Saturday, October 26, 2019

Onward and Upward...More or Less.

Image result for concept art post apocalyptic wasteland
Progress continues, unabated, since 2008.

Well, it has been a long time between postings.  Some of it is in part due to slow-news days on the legal education front.  Another part of the downtime, for me at least, has been due to the transition to a new position, and that has cut into my time recently for delivering on the “JD-Advantage” perspective.

“Wait, a new job?” I hear the critics say.  “That is proof positive that all your whining and belly-aching about how JDs are not worth the time and money is a complete and utter fabrication.  Why don’t you just buckle down and work hard for once in your Gen-Xer life, and see what actually comes of it.”

We’ve all heard this before, multiple times.  Never mind the fact that the Boomer cohort as a whole, from whom this particular criticism often comes, has suffered from significant ageism in the workplace, under-funded investments vehicles for retirement, and the need to continue working because they will be destitute if they don’t.  Some of this is “their fault,” some of it isn’t.  Given the vagaries of life, however, you would think there would be some solidarity between generations on these difficult issues (sort of a “welcome to how the other-half live, now let’s actually stop with the slings and arrows and try to do something productive together” approach), but generally, not really.  Lazy Millennials, et. al. still need to get off the lawn, etc., so here we all are.

(In fact, one notable Boomer in particular has concluded that the federal student loan program is a colossal train-wreck and debt needs to be forgiven.  And no, not Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren nor similar individuals who have to, in-part, pander to the masses, but a long-serving chief officer at the DOE who ostensibly should know something about the issue.  Though, he is getting into politics also, so...)   

Some may recall an older post of mine where I ran the numbers, and concluded that the good old JD, outside the law, is not that remunerative.  The numbers didn’t work for several years, they barely “worked” for a few more, and even now, with some improvement, still are not great – some 15 years after my glorious non-traditional graduation.  Considering the fact that I have 20 years to go before I am eligible for any federal benefits, it still seems tenuous and one-disaster-away from ruin.  Overall, the cost-benefit analysis says “no.”

Why?  Because I would argue that the rent for a JD is just too damn high.  I think after the last several years of scamblogging, it can probably all be distilled down to this one fact.  We can debate the utility (or uselessness) of traditional legal education, the bar’zam hazing ritual, the lack of true clinical and/or apprenticeship models in the profession, the brutal economics for solos, or even newly minted lawyers with no connections having to compete for jobs with legacy lawyers coming from T14 institutions.  All these things matter and contribute to the picture, but they would all be a bit more survivable without six-figures-plus of crushing debt at 7%, give or take.

“A bit more survivable,” though, is the key phrase.  My own “successes,” should they be termed that, came very, very slowly, and did not adjust for inflation well at all.  Note again that I do not actively practice law (though I maintain the license as a credibility marker), and had to flee from the idea very early on due to my non-traditional status and the inability to break in.  “JD-Advantage” was, and still is, a face-saving measure to try to spin the narrative on a bad decision.  I won’t say it has zero utility, but the utility it does present is very watered-down, and could have been achieved through alternate, less-costly means.

Maybe the K-JDs, in contrast, are rocking their Maseratis and their models-and-bottles, and I don’t doubt that a few are.  However, my sources say “no” for the majority, even though self-interested parties will say "yes," and it is not clear how it will strongly improve any time soon.

0Ls, make sure you are considering alternate career paths, and not just choosing law as a default.  Sadly, many do, and some (like me) thought they were making a good decision back in 2002 or so, before the “word got out” on the now-ubiquitous internet.  I’m not saying the world doesn’t need lawyers, but clearly the world does not need that many of them now or in the future.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Zen of Scam: Suffolk Law Prof. Shailini George promotes mindfulness training as a "core concept in the legal curriculum."

Suffolk University School of Law students have a lot to worry about. The non-discounted interest-accruing cost of attendance at this school is $264,394, or about $30,000 above the median. However, Suffolk Law's placement result for its most recent crop of grads was in the bottom quintile of law schools in the country, with a mere 52.9% obtaining a non-solo full-time law job within nine months of graduation. A few years ago, the University offered a buy-out to all law school faculty (whether with or without tenure), an apparently unprecedented cost-cutting move by a law school, and an extremely public indication that the University is less than vigorous in its commitment to the law school’s future.

Thankfully, Suffolk law professor Shailini George has scholarly balm with which to soothe the troubled law student soul, in the healing guise of a 30-page law review article which promotes the teaching of "mindfulness” in law school classrooms. See George, Shailini, The Cure for the Distracted Mind: Why Law Schools Should Teach Mindfulness53 Duquesne L. Rev. 215 (2015) (hereafter: "Cure"). 

Prof. George opens her article with a fictional vignette about "Ian the Intern" who is stressed out because he does not have job, has no way of paying his law school student debts, and the supervisor of his internship thinks he is a clueless nitwit.
“Ian the intern is working on answers to interrogatories. The supervising attorney asked him to get these done as soon as possible. This particular attorney makes him nervous, in fact, Ian gets a stomachache whenever the attorney comes into his cubicle. The attorney has never been happy with anything Ian has done. Ian is not sure if what the attorney wants him to say is accurate and he does not know what to do. No law school class prepared him for this! Ian spins the answer around and around, when ding!: he receives a text message from his roommate reminding him to upload his resume to the law school career center for an upcoming interview. He logs in and sees two rejection letters from the last interviews. His heart sinks. How will he repay his loans without a high paying job? Then he notices an email from the attorney, subject: “are you done yet????” and the stomachache is back. He knows his supervisor won’t be happy.”
          Cure at 216.

According to Professor George, law schools have the means to rescue Ian the Intern from his terrible predicament. By allowing Ian to turn in his JD in exchange for a tuition refund?  Well, no. What Ian's law school can offer him is training in "mindfulness." See Cure at 216 ("If Ian had learned mindfulness techniques allowing him to focus, concentrate, and deal with this stress and anxiety, he may have avoided this scenario. . . . By making mindfulness training a core concept in the law school curriculum, law schools will enable and empower their students to better handle the pressures of working in a distracted society where complex situations are the norm").

Prof. George's law review article does not really describe what mindfulness meditation training involves-- something about breathing properly, and learning, through interludes of quiet contemplation, to be emotionally present in the here-and-now. But the article is emphatic about its enormous benefits-- indeed most of the article is devoted to describing these benefits, and how they have been recognized by this-and-that study and by this-and-that organization. 

Here are only some of the benefits she mentions: lower anxiety, reduced depression, reduced anger, reduced fatigue, improved attention skills, empathy, creativity, equanimity, self-compassion, a deeper understanding of oneself, others, and of the nature of reality, development of emotional intelligence competencies, ability to stay connected to one’s sense of humor and one's deepest ethical and professional ideals, and "spiritual enlightenment or just lightening up." So even if trapped in the typically toxic environment of a law office, Ian and his lowly fellows can journey at will to an inner Shangi-La.
The article even asserts that mindfulness meditation can even improve your favorite basketball team’s zone defense."The Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers basketball teams use mindfulness to improve focus and work on the team aspect of the game." Cure at 237-238. (n. I do not follow professional basketball closely, but haven't the Bulls and Lakers performed miserably the last few seasons?)

Though but a humble law intern, and not a Chicago Bull, mindfulness proves to be a slam dunk success for fictional Ian the legal intern, to whom George returns at the end of her article.  
Ian takes a deep breath after the supervising attorney leaves his office before he begins to work on the answers to interrogatories. He notes the time and contemplates what he was asked to do. As he breathes, he reminds himself that this attorney can be brusque but that this attitude is not directed at Ian. Ian must only do what he was asked to the best of his ability. He begins reviewing the file in order to draft the answers. He hears his phone: ding! But he does not take it out of his desk or look at it. He knows it can wait the half an hour it will take him to work on this discovery. Ian is not sure what the attorney wants him to say is accurate, so he does his best to work with what the client said and what he knows the attorney wants. In half an hour, the attorney calls to ask if the answer is done, and Ian is happy to respond that it is. While he knows the attorney may not be completely pleased with the answer, Ian is satisfied that he did the best he could. He hands the work off to the attorney, and checks his phone. Time to work on his resume before anyone asks for him! Ian is thankful that he learned to focus his attention in a law school class that prepared him for such situations. 
Cure at 244. 
 George promotes the benefits of mindfulness so enthusiastically that she reminds me of a cult member or even a faith healer. See e.g. Cure at 230 ("Mindfulness training may benefit people suffering from a variety of ailments, including chronic pain, fibromyalgia, cancer, heart disease, anxiety, binge eating disorder, psoriasis, borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, and stress.") 

Troublingly, and unlike what I hope she is teaching her legal writing students, George does not hint at the existence of skeptics, even for the purpose of countering their arguments. The skeptics are out there, however, and not only among disappointed Bulls fans. See Farias, M., & Wikholm, C. (2016). Has the science of mindfulness lost its mind?, BJPsych Bulletin, 40(6), 329 ("Academic articles describe weak results as ‘encouraging’ and ‘exciting’. . .The replacement of orange-robed gurus by white-collared academics who speak of the benefits of ‘being in the present moment’ is a powerful social phenomenon, which is probably rooted in our culture's desire for quick fixes and its attraction to spiritual ideas divested of supernatural elements.") 

While I am in favor of anything that helps law students, quick fix or not, perhaps law school professors would do better to stick to providing instruction in legal practice, which is what they are being overpaid to do. I mean, interested law school students could pick up mindfulness techniques from a local yoga teacher or spiritual healer. Or perhaps mindfulness training could be offered by the University's counseling center, as opposed to making it a "core concept in the law school curriculum." Cure, at 216.

There is nothing wrong with adopting a mental habit or routine of concentrating on the present moment and to avoid dwelling on the traumas of the past or what the future may hold. This is a good goal, a good lesson. But what if the enlightened pedagogues who offer this wisdom are the very persons responsible for traumatizing you by scamming you into massive debt and wasting three years of your time? What if they have destroyed your future and enriched themselves by doing so? Even if their advice is anodyne, it is still tainted with odious hypocrisy and chutzpah.  
Moreover, there are limits to the benefits of mindfulness, limits imposed by objective reality. Even in Prof. George's second fictional vignette, Ian the Intern does not have a job, just good breathing techniques, improved time-management skills, and a better attitude. Maybe mindfulness is a stress-reliever for some, but it will not make a law grad's educational debt disappear or feed and house his or her family, nor will it provide fulfillment within a very difficult profession, which is undergoing structural change that is curtailing opportunities at every level, but especially the entry level. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Being a Law Firm Partner Was Once a Job for Life. That Culture Is All but Dead."

An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal, from August 9, 2019.  This headline will surprise virtually no one except K-JD gunners, but it still bears reading for those who still think law school is a done-deal.  It also echoes many, many prior comments on this blog alone from seasoned practitioners that warn that the Law School sugar-plum-fairy pipedreams of Big Law (or Mid-Law, or Small Law) should not be taken without copious amounts of salt.

Being named a partner once meant joining a band of lawyers who jointly tended to longtime clients and took home comfortable, and roughly equal, paychecks. Job security was virtually guaranteed and partners rarely jumped ship. 

That model, and the culture that grew up around it, is all but dead. Law firms are now often partnerships in name only. Full-time chief executives, some without law degrees, have replaced the senior partner running human resources and accounting. Law firm names have trended toward the shorter and snappier, more befitting a tote bag than a law library.

Many firms have expanded rapidly to mirror the growth of their corporate clients, with hundreds of partners spread around the world. The largest, Dentons, recently hit 10,000 lawyers in 78 countries, around a third of them partners.

“Can you be partners with someone you don’t even know?” said legal consultant Aric Press.

In the new paradigm, lawyers are expendable, and partners may jump to a competitor for the right amount of money, taking as many clients as possible with them on the way out.

One criticism I have is the discussion of top partners making $1.75 million to $15 million, while the lower-caste partners "only" make $800,000.00 at someplace like a Kirkland & Ellis.  All too many gunners and Law School Deans alike look at that and say, "well, that's a problem I'd like to have, ha ha," which completely misconstrues the point:

As firms compete to keep profits rising for those at the top, lawyers further down the ladder are sometimes getting left behind. Promising associates who could once expect to be named a partner within seven or eight years are waiting 10 years or more.

Firms have created new steppingstones along the way to appease them—and keep them grinding.

One newly promoted partner at a big firm said he was shocked to learn he would have to spend a year as counsel, an increasingly popular interim title. The firm told him it was to prepare him for the bigger change of being partner. “I wouldn’t be a cynical lawyer if I didn’t think there were other profit-motive reasons,” he said.

Another popular stop-off is “non-equity partner,” the title held by those 560 Kirkland lawyers not invited to the California retreat. They earn a salary rather than sharing firm profits.

And, of course, the model has changed since the 80s (or 70s, or 60s):

Making partner doesn’t just take longer. It takes hustle. A few decades ago, partner titles were handed out largely on the basis of being technically proficient. Now, being a business generator is a crucial component.

Janice Mac Avoy, a Fried Frank partner, said when she earned the partner title 23 years ago, the business model was “wait for the phone to ring” and do a good job for the client on the other end.

When a partner suggested a lawyer being considered for promotion had great contacts and could generate new business, she recalls a fellow partner saying, “You know that’s not an appropriate consideration.”

Those who do make the cut encounter a new set of stressors. Bureaucratic tasks pile on top of the same billable-hour expectations. New partners face pressure to bring in enough new business to cover their own salary, plus those beneath them.

Kevin Smith went to law school in the early 2000s because he had lawyers in his family and wasn’t sure what else to do. After graduating, he clerked for two federal judges then joined an international law firm.

Making partner five years later was one of the best days of his life, he says. He soon realized the new title “makes all the bad things worse” about working in a law firm. “There’s more email, more of the blame if anything goes wrong, just more stress in general,” he said. 

After 6½ years, he quit the partnership to travel abroad while working part time for the firm. 

Of course, the Law School Cartel mentions none of this.  Often, it is these same attorneys who leave these same realities in order to become Law School Professors, thereby indirectly encouraging others to make the same errors they made.  But no one really talks about this except the scamblogs, who are largely comprised of people who know.

So, yes, back in the "halcyon" days of law practice (if there ever truly was such a thing), working for a large firm was likely the correct way to go, and if you can somehow manage to get the Golden Ticket, perhaps even now.  That is rarely the case today, and as indicated above has little to do with being technically proficient and "waiting for the phone to ring", or in some cases even being able to generate some business.  As is the case with many things, a few get spectacular results, more get good but profoundly difficult results, and many, many more are shown the door.  Like many things in life it is a numbers game, and when a firm has thousands of lawyers with a multiple-caste system, the odds are not good.

0Ls, pay heed to this.  The Cartel wants you to sign on the dotted line, and they are loathe to talk about the realities on the ground because the same realities would give any reasonable person pause, especially when the alternative is hanging a shingle Day One.  The world has changed a bit since 1960 or 1980, yet the Cartel pretends that everything is the same as it ever was.

Monday, July 29, 2019

"America's $70,000/Year Liberal Arts Colleges Are Like Headless Zombies That Just Won't Die"

With a title like that, you have to have an image to go with the story.

Image result for zombies

Small liberal arts colleges in the U.S. simply refuse to die, despite a torrent of bad news about the U.S. higher education marketplace and the increasing uselessness of their degrees.

Bennington College in Vermont is one such example, according to Bloomberg. It sports famous alumni like Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis and charges $73,000 per year for admission. Located at the foot of Vermont's green mountains, it nearly went out of business in the 1990's and was still under duress at the beginning of this decade.

But the school - and its 700 undergraduates - have hung on. It's a microcosm of how these types of schools continue to defy the odds nationwide.  Massachusetts’ Hampshire College was another institution known for its artisiness than has somehow still hung on.

So, what does that have to do with the law school scam?  Perhaps nothing directly - except it is pointing out the continued pressure on higher-education as the weather gauge continues to drift, along with answering "why do the scamblogs keep complaining about law school when so few in particular have closed?"  As indicated, many schools are fighting to survive, and are pulling out the stops to stay afloat.  Law Schools, in many respects, are no different on the whole.

Though, while I have enjoyed the skewering of "liberal artists," often by other liberal artists, concerning the utility of law school over the years (RIP, JDUnderground), I do have to say that I hate to see such degrees being described with "increasing uselessness."  Cynical as I am, and even as an ex-STEMer myself, I do believe a liberal arts education has value, assuming one is taught critical thinking, rhetoric, logic, and composition  skills (what law school got away with for so long lumping together as "analysis").   Plus, a strong alumni network never hurts.

These skills are increasingly critical in every field, even now in this "AI-does-scut-work" world, and have never really "gone away" - it does no good to be the smartest coder, engineer, historian, curator, business person (or even lawyer) in the world, but unable to communicate your findings effectively to others, argue for a position in a principled fashion, or be adaptable - y'know, the things that tend to be uniquely human.

Perhaps those sound like platitudes, and it is all too easy to pick on the stories where people spent $300k on the proverbial underwater basket-weaving degree.  But I think readers of this blog understand what I am talking about.  The issue is (1) so many institutions don't actually deliver on these ideals (hello, most law schools), and (2) they charge way too damn much money for something that shouldn't cost NEAR what is being charged.  I mean, come on, really.

I would be all for more liberal arts education (and, heck, other kinds, too) for a reasonable price. That would solve multiple problems simultaneously - having an "educated" populace (what people say they want until cost comes up), a not-buried-by-debt populace, and a leaner education system that "delivers" to its graduates.  There is more impetus for growth when people aren't crushed.

As it stands, all you have to do is look at Law School as an example for how it can go off the rails. The "problem" is other schools are following suit, perhaps to our greater detriment in the short-term. The only good news is that the market can't be ignored when it is allowed to operate properly in the long-term, and even higher-education may have to finally be competitive in ways it never had to be before.    

Anyway.  TL;DR is - 0Ls, think twice.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Teacher's Union Sues the Department of Education over PSLF Denials

Image result for bait switch

In a development that surprises absolutely no one who is a follower of the scamblogs:

For 10 years, Baker, who was a public school teacher in Tulsa, Okla., checked in with loan servicing companies and was told she was on track...[b]ut it turns out that her $76,000 in student loans didn't get forgiven. Baker was finally told she was in the wrong type of loan. If she'd known that at the beginning, she could have switched loans and ended up qualifying. But she says nobody ever told her.

Whelp, it looks like a lot of people don't get told a lot of things, be they teachers, police offices, or even lawyers, for that matter (unfortunately, the plight of attorneys involved in public service jobs did not seem to figure into the story, probably due to the fact that teachers, fire-fighters, and police officers probably garner more sympathy).  And $76,000 is no small sum of money, let alone the six-figures many law graduates carry. I wonder if the courts will consider public school teachers "sophisticated consumers" as well in the ongoing litigation.

The teachers union lawsuit alleges that the Department of Education "knows of — but completely disregards — repeated misrepresentations made by [student loan] servicers to borrowers who are attempting to qualify ... resulting in unwarranted denials of loan forgiveness."  In other words, people like Baker aren't given the right information or advice, and many end up in the wrong types of loans or repayment plans and get unfairly disqualified...Navient, one of the nation's largest loan servicer companies, is not commenting on the lawsuit. But the company said in a statement to NPR, "We understand the frustration borrowers face in navigating a complex federal loan program, which is why we consistently advocate for policy reforms to simplify the system."

And so the finger-pointing begins in earnest between bureaucratic government agencies and their quasi-governmental-sub-contractors.  If only people had known that PSLF was not a "done deal" at the time it was instituted, perhaps warned others to not bank on this in making their decisions to attend higher education...

Oh, wait.  Our own Antiro at the time was bringing up this issue and the other sources that were commenting on it, back in 2014, a good five years before PSLF was to "come due":

Hilariously, the WSJ reports that the Dean of Georgetown Law, Bill Traenor, says that the government's forgiveness programs are not influencing G-town's tuition, which is approximately $50,000 (don't forget the high CoL that comes along with living in Washington D.C.).  Georgetown once proclaimed that "public interest borrowers might not pay a single penny on their loans—ever!", on their website.  According to the WSJ, G-Town has been "steering" its graduates into public-service jobs "as part of its Jesuit mission."  We have data on how many people are in G-Town's public-interest program: 432, up 60% from 2 years ago.

Yep.  This was just one of many examples of the Law School Cartel handing out PSLF pipe-dreams like candy.  Don't worry about the debt, kids, Uncle Sam will take care of all that for you (somehow, someway...), especially when there is liberty and justice that needs doing!   Now, sign here.

Here's hoping that this suit will finally bring attention to these programs, and, as Navient so graciously stated, help "simplify the system."  Because nothing says loan forgiveness is here for you like having to sue to properly administer and enforce the program.

Snake oil that the Cartel was more than happy to advertise at the time, so long as it brought people in. Odd that the Cartel does not appear to be falling all over itself to help fix this issue.  As teachers and others are now learning what law grads learned the hard way, the attitude is "Let the graduates make their claims and chase a broken system, we got ours."  

0Ls, pay heed.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Trojan horse of "diversity": scamsters win, racialized people lose

Not so long ago, many law schools would not admit racialized people at all. Texas Southern University was hastily founded in 1946 as the "Texas State University for Negroes" so as to create a pretense of a "separate but equal" university for Black people alongside the white University of Texas (see Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950)). The Supreme Court unanimously saw through the ruse and refused to countenance it. (Today, incidentally, Texas Southern still has not strayed far from its Jim Crow roots: most of the class is Black, only 10% is white, the median LSAT score for last year's entering class was an appalling 144, and for the past two years the law school has been subject to the ABA's censure and directives for remedial action.)

Long after formal segregation was abolished, many law schools showed little interest in racialized people. But the spate of toilet law schools over the past decade has changed that. Nowadays scamsters from toilet law schools today portray themselves as champions of "diversity". They would have us believe that the toilet schools' abysmal, if not non-existent, standards of admission afford racialized people an opportunity to enter the legal profession. That so-called opportunity, however, comes with a poor chance of passing the bar exams, dreadfully low rates of employment, and a whopping price tag.

A Black lawyer with a JD from Michigan lifts the lid on the scamsters' invocation of "diversity" as grounds for lowering the passing score on California's bar exam. As he says, any sincere effort to increase the diversity of the legal profession must start with analysis of the causes of the problem and the best ways to address it, not with scam-fostering proposals such as "Let's lower the passing score!".

It's true that the bar is insufficiently diverse in terms of race and certain other criteria. But that does not imply that the passing score is too high. The whiteness of the bar stems from systemic inequalities and racial injustice—the same factors that have led to the monstrous racialization of the prisons and many other manifestations of racial oppression. Address it by correcting those inequalities, not by persuading the authorities in California to license more toileteers of whatsoever race.

Nor is it appropriate to lower the passing score on the test just because few people taking the test are passing. The score should be set at an appropriate level, and anyone arguing to lower it bears the burden of giving sound reasons. The scamsters seem to "argue" that the various Black people upon whom they have been preying should be admitted to the bar just because they are there. But that's no argument at all. The very purpose of the bar exam is to protect the public by ensuring a minimum level of competence. There may be nothing wrong with the passing score even if every single candidate fails.

Nor should California be played against other states. That's the child's tactic of going to Daddy in hope of a "yes" after Mommy said "no". Why should it matter that West Virginia or Missouri has a lower score? Perhaps California is the only state with a proper standard. Or perhaps even California's score is too low.

White scamsters are cynically perverting "diversity" for their own profit (figurative and literal). Racialized people, don't fall for their ploy.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

On Student Loan Journalism, the Warren/Sanders Proposals, and the LSTC's Private Hell

We know what has caused the student loan problem: college (and, as relevant here, law school) tuition costs have increased dramatically faster than indicated by CPI, post-degree wage growth, or any other comparable measure of inflation; the federal government carelessly writes loans without realistic underwriting criteria; and consumers have been stripped of bankruptcy as an option for a poor financial decision.

Given that reality, the best political solution we've come up with is income-based repayment, which is basically a softened Chapter 13-style repayment plan for one debt in that you pay what you can and the remainder is eventually discharged.  A better solution might be simply restoring bankruptcy rights as people have suggested for some time.  Another prospective solution might be to either regulate loan origination by limiting tuition increases or by removing the government entirely and letting the free market scoff at paying ludicrous tuition rates for lackluster degrees.

(The LSTC would also propose retroactively recalculating due student loan balances based on CPI, issuing credits and taxing educational endowments for the deficiencies, but that would be, one suspects, politically unfeasible.)

I was all set to rip on Elizabeth Warren's unnecessarily convoluted and weirdly devoid of rational justice plan when, this morning, Bernie Sanders went whole hog and suggested a freaking student debt jubilee.

Lord, what did we do to deserve this fresh hell?

Do I want student debt relief?  Yes, and I would benefit to varying degrees under either plan (tax issues aside for a second), but what the hell?  The system as it exists needs rational, forward-looking, cohesive reform, not ludicrous, empty headed hip-thrusts at vacuous Millennial populism by elder statespersons who should know better.

We need bankruptcy rights.  We need IBR free of any tax bombs.  We need lower interest rates.  We need credit bureaus and financial institutions to feel security that the full amount isn't going to ever come due because Congress changed its mind.  We need an out when the government's been paid its fair share.  We need educational institutions to bear the systemic costs of what we all know but the law can't say was fraud...

At the same time, Warren and Sanders are just playing the hands dealt to them.  The arguments around student loans have become so polarized that the second any kind of reform idea emerges forth, one of two results invariably happens:
  • Some jackass who owes like $15k won't shut up about how oppressive their student loans are and cheers wildly; and/or
  • Some jackass whines that money borrowed has to be repaid, students knew what they were doing, the taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook, "but I ate canned soup for 5 years to pay mine ASAP," etc.
My private hell is populated with nothing but people from both camps and then I spend eternity trying to reason with them while "Come On Eileen" and "You Can Call Me Al" play on constant loop. 

As with many issues, our journalism about the student debt crisis blows.  When they focus on the debtor side, it's almost invariably Boomer-triggering anecdotes, often with gaudy headlines that bury the lede.  Then there's the pie-in-the-sky solution subgenre and the ubiquitous live-at-home-and-give-up-coffee subgenre.

Screw these people.

The problem with all of these sub-styles of journalism is that they take what we know is a systemic problem caused by the intersection of well-meaning policies creating a bad outcome and transform it - or reduce it - to a personalized, dig-your-own-hole, bootstraps, etc. problem.  Journalists, both educated and amateur, often deliberately seek the personalization, the pathos, the Dickensian aspect or whatever. This situation calls for more, or, at least something different.  At a minimum, journalism should've learned from the housing crisis how to report on broken financial systems that incentivize bad consumer behavior. 

That financial crisis wasn't about Raynette buying a 500k home in Vegas with no income any more than this one is about Raynette's kid spending $300k on a social work degree.

There are decent deep dives out there, but too often they seem to get bogged down in partisan politics or pandering to the audience; e.g., the WSJ article I just linked has the following paragraph:
The Obama administration also heavily promoted income-based repayment programs...This severed the link between the value of students’ education and how much they could borrow, providing a huge incentive for schools to raise tuition, since taxpayers would pick up more of the tab. Enrollment in these programs is one big reason that the government’s costs for student loans are exploding.
Yeah, Bub....this is an political issue, for starters.  That link between value and borrowing was already severed and schools don't care about repayment because they get the money upfront.  Enrollment in IBR-style programs is irrelevant to the government's costs (which are dynamic projections, anyway, that change if current outlays on tuition were brought down or income to people in repayment would it often does over time) because the alternative, generally, is default, which means higher administrative costs being thrown at debts that would likely go uncollected - the funds simply aren't there.  If these idiots think IBR "costs" the government any money, someone should actually report on what the default rate would look like if IBR went away.

Anyone want to report on that?  Anyone?  

The real frustration, of course, is that the Dickensian portraits, when they come, are only one-sided, like reading Great Expectations with half the subplots missing.  Only rarely do these articles actually go after that group of antagonists, the policy-makers and the school administrators, many of whom absolutely knew what they were doing. 

Because despite saddling millions of people with funny-money debts, no one wants to even suggest the f-word outside of those few truly awful for-profit colleges.  It's a shame, because the real story of student debt isn't that Johnny carries $250k - it's that an American college or two had the audacity to charge Johnny $250k and he's not licensed to perform niche surgery.

Why don't the anecdote articles ever call out the schools that bilked the subject sucker?  Why don't the "I gave up utilities to pay my loans" pieces not typically mention the institution partly responsible for lowering the standard of living of alumni?  Why are people proud of paying off student debt like it's a race, anyway, and why are those articles newsworthy?  Why, when the federal government took over loans, did it not heavily regulate the costs of attendance or the marketing of admissions materials? 

Oh, and here's one:  How can Bernie call out Wall Street while proposing what is, in effect, a massive bail-out of Big Education's malfeasance and, in many cases, fraud on the federal taxpayer?

It's regrettable that Warren and Sanders go straight to these bandage-style post-hoc debt forgiveness solutions that play directly into the well-worn "personal responsibility, ddddderp!" narrative so easy for journalists and editors to exploit for hits and social interaction.  They could lead in awareness regarding the root of the problem in the event "free college" doesn't pan out (and it won't).  

But successful politicians also need a partner in the media and it would sure be nice if the press high and low quit leading readers down a primrose path of reinforcing the lazy readers' preconceived notions.  When framed correctly, there is a lot we could agree on (like if you owe $20k and make $60k+, get bent), just as with the underlying issues of the housing crisis, but it means we need journalistic skepticism towards not only the weary debtor but the institutions that created the debt, and loud enough for the butthurt ramen-eaters to hear.

You would hope that good journalism wouldn't even be necessary to stop the nonsense and discuss real, plausible solutions that Republicans may get behind - things like qualified Ch. 13 bankruptcy or making all student loan interest tax deductible - but we live in the world we've created and damn it I think I hear "It's Raining Men" and it's kinda hot, now that I think about it.