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_borderRebels in Massachusetts

In my home state of Massachusetts, where the American Revolution began, there have been some acts of rebellion against stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.

A “Liberate Massachusetts” rally took place outside the Swampscott, MA home of Governor Charlie Baker. And although most of the news coverage emphasizes the fact that the protest was not very well-attended, this article from the Salem News includes some meaningful quotes from the protesters.

“If people are afraid that they are going to get this, then they should stay home,” said Dianna Ploss, one of the organizers of the protest. “But there are plenty of people who aren’t afraid and they should be allowed to come out.”

I agree with this sentiment 100%. In all areas of life, including when it comes to the coronavirus, people should be allowed to make their own decisions about how much risk they are willing to take. Those who prefer to err on the safe side should be free to take as many steps as they wish to reduce their risk of catching the disease, including staying home and reducing or eliminating contact with other people. But those who are willing to accept a higher amount of risk should be free to do so as well.

“I’m specifically here for my rights. My right to get up in the morning … and go out for a walk in this beautiful state and this beautiful country anywhere I please and any time I please. And, if you don’t know your rights, you can’t fight for them,” said another protester, John Lanni. “What I see here is a slow erosion of our rights.”

Ploss also pointed out the irony of the fact that liquor stores are allowed to remain open while churches are not.

Speaking of churches, the Adams Square Baptist Church in Worcester, MA held mass on Sunday, in defiance of the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

“Some people aren’t happy we’re meeting today,” said Pastor Kris Casey. “To them, I say I’m sorry. I’m sorry you feel that way … but I would rather upset your feelings than disappoint my God. I’m thankful that you’ve got people who are taking a stand because they want to be a good Christian.”

The mass was attended by 53 people, and Casey has said he plans to continue holding them.

He sent a letter to Governor Baker and posted it on Facebook, in which he argues that the state’s forced shutdown of churches violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

Kudos to him for standing up for his rights and those of his congregation.

bookmark_borderNo need for journalists to apologize for being journalists

I began this post a while ago and did not have a chance to finish it until now, so it’s a bit out of date. Despite this, I am still going to weigh in with my thoughts on a controversy in which student journalists at Northwestern University apologized for… practicing journalism.

This situation arose when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited campus, and many students decided to protest. Some of the protesters voiced their opinions peacefully, while others decided to climb through the windows of the lecture hall and forcibly push their way inside to disrupt Sessions’ speech. Two student reporters with the Daily Northwestern had the audacity to interview people in the crowd outside. Afterwards they also used a school directory to look up phone numbers of students involved in the protest and ask them if they would be willing to be interviewed. Additionally, during the protest, a student photographer took pictures of the clash between protesters and police and posted these to Twitter.

“I snapped into the journalistic response of making images,” the photographer, Colin Boyle, explained. “I was just trying to tell the story of what was going on… If something happened, God forbid, I was the only camera that was non-police-owned in that area, to my knowledge.”

Sounds reasonable to me.

However, student activists quickly began making a brouhaha, complaining that the publication of their names and identities might enable the university to punish them for their actions. As a result, the paper redacted a protester’s name from their story and Boyle deleted any tweets with photos showing protesters’ faces.

The Daily Northwestern‘s editorial board apologized in an editorial, which read,

We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night. Some protesters found photos posted to reporters’ Twitter accounts retraumatizing and invasive. Those photos have since been taken down.

In my opinion, the newspaper has absolutely nothing to apologize for. They made no mistakes by covering the protest; the true mistake was to take down the content and to apologize.

When someone chooses to participate in a public protest, they are protesting, well, publicly. And integral part of participating in a protest is the fact that you are in public, and therefore will be seen and potentially photographed by people. It makes no sense for a protester to object to being photographed. If anything, protesters should want as much media coverage as possible, since drawing attention to one’s message and cause is the main purpose of a protest.

Additionally, the students who disrupted Sessions’ speech deserve to be punished, and anything that makes it easier for them to be identified and held accountable for their actions is a good thing, not a bad thing. Disrupting a speech is not OK. It is not fair to the speaker or to the people who have come to hear the speech. For a mob of people to drown out the views of a person with whom they disagree is bullying.

Contrary to the words used in the Daily‘s editorial, the anti-Sessions protesters did not experience any harm as far as I can tell, nor were they traumatized. How is it traumatizing that a person with whom you disagree is giving a speech? How does it cause harm? Anyone who did not wish to hear Sessions’ words could simply have chosen not to attend his speech. If anyone was harmed or traumatized, it would be Sessions and the people who went to the lecture hall hoping to hear him speak. The protesters went out of their way to cause a conflict. They are the aggressors in this situation, not the ones traumatized or harmed. They do not have a right to avoid punishment for their actions, and the newspaper and its reporters should not have modified, redacted, or taken down any of their reporting to accommodate them.

bookmark_borderMore anti-lockdown protests around the country and world

ABC News has more coverage on the protests – now happening across the country and world – against governments’ coronavirus-related restrictions on people’s freedoms.

On Monday, rallies took place in Augusta, Maine and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“My constitutional rights are essential,” read one sign in Augusta.

“My rights don’t end where your fear starts,” read another in Harrisburg.

“Government mandating sick people to stay home is called quarantine. However, the government mandating healthy citizens to stay home, forcing businesses and churches to close is called tyranny,” read a statement by Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine, one of the organizations behind that state’s protest.

To all of these sentiments, I say… right on!

In a disturbing act of censorship, Facebook deleted events planned for California, Nebraska, and New Jersey after state governments complained.

According to the ABC News article, similar pro-freedom protests have taken place in Baghdad, Beirut, Israel, Mumbai, and Paris.

It’s great to see people around the world standing up to the fear-based, authoritarian views of the majority and fighting for freedom.

bookmark_borderBrazilian President Jair Bolsonaro voices support for anti-lockdown protests

Adding his voice to the chorus of opposition to authoritarian lockdown policies is the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. Outside the army headquarters in Brasilia, President Bolsonaro denounced the stay-at-home orders imposed by Brazil’s state governors as “dictatorial.” He praised those who have been protesting against these measures, calling them “patriots” who are fighting for individual rights.

Earlier this month, the New York Times called Bolsonaro “the sole major world leader continuing to question the merits of lockdown measures to fight the pandemic.” Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram went so far as to delete posts made by Bolsonaro, deeming them to be endangering public health.

“The collateral effects of the measures to fight the coronavirus cannot be cannot be worse than the actual illness,” Bolsonaro said.

It makes me feel more optimistic about humanity to know that at least one world leader is speaking out against the attitude of safety at all costs that so many governments have espoused in response to the coronavirus. Pandemic or no pandemic, individual rights matter. Thank you, President Bolsonaro, for taking this courageous stance.

bookmark_borderPelosi calls anti-lockdown protests “unfortunate”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the recent protests against authoritarian, coronavirus-related government policies “unfortunate.”

Speaking on Fox News, she said: “That is really the answer. Testing. Tracing. Treatment. Shelter in place… But, you know, people will do what they do.” She added, “The fact is, we’re all impatient. We all want out. But what they’re doing is really unfortunate.”

I could not disagree more strongly. There is nothing “unfortunate” about people bravely fighting back against tyrannical governments. That is especially true when the government policies being protested against are endorsed as necessary and appropriate by the majority of people.

The anti-lockdown protests do not have to do with people being “impatient.” They have to do with people believing (correctly, in my opinion) that the government’s lockdown orders are morally wrong and violate people’s rights.

It may well be true that the measures Pelosi lists – shelter in place orders, testing, contact tracing, and treatment – are the best ways to reduce the risk posed by the coronavirus. But what she does not take into account is that reducing risk is not necessarily the most important value, to be maximized at all costs. Individual rights and liberty matter as well. It is OK for the government to take away people’s freedom of movement in order to slow the spread of the virus? How about to ban people from transacting business, thereby destroying their ability to make a living? And to what extent is it OK to take away people’s privacy through attempts to trace and monitor who they come in contact with?

People can legitimately come up with differing answers to these questions. Those with minority views on how best to deal with the coronavirus pandemic deserve to be heard. Their opinions are just as valid and important as those of the majority. Pelosi is wrong to presume that her opinions are automatically correct and that her values are the only ones that matter.

The fact the America has such a small-minded, unimaginative, and intolerant Speaker of the House is truly unfortunate.

bookmark_borderMore protests against government overreach around the country

My heart is cheered at the news reports of protests all over the country against state governments’ authoritarian, anti-liberty actions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Michigan, protesters held what they described as “Operation Gridlock” to express their opposition to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.

In Texas, a “You Can’t Close America” rally took place outside the State Capitol in Austin. “It’s sad how easily, with the snap of a finger, they’ll just shut down society,” said protester Dave Litrell, “and it’s even more sad that most of the people just acquiesce.”

In Indiana, protesters rallied outside Governor Eric Holcomb’s residence to criticize his executive orders closing businesses and directing people to stay at home. (Looks like one had an awesome picture of Ron Paul according to a photo in this article.) Protester Andy Horning said, “I’ve got kids who want to live a good life. I don’t want to bequeath them a Venezuela. I don’t want to bequeath them a North Korea.” One sign read, “My freedom does not end where your fears begin.” It would be hard to say it better than that.

Similar protests have taken place recently in California, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

“Free people make their own risk assessments,” read one sign in New Hampshire.

“Quarantine is for sick people,” said Eric Moutsos, a protester in Utah. “When you lock healthy people away, that’s tyranny.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said of the protests: “People are frustrated, we’re anxious, we’re scared, we’re angry. Look, if you have partisan divisions splitting this nation now, it’s going to make it worse… This is no time, and no place for division. We have out hands full as it is. Let’s just stay together, and let’s work it through.”

But this statement does not really acknowledge the protesters’ dissenting viewpoints. It’s not that people are anxious or scared or angry… it’s that people believe the government’s policies are wrong. Cuomo makes no attempt to listen to the protesters’ arguments or to understand where they are coming from. He essentially says that everyone should simply have the same opinions as him and follow the policies that he and other governors enact. But the whole point of the protests is that not everyone supports those policies. Cuomo does not acknowledge that people can read about and think about the issues and have different opinions than he does. He does not acknowledge that people can have different ideas about how best to work through the situation and what values should be prioritized.

President Trump, to his credit, had good things to say about the protesters. “These are people expressing their views,” he said. “They seem to be very responsible people to me.” He also tweeted his support:

These pictures from the protests make me proud of my country. My views about individual rights, particularly in the context of the pandemic, place me in the minority, but reading about and watching videos of the protests makes me feel that I am not alone. I hope that there will always be true patriots like these, bravely fighting for freedom.

bookmark_borderProtesting is labeled a “non-essential activity” in North Carolina

On Tuesday, over 100 people gathered in Raleigh, NC to protest against the state government’s stay-at-home orders. The group organizing the protest, ReOpenNC, characterizes (correctly, in my opinion) the restrictions on people and businesses imposed by Governor Roy Cooper as unconstitutional.

“You are in violation of the executive order,” a cop told the crowd. “You are posing a risk to public health. If you do not disperse, you will be taken and processed at Wake County jail.” Although most protesters eventually dispersed, one protestor, Monica Faith Ussery, was arrested and charged with violating the stay-at-home executive order. “I have a right to peacefully assemble,” she said.

After the protest, the Raleigh Police Department tweeted in response to a question, “Protesting is a non-essential activity.” In a separate statement, they wrote “More important is the health and wellness of all who live in our community… We simply want everyone to be safe during this very serious public health crisis.”

I don’t know about you, but I find it disturbing that the government can ban a fundamental First Amendment right simply because it is not essential. Ms. Ussery has a point: the First Amendment explicitly prohibits the government from making any law abridging “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” In other words, protesting against government policies is precisely what the First Amendment was designed to protect. Health and wellness are important, but the government’s primary job should be to protect people’s freedoms. When a fundamental right can be taken away merely because it poses a risk to public health, then we are not living in a free country.

bookmark_borderCoronavirus is no excuse for totalitarianism

The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold suffering, from the lives lost to the economic devastation to the stress of routines being upended. But the most upsetting aspect of the crisis, in my opinion, is the curtailment of individual liberty. Local, state, and national governments have implemented increasingly strict measures to stop the spread of the virus, many of which violate people’s rights and therefore are morally wrong.

Many, if not most, states in the U.S. have enacted stay-at-home orders, meaning that all businesses are banned from operating, other than those that the government has deemed essential. Restaurant service, sporting events, and most retail shopping is banned. So are gatherings of more than ten people. People are urged, with varying degrees of coerciveness, not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

As Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes in an excellent column, the amount of power that the government has seized merely by declaring an emergency is disturbing. “In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker is empowered by state law to ‘exercise any and all authority over persons and property’ in whatever way he deems necessary to cope with the crisis. The law allows him to do virtually anything – from banning weddings to prohibiting travel to commandeering utilities to closing schools to throwing innumerable people out of work by declaring their jobs nonessential. Legislative approval is not required. Nor is a public vote. Nor is there any fixed date on which those godlike powers must be surrendered. Similarly sweeping emergency powers are available to governors in other states. Many similar powers are available to the president.”

Continue reading “Coronavirus is no excuse for totalitarianism”