Wednesday, November 26, 2008

IPOD Generation

That stands for "Insecure, Pressurised, Over-Taxed and Debt-Ridden" according to the UK's thinktank Reform . "Reform’s work in 2006 and 2007 identified that the balance of taxation and public spending has tilted against young people, so that they now face an unfair burden, without being able to expect many of the benefits; and this at a time when their economic profile is already difficult. They are also faced with increasing levels of debt from higher education, much stronger labour market competition, lower growth in earnings and acute difficulties in getting onto the property ladder."

Generation Debt got a shout-out today in the UK Telegraph in an editorial about the effects of Britain's "borrowing binge" and taxation on young people. While I love the sentiment, most notable to an American eye are the references to government supports and programs that are unheard of here in America, like universal health insurance and "interest-free graduate overdrafts."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What Would a Depression Look Like Today?

A thoughtful, if conjectural, article at the Boston Globe.

"Unlike the 1930s, when food and clothing were far more expensive, today we spend much of our money on healthcare, child care, and education, and we'd see uncomfortable changes in those parts of our lives. The lines wouldn't be outside soup kitchens but at emergency rooms, and rather than itinerant farmers we could see waves of laid-off office workers leaving homes to foreclosure and heading for areas of the country where there's more work - or just a relative with a free room over the garage."

I can see people cocooning with their old laptops, stealing free wi-fi, blunting out the boredom by mainlining technology. Or, maybe we'd have more trade and barter, more community and creativity, more stuff made out of junk. Rent party anybody?

image: Swoon's Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea

Brian Lehrer Show This Am

I was on the Brian Lehrer show where we fielded tons of calls from people incensed about predatory credit counselors and credit card companies "helping" people in need with expensive new loans, interest rate hikes, and other chicanery. it's enough to make your blood boil.

If you need reputable help, try the National Foundation for Credit Counseling .

For more information on the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights look here. It would stop abuses like the "any time for any reason" interest rate hikes, or changing your due date so you get a late charge.

It passed the House in September, sponsored by New York's Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Let's make sure they don't forget about it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ivy League for Free? is a curious website apparently set up in part to promote for-profit schools such as the U of Phoenix . I am agnostic to negative about that particular cause although I'm getting increasingly interested in quality alternatives to costly university educations--emphasis on quality.
Here is a cool link they sent me: Top 100 Ivy League lectures available for free online.

Update: Wow. ITunes U offers free access to 75,000 audio and video education files from top universities, museums, etc--literally a lifetime of learning.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What Does Obama Mean for Your Money?

The new president's first task is to control expectations for his many supporters, especially among the millions of young people who turned out for him in record numbers.

No, President-Elect Obama won't fix the economy overnight. And you are not getting a jetpack. Or a unicorn.

Among his likely policy proposals, here's what stands out for me in terms of young people's economic future. Keep in mind that we're all in this together--and we're in it for the long haul.

Jobs & The Economy: As if to underscore that he can't forestall the recession single-handedly, stock markets fell today and yesterday. Although he may be able to speed a second economic stimulus package for things like food stamps and unemployment even before the inauguration, longer-term his ideas may be stymied by the downturn.

A very important, swift proposal to rebuild our economy and create jobs by investing in green energy & infrastructure is laid out in detail in the Green Recovery report from the Center for American Progress and similarly in the activist Van Jones' new book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. Even conservative economists like Martin Feldstein back the idea that major federal spending, and quickly, is exactly the ticket to rebound the economy--rather than stimulating it by cutting taxes. Tax cuts aren't that favorable to young people anyway since we tend to be lower earners. Better to take advantage of training programs that can place you in good green collar jobs.

Student loans and Credit Cards: With a stronger majority in Congress, and lots of momentum for reform, it's easy to see Democratic advocates like Carl Levin and Christopher Dodd taking advantage to re-regulate the credit markets, increasing transparency and disclosure on credit cards and limiting fees and marketing to college students. While Obama's planned $4000 refundable tuition tax credit may be delayed due to budget constraints, more generous repayment plans for student loans passed last year--the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Income Contingent Repayment Programs are likely to be continued and maybe even expanded as the hit to the budget is not as immediate.

Health Care: Unfortunately, the economic squeeze may make it harder for an Obama administration to act swiftly in expanding health insurance coverage, a key pocketbook issue for young people. It's up to all of us to continue pushing him on this issue. Initial proposals that could cost less and cover more under-30-year olds would be to increase federal support of state insurance pools for lower-income single adults, and possibly to support more state laws that require insurance companies to cover young adults through their parents' employers; an imperfect solution but it does increase access.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Proud Of My Country Again

Last night was a truly novel experience.
I was in a bar full of young people cheering, screaming, clapping and crying over our new president. My heart swelled with brand-new emotions--political emotions of pride, inspiration, patriotism and hope. I was in tears throughout his acceptance speech.

Who is this President Obama? He spoke beautifully! He said things didn't just make sense, they were highly intelligent! He was magnanimous in victory! He invoked the greatest moments of America's history, and our most shining patriotic values! He credited the democratic process and the millions of voters throughout the country for his victory, and he asked for our help, and yes, sacrifice, in meeting the difficult challenges ahead!

We took to the streets of Brooklyn where the whooping and hollering were joined by honking, high-fives and hugs, and dancing. I saw the same looks of amazement on everyone's faces that I felt.

This is an incredible day for everyone in America. But for young people who have never known in our adult lives any president except George W. Bush, who is the opposite of the above qualities in every possible way, it's an especially great day, because we helped make it happen.

Young people tripled and quadrupled their turnout in the primaries, providing the margin of victory for Obama in crucial states like Iowa. Rock the Vote alone registered 2.5 million. The news commentators already acknowledged last night that the recurring promise of the youth vote has finally been delivered in this election, as early reports showed record turnout on Election Day as well.

The Millennials, born after 1978, are more diverse, tolerant and progressive than their elders, and we have suffered harshly from the economic policies of the previous administration. We're the largest and fastest-growing group without health care and the second most likely to declare bankruptcy. We're burdened by student loans, credit card debt, and the environmental and economic crises created by our elders. But this is our moment to help change the social compact in America for good. This is our movement.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


"We’re probably entering a period, in other words, in which smart young liberals meet a stone-cold scarcity that they do not seem to recognize or have a plan for.

In an age of transition, the children are left to grapple with the burdens of their elders."

I think some of us do recognize the limits of this age, especially in environmental terms. But our plans are half-formed at best.

Reality-Based Progressivism

It's the end of an era that's lasted my entire adult life.
Our "long national nightmare" of war, economic collapse, and environmental destruction--well, it's far from over. But the leadership that drove us into this brick wall looks to be finally, decisively, on its way out.

For liberals, progressives and Democrats, with political power comes a new responsibility. Instead of railing at the screwups of the other side, we have to lead. We have to come up with solutions that work, and we don't have a lot of room to maneuver, thanks to the unpaid debts we're inheriting.

I think one of the crucial concepts of the new Progressive era is going to be evidence-based policy. This is when policymakers commission lots of comparative research (comparing both states and other countries) and take advantage of natural experiments to determine what really works for things like covering the uninsured, improving educational outcomes for urban kids, making our government more responsive, reducing carbon emissions, and raising retirement savings. It's an approach that unites the work of Roland Freyer, Geoffrey Canada, Cass Sunstein, & James Hansen, to name a few.

At the end of today, we will finally (finally!!) have a national leadership in place that agrees with the basic premise that the government can and should solve problems for people. And obviously we have a lot of problems.
If we focus on what works, we can maybe blunt the ideological hangover from the last eight years, and build an even stronger and more lasting consensus for reality-based progressivism.

PS. By the way, that Onion article is really incredible to read today.
"During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further."