Saturday, August 27, 2022

Musings on the Consequences of Forgiving Student Debt

          By Rudy  Barnes, Jr., August 27, 2022

President Biden is running significant risks in forgiving $ trillions in student debt.  It will increase an already exorbitant national debt and current inflationary pressures; and it favors debt for higher education over debt for more critical needs such as medical costs.  It also raises expectations for more debt forgiveness, and will likely change public perceptions of debt.

Timing is everything.  Biden’s debt forgiveness comes just before the midterms and is obviously about votes; but even among Democrats there is opposition to the plan--not over debt forgiveness, but the amount of debt to be forgiven.  Liberal Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren have argued that the amount forgiven should be much more: $50,000 rather than just $10,000.

The forgiveness plan is not limited to low income borrowers, and there’s no provision to reimburse those who have paid off their student debts.  Debtors with annual incomes up to $125,000 ($250,000 for a family) are eligible for loan forgiveness, and there’s no incentive for students to minimize their debts or for colleges to reduce soaring tuition costs.

An alternative to debt forgiveness is student aid that doesn’t involve debt coupled with  a reduction in the cost of higher education.  As it is, Biden’s executive order appears to be a crass political ploy for votes in November.  The big question is how it will play out with voters.  Those who receive debt forgiveness will likely support it, while fiscal conservatives will likely oppose it.

The American economy depends on debtors paying their debts, and college students are notorious for ignoring their debts.  Biden’s debt forgiveness program will send the wrong message to those just beginning to experience the real world of financial responsibility.  The message is, don't worry, be happy--Uncle Sam will assume your burdensome education debts.

The debt forgiveness program would be a flawed program in the best of times.  But with a massive $30+ trillion national debt threatening future generations and current runaway inflation with higher interest rates pushing America toward a recession, a debt relief program that provides a cash windfall for student debtors is a terrible idea.

There are many legitimate reasons to provide financial assistance to lower income Americans.  Increasing income disparities now threaten the middle class needed for the stability of American democracy; but Biden’s boondoggle doesn’t address that problem.  If anything, it will make income disparities worse by subsidizing debtor couples who make $250,000 a year. 

The government should not be making (or forgiving) student loans.  Given the vast sums of public money that flow to higher education, making and managing student loans should be at the institutional rather than the student level.  That will require an overhaul of public funding for higher education to ensure effectiveness and public transparency and accountability.



The White House debt forgiveness program “rejects the warnings of centrist Democratic economists — such as Larry Summers, the former Democratic treasury secretary — who have said it will increase inflation and add to the federal deficit. Republican lawmakers are also expected to blast the White House over the move, arguing it offers unnecessary subsidies to Americans who made bad decisions while doing nothing for those who did not go to college.

Previous estimates have found that canceling $10,000 in student debt per borrower could cost the federal government roughly $230 billion, but that number will be higher with the larger amount for Pell Grant recipients. ‘Canceling student debt is expensive, inflationary and unfair to those who paid their student loans and most likely illegal,’ said Brian Riedl, a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, a center-right think tank. ‘It does nothing to prevent universities from raising costs and students from borrowing more money in anticipation of future loan forgiveness.’” 

A report of the Government Accountability Office requested by Representative Virginia Foxx (R. N.C.) “shows the government is on track to lose $197 billion in revenue from the lending program due in part to the suspension of payments and interest. Foxx said ‘This is a slap in the face to those who never went to college, as well as borrowers who upheld their responsibility to taxpayers and  paid back their loans.  It’s a signal to every freshman stepping foot on campus to borrow as much as they can because taxpayers are picking up the  tab.’”  See

Reuters has reported that Biden’s plan “could boost support for his fellow Democrats in the November congressional elections, but some economists said it may fuel inflation and some Republicans in the U.S. Congress questioned whether the president had the legal authority to cancel the debt. Debt forgiveness will free up hundreds of billions of dollars for new consumer spending that could be aimed at homebuying and other big-ticket expenses, according to economists who said this would add a new wrinkle to the country's inflation fight. Borrower balances have been frozen since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, with no payments required on most federal student loans since March 2020. Many Democrats had pushed for Biden to forgive as much as $50,000 per borrower.

‘President Biden's student loan socialism is a slap in the face to every family who sacrificed to save for college, every graduate who paid their debt, and every American who chose a certain career path or volunteered to serve in our Armed Forces in order to avoid taking on debt,’ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday.

American university tuition fees are substantially higher than in most other rich countries, and U.S. consumers carry $1.75 trillion in student loan debt, most of it held by the federal government. The administration will extend a COVID-19 pandemic-linked pause on student loan repayment to year end, while forgiving $10,000 in student debt for single borrowers with annual income under $125,000 a year or married couples who earn less than $250,000, the White House said. Some 8 million borrowers will be affected automatically, the Department of Education said; others need to apply for forgiveness.

A New York Federal Reserve study shows that cutting $10,000 in federal debt for every student would amount to $321 billion and eliminate the entire balance for 11.8 million borrowers, or 31% of them. Former U.S. Treasury secretary Larry Summers said on Twitter that debt relief "consumes resources that could be better used helping those who did not, for whatever reason, have the chance to attend college. It will also tend to be inflationary by raising tuitions." Similarly Jason Furman, a Harvard professor who headed the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, said debt-cancellation would nullify the deflationary powers of the Inflation Reduction Act. "Pouring roughly half trillion dollars of gasoline on the inflationary fire that is already burning is reckless," he said.” See

Megan McCardle has opined that Biden’s student loan “fix” is perfect for making the problem worse.  “The Biden administration announced that it would forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt (up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients), using a little-known provision in the post-9/11 Heroes Act, which allows the Education Department to waive or modify student loan payments in times of national emergency. Any debtor making less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for a family, will be eligible. The income-based repayment program will also become far more generous; required monthly payments will be capped at 5 percent of debtors’ discretionary income, and smaller loans can be forgiven after 10 years instead of 20. How many ways can a single policy be bad? This one could cost the federal government somewhere between $400 billion and $600 billion, completely unpaid for. Its legality is at best an abuse of the law to address the “national emergency” of upcoming midterm elections. It will pour “roughly half [a] trillion dollars of gasoline on the inflationary fire that is already burning,” says Jason Furman, formerly the top economic adviser to President Barack Obama. And with the income caps set so high, it remains an extremely regressive policy, heaping benefits on the most affluent demographics, while leaving everyone else to pay the cost through some combination of higher taxes, lower benefits, or higher inflation and interest rates. 

Worst of all: What do Democrats do for an encore? Students who start college next year will get the benefit of the more generous income-based repayment program. But they will look longingly at recent graduates who got better repayment terms and $10,000 knocked off their debt. They will correctly point out that this is unfair — after all, tuition is still rising, so they’re even worse off than their predecessors! They will badger Democratic politicians to help them out, too. This first action will beget demands for a second and a third. Because this isn’t going to cure the underlying drivers of excessive tuition growth, any more than the “doc fixes” fixed the problem of soaring health-care costs.

The student loan program itself represents an attempt to solve the problem of rising college costs, and the theory seems sound enough. After all, kids who went to college would eventually earn a lot more money than they would have otherwise, and loans let them monetize some of that future income to pay their tuition. But, of course, tuition prices were already partially based on the expectation of higher future incomes, and all that future income shifted backward in time meant colleges could charge even more. One study suggests that when Congress raised the caps on subsidized federal loans, as much as 60 cents of every extra dollar lent got eaten up by tuition increases. Which in turn ballooned loan balances, and in turn created political pressure to make student loan programs more generous to borrowers — as the government has over the years, undoubtedly putting further upward pressure on tuition.

When you’re doing something destructive, your best bet is to stop. But if you can’t manage that, you should at least refrain from making the problem worse.” See

On August 25 WIS TV reported that there are 700,000 student debtors in S.C. eligible for loan forgiveness, and that the average student loan is just under $37,000.   

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Musings on the Constitution, Democracy and Providing for the Common Good

             By Rudy Barnes, Jr., August 20, 2022

The  future of American libertarian democracy depends on balancing individual rights with providing for the common good.  The Constitution created a framework for democracy, but the values of American voters determine its political future.  Just 71 years after the Constitution came into force, the Union was dissolved with a terrible Civil War--and it could happen again.

Once again the fabric of American democracy is threatened by polarized partisan politics that ignore the common good.  The Constitution cannot save America from itself.  Standards of political legitimacy need to change to give primacy to promoting the common good over divisive partisan interests.  America needs a change in its values rather than its Constitution and law.

In accepting his nomination at the Republican Convention in 1964, Barry Goldwater proclaimed, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”  That sounded reasonable to me as a young man fresh out of college In 1964.  I didn’t foresee that it would lead to the insurrection of Trump supporters and election deniers at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. 

The framers of the Constitution knew that American democracy was the product of political extremism and the violence of the Revolutionary War, and that the Constitution would have to stand the test of extremism and violence in the future.  They didn’t foresee that the Union would be dissolved in 1860, shattered by secession and Civil War.

The Constitution was restored after the Civil War, but the polarized political conflicts that undermined political legitimacy in 1860 remain, and they boiled over again on January 6, 2021.  It was a reminder that democracy depends more on political values than on the legal mandates of a Constitution.  In a democracy, the people are the masters of their own destiny.

The Constitution is the foundation of American law, with the Bill of Rights defining the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech; but freedom and justice for all depends on a majority committed to provide for the common good.  That requires altruistic values that cannot be enforced by law to promote the reconciliation of contentious issues in America's two-party duopoly.

Providing for the common good is a derivative of the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races, religions and politics, as we love ourselves.  It’s a universal moral imperative taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of  faith by Muslims.  It requires political reconciliation in a democracy, and was considered essential to America’s democracy by the Framers of the Constitution.

Free and fair elections are at the heart of the Constitution.  Most winners in recent GOP  congressional primary races are Trump supporters and election deniers; but we’ll have to wait until November to find out whether most American voters respect election results and support the Constitution--or not.  The future of American democracy hangs in the balance.    



Danielle Allen has asserted that social media has undermined our constitutional architecture.  “After the Revolution, the nation was grinding to a halt under the Articles of Confederation. Congress couldn’t get a quorum. It couldn’t secure the revenue needed to pay war debts. Polarization — or as they called it — “faction” brought paralysis. The whole point of writing the Constitution was to fix this aspect. James Madison made the case that the design of the Constitution would dampen factionalism. He argued this in the Federalist Papers, the famous op-eds that he, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton wrote advocating for the Constitution. Madison argued that building a representative instead of a direct democracy would mitigate the problem. Robust disagreement would always be part of any constitutional democracy, Madison argued. It is freedom’s necessary price. Tamping it out is not only impossible but undesirable. But reasonably public minded representatives would synthesize opinion from around the country. Coming together in Congress, they would refine public opinion and deliver a moderated, filtered version to steer the nation. Madison also expected that the breadth of the new nation and geographic dispersal of its residents would themselves dampen the consequences of those robust disagreements. “Extend the sphere [of the country] … and it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. … The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” Because of geographic dispersal, people would have to go through representatives to get their views into the public sphere. This would mitigate the impact of faction. In short, geographic dispersal was an actual premise of the Constitution’s original design. Madison couldn’t anticipate Facebook along with the equally powerful social media platforms that followed that broke our democracy. Representation as designed cannot work under current conditions. We have no choice but to undertake a significant project of democracy renovation. We need a renovated model of representation that suits the world as it has become, yet is designed with respect for long-lived and durable principles of self-government.”  See  See also, Our Common Purpose, Report of Recommendations from the Commission on Proactive Democratic Citizenship in Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century (2020), co-chaired by Danielle Allen.

Trump’s picks won in 94 percent of GOP primaries. So, does he own the party?

On the success of Trump’s supporters and election deniers in the GOP primaries, see  

On Liz Cheney’s defeat in Wyoming, see

Murkowski’s election in Alaska shows that ranked-choice voting can minimize partisan factionalism.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion and the Wisdom of God

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., August 13, 2022

Democracy is teetering.  It will take the wisdom of God--an amalgam of faith, knowledge and experience--to reconcile tribal divisions of race, religion, and partisan politics that threaten American democracy.  Thomas Jefferson was a deist who considered Jesus the world’s greatest wisdom teacher, and his teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.

Jesus was a maverick Jewish rabbi in 1st century Palestine whose universal teachings angered Jewish religious leaders of his day; and John Wesley was a maverick Anglican priest in 18th century England.  Neither intended to start a new religion, but they spawned new religions that ignored the wisdom of God taught by Jesus in order to gain popularity and power.

Jesus taught the wisdom of altruistic love and the primacy of love over law, while Wesley promoted revivals and organized his Methodists to conduct charitable acts of mercy to put heart into his stiff-necked 18th century Anglican Church.  Unfortunately, both Christianity and Methodism have since sacrificed God’s wisdom for more popular religious doctrines of belief. 

The 18th century Enlightenment transformed politics and religion with democracy based on popular sovereignty and advances in knowledge and reason.  John Wesley did not advocate democracy.  He emphasized a theological task based on Scripture, tradition, experience and reason, and promoted God’s wisdom over popularity in the United Methodist Church (UMC).

I have spent a lifetime seeking wisdom in the law, politics, the military and religion; but as I approach octogenarian status, I’m still a novice in the realm of wisdom.  My experience as an attorney, an elected official, an Army officer and a pastor has converted me from an optimist to a maverick Methodist skeptical of the political and religious institutions that shape our lives.

Jesus was not a lawyer or a politician, but a teacher of universal wisdom.  His teachings on discipleship were never popular, so the early church subordinated the teachings of Jesus to exclusivist beliefs never taught by him as the only means of salvation.  It was a form of cheap grace, but it attracted enough converts to make Christianity the world’s most popular religion.

The Christian religion is over 2,000 years old.  Methodism is much younger, but it is now facing division based on contentious issues related to human sexuality.  The  UMC has allowed church doctrines never taught by Jesus to preempt the timeless wisdom of altruistic love taught by Jesus, annotated with reason and experience.   What would Jesus (and John Wesley) do?

More to the point, what will UMC members do?  All indications are that they will go their separate ways, much as they do in partisan politics, and abandon both Jesus and John Wesley, leaving the UMC to wither and die of religious irrelevance.  While the UMC will likely remain a popular social institution, it will forfeit its relevance as an instrument of God’s wisdom in politics.


Prominent historians recently warned President Biden that the future of democracy is “teetering.”  See

Thomas Jefferson once described the teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  On Jefferson’s views on the wisdom of Jesus and his disdain for the church of his day, see

The Discipline of the United Methodist Church provides our theological task is to distill God’s truth from ancient scripture by interpreting it based on experience and reason.  It’s based on John Wesley’s quadrilateral, a methodology that relies on a mix of tradition, experience and reason to interpret scripture.  Wesley’s enlightened way of understanding scripture can prevent believers from succumbing to the temptation of bibliolatry and its false sense of security in accepting the literal meaning of ancient scripture as God’s inerrant and infallible word.  Our theological task requires each believer to shape his or her own beliefs independently of church doctrine and dogma.  For a brief description of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral by Lovett H. Weems, Jr. and a chart of its four elements by George E. Koeler, including the danger of bibliolotry, see Weems, John Wesley’s Message Today, Abingdon Press, 1990, pages 11-13. Our Theological Task is provided in The Discipline of the United Methodist Church at pages 78-91 at  See Fear and Fundamentalism at

On love over law, see Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Love Over Law and Social Justice (7/27/19) at

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”  See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.  

Discipleship is following Jesus, not worshiping him.  James condemned faith without works: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26).   

“Some traditionalist leaders in the UMC have decided to create their own denomination (the Global Methodist Church). Leaders of that denomination and other unofficial advocacy groups, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which created it, are encouraging like-minded United Methodist congregations and clergy to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church and join their denomination instead.  The requests for disaffiliations are coming largely from traditionalists.” See

There is much uncertainty in the Schism in the Body of the North Carolina United Methodist Church.  See

Christianity’s postliberal critics predict a world after liberalism. Jeet Heer has speculated, “If Christian faith generates liberalism and socialism, what path remains open for the radical Right but a recasting of Christianity away from faith into a tribal identity marked by historical, rather than transcendental, allegiances? We see this Christian nationalism in its most vile form in the manifestos and actions of an Anders Breivik. But a more common version can be seen in the way many American Christians have formed an idolatrous cult around Donald Trump, surely the most profane and Biblically illiterate of all American presidents. Trump is the leader of the Religious Right you get when Christianity ceases to be a religious creed and instead becomes only a tribal identity.” See

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moderating Hatred in Partisan Politics

           By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Partisan politics have always been competitive, sometimes fiercely so; but not since the mid-1850s have partisan politics become so infused with hatred.  Intractable partisan divisions in Congress have produced widespread predictions of political violence; and partisan primaries leading up to November elections have been rife with allusions to violence.

A retired professor of political science noted on my Facebook page two weeks ago that “I fear we're too divided as a people to repair the problem.”  I share his fear, but am hopeful that Americans will resist the paralyzing fear of political violence and moderate the pervasive partisan hatred that threatens our democracy.  We’ll know more after the November elections.

How did we get into this mess and how do we get out of it?  Our moral values shape our standards of political legitimacy.  After his 1834 tour of America, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in a democracy “liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”  And politics in America have long reflected the moral values taught in America’s churches.

America’s churches are racially divided, and that racial divide has shaped partisan politics.  Until the 1960s, most Whites were Democrats and Blacks Republicans.  While most  churches remain racially segregated, their partisan preferences are now reversed.  Most Blacks now vote Democratic and most Whites vote Republican--and never the twain shall meet.

Reconciliation is at the foundation of Christian morality.  To love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races, religions and politics, we must seek to be  reconciled with them.  Reconciliation is a priority of our faith that takes preference over worship (Matthew 5:23-24); and our segregated churches illustrate the need for racial reconciliation.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is an anomaly.  It is currently headed by a Black bishop, but most UMC church activities remain racially segregated with little opportunity for interacial activities or discussions of political issues.  For most United Methodists, church services on Sunday morning remain the most segregated time of the week.

Most Christians profess faith in Jesus Christ as the Trinitarian alter ego of God; but Jesus taught his followers to follow him, not to worship him.  Worshiping Jesus and ignoring his moral teachings on racial reconciliation in politics is a form of hypocrisy; but many Christians do just that by ignoring the teachings of Jesus in their racially segregated partisan politics.

The UMC should promote racial reconciliation in politics to moderate the partisan hatred that threatens American democracy; but it’s not likely, since most in the UMC ignore the moral imperative to promote racial reconciliation in their politics.  That’s too bad, since the future of democracy and the church depends on making racial and partisan reconciliation a moral priority.


In his tour of America in 1834, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that religion is a two-edged sword in democracy:  While Christians “readily espouse the cause of human liberty as the source of all moral greatness,” and “will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law, …religion is entangled in those institutions that democracy assails, and is not infrequently brought to reject the equality it loves and to curse that cause of liberty as a foe.”  De Tocqueville noted that secular citizens are skeptical of religion in politics but know “that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”  See De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, The Cooperative Publication Society and the Colonial Press, 1900, p 12. Cited in E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation, at

Robin R. Meyers has condemned the hypocrisy of American Christianity in ignoring the moral imperatives taught by Jesus in politics.  The title of his book says it all: Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus. Harper One, 2009. 

Brian Klaas has opined that “American democracy is dying. There are plenty of medicines that would cure it. Unfortunately, our political dysfunction means we’re choosing not to use them, and as time passes, fewer treatments become available to us, even though the disease is becoming terminal. No major pro democracy reforms have passed Congress. No key political figures who tried to overturn an American election have faced real accountability. The president who orchestrated the greatest threat to our democracy in modern times is free to run for reelection, and may well return to office. …When democracies start to die, they usually don’t recover. …We may not be doomed. But we should be honest: The optimistic assessment from experts who study authoritarianism globally is that the United States will most likely settle into a dysfunctional equilibrium that mirrors a deep democratic breakdown.” See

Max Boot shares the fear that as a nation we are too divided by partisan politics to be reconciled.   “We need to take seriously the possibility that the United States could become a failed democracy, if only to avert that dire fate. …The persistence of racism and income inequality, and far more gun violence than other advanced democracies, and yet can’t implement common-sense gun-safety regulations is a damning indictment of our democracy.  We already live in a “backsliding” democracy, where voting rights are being restricted and freedom is under siege. The most severe threat comes from an increasingly authoritarian Republican Party whose maximum leader is an unindicted and unrepentant coup plotter. ..Former president Donald Trump remains the leading contender for the 2024 GOP nomination — and on the current trajectory he could defeat President Biden, whose unpopularity continues to plumb new depths. …I used to be an optimist about America’s future. Not anymore.”  See

Many Republicans talk of violence on the campaign trail. In both swing states and safe seats, GOP candidates say that liberals hate them personally and may turn rioters or a police state on people who disobey them. On the evolution of partisan hostility to partisan hatred, see

Third parties offer a means to moderate the hatred that pervades America’s two-party duopoly, but none have been able to come close to political success at the national level. 

“For the first time in modern history, roughly half of Americans consider themselves “independents,” and two-thirds say a new party is needed (and would vote for it). Surprisingly, a majority of Democrats and Republicans say they want another option, too. “To succeed, a new party must break down the barriers that stand between voters and more political choices. Accordingly, we will passionately advocate electoral changes such as ranked-choice voting and open primaries; for the end of gerrymandering; and for the nationwide protection of voting rights and a push to make voting remarkably easy for anyone and incredibly secure for everyone.

Without such systemic changes, Americans will be left with a closed system and fewer options on the ballot. These reforms go hand in hand with a new party. 

Some call third parties “spoilers,” but the system is already spoiled. There are more than 500,000 elected positions in the United States, but a recent study found more than 70 percent of races on ballots in 2020 were unopposed or uncontested. A tiny sliver of U.S. congressional seats will have close races this November. The two major parties have shut out competition, and America is suffering as a result. That’s why we’re proposing the first “open” party. Americans of all stripes — Democrats, Republicans and independents — are invited to be a part of the process, without abandoning their existing political affiliations, by joining us to discuss building an optimistic and inclusive home for the politically homeless majority. 

America’s founders warned about the dangers of a two-party system. Today, we’re living with the dire consequences. Giving Americans more choices is important not just for restoring civility. Our lives, our livelihoods and our way of life depend on it.” See