Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Realities Behind a "Good Idea"

On Tuesday, President Obama announced a plan to relieve some of the burden of student loans. Not surprisingly, the announcement was welcome news to millions of Americans in their early to mid-twenties who are finishing or have finished college and are trying to establish themselves as independent adults (i.e., find a job so they can pay for their loans and then get on with life) in these hard times. However, when one stops to consider the big picture (and do some math), this new initiative is not as great of an idea as it seems at first glance.

This new initiative has two components: one allowing consolidation of different types of loans to reduce the interest rates, and one reducing the maximum percentage of income that will be billed monthly and the number of years before remaining debt is forgiven. On Thursday, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce has released this statement on the impact of the initiative, based on some hard data. In the middle of their statement, they claim that the average student loan holder who takes advantage of the consolidation of loans component of the plan would see monthly payments decrease by merely a few dollars, or about $75 a year. And the statement notes that only sixteen percent of loan holders can take advantage of this component of the plan anyway. Regarding the second component, the statement notes that only four percent of student loan holders would be eligible for its benefits. Yesterday, the Committee released this statement on the second component of the plan for the general tax-paying public. While the White House’s press release (see my first link) clearly states that this initiative will “carry no additional cost to taxpayers,” the Committee’s analysis demonstrates otherwise.

In sum, this initiative in reality offers only minimal relief to student loan holders (and only a minimal amount of them) while at the same time burdening American taxpayers in general. This latter, negative effect leads to a “big picture” question: how much education do we have a right to in America, and thus how much of taxpayers’ money should the government invest there? Publicly-funded elementary and secondary education, I think most would agree, are a worthwhile use of tax dollars. But is higher education, which operates in a vastly different manner and, in general, with different objectives, also something the government should use its resources to make accessible?

I see nothing wrong with the government providing some money for students from low economic backgrounds to attend college, where they can study a discipline of their choosing and make connections with people from different parts of the country and world. But should a high school student be able to assume that he or she can just get a degree courtesy of Uncle Sam?

I think not. Pursuing a college degree, I firmly believe, is an extraordinarily worthwhile use of time and money – but it should be the time and money of the degree holder and his or her family. The American public should not be shouldering the burden of college costs for the minority of American who have them (I tried to find what percentage of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, and I found numbers ranging from seventeen to twenty-nine percent, but suffice it to say it is far less than a third, if not less than a quarter of Americans). This article from The Heritage Foundation looks at these big picture issues further. While I admire President Obama’s desire to help my fellow twenty-something Americans get established as adults, continually reducing the amount of debt student loan holders must repay does the opposite – knowing that relief is available (and not understanding the limitations as outlined above), students will take on more debt (and more students will do so), which will further burden American taxpayers, which they become once they graduate and enter the workforce.

This is Rubio, over and out.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Secret Jesus and the Plans of God

For about a month and a half, ending in mid-September, I was studying the Gospel of Mark in my personal devotions. I read through the book three times, one chapter per day. It was not the first time I had read through Mark, but on this occasion I noticed a recurring theme.

In 2:40-45, Mark records Jesus healing a leper. After the healing, Jesus commands the leper to keep the miracle to himself and go to the priest and make an offering as indicated by Mosaic law (44). This man, however, ignored Jesus’ instructions and began to talk freely about it” (45). As a result, Jesus “could no longer openly enter a town” (45).

Mark records a handful of other occasions in which Jesus gives similar instructions or commands to keep his identity or actions secret. In 3:12, Jesus orders demons to not make him known.” In 5:43, after raising Jairus’ daughter, Jesus charged them that no one should know [about] this.” And, most startlingly, in 8:30, after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, Jesus strictly charged them to tell no one about him.”

Such instructions are hardly what the modern-day believer hears at church. Keep Jesus’ power and identity secret? Hide him from a lost and suffering world?

To answer that question, one must merely look at the historical context. Jesus had not yet given the Great Commission. And further, look also at the context of redemptive history. Jesus had not yet fulfilled the task of being betrayed and executed as an innocent man. Had Jesus been subject to a wave of popularity, while many more might have heeded his teachings, the necessity of his death would have been jeopardized. Here, then, we see that God is carefully orchestrating events such that the plan of salvation comes to pass fully. 

A broader question comes to mind: how often do we think that our ideas, agendas, and plans are superior to God’s? Almost daily, I would imagine. The leper certainly thought that the idea of telling everyone what had happened was a good one, but look how it affected Jesus’ ministry. How often do we feel the Lord’s leading in some situation, only to go with our own flawed, human reasoning and rationale instead? Do we really believe that we know of a better way to lead our lives, minister to our neighbors, and redeem the world?

May it be our prayer that we would trust the leading of the Spirit, and let God move in our world as He wills.

This is Rubio, over and out. 

All Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version.