Bring back ideology: Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ 25 years on

Francis Fukuyama’s influential essay ‘The End of History?’ announced the triumph of liberal democracy and the arrival of a post-ideological world. But was it just a rightwing argument in disguise? And has the demise of utopianism ushered in a ‘sad time’?

 

People on phones

Too distracted to save the world? Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

In the summer of 1989, the American magazine the National Interest published an essay with the strikingly bold title «The End of History?». Its author, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, announced that the great ideological battles between east and west were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. With anti-communist protests sweeping across the former Soviet Union, the essay seemed right on the money. Fukuyama became an unlikely star of political science, dubbed the «court philosopher of global capitalism» by John Gray. When his book The End of History and the Last Man appeared three years later, the qualifying question mark was gone. Συνέχεια

Advertisements

This Explains Everything: 192 Thinkers on the Most Elegant Theory of How the World Works

by

“The greatest pleasure in science comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way.”

 

Every year since 1998, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman has been posing a single grand question to some of our time’s greatest thinkers across a wide spectrum of disciplines, then collecting the answers in an annual anthology. Last year’s answers to the question “What scientific concept will improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” were released in This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, one of the year’s best psychology and philosophy books.

 

In 2012, the question Brockman posed, proposed by none other than Steven Pinker, was “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” The answers, representing an eclectic mix of 192 (alas, overwhelmingly male) minds spanning psychology, quantum physics, social science, political theory, philosophy, and more, are collected in the edited compendium This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (UK; public library) and are also available online.

 

In the introduction preceding the micro-essays, Brockman frames the question and its ultimate objective, adding to history’s most timeless definitions of science:

 

The ideas presented on Edge are speculative; they represent the frontiers in such areas as evolutionary biology, genetics, computer science, neurophysiology, psychology, cosmology, and physics. Emerging out of these contributions is a new natural philosophy, new ways of understanding physical systems, new ways of thinking that call into question many of our basic assumptions. Συνέχεια

Why the Student Loan Problem Is Even Worse Than You Think

March 19, 2014 by Comments 1 Comment

 

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York published its latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit recently, and, as usual, the real story about student loans is buried in its back pages.

 

The report highlights the fact that loan-payment delinquency rates continue to improve (i.e. decline). On average, a little over 7% of all outstanding consumer debt obligations are in some stage of delinquency (30 or more days past due), and roughly 70% of those are seriously so (90 or more days past due).

 

The executive summary also notes that student loan balances that are 90 or more days past due represent 11.5% of the total outstanding. Sure, it’s a troubling metric. But when the FRBNY juxtaposes that amount with the 9.5% of comparably delinquent (and equally uncollateralized) credit card debt, it doesn’t seem so out of whack—until you dig a little deeper.

 

Unlike credit card balances, not all outstanding student loans are due at any given moment in time. In fact, of the approximately $1.2 trillion of education debt that’s currently on the books, only about half that amount is actually amortizing (the other half pertains to loans for students who are still in school).

 

So the 11.5% is really closer to 23% because the total amount of delinquent loans should be divided by $600 billion instead of $1.2 trillion. What’s more, these are just the loans that are 90-plus days past due. What of the debts that are 30 or 60 days late? Curiously, that data is nowhere to be found, except for a strong clue in the back of the report.

 

 

A Closer Look at the Numbers

 

One of the graphs in the report is entitled “New Delinquency Balances by Loan Type.” It depicts contract balances that became 30 or more days past due during the preceding quarter. For the period ending Dec. 31, $29.36 billion worth of student loans migrated into the past-due column, which, when divided by the approximately $600 billion of loans that are currently being repaid, amounts to an additional 5% of delinquency.

 

There is also another category that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: the loans that have been granted temporary relief in the form of payment deferments and other forbearance arrangements. These contracts are troubled, and accommodations of this type mask the extent to which the debts may be only temporarily relocated to “current” status from “past due.”

 

All considered, it would not be surprising to learn that one-third or more of all education debts that are in repayment mode are troubled, particularly when—per the FRBNY’s spreadsheet—more than $100 billion of student loan balances migrated into delinquency in each of the past few years.

 

How We Got Here

 

Anyone with reasonable experience in this field should rightly ask— “Why are so many loans deteriorating and why aren’t the servicers preventing that from happening?”

 

I can think of four possible answers.

 

  1. At least one-third of all the loans that were made should not have been approved in the first place.
  2. The servicers’ goals are at cross-purposes with those of the borrowers and their benefactors (the government, in the case of FFEL loans, and co-signers in the case of private student loans).
  3. The servicers are grossly incompetent.
  4. Some combination of the above.

 

My money’s on number 4, for a couple reasons.

 

The first has to do with the Federal Student Aid department’s recently released First Quarter Customer Service Performance Results. The FSA evaluated 11 nonprofit and four for-profit loan servicers for overall customer satisfaction, and the efficacy of their default prevention efforts. No servicer attained the recommended customer satisfaction score of higher than 80 (out of a possible 100), and only one scored the national average of 76. Interestingly, there were no industry benchmarks against which these particular servicers’ default prevention efforts could be measured. The data is instead compared within that 15-member pool, which undermines the metric’s usefulness.

 

The second reason for my bet has to do with the extent to which the servicers are beholden to others. Several for- and not-for-profit loan servicing companies have successfully securitized portions of the government-backed and private student loans they currently administer. So when seriously troubled loans require restructuring (extensions of repayment terms) or modification (reduction in principal balance, abatement of interest rate), it would be fair to speculate that the servicers are reticent to take actions that run contrary to their investors’ interests.

 

This situation is likely to deteriorate even further as new firms stream into the so-called servicing-rights marketplace, which is all the more reason for a national standard to govern the administration of these debts.

 

Student-loan borrowers are suffering through substandard customer service, half-baked solutions that are crammed down their throats and one-sided contracts that limit their recourse. Their plight is real, the problem is growing and the need for action is urgent.

 

A good starting point would be to capture and properly analyze all the pertinent data so that everyone can see how bad this state of affairs really is.

 

More on Student Loans:

 

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its affiliates

Student fees policy likely to cost more than the system it replaced

The proportion of unpaid loans is approaching a critical level as write-offs are on track to pass the gains from tripling of fees
The Guardian, Friday 21 March 2014

Students Protest Over The Government's Proposed Changes To Tuition Fees

Students protest against tuition fees increases in 2010. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

The proportion of graduates failing to pay back student loans is increasing at such a rate that the Treasury is approaching the point at which it will get zero financial reward from the government’s policy of tripling tuition fees to £9,000 a year.

New official forecasts suggest the write-off costs have reached 45% of the £10bn in student loans made each year, all but nullifying any savings to the public purse made following the introduction of the new fee system. Συνέχεια

Are Students ‘Customers’? Let’s Hope Not.

To the Editor:

David M. Perry’s article on consumer lingo in academe (Faculty Members Are Not Cashiers,” The Chronicle, March 17) is completely correct, but his argument about what is wrong with this lingo misses a key point: it’s not just that people who use this language devalue or misvalue education, but also that they completely misunderstand what a customer is. They to get both sides of the metaphor wrong. When students, faculty, or administrators use the student-as-consumer metaphor, they typically make two fatal mistakes in how they picture a customer. Συνέχεια

Fascism as Pseudo-Socialism

by W. F. Haug

7            Stage‑management and representation at a general social and state level, e.g. fascism as pseudo‑socialism

Walter Benjamin in his famous essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ has shown what importance the ‘aestheticization of politics’ had for fascism. [40] He pointed out the sophisticated construction of separating need from its expression and pompously developing the mere expression by aesthetic means against the needs and rights of the people. In his words:

Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. Συνέχεια