance in the employee-employer relationship that could further suppress wages. In short, it's bad.

So while it's valid to point out that there are others in the economy more in need than college graduates, we can't ignore the reality of the student debt crisis. Along with other important measures — further extension and expansion of unemployment benefits, rent subsidies, and direct payments to make it easier for people to stay home — student loan forgiveness should be considered an essential part of COVID relief.

Which leaves only one complaint left: It wouldn't do enough to stimulate the economy.

The basic issue is that the benefit of debt forgiveness is spread out over years or decades of remaining loan payments. And because it would also contribute to recipient's tax burdens, there is a concern that much of the cost of debt relief would not result in short term increases in consumer spending — the kind that spurs quick economic growth.

While that's worth being aware of, doesn't this objection have its priorities reversed? Isn't the entire purpose of a strong economy to improve people's lives? So why are we unwilling to improve people's lives unless it primarily contributes to short term economic growth?

Clearly our entire system has embraced this inverted way of thinking. That's why it can pass almost without notice when the Federal Reserve spends $4 trillion to prop up investment markets.

We happily spend that amount on measures that only directly benefit the wealthy, and yet — when it's suggested that we should spend a fraction of that on a popular policy that could improve the lives of 45 million Americans — it becomes a point of great contention.

We all seem to have forgotten the essential truth that the economy is meant to serve us — not the other way around.

Were Congressional Insiders Helping the Capitol Hill Attack?

AOC and others have shared frightening first-hand details from the attempted coup on January 6th, 2021.

Update 2/2/2021: On Monday night, Representative Ocasio-Cortez once again took to Instagram Live to share her experience of the attack on the Capitol building in more detail.

She talked about the frightening moment when an unknown man made his way into her office shouting, "Where is she?" as she hid behind a bathroom door believing that he was likely there to kill her — "this was the moment where I thought everything was over,"

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Trump's 1776 Report Shows What Kind of "Unity" the GOP Wants

Erasing the reality of our troubled history — and our divided present — is not true unity.

Back in early September of 2020, when fewer than 200,000 Americans had yet died as a result of COVID-19, reality TV "businessman" Donald Trump was somehow the president of an entire country.

And he wanted everyone to "love" that country as much — and as selectively — as he did. So when Nikole Hannah-Jones' 1619 Project with The New York Times began winning awards and being taught in classrooms, he knew he had to act.

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We Can't Have Joe Biden's "Unity" Without Accountability

Biden, Obama, Bush, and Clinton were the four horsemen of the 2021 Inauguration.

Well, Trump is out.

Joe Biden's Inauguration into Presidential office unfolded in a spectacle of patriotism with a slight undercurrent of fear following the white supremacist insurrection at the Capitol in early January.

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4 Ways This Inauguration Will Be Different From Any Other

An unprecedented inauguration for unprecedented times.

After a mob attacked the Capitol on January 6th and over 400,000 U.S. deaths as a result of the pandemic, this year's inauguration is going to look a little different.

Crowds will be small or nonexistent, events will be moved online, and security will be tougher than ever. It will be a day of historic firsts, both good and bad.Some things will change, but the important things will stay the same. The Vice President and President will take the oath of office, and it will be the same oath it always is: An oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

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Laughing Through the End Times: 6 Absurd Responses to the Collapse of American Democracy

The attempted coup that took place at the Capitol building on Wednesday was equal parts terrifying and hilarious.

In times of crisis and chaos, it's important to keep a clear head and stay on top of the facts.

It's important to acknowledge that this was an unprecedented breach of security that could easily have been avoided and that it resulted in the deaths of at least four people.

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The Attack on Capitol Hill Wasn't Black Americans' Fight

"President Kennedy never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon...Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they always made me glad." -Malcolm X.

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Why the Georgia Runoffs Are So Important

This year, on January 5th, Georgia voters will participate in a runoff election to select their state senators. But why is this race so important, important enough to make national news and urgent enough that celebrities and activist groups around the nation are rallying to make sure as many voters as possible get out to the polls?

What's at Stake?

The Georgia runoffs will determine Georgia's two Senate seats. This is so important because the outcome of this election will determine whether there is a Republican or Democratic Senate majority.

To win a Democratic Senate majority, both Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock — will have to win their seats. If either Republican candidate, Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue, wins, the Republicans will maintain their Senate majority, and Mitch McConnell will remain Senate majority leader; as currently, Republicans hold 50 of the 100 Senate seats and Democrats hold 48, and there are two independents — Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who caucus with the Democrats.

Democrats hold the House with a razor-thin majority, and Joe Biden, a Democrat, also holds the White House. But a Republican Senate can easily negate the efforts of Democratic governing bodies. When he was Senate Majority Leader during Barack Obama's presidency, Mitch McConnell was able to block much of Obama's legislation.

In short, in order to pass a substantial coronavirus relief bill, substantial climate crisis legislation, and many of the other initiatives Biden promised in his campaign, we need a Democratic Senate majority. While Mitch McConnell remains in charge of the Senate, every Democratic-leaning bill will face tremendous roadblocks to actualization.

As Jonathan Chait explains in his Intelligencer article, Only a Democratic Senate Can Produce a Moderate Biden Presidency, "McConnell won't bring a bill to the floor unless most Republicans support it," and, "When Biden takes office, the Republican incentive will lean heavily toward demonizing any Biden-supported initiative as a fiendish socialistic plot, making broad GOP support almost impossible."

That means, to put it bluntly: No $2,000 stimulus check and probably no future thanks to unchecked climate change. The stakes are, in fact, quite high.

What Are Runoffs, and Why Do They Exist?

A runoff occurs when there is no clear winner in an election. Georgia law proclaims that candidates must win over 50% of the total vote to win an election; if this doesn't happen, the race goes to a runoff. In the general election, Warnock won the most votes followed by Loeffler, but neither garnered the 50% needed, and all candidates went to runoffs.

Georgia's runoff elections were created in the 1960s as a way to keep white candidates in power, reports The New York Times, in a majority-white state where Black candidates had better shots at winning a plurality of the vote. Runoffs also typically benefit white candidates whose followers typically vote more frequently.

Who Is Running?

Currently, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue represent Georgia in the Senate. Kelly Loeffler is a businesswoman and devotee of Donald Trump. The richest US Senator, she made headlines for selling $18 million worth of vulnerable stocks after being briefed on COVID-19, meaning she profited from the coronavirus crisis. (Lawmakers are barred from insider training, but a probe into Loeffler's activity was eventually dropped).

Loeffler's opponent, Rev. Warnock, would be Georgia's first Black senator. He is a pastor at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King once preached, and he is a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter. For her part, Loeffler has criticized BLM for what she calls its "Marxist" origins.

David Perdue is a Senator and businessman. Similarly to Loeffler, he sold stocks prior to the 2020 stock market crash. He does not believe in climate change, opposes same-sex marriage and wants to slash the Affordable Care Act.

Perdue's opponent, Jon Ossoff, is a 33-year-old former journalist. His campaign made waves when Perdue failed to meet him in their debate, leaving him to speak to an empty room. Ossoff interned for Congressman John Lewis, who passed away earlier this summer, and has painted himself as a youthful idealist and Democratic moderate.

"Both are representing the New South," said Representative Hank Johnson of Warnock and Ossoff. "It's very symbolic. It's providential. I think Georgia and Georgians have changed quite a lot. There are people with old South ideas — but they're fewer and fewer."

What Are the Odds?

Both Democrats and Republicans are pouring millions into the race, and the Republicans have far outspent the Democrats thus far.

Georgia has not seen a Democratic Senator in 20 years. Republicans have far more money and establishment power on their side. The polls aren't looking great for Democratic candidates, though most do show a close race (though who trusts polls anymore, anyway?).

There's also a long and horrifying history of voter suppression in Georgia that is alive and well today. In addition to the racist history of runoffs themselves, Georgia has always fought to make it difficult for anyone not white to vote. After the 15th Amendment allowed Black men to vote, Georgia employed the Ku Klux Klan and other forms of violence and intimidation at the polls.

It has since closed majority-Black polling spaces, creating hours-long waits. It has required "exact match" signatures on voting records, an effort that disqualified thousands — 80% of the disqualified being people of color.

A recent seven-year investigation found that Georgia purged over 200,000 evoters from its rolls, marking them as ineligible when they actually were eligible. These methods disproportionately affected Black voters, voters living in metro areas, and voters who did not speak English. The list of Georgia's effort to suppress its voters' constitutional rights goes on and on and continues to this day.

Democratic candidates, however, are supported by organizers like those at Fair Fight who are on the ground getting people to the polls. Other organizations like New Georgia Project and Southerners on New Ground have been working tirelessly to reach people who have too long been ignored by modern politics, showing them that their vote can help make a tangible difference in their lives. And with the entire country's eyes on Georgia, it's hard to know what the outcome will be.

Either way, it's clear that there's a new organizing infrastructure in Georgia that's here to stay.

What Can We Do?

If you're from Georgia or know people there, contacting family and friends and asking them to contact their family and friends and to ask the same — a technique known as vote tripling — is definitely one of the most effective ways to get out the vote. In addition, many people are going to Georgia to do in-person ballot curing, poll-watching, canvassing, and voter aid such as keeping voters comfortable in line.

If you're not in Georgia, you can join a phonebank or text bank and make calls or send texts to Georgians all throughout the week.

And of course, donate to a Georgia organization like Fair Fight, and attend events like Popdust's fundraiser for Fair Fight, which occurs tomorrow night at 6PM EST.

2020 in Review: 12 Months of Unique Horror

A month-by-month review of the best and worst (mostly worst) of 2020.

2020 was a year when time lost all meaning and traditional markers of change — graduations, seasons, parties, holidays — blurred into an indistinguishable slideshow of Zoom calls.

Each month, it seemed, another unavoidable news story exploded onto the headlines, dominating attention, commanding every facet of our collective attention.

This year, each month seemed to have its own color, its own unique tune of horror that required both countless headlines and its own array of memes. As E. Alex Jung writes for Vulture, "Nothing made sense this year — unless you were on the Internet." Each catastrophic event, with its mind-blowing amounts of human suffering and its cataclysmic historical implications, took on new meaning when refracted through the mirror of social media.

In some ways, this year brought us closer together; in other ways, it tore open the last semblances of any illusion that we're all in the same struggle, instead revealing the brutal inequalities that define our society. When all faced with the same roster of calamities, it became clear that some people could suffer through while losing little save for the opportunity to go bar-hopping on Saturday nights, while others were pushed off the brink into the precipice of disaster (that is, if they hadn't already been swimming through the fetid ruins of the capitalist dream).

So, this list is not meant to be a universal summary of the way 2020 was horrifying. No list could ever summarize what 2020 or what a history of inequality and human greed has done to individuals around the world this year.

Instead, it's my reflections on the ways certain events seemed to dominate our collective consciousness in ways few events ever have before, let alone in such rapid succession.

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Restore Trust in Our Elections — By Killing the Electoral College

Pursuing more lawsuits and investigations will never restore trust. Fixing our electoral system could.

Update: Enough electors have now cast their votes to make Joe Biden and Kamala Harris officially the next president and vice president of the United States.

Today in D.C. the 538 electors in the electoral college are casting the votes that will seal Joe Biden's victory as president-elect of the United States.

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