I found this opinion piece on HuffingtonPost this morning. It is just another indication of just how drunk we have become on credit over the last 40 years. I am amazed as I think back at just how easy it was to accumulate that debt--and, yes, I am speaking from experience. The author is absolutely correct about how nonchalantly students were advised that the student loan debt was 'good' debt. Everyone assumed that the degree would lead to good jobs that would allow us to pay off the debt and live a nice, upwardly mobile life. And, because the loans carried a fairly low interest rate, they were so much better than any other kind of debt. Well, as the old saying goes 'Assume makes an ass out of u and me." And the default rate is, as Zac Bissonette writes, only the tip of the ice berg. Several years ago another writer (whose name I cannot now remember) compared the student loan burden as "debt slavery." I agreed to her then and agree even more heartily now.
Blueridgenow.com has an interesting letter to the editor concerning Social Security. The meat of the article deals with the contention I expressed yesterday that I do feel entitled to Social Security since I have paid the taxes all my working life and it has been promised me all my working life. The important part starts with a couple of Supreme Court Cases.
"Helvering v. Davis — 1937, the Supreme Court rules that Social Security was a tax like any other tax, and no American has a property right to that tax revenue. This was affirmed again by the Supreme Court in 1960 — Flemming v. Nestor. Starting with FDR, Americans have been told a lie about Social Security, while the federal government (starting with FDR in 1937) has always successfully argued in court that Social Security was in fact just a tax.Whether it would be immoral and/or politically stupid to not fulfill promises made about Social Security is another question entirely. For the moment, you have to pay your FICA; it is not legally yours as a property right; the government can give you back whatever it wants (including nothing) and can tax the FICA tax you already paid. Yes, your government has spent the surplus taxes it collected because it can, legally. It allowed them to spend money without raising your taxes directly. November 2010 is about change, choose wisely."
I think the questions of entitlement and morality are not entirely separate questions. In spite of the law (which holds that we are not entitled to any of the tax proceeds) there is a moral obligation whether enforceable or not. What this says is that the U.S. taxpayers are in the same position as workers employed by a failing company. When the company files for bankruptcy the workers become unsecured creditors and may or may not get the wages they worked for. Another parallel comes to mind. Years ago, casino gambling was sold to the residents of Illinois on the promise that the revenues the state garnered through gambling would be used to pay for education. Those revenues were put in the general fund and education in Illinois has always had to fight for appropriations from the state legislature. I have asked this question before but it is worth asking again: how long before repeated broken promises and crushed hopes leads people to withdraw support from the political system that governs us? We no longer trust the economic system and its leaders. The last ten years have provided repeated blows to our trust in our political system and its leaders. I think we are on very fragile ground here.
Here is another interesting story from HuffingtonPost. Katz is absolutely right when he writes that it is a very different thing to get medical help for cancer, or flu, or similar conditions which are not the normal functioning of the human body. For the most part, obesity is the result of the very normal functioning of human physiology. It has a very important survival function--or has had for most of human history. Obesity today is the combination of a sedentary lifestyle (how much of our daily work involves vigorous physical activity?) and a food industry that provides cheap and often empty calories. Katz's conclusion is right on target--instead of trying to chemically modify our physiology we should put ourselves into a more natural environment.