Good Riddance

Years ago, I heard an aphorism that really struck home for me, and I’ve applied a few times in my life:

 

If a friend owes you a hundred dollars and you never hear from him again, it was probably worth it.

 

I am reminded of that because yesterday a long-time member of the Wizbang community sent me this article from Mother Jones about Steven Katz, a guy who deliberately ran up almost $100,000 in debts, then fled to China. And now he specializes in telling other people who they, too, can get out of their debts to banks (without having to flee the country).

 

In the days before the internet, Katz’ fleeing would have been pretty much a blessing; he’s a scumbag, and we’re better off without him. Let him be China’s problem. But now he’s setting himself up as a hero to those people who have run up huge debts, and are desperate for a way out.

 

Yes, Katz says that the interest rates on his debts were jacked up without cause, and that happens to a lot of people. And it sucks. But that was all done within the limits of the law and the contract the lender signed with the borrower.

 

And further, the borrower willingly signed that agreement. And when they signed that agreement, they accepted those terms and pledged to repay the debt, along with all interest, fees, and whatnot spelled out.

 

This guy is no hero. This guy is a class-A weasel. The only reason folks think of him as anything admirable is he’s going after big, faceless corporations — which are pretty bad at PR of their own.

 

In a similar vein is this story about a law student whose situation is incredibly symbolic of the higher education bubble we’re going through. And it strikes a chord with me because I’ve had dealings with quite a few Vermont Law School students. For the most part, they’re nice folks, but heavily granola-flavored, if you catch my drift.

 

“John” graduated from college, but had a hard time making his way. He wanted to go to law school, but not only couldn’t afford it, but couldn’t support himself. He moved back in with his parents for a year, then was admitted to Vermont Law School and took out loans to cover his attendance. By the time he graduates he’ll owe about $130,000 in those loans.

 

At that point, he will have his legal degree in environmental law and be looking to work with a non-profit environmental organization. I’m no expert on such things, but I do watch “How I Met Your Mother” and one of the characters (Marshall, a lawyer) wanted to do just that — but took a corporate job to support his family. Later, he quit to take his dream job, and took a huge pay cut to do so. That, plus things I’ve read elsewhere, all confirm the notion that “environmental lawyer for a non-profit activist group” is not exactly a big bucks position.

Which makes me wonder just how the hell “John” intends to pay off that debt? Earlier, in a piece on education funding reform, I made a rather heretical suggestion:

Next, all students will be presented with a chart that compares their projected earnings over 20 years with their planned degree, along with the projected total student loan debt. If they want to rack up a quarter of a million dollars in debt so they can get a Ph.D. in Womyn’s Studies with a minor in Far Eastern Art History, they better have a plan to pay that back.

I wonder if John has done the math on those mounds of loan documents he put his name to.

 

Sorry, I thought I could type that with a straight face. I am pretty sure I know “John’s” plan — get the bank to forgive the loan, and just eat the loss. Or get the government to eat the loss. Which means that you and I have just given “John” his education, pretty much free and clear — and in return, we have another environmental activist with a law degree fighting against economic development. I can live with these people doing what they think right, but is there any particular reason I have to subsidize it, too?

 

My biggest fear about this situation is that “John,” once reality sinks in, takes Steven Katz’ advice and tries to figure some way to skip on his debt, rationalizing that he’s doing such important “good work” for the planet that it’s OK for him to renege on his contracts.

 

On the other hand, my biggest hope is that Mr. Katz — who, by this point, should be thoroughly blackballed from getting credit from any Western lender — runs afoul of China’s credit laws. Because since most everything there is owned by the government, and because Chinese laws (like most dictatorships) lean towards the draconian, I doubt he’d get away with skipping out from China as he did from the US.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.laprarie Michael Laprarie

    The people I know who make good money at environmental law, work either for large corporations (as compliance or defense counsel) or for the government, or for personal injury/tort law firms.  As for non-profits, I really couldn’t say.

    There seems to be a clear pattern here, that others are beginning to write about, which is that the Occupy crowd isn’t poor; rather they are the sons and daughters of affluent upper class whites who received expensive leftist educations at elite schools and dreamed of lucrative careers implementing a politically correct, environmentally friendly utopia working for the government and for non-profit groups.  They are angry and envious because they are seeing their dreams evaporate amid a faltering economy and massive student debt, while their parents remain wealthy and influential.

    • Anonymous

      “They are angry and envious because they are seeing their dreams evaporate….”

      Yep, nothing like a major recession to make people evaluate what is really important.  Looks like the granola crowd – promised so much by their liberal mentors – will be left holding the bag.

      Now if we can only take the Senate and White House, the country can start a true recovery.

  • herddog505

    Jay TeaI am pretty sure I know “John’s” plan — get the bank to forgive the loan, and just eat the loss. Or get the government to eat the loss. Which means that you and I have just given “John” his education, pretty much free and clear…

    I’ll be uncharacteristically charitable and rise to John’s defense in this matter: without knowing more about him, I suggest that he planned nothing so devious.  Indeed, my defense of him is that he planned nothing at all: kids these days* know nothing of debt, interest, monthly payments, etc., these being things that Mom and Dad worried about.  I expect that, like a lot of other kids who’ve run up whopping credit card debt or student loan fees or even bought their first house and have a large, unaffordable mortgage, John just sort of trusted that things would work themselves out.  And why not?  Haven’t the past few generations of Americans been raised to believe that a college degree = good job = house in the ‘burbs (or trendy loft apartment) + smokin’ hot spouse + adorable kids?  And John got a law degree, which is supposed to be (other than a medical degree) the closest thing to a guaranteed rich lifestyle that there is.

    Jay TeaMy biggest fear about this situation is that “John,” once reality sinks in, takes Steven Katz’ advice and tries to figure some way to skip on his debt, rationalizing that he’s doing such important “good work” for the planet that it’s OK for him to renege on his contracts.

    Hah.  He won’t even need to claim that he’s doing “good work”: thanks to the libs, it’s become acceptable – nay, virtuous – to skip out on debts owed to “greedy” bankers and Wall Street types.  John merely has to tell himself that he’s one of the “99%” and voila! instant dispensation for being a dead beat.  Think of it as the 21st century version of, like, Martin Luther King refusing to take the back seat at Woodstock, man.  Or something…

    —-

    (*) Jebus, have I really gotten so old that I can use the term “kids these days” in such a casual manner???

    • Anonymous

      Jebus, have I really gotten so old that I can use the term “kids these days” in such a casual manner

      Do you want them to get off your lawn, too?

      • herddog505

        If I had one…

  • Anonymous

    As far as “John,” I have to ask whether he tried to avail himself of financial aid.  Not loans, mind you.  Rather, University of Vermont’s law school has a number of grants and scholarships available to students with demonstrated financial need, a commitment to public-service practice, and/or high academic achievement. 

  • jim_m

    Well, there are not-for-profits and there are not-for-profits.

    In healthcare there are a lot of not-for-profit companies and, as they say, not for profit doesn’t mean that you aren’t in favor of making money.  I’m sure that environmental groups like the Sierra Club have very well paid legal counsel. 

    The real problem is when people run off to college to get a degree so they can “Change the world”.  A lot of these degrees that pay nothing upon graduation are taken up by kids aspiring to change the world and they think that they should be paid for doing so. (you can include journalism in that group because a BA in journalism pays next to nothing. My mother was the editor for a suburban Chicago paper and one summer home from college she told me to never tell her staff how much I was making in my summer job because I was out earning all of them)

    Most people who want to change the world used to think about doing that in their spare time.  You volunteered. You had a real job and you did something in your spare time.  You didn’t expect society to foot the bill so you could go live your dreams.  The technology for apheresis (the automated collection and separation of blood components from a patient or donor) was developed by an IBM researcher who took a leave of absence to develop the technology for his son with Leukemia.  His invention has benefited millions of lives around the world. He did it on his time and on his own dime.

    The other thing is that people that really changed the world usually did so because they did something in their regular jobs that made a difference.  People like Steve Jobs have done more to change the world for the better than any enviro lawyer ever will.

    • Anonymous

      A lot of people went to college to change the world.  Heck, I went to college to change the world.  But a lot of us grow out of that fairly quickly.  We realize that “change the world” is often not synonymous with “earn a living wage.”  And most of us choose the latter, rather than the former. 

      • jim_m

        I guess I am just hopelessly bourgeois. I went 1) because it was expected of me, 2) To earn a degree that would get me into a good profession and 3) for the beer (OK, reason 3 I discovered once I got there and joined a fraternity).  Changing the world was far less important than changing the keg.

        • Anonymous

          I went for many reasons; but I’d like to think that everybody has at least a little youthful idealism.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EU5DQWQTTHTPO4A4ZYSL3AAV2U Adjoran

    The “20 year plan” of the Obama new spendorama giveaway limits the student loan payback to 20 years.  People have been mocking it because it really only saves about $26 a month on $150,000 in loans.  What they don’t realize is that the payment plan also provides that they will only pay back no more than about 20% of the principal in 20 years, so the rest is just forgiven.

    Because that gift happens more than 10 years out, CBO won’t score or consider it.  So Obama doesn’t need an appropriation to give away taxpayer money, even after he is long gone, perhaps serving a life sentence for corruption.

    • herddog505

      We can only hope.  I’m afraid that he’ll wind up like Slick Willie: filthy rich from speaking fees and a “respected elder statesman”.

  • Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz

    A number of articles have pointed out that the phony “morality” of the leftist allows them to actually be less moral or charitable as a result of the “doing good” rationalization. Thus leftists give less in charity than conservatives because of the “fight against global warming” (as an example).

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