17 trillion is usually a number reserved for distances in outer space, water in the ocean, or sand in the desert. But it’s also how much this next generation is in the hole for as they become adults. Thanks to our parents and the officials they’ve elected, America is $17 trillion in debt. Despite the way the federal government has dealt with this issue, debt is not theoretical. It’s real, it’s owed, and can take on a life of its own. Watch debt (and its sidekick debt collectors) interrupt birth, love, sleep, and more. This is “Life of Debt.”
What would you do to get rid of your debt? Would you sell your childhood toys, your blood, or ‘other’ fluids? That’s the question Tom has to answer. Overburdened with student loans, he has stopped making payments, and is now forced to dodge phone calls from snarky debt collectors. What can he do to escape this nightmare? When did taking on college debt become akin to living in a Kafka prison? But with any luck Professor Peter Jaworski may be able to lend a helping hand. Watch and learn from Tom’s mistakes!
They have your name, your number, and your credit card records. Debt collectors have a funny way of tracking you down and can take people to court. What can we do? For Lee Campbell, he can rely on keg colleague and college professor Peter Jaworski to magically appear and teach him a few tricks to negotiating with collectors over the phone. Watch as Peter guides Lee through the debt battlefield – you might learn a thing or two.
Whatever kind of debt you owe, Learn Liberty Academy wants to help you relieve yourself of the burden. Engage in weekly webcasts, a discussion forum, and more — and you won’t owe a dime. In fact, we will be indebted to you for your participation!
The question of how to address poverty in the United States is complicated. Steven Horwitz, chair of the department of economics at St. Lawrence University, and Jeffrey Reiman, professor of philosophy and religion at American University, debate the level of government assistance that should be given to help the poor.
In this clip, professors Horwitz and Reiman discuss how children who are poor can best be helped. While adult poverty may, in many cases, be due to some fault of the adult, should children have to suffer their parents’ mistakes? Both argue in favor of improvements in the education system, especially in creating more choice. While Prof. Horwitz suggests this can be done outside of government, Prof. Reiman argues that government will still have to be involved, even if only to create the vouchers.
Prof. Reiman also turns the question on its head, suggesting that perhaps the children of successful parents should not benefit from the parents’ success any more than children of poor parents should not be punished for their parents’ failings. Should all children start out on an equal footing, financially as well as educationally? What should be done to improve education opportunities for the poor? Is the government the best provider of education? What are your thoughts?
As part of the government shutdown that started October 1, the National Parks Service has closed all U.S. national parks and monuments. Would-be visitors will be denied entry to Yosemite and Yellowstone and acres and acres of national park lands until the government resumes business. Economics professor Holly Fretwell suggests an alternative that would have enabled parks to stay open despite the government shutdown.
She recommends leasing our national parks to entrepreneurs who would be responsible for managing the maintenance, campgrounds, trails, and infrastructure in the parks. The private management company would have to adhere to strict parameters, maintain low admission fees, and would pay the federal government for the right to lease the management of the parks. Under such a system, our national parks would generate income for the government instead of costing the government money to run. If this system were already in place, the parks could have stayed open during the shutdown.
You may feel skeptical about a private business’s ability to manage and maintain the beauty of our national parks, but private businesses currently manage thousands of public recreation areas and campgrounds and nearly half of all Forest Service campgrounds. Most campers who use these public lands don’t even realize they are managed by private companies. Private management for our national parks would make them accessible to visitors even during the government shutdown, and could make our parks revenue generators for the government.
Student loan debt has reached an all-time high, putting a heavy burden on many recent graduates. This has led some to propose and support student debt forgiveness as a way to alleviate the problem. Professor Daniel Lin argues that forgiving student loans would do little to address student debt in any meaningful way. Student debt forgiveness:
- Would provide only a temporary solution to help currently indebted students
- Would not address the underlying problem
- Would not prevent future debt problems
- Would not reduce pressure for rising tuitions
- Would benefit one of the more privileged groups in the country
- Would only add to the already enormous national debt
Professor Lin suggests that instead of forgiving student debt, student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy. This would encourage lenders to be more careful about the recipients of student loans, causing interest rates to rise and fewer loans to be given out. While these may sound like bad things for borrowers, such outcomes would actually provide important incentives to students. Students would be encouraged to consider how they will repay their loans before they amass more debt than they can handle. As an added benefit, such reforms would also put greater pressure on colleges to control their costs. Making student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy would actually address the fundamental causes of student debt and rising tuition costs.
College tuitions continue to rise, and students are leaving school with more and more debt. Professor Daniel Lin argues that there are two main causes for increases in college tuition: a rise in demand for a college education and government subsidies. Problematically, government subsidies are supposed to be helping offset college tuition costs. So what should be done?
Professor Lin argues that we should get rid of government subsidies for higher education completely. While subsidies do encourage more students to attend college, many of those students struggle. Two-thirds of students are unable to graduate in four years, and 40 percent of students drop out of college. Those who never finish a degree tend to have significant debt. In addition, many graduate and take jobs they could have had without a college degree. While the average college graduate does earn more than the average high school graduate, not all college graduates earn higher incomes.
While eliminating government subsidies for higher education may cause demand for higher education to decrease, it does not necessarily mean students who cannot afford college would be at a disadvantage in the job market. Many industrial countries have training and apprenticeship programs for high school graduates to prepare them for successful careers. As it stands, government subsidies are contributing to increasing higher education costs. Such a policy, which is worsening the problem it is supposed to fix, should be eliminated.
People and organizations incur costs when they compete for money that is “given” away. For example, if a college offers a scholarship to the student who writes the best essay on a particular subject, students competing for the scholarship will spend time and resources to create their essays and submit their applications. Although the chosen winner will likely benefit from the prize, the other students who competed for the scholarship and lost also lose the time and money they invested in getting the award. The cumulative sum of the time and effort of all the students together may in fact exceed the monetary value of the award.
Economists call these prizes rents, and the effort expended to get such a prize is called rent seeking. Rent seeking happens when money is awarded based on the result of competition. Professor Michael Munger shows how people will spend time, money, and other resources lobbying for such awards. While people may speak of the government as giving money away, they often fail to recognize the associated costs. One major cost may be that the government gives money to organizations with the best lobbyists, not necessarily those that provide the best services.
In an effort to help fix the deficit, many have advocated increasing taxes on America’s highest earners. The question becomes: is this a good way of increasing the amount of money that the government takes in? According to Professor Antony Davies, when the government raises taxes on top earners, the federal government actually collects less money per person, and when it decreases the government collects more.
There are exceptions to this trend, however. Changes in the marginal tax rate for the average American appear to have no consistent effect on revenues collected. Increases in Social Security and Medicare taxes tend to increase the amount of money collected per person. With the proper use of deductions, exemptions, offsets, and credits, and by delaying or changing the form of one’s compensation, federal income taxes, capital gains taxes, and many other taxes can be at least partially avoided. In contrast, Social Security and Medicare taxes are subject to far fewer loopholes and are much more difficult to avoid.
So how can the government collect more tax revenue? Prof. Davies says that the key is a simplification of America’s notoriously complex tax code. A simpler tax code would make it more difficult for people to avoid taxes and would lead people to spend less time trying to avoid them. Prof. Davies argues, “The less time and money we spend trying to work around a complex tax code, the more time and money we will have available to put to more productive uses.”
In 2011, federal government spending significantly outweighed revenue. While the federal government spent $3.8 trillion, it collected only $2.2 trillion from various taxes, licenses, and fees. Professor Antony Davies breaks federal spending into five basic components. He further divides it into mandatory spending, which is an amount of spending automatically built into every budget by law, and discretionary spending, which must be approved by Congress every year.
Mandatory spending includes spending on entitlements—that is, on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—net interest, and other things, such as food stamps, student loans, unemployment benefits and more. While many advocates of social welfare programs complain that economists look primarily to Social Security and Medicare for budget cuts, it’s clear why they do. Professor Davies shows that even if the government eliminated everything government does with the exception of social programs and the interest on the debt, we still wouldn’t be able to balance the budget.
Over the next decade, the U.S. government will face difficult choices. Weighing specific cuts is not enough, because there are no specific cuts that will enable government to balance the budget. Professor Davies says, “Nothing less than a redesign will solve this problem.” That redesign, he says, should begin by determining what the proper role of government is.
After the housing bubble burst, both the Bush and Obama administrations turned to stimulus spending in an effort to improve U.S. economic growth. Stimulus spending is often justified by the thought that it is the government