Housing crisis, what housing crisis. The inquiry into homelessness? Yawn. That didn’t tell John Key anything he didn’t already know.
By now, we shouldn’t be surprised by the Beehive’s disinterest in the country’s social problems. You can track for days, months, years across the tundra of its policy agenda and never see a plan or visible trace of a robust fresh idea about anything. Even its boldest moves – the big tax cut package of 2010, and the selling down of state assets in its second term – involved giving away wealth it had inherited, from the efforts of others. Just like those socialists it claims to abhor.
Finally now, everyone has got sick of waiting for the Key government to do something about student debt. A month ago, Labour suggested wiping student debt in return for putting graduates to work within a bonded scheme of public service out in the regions.
The Labour leader [Andrew Little] has revealed it is considering wiping existing student debt for those who take public service jobs in the regions.
“I don’t have any particular promise to make. We’re looking at ways that we can assist students to effectively write off at least a part of that student debt, through things like taking a public service job somewhere outside of one of the main centres and for the length of period that you’re there let’s look at a write-off sort of regime.”
At its annual conference on the weekend, New Zealand First unveiled a not dissimilar student debt response, which would substitute a ‘skills debt” for the monies owed:
NZ First’s education spokesperson Tracey Martin said for every year a student stayed in New Zealand and worked after finishing their studies, one year would be deducted from their debt. People working in some fields – such as doctors, teachers, or police – could work off their skills debt at a faster rate.
For students who leave New Zealand and did not return, their skills debt would be turned into a financial debt. Significant variances in course costs and graduate wages can see some of our most important members of society such as nurses and teachers left with the burden of debt for longer. This policy treats all graduates as equal. One year’s study equals one year of skills commitment,” she said. “If implemented, this policy would be a game changer for students”.
Typically, Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has called this approach “unaffordable” and said that the government has other, more pressing things to spend the money on. (Such as new gear for Defence, or another handout to charter schools.) What both the Labour and NZ First proposals implicitly recognise is that a simple student debt write-off isn’t politically sellable. Instead, they’re offering a work requirement whereby the country gains some added benefits, in return. That approach could well be embraced, even by voters who have already struggled to repay their own student debt.
Since 2010, the Obama administration has also been grappling with the crippling social (and economic) consequences of US student debt. Unlike Joyce, Obama hasn’t chosen to remain in denial about the way these debts impede people from saving for retirement, depress consumer purchasing, and delay people from starting families – to name just a few negative effects of the student debt mountain. The US responses have included the initiatives being taken by some firms (such as Pricewaterhousecoopers) to help pay off student debt, as a perk to lure graduates in a way comparable say, to paid parental leave provisions.
Starting in July 2016, accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers [are offering] some employees a practical perk: $US1,200 a year for up to six years toward their student debt. The benefit will be available to those with associate and senior associate titles, entry level positions that make up 45 percent of PwC’s 46,000-person U.S. workforce.
Considering that 71 percent of [US] graduates come out of school with an average debt burden of $US35,000, it’s not surprising that young hires yearn to repay student loans. A recent survey by Iontuition found that 80 percent of 1,000 people surveyed wanted to work for a company that offered student loan repayment assistance. Yet few businesses do this. Many organizations offer tuition assistance, but only about 3 percent have student loan repayment programs, according to a 2015 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management. The move, PwC hopes, will help with recruiting
At the same time, the White House has been working (in unison with business, and sometimes off its own bat) to offer business tax breaks in return for helping graduates to pay off their education-related debts. (This is entirely consistent with the old fashioned notion that education is actually a social and economic good, as well as being a private good.) Also, the repayment schemes being pursued in Australia in particular, are more sensibly (and more generously) tied to earned income levels than the system followed in New Zealand.
Here, repayment levels/ interest on loans kick in once the graduate exceeds an (extremely low) income threshold of only $NZ19,080. In Australia, no student debt repayments are required until graduates are earning more than $A54,869.
The US student debt repayment system is not particularly generous, but it currently includes a mandatory income threshold pitched at 150% above the poverty line, with repayments then set at a maximum 10% of the income earned above that figure:
• Borrowers choosing the income-based repayment plan will pay no more than 10 percent of their income above a basic living allowance, reduced from 15 percent under current law. The basic living allowance varies with family size and is set at 150 percent of the poverty line, currently equalling about $16,500 for a single individual, and $33,000 for a family of four.
o More than 1 million borrowers would be eligible to reduce their monthly payments.
o The payment will be reduced by more than $110 per month for a single borrower who earns $30,000 a year and owes $20,000 in college loans, based on 2009 figures.
Finally, the Obama provisions indicate that the US is also willing to run out the clock on debt obligations:
Borrowers who take responsibility for their loans and make their monthly payments will see their remaining balance forgiven after 20 years of payments, reduced from 25 years in current law.
Only last week, Bloomberg News ran this story on how the Obama repayment scheme has been faring.
Yes, the leniency has encouraged some backsliding in repayments. But the ‘living in denial’ approach being taken here is not a viable option, either. Currently, student debt is a $15 billion weight on the normal life options of a generation, their household consumption, and their retirement savings. If only Steven Joyce was running the economy in a way that generated sufficient numbers of high paying jobs… then perhaps the government’s determined pursuit of debt repayments would seem less predatory. Only then perhaps, would Joyce’s complacency be tolerable. Unfortunately, this government has turned its “let them eat cake” approach into an art form, across a whole range of social issues.
Mother Teresa, meet Abdul Sattar Edhi
So Mother Teresa is now officially a saint. Sainthood has long been a flashpoint between the faithful’s need for spiritual champions, and the command & control impulses of the Church hierarchy. For the past 1600 years at least, Rome has regularly expressed its concerns about how an unregulated market in saint-making could easily (a) promote de-centralized interpretations of doctrine aka heresy and (b) divert the revenue that the business of sanctity happily brings in its wake.
In the Middle Ages, bishops were understandably reluctant to surrender their power to create local saint cults, given the income streams that flowed from pilgrimages to saintly shrines, and from the related trade in saintly relics. The takeover by the church hierarchy began as late as 993AD, when the first papal canonization took place, nearly a thousand years after Christ. Rome soon got the hang of it, though. Too much so, in fact. By the time of the Reformation, papal ‘saint selling’ was widely seen as being bad for the brand.
All that has changed now. Over the past 50 years, saint-making has reverted to its pre-Reformation roots, as a means of motivating the local co9mmunities of the faithful. Reportedly, Mother Teresa of Kolkata is the 640th saint canonised since 1963, a symptom of the huge increase in saints being churned out by modern popes. (In the previous 375 years, only 218 saints had been canonised.)
Mother Teresa did have/still has her critics. Her admirers have praised her care for the poor and the destitute. Her critics have recoiled from her keen interest in harvesting the souls of those on the brink of the beyond, and from her related disinterest in addressing the causes of a poverty that provided her with such sterling opportunities for conversion. Her harsh opposition to contraception and abortion also tended to polarise public opinion, in Kolkata and beyond.
Here’s another option. In the West, there has been very little fanfare at all over the death in July of her Pakistani equivalent, Abdul Sattar Edhi. In my opinion, one very big plus mark about Edhi is that he left out the harvesting of souls part, entirely. Instead, Edhi devoted his life to the needs of the poor for entirely secular reasons.
In a country increasingly riven by extremism, Abdul Sattar Edhi, the founder of a vast public welfare organisation that spans Pakistan, was a symbol of the country’s shrivelled secular tradition. Edhi, who has died aged around 90, never turned anyone away from his hospitals, homeless shelters, rehab centres and orphanages. His determination to ignore considerations of creed, cast or sect earned him the hatred of some on the country’s religious right, who accused him of being an atheist. But the public revered him for his lifelong commitment to humanity……
“I have never been a very religious person,” he told the Daily Times newspaper in 2009. “I am neither against religion nor for it.” He found inspiration in socialist writers who lambasted the ruling capitalist class whom he thought were responsible for poverty in the world. And he did not see why work to alleviate suffering should be restricted to Pakistan. In 2005 the Edhi Foundation donated $100,000 to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US. “My religion is serving humanity and I believe that all the religions of the world have their basis in humanity,” he said.
Now, there’s a saint.
Joan Shelley, At Last
Sometimes, there can be a thin line between pretty and boring, and the Louisville, Kentucky folk musician Joan Shelley has struggled at times to put her exceptional, full-bodied voice to good use. Yet she manages it on her new single “Cost Of The Cold.” This is a quietly pulsing hymn about the links between the changes in the physical environment and in her own personal landscape. Fire may burn but it keeps you warm, and there’s a cost to be paid in remaining safe, and cold. Sensitive guitar work by Nathan Salzburg, and a good video, too.