Saturday, July 06, 2019

More Like Scandinavia

Because of a discussion at Bible study about the feasibility of student loan forgiveness last night, I --

Wait.  Well, yeah, this "Bible study" has been going for 40+ years and we were really intense on Bible topics such as marriage or fasting, individual NT book studies, Chuck Swindoll, Celebration of Discipline, and the like for many years.  Mostly we are now just three old couples getting together once a week, with the fourth couple very occasional. After polite greetings and chat, the men go to one conversation, the women to another. Last night there was WSJ's disapproval of Trump's tariffs, The Poisonwood Bible, cost-per-mile of travel, medical updates on children, road closings and shortcuts, and the usual wide-ranging, ever-branching conversation that occurs among friends.  Part of it was the discussion of student loan forgiveness.

It's hard to see how this is popular with anyone who doesn't have a current outstanding student loan debt or a child who is not quite getting up and running because of a student loan debt.  Maybe that is a large part of the Democrats' base, I don't know.

One member was talking about a next-gen child who teaches at a small college, who offered some defense of this debt forgiveness.  This is secondhand, and I don't want to push too hard against a very nice person, educated at Wheaton, Gordon-Conwell, and Notre Dame, though seemingly having gone to the Dark Side in recent years. His position is the classic "we're all in this together, why not help others?" My usual impulse would be to attack that thinking at the root, asking "Who is this 'we' when the majority doesn't want it's money taken for this? Wasn't Health Insurance enough?  What's next after this? Isn't this just..." Okay, distracted again.  That's my usual.  I'm not doing that here. Just those hints.

I went browsing around on the general topics of paying for postsecondary education and wealth transfers, specifically looking at the northern European, especially Scandinavian countries that we are supposed to emulate in terms of generosity. As to the latter, Freakanomics had a guest article about what governments actually spend in transfer payments, and the US is comparable to the Nordic countries. He closes with a caveat that the poorest 10% fare worse in America. That is just barely true in actual dollars, and fails to take into consideration a constant influx of low-income immigrants for us, and a homogeneous, high-IQ society with a strong work ethic for them. We are already like Scandinavia. Maybe it would have been better to do the free child care, free health care route instead of giving money, food, and housing, but it's not that different.

Over at National Review there was an essay by Nima Sanandaji about welfare reform in the Nordic countries.  (I know some of you hate NR because most of their writer don't like Trump, but you'll just have to deal with it. They still produce articles like this you won't find in other publications.) I have written about the Swede Sanandaji before, and his book about the Scandinavian economies Debunking Utopia.

More to the specific discussion about postsecondary education and student debt, I thought I had remembered that the industrialised countries we compare ourselves to, especially Germany, send a smaller percentage of their young people to college. It is easy to get into some college in America, harder in other countries. My recollection was mostly true. Scan the list and you will see it drops off after fifth place, and countries such as Japan, Ireland, and Germany only send about 2/3 as many of their students to college. We send ours whether they are qualified or not, under the mistaken assumption that it is good for anyone.  You can see the same idea here, with America leading in average years of schooling. Relatedly, here is Government spending on education.

More surprisingly, there is plenty of student debt in Sweden, even though college is free. How can that be? And Business Insider points out the obvious about free college.  They do it with higher taxes. I have always thought pointing out the obvious is a good thing, something an assistant village idiot would be likely to do.

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