Culture Feature

What to Do When Kylie Jenner Asks You for Money

Maybe when you've been on the cover of Forbes you lose your crowdfunding privileges?

When a young, single working mom reaches out for help, we all have a responsibility to dig deep and give what we can.

And if she's not even asking for herself but for a friend who's in need of some assistance, you know that it must be for an exceptionally good cause. But if you happen to be struggling at the time — maybe with the consequences of some sort of global health crisis that has brought on a major economic downturn — and don't happen to be the founder of your own billion-dollar cosmetics empire, what should you do when the 23-year-old cosmetics mogul and star of Keeping Up with the Kardashians asks you to pay for her makeup artist's medical bills?

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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.

The #ThingsIdLikeToGetBack hashtag swept through Twitter yesterday as a twist on Throwback Thursday.

Set off by the account @MoonPieTags, it has inspired thousands of lamentations of lost youth along with posts about fallen media icons, Obama being better than Trump, and how we all miss our old pets. It's a soft and pleasant kind of nostalgia, which is nice enough. But if you dig a little deeper, #ThingsIdLikeToGetBack has also painted a clear picture of the ways that life in the United States has changed for the worse in recent decades.

While the "OK boomer" meme points to the exhaustion of dealing with a group of people who refuse to listen to anyone born after 1985—who mock our concerns and blame us for changing the economic shifts that afflict us—this hashtag tells the story of what they had that we lack. For all their nostalgia for a lost era of greatness, a lot of the things that made life hopeful, prosperous, and just plain livable for young people coming of age in the 60s and 70s have been lost without much of an acknowledgment.

If you're a boomer, maybe you think that music these days is trash. It's just a bunch of noise. Back when you were in college, you could go see Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana and The Who all in one venue! Real music. Not this noise they listen to these days. Who even is Tekashi69? And why do all these new musicians want to have tattoos all over their faces?

We'll ignore the fact that your parents said the same things about your music, because these are good questions. I would answer them if I could, but you're actually more invested in these trends than most of us are. These young celebrities who frighten and confuse you do not represent important cultural touchstones like Hendrix and The Beatles. Media sources are more disparate than ever, which means there are 100 times as many "famous" people today as there were in your youth, but each one is only a tiny fraction as famous as celebrities used to be. You hear about the ones that float to the surface, mostly for being especially outrageous. And yeah, a lot of them are trash. Leaving aside how many of your icons were secretly trash as well, let's focus on the fact that even a basic ticket to 2019's biggest music festival cost more money than a huge portion of the country has available even for an emergency.

If you adjust for inflation, the minimum wage is still lower than it was in the 1960s. Meanwhile, rent has gone up at more than twice the rate of the median income, and home prices are even worse—up 121% compared to income crawling along at 29%. And you get upset that we aren't buying enough houses? All the while, productivity, AKA the value of our work, has been shooting up, with that growth almost all funneled to the nation's wealthiest (disproportionately boomers). And that college you went to when you weren't swimming in the mud at Woodstock? It's nice that you were able to pay your tuition with a summer job, but tuition has increased at eight times the rate of wages. We're not taking on unsustainable levels of student debt because we're careless, or lack work ethic. We're taking it on because we've been told all our lives that an advanced degree is necessary for a good life, and that's just how much it costs.

You didn't even realize that you were riding on a wave of prosperity and growth that was put in motion by the New Deal Democrats. As you found your footing in the world, you voted in politicians who would slash the top marginal tax rate and kneecap the union protections that gave workers the leverage to negotiate fairly with employers. Politicians value the success of private enterprise over the health of our populous, and they take donations from the insurance and pharmaceutical companies who wring every bit of profit they can out of basic survival.

You used your wealth to create a culture of toxic individualism verging on narcissism—of sprawling excess and consumption, driving up home prices with suburb upon suburb of McMansion—and you scoff at the concept of restructuring our system to curtail the environmental effects. You tell us that our plans to clean up your mess will hurt the economy, despite the fact that climate change has already cost the global economy nearly two trillion dollars and presents a threat to over a billion jobs. You are the generation most at fault for creating the world as it is, and you blame us for its ugliness.

Here's my contribution to #ThingsIdLikeToGetBack: A boomer nostalgia that goes deeper than cultural signifiers—than Muscle Cars and Mork from Ork. I want to see a nostalgia that acknowledges that the existence of iPhones doesn't necessarily mean that my generation is better off, a nostalgia for the material circumstances you had which my generation is deprived of.

CULTURE

5 Funniest Moments from Hasan Minhaj Schooling Congress About Student Loan Debt

After all, who better to articulate such a chaotic and dystopian crisis than an Indian-American Muslim comedian who was waitlisted for law school?

Sean Duffy (left), Hasan Minhaj (center), and Maxine Waters (right)

Comedian Hasan Minhaj just delivered some tight stand up to what is maybe the fourth worst audience in the world, following North Koreans, ISIS, and an office Christmas party.

On Tuesday, the Patriot Act host appeared on Capitol Hill to speak before the House Financial Services Committee about the $1.5 trillion student debt crisis. Specifically, he addressed the crippling reality of the cost of higher education, the shrinking of the middle class, and why policy-makers and student loan services are such douchebags.

The committee held a "long overdue" hearing on student lending and the higher educational system's craven and predatory practices. Chairwoman Maxine Waters called the hearing overdue "given the scale of the crisis at hand," referring to the 45 million Americans with student loan debt—the size of which has surpassed the nation's total outstanding credit card debt and auto debt. Waters invited Minhaj to speak, considering Patriot Act's large outreach to audiences of thirty-something-year-olds and younger, who came of age amidst the worst recession since the Great Depression and whose daily struggles are dismissed by politicians who are deluded about the severity and real-world cause and effect of "millennial problems."

When Minhaj appeared before congress, he applied his usual mix of candid humor and anal retentive research. After all, who better to articulate such a chaotic and dystopian crisis than an Indian-American Muslim comedian who was waitlisted for law school?

It's unfortunate that some of Minhaj's best lines from Tuesday's hearing only received a smattering of laughter from the back of the room amidst a miasma of Republicans' indignant huffs and that smell of fear boomers give off in the presence of minorities who know things. In that spirit, we've spotlighted some of his best bits:

1. When he reminded the room he's brown but was still invited to congress

"My name is Hasan Minaj. I'm a Muslim and I condemn radical Islamic terrorism. That has nothing to do with anything but I just want that on the record."