I have a mixed set of feelings about Megan McArdle's Atlantic column. Sometimes I could not disagree with her viewpoints more (mostly when she rails against government spending without a good discussion of what a "public good" really is). Other times I think she does a very good job of thinking through the issues. A recent case in point is her posts on student debt. In these posts she does a really commendable job of pointing out two things that are important:
1) It is very hard to settle student loan debt and the lenders have ruthless policies to singificnatly increase what you owe
2) There is a problem with a social norm that makes default a trivial event
That being said, I must admit that the elephant in the room is probably the increasingly draconian state of US debt law. The stories of police raids over student loans (actually not owed by the person being put in handcuffs) may be missing important facts but the general picture is not pleasant.
But, at a more prosaic level, the inability to fail has a lot of serious issues. I have little sympathy for Elie Mystal , per se, but I do see a broad culture of making things worse when one experiences adverse life events. If one should end up unemployed they may well have no health insurance, limited access to bankruptcy for large debts (student loans), and have issues with basic necessities.
I am all for civic virtue and personal responsibility. These are both things that I wish we had more of. But I worry that we are creating a culture of cascading failures where one thing going wrong can set off a series of disasters. In a world with long term unemployment, is this really a good direction to be going?
Economics in Jonathan Franzen’s *Purity*
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