Happy September, all. Unless you're depressed about the Red Sox losing seven out of their last ten games. In which case: cheer up, there's always next year.
A common theme of late. It's a continuing mystery as to why Jacob Sullum's column's headlines are nearly as long as the articles themselves. The latest is The Student Loan Debate Shows How the ACLU Has Lost Its Way: The Venerable Champion of Civil Liberties Is Increasingly Indistinguishable From Myriad Progressive Advocacy Groups.
The American Civil Liberties Union last week applauded President Joe Biden's plan to cancel student loan debt, which it describes as "a racial justice issue." That puzzling position encapsulates how far the venerable organization has strayed from the mission reflected in its name.
Under Biden's new policy, borrowers earning up to $125,000 a year will be eligible for $10,000 in debt relief, or twice that amount if they qualified for Pell Grants as students. The 43 million or so beneficiaries include many affluent people who could readily afford to pay off their loans, while the cost, which is projected to be at least $300 billion, will be borne by taxpayers, including Americans of relatively modest means.
Some of the people picking up the tab never attended college, while others struggled to do so without borrowing money or have already paid off their loans. But in the ACLU's view, that seemingly unfair redistribution of resources is what racial justice demands.
Sullum notes how the ACLU's fondness for progressive nostrums blur and degrade its once-principled focus on civil liberties. Now, like all progressives, they're OK with pushing people around as long as it's for a good (i.e., left-progressive) cause.
I used to be too conservative to like the ACLU. Now I find myself too libertarian to like the ACLU. We were like ships passing in the night, I guess.
Maybe a better question: Who are you not calling a fascist, Mr. President? David Harsanyi has a query: Who Are You Calling A Fascist, Mr. President?
The other day Joe Biden accused voters of the opposition party of turning to “semi-fascism.” This is probably the first time in American history a president has openly attacked the opposing party’s constituents in this way. Grammatically speaking, the accusation could use a little work. What Biden probably meant to say was that 74 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 are “quasi-fascist” or “increasingly fascistic.”
Then again, Biden, who once alleged that the chaste Mitt Romney was harboring a desire to bring back chattel slavery, is prone to stupid hyperbole. And it’s true that most people who throw around the word “fascist” fail to do so with much precision.* Anyway, our president will probably further explain his thinking on the matter of “semi-fascism” when he gives a prime-time speech about threats to our “democracy” this Thursday—a week after he broke millions of existing contracts and unilaterally “forgave” student loans by executive decree. Biden has engaged in historic and unprecedented abuses of White House power. Sometimes, the chutzpah is staggering.
These days, the word “democracy,” like “fascism,” has lost all meaning.
We keep trotting out this snippet from George Orwell's 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language":
The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.
But let me also point out what Orwell had to say about "democracy" (and other words), immediately after that observation:
The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
I like David Harsanyi, and that affection is not diminished by the observation that what he's writing today was already true 76 years ago.
Looking for voting advice? Kevin D. Williamson has some: Don’t Reward Cowardice with Your Vote. He's talking about Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and his switch-hitting on the abortion issue. But he has other points to make first.
Like Hammurabi, I am trying to organize my laws. Here’s what I have so far:
Williamson’s First Law: Everything is simple, if you don’t know a fucking thing about it.
Williamson’s Second Law: When Democrats are in power, they act like they’ll never be out; when Republicans are out of power, they act like they’ll never be in.
Williamson’s Third Law: Candidates who aren’t with us on abortion really aren’t with us at all. The Romney Addendum: Be very, very suspicious of anybody who changes his mind about abortion — in either direction — after the age of 40 or so.
“I am very pro-choice,” Donald Trump said until about five minutes before he decided he wanted to make a run for the Republican presidential nomination, when somebody with a soothing voice and a fresh new coloring book explained to him that he wouldn’t get far embracing the same position on abortion as Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Before descending that escalator in 2015, Trump had also been a long-time advocate of anti-constitutional gun-control measures, confiscatory wealth taxes, and a whole lot of other bad ideas he shared with former allies such as Chuck Schumer.) Moving the other direction, Mitt Romney was firmly pro-choice when he was engaged in Massachusetts and then told a story — a preposterous story — about having his mind changed during the stem-cell debate. There is good reason to expect Romney to continue to be on the right side of the abortion debate now that he has found it: For one thing, it’s pretty obvious that the pro-choice Romney was the phony Romney, and, for another thing, there’s no juice in flip-flopping on that issue now that the honorable gentleman from La Jolla is pretending to be a Utah guy. But there’s always a mental asterisk there for those of us who remember.
Note: the f-bomb in KDW's first law is asterisked in the online article. I've taken the liberty of restoring the spelling, something I almost never do. I think it works better that way.
There are (as I type) 669 comments on KDW's article. The "most popular" comments are pretty livid about his failure to toe the (literal) party line. They must not read him much.
Incentives work. Even if you wish they wouldn't. Robby Soave notes an instance of that general rule: Biden's Income-Driven Repayment Plan Will Make College Much More Expensive. The "forgiveness" aspect of Biden's edict was bad enough. But:
The IDR aspect of Biden's plan attracted less scrutiny than the direct forgiveness aspect, which will cost at least $300 billion (and probably much, much more) in the immediate future. But in the long-term, this aggressive move toward an income-driven model of repaying college loans will probably have a bigger impact—and that impact will be catastrophic. In fact, unless the government does something to constrain colleges' ability to set their own prices, IDR could break the entire higher education financing system and lead to skyrocketing costs for taxpayers.
There are some IDR programs available right now, but Biden's approach would vastly expand this option. The existing plans require borrowers to pay 10, 15, or 20 percent of their income for two decades, at which point the rest of the loan is forgiven. Biden would make IDR much more appealing than it is currently; according to the Biden-Harris debt relief plan, borrowers will pay just 5 percent of their income (or 10 percent if they took out graduate student loans) for either 10 or 20 years depending on how much money they owe. The income threshold will be raised from 150 percent above the poverty line to 225 percent, and punitive interest rates will be eliminated.
All in all, this IDR model will be extremely appealing for a large number of borrowers, and we should expect the percentage of borrowers who are repaying via IDR to increase substantially in the coming years. But without further changes to the federal student loan program, this is going to be a huge problem.
That's because both the borrowers and the universities will have increased incentive to bilk the people who actually make the loan: the taxpayers.
Another language peeve of mine… is nicely described by Bryan Caplan: Pretty Safe Lies.
“But is it safe?” Good economists will scoff that it’s a meaningless question, because safety is always a matter of degree. Nothing in the real world is perfectly safe. Even if you spend your day hiding in your house, you could die of a heart attack, an earthquake, or a home invasion.
In contrast, non-economists - and bad economists - love binary thinking about risk. Everything is either “safe” or “unsafe.” This was blatant during COVID. How many times did you hear the sentences, “Is it safe to reopen restaurants?,” “Is it safe to reopen schools?,” and “Is it safe to fly yet?”
What silly questions! Each activity has a positive probability of catching and spreading COVID - and the probability of bad outcomes rises the more time you spend doing the activity. Politically, however, you couldn’t regain your freedom until an authority gave each silly question an even sillier answer. “Yes, flying is now safe again.”
I am reminded of a very old (1975) Saturday Night Live bit from an Albert Brooks-produced video short, which had two doctors arguing about medical ethics. One thinks he's "safe" from dying, but the other disagrees:
“You could be hit by a car driving home today!”
“I’m not going home today!”