One reason that graduate school is for the already privileged is that it is structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected. Wealthy students are not trapped by the system; they can take what they want from it, not feel pressured, and walk away at any point with minimal consequences. They do not have to obsess about whether some professor really likes them. If they are determined to become academics, they can select universities on the basis of reputation rather than money. They can focus on research rather than scrambling for time-consuming teaching and research assistantships to help pay the bills. And, when they go on the market, they can hold out for the perfect position rather than accepting whatever is available.
But the system over which the privileged preside does not ultimately depend on them for the daily functioning of higher education (which is now, as we all know, drifting toward a part-time, no-benefit business). The ranks of new Ph.D.’s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status.
Again and again, the people who wrote to me said things like “Nobody told me” and “Now what do I do?” “Everybody keeps saying my doctorate gives me all kinds of transferable skills, but I can’t get a second interview, even outside of academe.” “What’s wrong with me?”
The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)
Unable even to consider that something might be wrong with higher education, mom and dad begin to think there is something wrong with their daughter, and she begins to internalize that feeling.
Everyone has told her that “there are always places for good people in academe.” She begins to obsess about the possibility of some kind of fatal personal shortcoming. She goes through multiple mock interviews, and takes business classes, learning to present herself for nonacademic positions. But again and again, she is passed over in favor of undergraduates who are no different from people she has taught for years. Maybe, she wonders, there’s something about me that makes me unfit for any kind of job.
This goes on for years: sleepless nights, anxiety, escalating and increasingly paralyzing self-doubt, and a host of stress-induced ailments. She has even removed the Ph.D. from her résumé, with some pain, but she lives in dread that interviewers will ask what she has been doing for the last 12 years. (All her old friends are well established by now, some with families, some with what seem to be high-powered careers. She lives in a tiny apartment and struggles to pay off her student loans.) What’s left now but entry-level clerical work with her immediate supervisor just three years out of high school?
She was the best student her adviser had ever seen (or so he said); it seemed like a dream when she was admitted to a distinguished doctoral program; she worked so hard for so long; she won almost every prize; she published several essays; she became fully identified with the academic life; even distancing herself from her less educated family. For all of those reasons, she continues as an adjunct who qualifies for food stamps, increasingly isolating herself to avoid feelings of being judged. Her students have no idea that she is a prisoner of the graduate-school poverty trap. The consolations of teaching are fewer than she ever imagined.
Such people sometimes write to me about their thoughts of suicide, and I think nothing separates me from them but luck.
Gee, I wonder why we don’t do that here?
The Obama administration has already sent a sternly-worded letter to Anthem Blue Cross over the company’s excessive rate increase for individual policy holders in California. How excessive? Up to 39 percent. But that’s not all. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield also informed their customers that they are changing their practice of adjusting rates annually, and as of now are reserving the right to raise premiums basically whenever they feel like it.
You got that? They want to do exactly what the credit card companies were doing.
There’s little beyond sternly-worded letters that the administration can do, other than something like maybe advocating strongly for some kind of legislative remedy, say in the form of serious competition to private insurers in the form of a robust public option for health insurance. But there’s something Congress can do, and that’s put the insurers on the hot seat and investigate. From the Speaker’s blog, The Gavel:
As Secretary Sebelius pointed out, WellPoint [parent company to Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield] reported a staggering $2,740,000,000 in profits for the fourth quarter of 2009 alone – eight times more than the last quarter of 2008 – and more than $4,750,000,000 for all of 2009. In fact, the company reaped these record profits even as it lost more than 1.4 million members…..
Today, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak announced that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on February 24th regarding the premium rate increases.
The hearing, conveniently, will be held on February 24, the day before the bipartisan White House healthcare summit.
I wish more states would do this, since the feds haven’t done a damned thing to punish the banks:
New Mexico’s House of Representatives voted Monday to pass a bill that allows the state to move $2 billion – $5 billion of state funds to credit unions and small banks.
The municipal funds bill was approved 65-0, and is subject to a vote by New Mexico’s Senate. Governor Bill Richardson told the bill’s sponsor that he supports the legislation.
Credit Union Times spoke to one banker who believes that the bill got a boost from Huffington Post’s Move Your Money campaign:
The altered view of New Mexico lawmakers in favoring local control of state funds, officials said, follows national mention of the New Mexico effort in the “Move Your Money” campaign of New York pundit Arianna Huffington in her online Huffington Post columns.
Madfloridian over at DU is doing a bang-up job, following the privatization movement. More here.
Really enlightening interview I found over at Corrente:
Glenn Greenwald points out why the use of unnamed sources is so misleading to the public:
In order to assuage concerns among progressives that the Obama administration intends to follow in the Bush administration’s footsteps by trying to cut Social Security benefits, high-level Obama officials have been telling journalists such as The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein — on the condition of anonymity — that they have no intention of touching Social Security, producing reports which then faithfully communicate that message, such as this one from Klein, two weeks ago:
What people at the White House have told me on Social Security — and what I wrote in the post she’s referencing — is that there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future. It’s not a priority and it’s not a political winner. . . . The problem, they say, is health care, not Social Security, and that’s where the White House is focusing.
Based on those same anonymous conversations, Klein wrote other posts telling progressives who are worried about Obama’s intention to cut Social Security that they were worrying about something that doesn’t exist.
But in The New York Times today, David Brooks recounted what he described as “conversations with four senior members of the administration.” Those unnamed Obama officials all called Brooks in order to refute his column from last week which argued “that the Obama budget is a liberal, big government document that should make moderates nervous.” Brooks — like Klein — granted anonymity to and then proceeded to quote all four “senior members of the Obama administration” (a) without explaining why he did so, (b) without describing efforts, if any, to persuade them to use their names and (c) without providing any information about who they are or what their motives might be (all flagrant violations of the supposed NYT policy governing the use of anonymity). These paragraphs were the result of the anonymity Brooks gave to the Obama White House (emphasis in original):
Besides, the long-range debt is what matters, and on this subject President Obama is hawkish.
He is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending.
What Klein’s anonymous White House sources told him (“there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future“) is directly contrary to what Brooks’ anonymous White House sources, two weeks later, told him (Obama “is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security”). But there’s no way to resolve those contradictory White House claims because Klein and Brooks allowed these officials to hide behind anonymity when making these claims. That’s what anonymity does — it allows dubious or even false government claims to be spouted with impunity and without any accountability.
What Klein’s anonymous White House sources told him (“there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future”) is directly contrary to what Brooks’ anonymous White House sources, two weeks later, told him (Obama “is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security”). But there’s no way to resolve those contradictory White House claims because Klein and Brooks allowed these officials to hide behind anonymity when making these claims. That’s what anonymity does — it allows dubious or even false government claims to be spouted with impunity and without any accountability.
That’s why anonymity is such a valuable weapon for government officials and such a risky and questionable practice for journalists. If the claims from Klein and Brooks’ sources are true about the intentions of the White House, then why can’t they just attach their names to those claims and why aren’t they made to do so by the journalists before having their statements amplified to the public?
First let me note that, as a contract employee -which is what the Times’ columnists are, Brooks is mostly likely not bound by the anonymity rule, although he should be.
Second, I don’t know that these are as contradictory as Glenn thinks. This is where I’ll put on my former-press-secretary hat. You never want to lie to a reporter if you can help it, but you will mislead them. My guess is, the person they misled is Ezra Klein. First of all, “not in the foreseeable future”? Classic weasel words. “When I talked to you, Ezra, it really wasn’t a priority. But circumstances have changed since then.”
And while we all know who he is, in the Beltway world, Ezra’s not a big name and doesn’t have a huge megaphone – except in the blogosphere, so the thinking would be that he’s not as big a potential threat as Brooks. But if you activated the liberal base at this time with a possible threat to cut Social Security, that would be a real distraction at a time when they’re focused on other things. Trust me: They don’t want to deal with this right now (i.e. “for the foreseeable future.”) So yeah, score one for truth.
If the Obama administration was really serious about never touching Social Security, odds are they would have made that strategic leak to someone more prominent. Real leaks (that is, accurate ones), on things that matter, are always used to float trial ballons and either reward the reporter for previous favorable coverage – or get him in line to soften future coverage.
From my own experience as the person pushing those stories to reporters, I’d say Brooks was the one who got the accurate story on this because 1) it’s the Times and you don’t want to piss them off if you don’t have to 2) they wanted to soften him up to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on budget issues in general and 3) they wanted him to pass it along the secret message to other conservatives – “I didn’t put this in the story, but Axlerod told me, strictly on the QT, that…”. In other words, this has all the signs of a classic strategic leak.
And if there’s any doubt here, you have to give the edge to appointments – namely, that Obama has surrounded himself with many, many advisers who have actively supported either the privatization or partial privatization of Social Security. Are those the people you’d hire if you wanted to save Social Security?
So while it is indeed difficult to read between the lines when “sources” spout conflicting stories, in this case? Not so much. Because I think they were both told a version of the truth. No, Obama’s not planning to touch Social Security – at this time. And yes, Obama plans to cut Social Security spending – in something. Only time will tell what those cuts include.
From Oxdown Gazette (h/t Corrente), David Cay Johnston on Lou Dobbs:
Well, it seems I’m not the only one who’s worried. Jane:
Ben Smith says today that the left is “silent on Social Security reform” even as the administration considers it, and quotes Blue Dog Jim Cooper who says Obama is “in a honeymoon phase, and many liberals are afraid to express concerns.”
Atrios calls it trolling. Perhaps it is, but there have been signs that serious Social Security reform is in the works, and people who have been briefed on the administration’s plans indicate that things like raising the retirement age and cutting benefits are under consideration.
Consider — in December, Cooper said a report which showed “that the governments unfunded liabilities are roughly $56 trillion” was “shocking.” He called for a commission to address it, which Hoyer endorsed but Pelosi opposed. The White House agreed to it in January:
Obama said that he has made clear to his advisers that some of the difficult choices–particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare – should be made on his watch. “We’ve kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road,” he said.
So who is going to be on this panel? Kent Conrad, Judd Gregg, the Blue Dogs and “a host of outside groups with ideas on the matter.” Said Paul Rosenberg:
So, Blue Dogs in. Progressives? Not so much. Surprised? Didn’t think so. The agenda here “difficult choices–particularly in regards to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare” is straight out of the fiscal slasher movie on CNN last weekend, IOUSA, which Digby blogged about earlier in the week, and which was thoroughly debunked by economist Dean Baker and his associates at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which he co-directs, when it first came out in theatrical release last fall.
Whatever plan the task force comes up with, Cooper does not want Congress to be able to amend it.
Cooper was a health care spokesman for Obama during the campaign. Mike Lux sounded the alarm at the time, noting that Cooper had been critical to killing health care reform in 1993/94 and was a solid spokesman for the insurance industry position. Digby has more of his history.
Now as Ben rightly notes, during the campaign the only time Obama discussed revamping Social Security was raising the cap on Social Security taxes. But that’s hardly what Jim Cooper and the Blue Dogs are looking for. Nor, does it seem, that folks inside the Obama team think that this will be sufficient. The framework they are evidently looking at is outlined in a 2005 Brookings Institute paper called the Diamond-Orszag Plan, co-written by…yes, Obama’s budget director, Peter Orszag.
You can find the plan here, but this should give you a hint:
Since Painful Choices Must Be Made, a Key Question Is, Which Ones?
The Social Security deficit can be eliminated only through different combinations of politically painful choices: tax increases and benefit reductions. Unfortunately, too many analysts and politicians have ignored this reality, responding to the painful alternatives by embracing “free lunch” approaches.
Our plan makes the painful choices that are necessaryâ€”selecting a combination of benefit and revenue changes to restore long-term balance. In doing so, it focuses on three areas which contribute to the actuarial imbalance: improvements in life expectancy, increases in earnings inequality, and the burden of the legacy debt from Social Securityâ€™s early history.
Workers who are 55 or older will experience no change in their benefits from those scheduled under current law. For younger workers with average earnings, our proposal involves a gradual reduction in benefits from those scheduled under current law. For example, the reduction in benefits for a 45-year old average earner is less than 1 percent; for a 35-year-old, less than 5 percent; and for a 25-year-old, less than 9 percent. Reductions are smaller for lower earners, and larger for higher ones.
Obama met with the Blue Dogs Tuesday night. Before the House vote on the stimulus bill, Rahm Emanuel had promised them that they would soon see “signs of Obama’s commitment to fiscal reform,”and according to one Blue Dog, “Tuesday night was a fulfillment of the commitment Emanuel made that day.”
If Blue Dogs like Cooper have been emboldened by the idea that the left will quietly accept Social Security reforms that include reductions in benefits because of Obama’s popularity, they have sorely deluded themselves. As Atrios notes, it would create “an epic 360 degree shitstorm.” If people on the left are being quiet, it’s not because they don’t care...it’s because they don’t think Obama will ever do it.
I’ve been talking about this all along. The “success story” was never real:
Everyone who followed the debate about privatizing Social Security back in 2005 has vivid memories of the Chilean model. Sometimes it seemed impossible to get through any discussion of fixing Social Security without hearing a free-market paean to the way Chile had given its workers control over their own retirement investments, followed by a demand that the United States get on the same boat.
Therefore, it seems worthwhile to note that the Chileans are now bailing water.
The Chilean government recently announced that in 2007 it plans to pursue far-reaching reforms aimed at creating a larger government role in Chileans’ old-age security. The reforms are urgently needed. It has been nearly a generation since the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet began to supplant Chile’s government-supported retirement system with a plan for Chilean workers to save 10 percent of their salaries in private accounts. Today, roughly half of Chilee’s labor force has either not participated or has not accumulated enough to generate what the government considers a minimum payout of about $140 a month.
The overarching problem for Chile — and the real lesson for the United States — is that private savings are not a substitute for a guaranteed core tier of old-age support. The first measure of success of a retirement system is not how much certain individuals manage to sock away, but whether the system as a whole provides basic dignity for all. By that measure, Chile’s privatized system has failed and Social Security has succeeded.