bookmark_borderStudent loans and bad analogies

Another post that I began a long time ago but did not have time to finish until now…

A while ago, former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich tweeted, “If leftists want to forgive student debt shouldn’t they also propose giving back the money to everyone who worked hard and paid off their student loans?”

I agree with this sentiment 100%. Forgiving debt, as appealing as it may sound given the exorbitant cost of college and the crushing loans people incur in order to pay for it, poses significant fairness issues.

In regards to paying for college (or any expensive item, for that matter), there are essentially three different options:

  1. Someone could save up money and pay for college without taking out any loans.
  2. Someone could take out loans to pay for college.
  3. Someone could simply decide not to go to college.

Forgiving loans gives a benefit to people in category #2, but not to people in category #1 or category #3. It essentially gives free money to those who chose to pay for college through loans, while giving nothing to people who saved up for college or who opted out of college entirely.

In other words, forgiving loans is deciding to make something free after some people have already paid for it. If you are going to do this, fairness requires that you also refund the money for those who have already paid.

Various people in the twitterverse came up with snide responses to Newt’s tweet that on the surface sound witty and clever but actually don’t make sense.

First of al, several people personally attacked Gingrich for his sex life and the fact that he went through a divorce (imagine what the reaction on Twitter would be if someone attacked a female politician with this type of criticism), something that is not appropriate and has nothing to do with the issue of student loan forgiveness.

“Child labor laws… seems like a good idea, but have you thought about how frustrated all the kids who already lost limbs in the mill will feel??” tweeted @SamAdlerBell.

“Guys, look. We can cure cancer but what about everyone who already died from it? IDK seems unfair,” tweeted @sssh_sstrn

These analogies do not make sense. This is because saving up to pay for college – unlike losing a limb at work or dying of cancer – is something a person chooses to do.

For everyone in category #1 above, the option of borrowing money was available to them; they simply choose not to because, based on the rules in existence at the time, paying upfront made more financial sense. The decision to pay upfront for college is based on the presumption that if one took out loans, one would then be in debt and would eventually have to pay back the loans with interest, which would mean paying more in total. If people knew that student loans were going to be forgiven, no one in their right mind would pay for college; everyone would simply take out loans knowing that the loans would be forgiven and college would effectively be free. In other words, changing the rules so that loans are  forgiven makes it so that taking out loans actually would have made more financial sense, but there was no way for people to know this at the time. It is not OK to change rules after people have already made decisions based on the old rules.

My parents are an example of this. Ever since I was born, they gradually saved up money for college. Both of them worked at middle-class jobs and saved money every month. They were not poor, but they were not rich either. If the government announced that student debt was going to be forgiven, my parents and I would have legitimate reason to be upset. If they had known that there was no need to save for college, my parents would have had that much more discretionary income to spend. My family would have taken more vacations or bought a larger house or more clothes or toys. Perhaps one of my parents would have chosen not to work.

This simply does not apply to the situations claimed to be analogous by the people on Twitter. After workplace safety laws are passed, no worker thinks, “I wouldn’t have chosen to lose my limb had I known these workplace safety laws were going to be passed.” That would make absolutely no sense. Losing one’s limb is an accident; it is not something anyone chooses to do. Similarly, no one chooses to have cancer. So the anti-Newt tweeters are missing the point: student loan forgiveness is problematic because it changes the rules after people have already made decisions based on the old rules. The other situations have nothing to do with this.

Another Twitter user named @dave_petr wrote about his desire for future generations to have it better than he did and asserted that “selfless sacrifice is kinder.” But there is nothing kind about bestowing a benefit on some people while leaving out others who are equally deserving. People who have scrimped and saved to pay for college deserve kindness as well. They do not deserve to see other people receive the thing that they have scrimped and saved for, for free.

Either choose an amount of money (perhaps the cost of a typical college education, or the average amount of student debt per person) and give everyone that amount of money, or do nothing. Giving free money to some people and not others is unfair and morally wrong.

bookmark_borderDestroying other people’s property is not OK (even if it’s a $30,000 purse)

While browsing around the internet recently, I came across this story about a woman who is suing a country club for negligence because a waiter spilled wine on her $30,000 purse. The country club responded by filing a cross-claim against the waiter, its own employee.

This incident happened when Maryana Beyder and her husband were dining at the Alpine Country Club in New Jersey last year. It is unclear whether the waiter spilled the wine intentionally or not. “Whoever the waiter was proceeded to pour red wine and didn’t stop,” said Beyder’s lawyer. “Poured it all over her. Poured it all over her husband. And poured it all over a very expensive Hermes bag.” The lawyer expressed disappointment with the country club’s suit against the waiter, saying “There was never any intention of my client to go after this person at all. The only intention was to have the employer take responsibility.”

In my opinion, the waiter is the person who should have to pay for the damage to the purse. After all, the waiter is the person who caused the damage.

Continue reading “Destroying other people’s property is not OK (even if it’s a $30,000 purse)”

bookmark_borderMGM should not be punished for Las Vegas shooting

Recently, MGM Resorts agreed to pay $800,000 to victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Survivors and victims’ family members had sued the company, which owns the Mandalay Bay Resort, the hotel from which gunman Stephen Paddock fired on attendees at a country music festival from his suite on the 32nd floor. According to the Washington Post, various lawsuits in the aftermath of the 2017 shooting accused MGM of negligence for “failing to monitor the gunman as he delivered guns and ammunition to his room.”

The settlement “sends a strong message to the hospitality industry that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken,” said Muhammad S. Aziz, a lawyer representing over 1,300 victims and survivors.

Although it is completely understandable to want to do everything possible to prevent such tragedies, and to compensate their victims, the lawsuits against MGM are morally wrong and the company should not have to pay anything.

It is simply not true that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken. It is the moral duty of every person to respect the rights of others and to refrain from harming innocent people. But no person, company, or organization has a duty to actively prevent crime. To argue that MGM had a duty to monitor Paddock and the items he was bringing to his room is to argue that hotel guests have no privacy rights. This is morally wrong. What a hotel guest does in his/her room, and which items he/she brings there, are none of the hotel’s business. It is not clear how far hotels would have to go in violating guests’ privacy rights in order to avoid lawsuits. Would they need to search all bags brought into the hotel? Would they need to require guests to go through metal detectors, or though full-body scanners, or to be strip-searched? Would they need to install cameras in all rooms to monitor everything guests do? To take the logic behind the lawsuits further, one might argue that hotels have a duty to require psychological evaluations before anyone is allowed to make a reservation. And why stop at hotels? Mass shootings have taken place at schools, movie theaters, churches, and all different types of places. Would these places need to require strip searches and psychological evaluations for everyone who enters as well?

Clearly, a world in which “all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken” is a world that no one in their right mind would want to live in. It is a world with no privacy and no freedom. Businesses and organizations should not be allowed, let alone required, to adopt policies and procedures that take away people’s privacy and freedom of movement.

“This settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” said Robert Eglet, another attorney involved in the lawsuit, according to the Washington Post.

But there is nothing fair about punishing an innocent company that did nothing wrong. Stephen Paddock is to blame for the shooting, and no one else. Because Paddock died by suicide after the shooting, it is impossible for victims to obtain financial compensation from him. And as understandable as it is to seek compensation elsewhere, one cannot simply find another person or entity to sue without regard for whether that person or entity is actually to blame for the shooting.

The lawsuits against MGM, and the resulting settlement, send the message that privacy, fairness, and individual responsibility do not matter. This is just wrong. Fundamental moral principles should not be sacrificed in the name of preventing tragedies.

bookmark_borderBack pay for federal workers is an issue of fairness

Since the government shutdown (temporarily, at least) came to an end, Representative Ayanna Pressley introduced a bill – known as the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act – which would provide back pay to  contract employees just like those who work directly for the federal government.

“This is about dignity, this is about fairness, this is about justice,” Pressley said.

I agree with this statement, but not in the way Pressley meant it. True fairness would be for none of the employees furloughed during the shutdown to receive back pay.

After all, during the five weeks the federal government was shut down, neither contract employees nor federal employees were working. For them to get paid as if they were working this entire time is not fair to all of the other workers across the country – in the private sector and for state and local governments – who were not affected by the shutdown. It is even less fair to the government employees, such as TSA agents and air traffic controllers, who were forced to work without pay during the shutdown. Nor is it fair to taxpayers for the government to take their hard-earned money and use it to pay people for work they did not perform.

Yes, it is inconvenient to suddenly be furloughed from work. For people who do not have savings in the bank, it can be difficult or impossible to pay bills. But there is no right to receive continuous employment and pay from the federal government. The government has every right to discontinue, either temporarily or permanently, any federal job(s). This is disappointing for the affected employees, but it is a risk that people assume when they work for the federal government. There is nothing unfair about  it.

Additionally, for people to temporarily or permanently lose their jobs is something that happens in the private sector all the time and is not treated as a tragedy but simply part of the economy. Every day, companies go out of business, lay off workers, cut their hours, or furlough them based on changing market conditions. The vast majority of time, newspapers do not run front page articles about the suffering faced by these workers and their families. Restaurants did not offer free meals to racetrack employees when it was announced that Suffolk Downs lost out on the casino license and was going to be closing. No one has suggested paying workers at the now-closed Necco plant for all the weeks they would be working had the factory remained open. But that’s exactly what is happening for federal employees. Being out of work is a hardship for anyone. Why should government workers be exempt?

Supporters of back pay say that government employees should be compensated for the wages that they missed out on. But giving people full pay for not working goes way beyond compensating them. It is the equivalent of giving them five extra weeks of paid vacation. It is a windfall, a boon, a reward, a huge extra benefit, delivered at taxpayers’ expense and denied to the federal employees forced to work without pay as well as to all other workers across the country. Furloughed government employees got to have five weeks of free time, which they could spend pursuing their hobbies, resting, exercising, or doing anything they wanted. True, they did not choose this free time and most would likely have preferred to continue working than to miss out on their paychecks. But this does not change the fact that to pay them for this time is completely unfair to everyone else who spent the time working.

bookmark_borderDismissal of inauguration protest charges is a defeat for justice

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia recently dismissed charges against all remaining people arrested for the destructive protests against President Trump on his inauguration day. Originally, 234 people were arrested for allegedly participating in acts of vandalism that included setting fires and smashing storefronts with bricks and crowbars, resulting in injuries to 6 police officers. Some of those defendants pleaded guilty, some went to trial and were either acquitted or had hung juries, and the rest had their charges dismissed.

The reason why so many of these people were allowed to go free makes sense: the government was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the people arrested were actually the people who committed the acts of vandalism. Videos from body cameras, cell phones, and security cameras were not clear enough for jurors to definitively identify the vandals, and the defendants successfully argued that they were just protesting peacefully and shouldn’t be blamed for other people’s actions.

However, it still remains true that someone set the fires and smashed the storefronts in Washington, D.C. on inauguration day. And it’s a defeat for justice and fairness that the people who did that – aside from one defendant who was sentenced to 4 months in prison – will escape punishment.

The wrongfulness of the vandals’ conduct has been largely ignored by anti-Trump folks in their celebration of the dismissal of the charges. For example, Natasha Lennard at The Intercept praises the protesters’ “united front” which “meant the government could not weaponize co-defendants to bolster their weak case.” She mentions that the innocent defendants must have been tempted to “assert that they were in fact the law-abiding ‘good protesters,’ while actively condemning and drawing attention to the actions of a few window-breakers” and praises their decision not to do this.

But condemning the actions of the window-breakers is exactly what the other protesters should be doing. To destroy the property of innocent people is morally wrong. By failing to condemn the property damage, the anti-Trump movement is essentially saying that the property damage is okay. No one should be okay with, or want to be associated with, people who decided that their hatred of Trump and his policies was more important than the rights of innocent people.

The arrested protesters complain about the “trauma” that they have “suffered,” but did any of them think for a second about the suffering of the innocent people whose property was destroyed?

Countless people have been arrested and imprisoned for “victimless crimes” that should not be crimes at all, such as drug use, driving without a license, gun possession without a license, and failure to pay taxes. Destroying innocent people’s property, on the other hand, is precisely the type of action that the legal system was created to punish. It’s unfortunate that in this case, there wasn’t enough evidence to determine with certainty who perpetrated the barbaric actions of inauguration day. But that doesn’t make those actions any less wrong. As D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said, “In the American criminal justice system, sometimes the bad guys win. That’s what happened in this case.”