Of Morality And Marshmallows

The Atlantic reports on a new study suggesting that the famous “marshmallow test” is unreliable as a predictor of future economic instability. Excerpt:

In the case of this new study, specifically, the failure to confirm old assumptions pointed to an important truth: that circumstances matter more in shaping children’s lives than Mischel and his colleagues seemed to appreciate.

This new paper found that among kids whose mothers had a college degree, those who waited for a second marshmallow did no better in the long run—in terms of standardized test scores and mothers’ reports of their children’s behavior—than those who dug right in. Similarly, among kids whose mothers did not have college degrees, those who waited did no better than those who gave in to temptation, once other factors like household income and the child’s home environment at age 3 (evaluated according to a standard research measure that notes, for instance, the number of books that researchers observed in the home and how responsive mothers were to their children in the researchers’ presence) were taken into account. For those kids, self-control alone couldn’t overcome economic and social disadvantages.

The failed replication of the marshmallow test does more than just debunk the earlier notion; it suggests other possible explanations for why poorer kids would be less motivated to wait for that second marshmallow. For them, daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

Maybe so. But might it also be the case that children raised in more affluent homes will have been taught the value of resisting their impulses? I say this because one of my own children has had a very demanding sweet tooth from earliest childhood. He is also impulsive by nature. It has taken years of effort on the part of his mother and me to train him to say no to his impulses — not only for sugar, but, as he has gotten older and started earning spending money, his enthusiasms for buying things that strike his fancy. Many times I have pondered the difficulty he is going to have managing his money if he doesn’t get this impulsiveness under control. He’s a very good kid, highly moral and responsible, but impulsiveness is his Achilles’ heel.

He’s not being raised in poverty. We are middle class people, but culturally I guess that puts us with more in common with the affluent than not. Our impulsive child has been raised in a stable household — materially and emotionally — so there are no environmental factors that nurture his impulsiveness. From an Orthodox Christian point of view, this is simply one of his passions, something he has to struggle against. I have my own particular passions (anger and gluttony). Orthodoxy teaches that life itself is a struggle to crucify the passions and order ones desires towards the will of God. There is nothing wrong in principle with wanting to eat a marshmallow, but if your reason and your will are overcome by that desire to eat a marshmallow, you are weak, and can fall into sin. The regular fasting that Orthodox Christians do is designed to train the will to desire what God desires for us, not what we desire for ourselves.

Anyway, all of that is prelude to what I want to tell you. Last night, I was at a dinner party with some friends. One of them, N., told a long story about a local carpenter she and her husband had hired to do some renovations on their house. I won’t tell the story in depth, because the story is hers to tell, and she’s a writer. The gist of the story is that N. and her husband have been working with this guy for a long time — it’s a big project — and have gotten to know him well. He’s working class, and economically quite precarious. N. said the man has become a friend, and that she and her husband have been working hard to help him stabilize his life.

N. said — again, I’m summing up, but the details are sort of breathtaking — that the carpenter’s personal life is a study in chaos. He cannot grasp that he has the power to determine future events by the choices he makes today. A sense of moral agency totally escapes him. He sees N.’s ordinary family — they have kids — and thinks that they are simply one of fate’s winners. N. talked about the extraordinary lengths she and her husband have gone to befriend and to help this man, but how ultimately it has been futile. No matter what they say to him, no matter what they do for him, he cannot get it together. And he is leaving all kinds of chaos in his wake (several wives, kids, etc.).

I told N. that my wife and I have been in the very same situation, trying to help someone just like that who had become a friend … and in the end, concluding that it was futile. I wrote about it in the past on this blog: how I had gone to my lawyer, offering to pay him to represent this impoverished friend in a particular case. Lawyer said he would take my money and meet with the friend, but that in his lengthy experience with these cases, he could tell me that I’d be wasting my money and his time, because my friend would not follow through. It’s in the nature of people who get themselves into these kinds of situations, he said, to keep doing what got them into that situation in the first place. I told him I would be willing to take that chance to help her.

Next time I saw this friend, I told her to make an appointment with Lawyer X., that he would be willing to advise her, and that I would pay the bill. She thanked me profusely, but said that wouldn’t be necessary that she had decided to … well, that she had decided to keep doing the same stupid thing that got her into this bind in the first place. The country lawyer’s practical experience in dealing with the poor was wiser than my heart-on-the-sleeve idealism. Not for the first time did I feel like a character in a Flannery O’Connor story. (My future epitaph: “Call me Azzberry”.)

At dinner last night, my friend and I dwelled on the intractability of human nature in cases like this. She said that she had to conclude that a stable family life in childhood provides psychological goods that cannot be given through any other way. There aren’t enough government programs, personal charitable efforts, or anything else to compensate adequately for a chaotic childhood. My friend was certainly not saying that we can wash our hands of the responsibility for our neighbor’s welfare, but she was concluding — accurately — that we have to recognize the limits of our ability to change the lives of others. She was also saying that her experience with the carpenter made her more fully aware of how important it is to do everything she can to give her own children a stable home life.

Notice that I’m not saying — nor did I hear her to say — “affluent” home life. My folks never had a lot of money. We were an ordinary working-class to lower-middle-class family. But the gift my mother and father gave me of an orderly, stable childhood was priceless, I now see. How did they do it? They were both imperfect people who endured their share of difficulties in marriage, caused by their own flaws, as well as a period of economic stress. My father is no longer with us to discuss the matter, but the truth is, neither one of them would have been given over to much self-reflection on the question. They were the kind of people who would have simply said, “We made a vow,” and left it at that. For them, that was reason enough to stay together — that, and they always made it clear that the needs of us kids came before their own. That was just how my folks went through life. Not to get too philosophical about it, but for them, that was the Tao.

That wouldn’t have guaranteed stability in my family’s or my late sister’s, but they gave us such a good model of how family was supposed to work. Again, I don’t want to hold my mom and dad out to have been perfect. I don’t think there are any perfect families, and certainly mine had its particular flaws, some of which had unfortunate long-term consequences. That said, I am so very grateful to my parents for holding things together, and showing my sister and me that it is possible to build that kind of life, even when you don’t have much money.

My father was the chief breadwinner in our household, and, because they were a traditional 1950s-era couple, he was the one who dictated how our financial resources would be handled. I find this interesting with relation to the Atlantic article because having grown up very poor in the Great Depression, he ought to have been shaped by the experience of inconstancy in a particular way. Remember, the Atlantic writer said:

There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

That’s how my father grew up, but that same experience made him far more likely to do what he could to hedge against chaos. He talked to Ruthie and me a lot about these things, relating him to his childhood. His own father was away from home for most of my dad’s early childhood, entirely because he had to work and send money back to support his wife, children, and elderly mother, who lived in the household. That sense of vulnerability made a profound impression on my dad, who was determined that his children would not feel it, if he could help it.

Daddy wasn’t unique in that. What I can’t quite understand today is why his response to childhood poverty and insecurity was so very different from what is normal today. That is, Daddy’s response was to live as an adult in such a way that he was less vulnerable to that chaos, and in which his own children were made less vulnerable to the chaos that would have come had outside pressures broken the family apart. I’ve written many times in this space about how he had deep compassion for people who were poor and suffering victims of circumstance, but also something bordering on contempt for people who were poor and suffering, but who always blamed others, or fate, for their suffering. He would say, “You can’t do nothin’ for people like that.” This was the opinion of a man who had once been poor, and who had lived his entire life in the same community as poor people, and working with them. Kind of like that country lawyer I mentioned above.

It seems to me that aside from his personal qualities, my father was the beneficiary of a local culture that, for better or for worse, had a strong bias against people living morally disordered lives. I should add that my dad had much more hostility towards middle class and wealthy people who lived that way. “They know better,” he would say. “They don’t have an excuse.” In his case, it wasn’t so much a matter of religion — my dad wasn’t particularly observant — as it was a matter of shame and honor. The culture that shaped my father’s code said it was dishonorable for men and women to live in ways that violated its core moral code. I heard my dad say on a number of occasions, “There’s no shame in being poor,” but he also spoke with stern judgment against men who abandoned their families, people who wouldn’t work, and so forth.

That code could be harsh, but it was more realistic about life than a lot of what passes for wisdom today. I think that has a lot to do with why Jordan Peterson is so popular. He gives to young men a sense of moral agency. Peterson is not Moses coming down from the summit of Sinai, but he talks common sense to a culture that has forgotten it. There has never been a society, and never will be a society, in which somebody can live like a fool and not pay the consequences — and for that matter, inflict consequences on others. You can’t not show up for work and expect to keep your job forever. You can’t ignore your kids and expect that they will grow up to be responsible people. You can’t get loaded every weekend and wonder why your roof is falling in, and won’t fix itself. You can’t allow television and social media to raise your children, and expect that they will be good.  And so forth.

“The world doesn’t owe you a living,” my father would lecture me, usually when I hadn’t done my homework, or failed to do something I was supposed to have done. I suppose this attitude is what made my dad a natural conservative. He couldn’t stand people who were ungrateful and lazy. His basic attitude towards us kids was: I bust my ass to provide for y’all, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you waste the opportunities you’ve been given. There was a time in my life when I thought he was so square, but the older I get, the more I see that there really isn’t any other way to live. My dad was keen to help people who were down on their luck, and I see now that he allowed himself to be taken advantage of by some folks with hard-luck stories. Mostly, though, what he was eager to do was to teach people how to help themselves, and to encourage them to do so. For him, this was a matter of natural justice. A society in which people were rewarded even though they did the wrong thing, or failed to do the right thing, was not a just or good society. And doing the right thing always meant subjugating your own desires to the greater good, especially the greater good of your family.

Here’s a funny thing: a few years back, when I was working with the African-American actor Wendell Pierce on his memoir of growing up in south Louisiana, I spent some time speaking with his Uncle L.C. Edwards, the last surviving member of Wendell’s parents’ generation. Uncle L.C. was the same age as my father, and like him, had grown up in rural poverty. I loved the stories of L.C.’s parents (that is, Wendell’s grandparents): poor black farmers who weren’t educated, but who had a very strong religious ethic, and who placed enormous value on education and self-discipline as the only reliable means of self-advancement. Poverty was the enemy of both L.C. and my father, but Lloyd and his siblings also had to deal with Jim Crow. If memory serves, every one of the children of Wendell’s grandparents got educated, and escaped poverty. I’m telling you, the chapter on Papo and Mamo (the grandchildren’s name for L.C.’s parents) is worth the price of the book. Here’s a characteristic excerpt:

One Christmas evening after supper, the Edwardses went to call on their College Point neighbors, to wish them a happy holiday. The kids were startled to go into one house and to see that all that family had eaten for their Christmas meal was potatoes and grits. When they returned home, Papo told the children, “This is what I mean when I tell you it’s important to save for a rainy day. If you put your money aside now, you will have enough to eat well on Christmas.”

Given the man Papo was, if the Edwardses had any food left, he probably took it to that poor family and didn’t tell his own children for the sake of preserving their neighbors’ dignity.

His children remembered Papo as a slow talker but a deep thinker. He never made a quick decision, but acted only after prayer, deliberation, and sleeping on it. Whatever the answer was, he arrived at it through careful reason, not passion. Acting on impulse was the sure way to lose your money, in Papo’s view.

Papo worked for a time in a sugar factory and received his weekly wages in a brown packet. He had a firm rule with himself: Wait twenty-four hours before spending a penny of it. Uncle L.C. said that as a young working man, he thought his father’s rule was silly. You have the money, he figured, so why not enjoy it?

But when he got married and started a family of his own, he understood Papo’s good sense and followed the rule himself. Uncle L.C., who worked at the DuPont chemical plant, has done well through saving and investing over the years. To this day, he credits Papo for teaching him by word and example the importance of being careful with your money and not letting your passions guide your decisions.

Talking with L.C. was like speaking with a black version of my own father. Though he had long been in retirement when I met him, L.C. was always thinking of ways he could make a little money. He told me about how he would take fatherless black boys from a nearby trailer park, and try to teach them something about working to make money and to plan for the future. He told me how sorry he felt for those young men, who had no father in the home to offer them direction, or a sense of responsible manhood.

But his pity had strict limits. Like my own father, L.C. was death on those who wouldn’t work or practice self-discipline. He told me about how his own wife, a retired public schoolteacher, quit her job the very day the last of their adult children no longer needed their help paying for college. She was of a generation for whom education was the most precious thing, their ticket out of poverty and oppression. Today, though, she was worn down by students who wouldn’t work, wouldn’t behave themselves, and parents who blamed the schools and the teachers for their kids’ failures.

American culture is far less friendly to the worldview of those Depression babies like L.C. and my father. Politics and economics are complicated things. You can’t simply apply a moral code to every situation, and expect it to solve the problem. But let’s recognize this: very few Americans in 2018 are as materially poor as my dad and L.C. Edwards were when they came into this world in the 1930s. Is there anybody in America today who is poorer than a black child born to uneducated farmers living in the Deep South under American apartheid? And yet, look what they did with what they had been given! There never will be a society in which family won’t matter, and in which moral self-discipline won’t matter. 

The wealthy, and those with social connections, can absorb a lot more disorder than the less well off can, but money won’t last forever.

The world we have today is wealthier, and in some ways is better able to defray the cost of that disorder. We have more of a social safety net today than we did back then. But this world is much poorer in social capital, which is not something you can raise from Chinese bankers.

There’s a lot of brokenness in this country, and no clear way to fix it. The people my dinner companion and I were talking about last night are white. They live in Charles Murray’s fictional Fishtown. They diverge greatly from the core values and practices of stable middle-class and well-off Americans, in ways that were not true a couple of generations ago. Society has grown far more individualistic and tolerant of non-conformity. This is not entirely a bad thing! But the cost to people who don’t have a lot of social and material capital to begin with has been immense. People love to imagine that if only we brought good jobs back to America, or voted in this or that political party, then these problems would solve themselves. I don’t believe that’s true. That’s no reason not to try to improve opportunities for people, but there are no government programs or private charitable initiatives that can meaningfully compensate for the loss of a sense of moral order and purpose.

Finally, I phrase occurred to me while writing this post, a fragment from something I’d read ages ago. I googled it, and the source turned up here. Here is the excerpt I was thinking about. The writer is talking about the 1950s:

It was a more human world in that it was a sexier world, because sex was still a story. Each high school senior class had exactly one girl who got pregnant and one guy who was the father, and it was the town’s annual scandal. Either she went somewhere and had the baby and put it up for adoption, or she brought it home as a new baby sister, or the couple got married and the town topic changed. It was a stricter, tougher society, but its bruising sanctions came from ancient wisdom.

We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”

The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.

Message to society: What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate.

The author of those words is Peggy Noonan. She published them in, get this, 1992. Some things have gotten better over the last 26 years. For example, when she published this, David Dinkins was mayor of her town, New York City, and the city would record just over 2,000 homicides. Know how many the city recorded last year, 25 years after the column was published? Only 290.  Progress is real!

On the other hand, I can’t get out of my head the words spoken to me by a professor at an Evangelical Christian college. Speaking about the student body, which is predominantly white, he told me that he didn’t think most of them would ever be able to form stable families. I was shocked by this.These were not kids from the blighted projects or wretched rural trailer parks. Why not? I asked.

He said, “Because they have never seen it done.”

We live in a society in which the moral code that we applaud and the people we celebrate all say: Take the marshmallow now, and don’t worry about the future. This is going to cost us.

Read more from The American Conservative…

Yes, there really is a tax break for upper-income graduate students and Congress won’t let it expire – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

In an earlier Evidence Speaks post this year, Susan Dynarski and Judith Scott-Clayton summarized important research showing that federal tax benefits for college tuition have had no measurable impact on increasing college-going behavior.[1] Moreover, they note that the benefits are numerous, overlapping and complicated. Yet for all their flaws, these tax breaks enjoy such strong support from lawmakers that even the oddest one, which quietly expires each year, is always revived in a last-minute bill just in time for the tax filing season. The tuition and fees deduction (“the deduction”) was recently extended for a seventh time in an omnibus budget bill in February.[2] Out of all the tuition tax benefits the government offers, this one should be relatively easy to let go because of whom it unintentionally targets.

@brybree via Twenty20

Here is how the deduction works. Tax filers can deduct up to $4,000 of tuition and fees paid for higher education in the tax year. It is an “above-the-line” deduction, meaning filers can claim it without having to itemize deductions. As a deduction, filers earn a benefit equal to their marginal tax rate. The maximum benefit any filer could extract from the deduction is $880, the top marginal tax rate of those who are eligible (22 percent) times $4,000. There is no limit to the number of times a filer can claim the deduction, so long as he has incurred tuition expenses, and it does not matter what type of credential he pursues. There is, however, an income limit. Taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes above $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers) cannot claim it.

There is nothing odd about those terms per se, but they interact with other tax benefits the government offers for tuition such that only upper-income graduate students benefit from the deduction. First, undergraduates, while eligible for the deduction, don’t claim it because a different tax credit only for undergraduates is more beneficial: the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which is worth up to $2,500 in tax relief for filers earning up to $90,000 ($180,000 for joint filers).[3] Tax filers can claim only one tuition tax benefit although they usually qualify for more than one. Second, graduate students with lower and middle incomes are also eligible for the deduction, but they can claim the $2,000 Lifetime Learning Credit, which almost always delivers a bigger tax break than the tuition and fees deduction.[4] But the Lifetime Learning credit has a lower income cut-off than the deduction. Those earning over $66,000 ($132,000 for joint filers) in 2017 cannot claim it.[5]

That’s how the deduction ends up targeting upper-income graduate students. While graduate students would always obtain a larger benefit from the Lifetime Learning Credit, they cannot claim it if they earn more than $66,000 ($132,000 for joint filers). They can, however, claim the deduction until their earnings exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers). Thus a narrow band of graduate students, those earning between the income limits for the two benefits, are the only students who would claim the deduction. At those levels, their incomes are higher than the incomes of about 80 percent of U.S. households.[6] Of course, tax filers can unintentionally claim a less generous benefit if they are eligible for more than one, such as an undergraduate claiming the deduction when she was eligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which does happen.[7]

What the data say about eligible students

Using a representative sample of graduate students in 2011-12, Kim Dancy of New America and I estimated that just 8 percent of graduate students would benefit from the deduction. Meanwhile, 64 percent of graduate students would benefit most from the Lifetime Learning Credit. The rest of graduate students (28 percent) were ineligible for any tax benefit because they have no taxable income, their tuition was fully covered by grants and scholarships, or their earnings were too high.[8] The analysis assumes that tax filers claim the benefit that provides them with the largest tax reduction if they qualify for more than one. These numbers have likely shifted in recent years, with even fewer students benefiting from the deduction, because Congress has increased the earnings cap for the Lifetime Learning Credit to account for inflation but left the limits for the deduction unchanged.

We also estimated the average benefit graduate students would claim through the deduction for the 2011-12 academic year. At $621, it was smaller than the $859 average benefit that filers eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit could claim.[9] Due to small sample sizes, however, we were unable to reliably assess important characteristics of filers eligible for the deduction, such as field of study.

The deduction didn’t start out as a graduate school tax break

As is often the case in public policy, lawmakers did not set out explicitly to provide a tax break to upper-income graduate students. In fact, graduate students were never the target group for the tuition tax breaks; undergraduates were always the focus. Although graduate students have been eligible for the tax benefits since their inception, changes to the policies over the years have left the deduction benefiting upper-income graduate students alone.

Prior to mid-1990s, the federal government did not offer widely-available tax breaks for college tuition. The idea first gained prominence when President Clinton proposed a $10,000 deduction for college tuition as part of his “Middle-Class Bill of Rights” reelection platform.[10] After critics noted that a deduction would provide more help to families in higher tax brackets, Clinton added a separate tax credit for the first two years of college to his proposal to provide more even benefits.[11] Congress adopted the president’s idea for the credit in 1997, naming it the Hope Tax Credit, but rejected the additional proposal for a $10,000 deduction. They instead replaced that proposal with a separate credit for “lifelong learning” (i.e., the Lifetime Learning Credit) that families could claim for education after the first two years of college, including graduate school.[12]

Thus, President Clinton’s original idea for a deduction and a credit was replaced with two credits, the Hope Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. In keeping with their original purpose to provide middle-class tax relief, Congress capped income eligibility for both benefits at $55,000 ($100,000 for joint filers) in 1997.[13]

With these two tax credits on the books, the idea of a deduction for tuition would be unnecessary and redundant, yet Congress later decided to add one anyway. Seemingly out of nowhere, lawmakers included a $4,000 deduction for tuition and fees in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, the sweeping bill that included President Bush’s campaign proposal to cut marginal tax rates.[14]

The deduction differed from the two initial tax credits in a key way, which partially explains why lawmakers added it. Families earning up to $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers) would be eligible as of 2004. That was significantly higher than the income cutoff for the Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits at the time and would therefore offer tax benefits to families with incomes arguably well above middle class. But why not just raise the income limits on the existing credits then? Because creating the new deduction was a way to restrict costs relative to expanding the existing Lifetime Learning Credit in terms of forgone revenue to the government. Recall that the value of the deduction is worth the amount deducted times the marginal tax rate, which at the time it was created would have been $1,120 at the most.[15] That is about half the maximum value of the Lifetime Learning credit.[16]

In other words, the deduction was a way to let upper-income families into the college tax benefit club on the cheap. It also ensured their benefits would be smaller than those of the middle-class families, who were eligible for the credits.

At the time it was created, the deduction was as much an undergraduate benefit as a graduate one. Upper-income families would claim it for tuition paid in pursuit of either degree. According to my analysis referenced earlier, about the same share of graduate students as undergraduates qualified for it prior to 2009.[17] But in 2009, Congress would make it pointless for almost any undergraduate to claim the deduction. That year, lawmakers replaced the Hope Credit with the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provided larger benefits than the deduction with an income cutoff even higher than the deduction. With upper-income undergraduates now qualifying for American Opportunity Tax Credit, graduate students became the only group left who could benefit from the original tuition and fees deduction.

Conclusion

While Congress never decided to directly create a special tax break for upper-income graduate students alone, opting to extend the deduction year after year is effectively the same thing. The latest one-year extension, which made the deduction available for the 2017 tax year, cost the government over $200 million in forgone revenue.[18]

At a time when an undergraduate education feels financially out of reach for so many families, it’s fair to ask why Congress continues to spend these resources on students who have already earned an undergraduate degree. Moreover, these students earn a median household income of $102,000, according to my analysis.[19] There does not appear to be a good answer to that question other than inertia. Lawmakers have always extended the benefit so they continue to extend it. They may not realize, however, that it no longer benefits undergraduate students.

All of the tax benefits may be a policy failure for not increasing enrollment or being overly complex, but at least those for undergraduates put more money in the pockets of low- and middle-income families working toward their first degree. Today, the deduction does neither. It helps those who already have an undergraduate degree and earn high incomes to boot. While its cost in terms of forgone revenue are relatively modest, those resources would be better spent on aid that encourages students to enroll in and complete an undergraduate degree.

Footnotes

[1] Sue Dynarski and Judith Scott-Clayton, “The Tax Benefits for Education Don’t Increase Education,” Brookings Institution, April 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-tax-benefits-for-education-dont-increase-education/.
[2] Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Public Law 115–123, § 40203 (2018).
[3] Internal Revenue Service, “Instructions for Form 8863, Education Credits (American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits) (2017),” https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i8863.pdf.
[4] There are some circumstances when the deduction might produce a larger benefit than the Lifetime Learning Credit if a filer paid tuition and fees below $4,000 and he is in the highest tax bracket of those eligible for the deduction. For example, a filer in the 22% tax bracket who deducts $3,000 in expenses receives a $660 tax reduction; under the Lifetime Learning credit his benefit would be $600.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Author’s calculation using the American Community Survey, 2016.
[7] Government Accountability Office, “Improved Tax Information Could Help Families Pay for College,” May 2012, https://www.gao.gov/assets/600/590970.pdf
[8] Jason Delisle and Kim Dancy, “Graduate Students and Tuition Tax Benefits,” New America, December 2015, 6–7, https://na-production.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/graduate-students-and-tuition-tax-benefits.pdf.
[9] Author’s calculation using the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study 2011–12. See also Jason Delisle and Kim Dancy, “Graduate Students and Tuition Tax Benefits,” New America, December 2015.
[10] William J. Clinton, “Address to the Nation on the Middle Class Bill of Rights,” December 15, 1997, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=49591.
[11] Douglas Lederman, “The Politicking and Policy Making Behind a $40-Billion Windfall: How Clinton, Congress, and Colleges Battled to Shape Hope Scholarships,” Chronicle of Higher Education, November 28, 1997.
[12] Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, Public Law 105–34 § 201 (1997).
[13] Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, Public Law 105–34 § 101 (1997).
[14] Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, Public Law 107–16 § 431 (2001).
[15] The top marginal tax rate for filers eligible for the deduction was 28 percent in the mid 2000s.
[16] See endnote 4. for an explanation of how sometimes when tuition and fees are below $4,000, tax filers can qualify for a larger tax reduction through the deduction than if the Lifetime Learning Credit.
[17] Jason Delisle and Kim Dancy, “A New Look at Tuition Tax Benefits,” New America, November 2015, https://static.newamerica.org/attachments/10416-a-new-look-at-tuition-tax-benefits/TaxCredits11.2.277d3f7daa014d5a8632090f97641cee.pdf; and Jason Delisle and Kim Dancy, “Graduate Students and Tuition Tax Benefits,” New America, December 2015, 6–7, https://na-production.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/graduate-students-and-tuition-tax-benefits.pdf.
[18] Joint Committee on Taxation, “Federal Tax Provisions Expired in 2017” (JCX-5-18), March 9, 2018.
[19] Author’s calculation using the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study 2011–12. See also Jason Delisle and Kim Dancy, “Graduate Students and Tuition Tax Benefits,” New America, December 2015.

Read more from American Enterprise Institute…

Insider take: Why Russia will become the capital of cryptocurrency

And across all three, cryptocurrency is widely seen as a different means to a different end. In the case of South Korea, adoption was bolstered by a combination of a dense ultra-connected society, severe economic stress and bizarre political circumstances.

Read more from Bing News on Cryptocurrency…

Jeff Sessions Wants Police to Use Stop and Frisk Without Reasonable Suspicion

Nope. Sorry. Can’t do that. Not in the USA. The police must have probable cause.

(From ACLU.org)

The ACLU of Illinois did not sue the Chicago Police Department. A lawsuit was not necessary. It wrote a report, backed up by the department’s own data, demonstrating that its stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional and ineffective. The policy was characterized by random stops conducted under circumstances where there was no reasonable suspicion that any criminal activity was occurring or had occurred with respect to the person or people being stopped.

Chicagoans under this policy were stopped more than four times as much as New Yorkers before New York altered its stop-and-frisk practices. In 2014, more than 700,000 stops in Chicago did not result in a person being charged with a crime. There were a total of 129,166 arrests that year.

Even if one assumes all arrests in 2014 were done during a stop-and-frisk encounter — rather than, say, based on detective work, on-view crimes, or 911 calls — more than 84 percent of the stops were of completely innocent people.

I really wish the ACLU hadn’t gone all wussy on free speech recently. We’d be more inclined to give them some digital ink.

Also why don’t we stop stop and frisk at the airports too while we’re at it?

Click here for the article.

Read more from Against Crony Capitalism…

How We Defined Deviancy Down and Got a Culture of Violence

“Was there a part of you that was like, this isn’t real, this would not happen in my school?” A ghoulish ABC television reporter asked a Santa Fe High School student this, expecting a stock answer that would fit the conventional wisdom.

“No there wasn’t,” she replied coolly. “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here too. So, I don’t know. I wasn’t surprised. I was just scared.”

Against our will, we are getting used to the carnage. This time, a spurned fatty given to black Goth-ish clothing and video games fatally shot 10 students and teachers and injured 13 others near Houston. “Surprise!” he shouted, as he jumped from the closet into a classroom, mowing down classmates and a would-be girlfriend.

On national television last weekend, National Rifle Association president-elect Oliver North tried to move public soul-searching towards prescribed drugs and the “culture of violence,” spinning what happened at Santa Fe away from mounting pressure for more gun restrictions. But what does this inadequate phrase even mean? Does North understand what he’s talking about?

“We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us,” said Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor of education and sociology and then U.S. senator, in his celebrated 1993 American Scholar essay “Defining Deviancy Down.” The nation had been “redefining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard,” Moynihan wrote.

Altruism was one broad public response to deepening social pathology, marked by denial, kindness, pity, or guilt, he noted, using as an example the closing of mental hospitals and rise of the homeless. Opportunism, he continued, was a second response, anticipating the advancement of government programs and vast, often lucrative social service, therapy, and diversity franchises, all of which would be “jeopardized if any serious effort were made to reduce the deviancy in question.”

This self-interest led to “assorted strategies for redefining the behavior in question as not all that deviant, really,” and to a third response, normalization, adapting to crime and violence, getting used to widespread coarseness and nihilism.

Moynihan wrote his essay 25 years ago. The insane and wayward—increasingly freed from stigma and shame—today terrify functional America even more so than in his time, on account of their shamelessness as well as increasing prevalence.

Homicidal gun violence is to a large degree a ghetto affair. Illegal and unlicensed handguns are the nation’s major killing machine. School menace is embodied in the angry lout in the suburban high school parking lot and seething introvert in the darkened bedroom. His ear buds are on, and his smartphone is turned up full-blast to hate rap.

Music is a leading indicator of the “culture of violence.” Primer 55’s Introduction to Mayhem, for example, produced in 2000, is a heavy metal classic from the Island Def Jam Music Group, standard teenage boy fare. The cuts include “Dose,” “The Big Fuck You,” “Violence,” “Hate,” “Tripinthehead,” “Loose,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “Supa Freak Love,” “Chaos,” “Pigs,” “Stain,” and “Revolution.”

The “culture of violence” is box office. And if Island Def Jam has been selling socio-cultural poison like this for two decades, isn’t legendary record producer and Malibu guru Rick Rubin, 55, who is worth an estimated $250 million, worthy of at least disgrace, not Hollywood and public adulation?

Violent music, video games, and depraved entertainment are cash machines. Electronic tools provide America’s youth—and their parents—with easy, possibly irresistible portals to the dark side. The weakening of families and religion-based communities contribute to the void. So do social media and porn. Unstable adolescents, if they are identified and treated, get medicated on the chance that anti-depressants or uppers will do their mood magic. Drugs—legal and illegal and everything in between—are palliatives for Americans of all ages.

Sometimes there’s official neglect or bad local policy, as with Parkland student Nicholas Cruz. But most educators are doing their best. The really damaged kids, the heartbreakers and the throwaways, the deranged and the dangerous, are given over to social workers, foster parents, or the police, but under the circumstances no one expects much to come from the interventions.

I wasn’t surprised, the Santa Fe High School student said. I was just scared. And, really, shouldn’t we all be feeling the same way?

Gilbert T. Sewall is co-author of After Hiroshima: The United States Since 1945 and editor of The Eighties: A Reader.

Read more from The American Conservative…

It Didn’t Use to Be This Way

One telling detail keeps escaping the men and women of words who would end school shootings by one expedient or another: gun control, better security, the arming of teachers, more careful vetting of potential gunmen and so forth.

The detail of which I speak: We didn’t use to endure this horror. It didn’t happen.

The urgent question that flows from this detail: Why not?

Well, to start with, because things were different, prior to the shooting fests, which break so many hearts and generate so much despair.

Right, yes — but different in what way?

I will take a crack at this: Our culture (as we have come to call the circumstances of daily life) was cooler, calmer, less emotional, more orderly than it has become since then — which is not the same as saying pre-massacre culture (what a term) was cool, calm, and unemotional. It was not. Those personally familiar with that culture know better, I hope, than to indulge in nose-honkings over the joys of the past.

Still, massacres, explosions of personal rage, were rare and generally connected with mental disorder, such as the case of Howard Unruh, the World War II vet who went wild in New Jersey in 1949, gunning down people on and off the street, including a barber and his 6-year-old customer. There were guns enough out there, no doubt; nevertheless, few thought of using them in today’s ghastly, almost customary, way.

We didn’t use to endure this horror. It didn’t happen (or, save for Howard Unruh, hardly ever).

I am still taking a crack at this thing, with no more deleterious effect, I hope, than would flow from an attack on the Second Amendment. I submit that the factor at which we should look for explanation is social control: its widespread presence in pre-massacre time and its absence in the present day.

I do not mean that the secret police ran life back then. I mean institutions did, more or less, and with a touch far lighter and more helpful, in most cases, than today’s advocates of liberation would admit under coaxing from a liberally applied cat o’ nine tails. Whee, we’re free! So goes the general apologia for the removal of rules and guidelines of all kinds.

Free we are, or there wouldn’t have been much point to America. Yet Americans, according to the manner of their (generally) British culture, acknowledged not just opportunities but obligations. Institutions took these obligations, and their (normally) gentle enforcement, with great seriousness and sense of duty.

Mothers and fathers were supposed to impart to children a sense of… well, plain old decent behavior would likely cover it. Churches posited their own senses of duty and right belief — often overlapping the teachings of parents. Schools, as virtually anybody who attended one in the pre-massacre era can testify, necessarily exerted forms of control. If they hadn’t, no teaching would have taken place.

Was it all done perfectly? Who’d make such a ridiculous claim as that? Of course it wasn’t done perfectly. Sometimes it was done wretchedly.

But we didn’t use to endure the horror of mass massacres. People didn’t fear taking their children to school. Now they do.

The real horror of the matter is the hand-waving futility the massacre debate engenders. No one can believe, with any depth of conviction, that tighter gun control laws would make life as safe as a public library story hour.

The rebuilding and refitting of our weakened institutions, public and private, is the only path toward peace. But how to bring that about? Through change in beliefs and commitments: which is where the heavy lifting begins, as old formulas for human flourishing (e.g., the indispensability of the two-parent family) are reinserted into the common life. Or, through human folly, not reinserted.

The fact is that too few acknowledge the unmatched power of benevolent institutions to shape character, maintain the general peace, and impart dignity to human life — as well as keep it safe and free. But they do. Or rather, they did: here, there — yes, and in Santa Fe, Texas.

William Murchison is writing a book on moral restoration.

COPYRIGHT 2018 CREATORS.COM

The post It Didn’t Use to Be This Way appeared first on The American Spectator.

Read more from The American Spectator…

USA Today Celebrates Santa Fe High School Killer’s Guns As ‘Less Lethal’

What happened Friday at Santa Fe High School is horrible. With 10 people dead and another 10 wounded, it’s an absolute tragedy. Without school resource officers acting as they did, with one of them among the wounded, it could have been much worse, possibly worse than Parkland.

However, another tragedy reared up in the aftermath. That tragedy was USA Today‘s take over the fact that the killer didn’t use an AR-15.

The opening of this…article:

The attack at a Texas high school Friday echoed the all-too-familiar horrors Americans are accustomed to seeing on the news. But two details set it apart from the list of other recent deadly attacks: explosives and the less-lethal weapons used.

Now, keep in mind that the term “less-lethal weapons” actually has a definition. They include things like pepper spray, tasers, and beanbag shotgun rounds.

None of those were used by the killer in Santa Fe. No, he used a shotgun and a .38 revolver. Those are very lethal weapons. Shotguns and .38 revolvers have accounted for quite a few people being very dead through the years. The Remington 870 is an extremely common shotgun and is used by numerous law enforcement agencies and the United States Armed Forces. It’s also used by numerous other militaries throughout the world.

If it wasn’t lethal, I doubt these folks would be using it. In fact, the use by so many militaries could easily make this one a “weapon of war.” In fact, the term is more applicable for the Remington 870 because it’s virtually identical in functionality to those sold to the military. It’s more applicable to the 870 than it is the AR-15, truth be told.

But because it wasn’t an AR-15, it’s somehow better.

The fact is, in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, the shotgun is a very versatile and deadly weapon, especially within the confines of a building like a school. It could be argued that it’s even more deadly in such circumstances than an AR-15.

As for the .38, the only real downside to a revolver is round capacity. There’s absolutely no argument to be made about revolvers being less powerful, less deadly, than a semi-automatic pistol. The .38 round is in roughly the same ballpark power-wise with the 9mm round. Only a complete fool (or USA Today reporter, but I repeat myself) would consider it somehow less lethal.

While folks like me regularly recommend against revolvers, it’s not because of the round. It’s the capacity. After six shots, you have to reload. That’s it.

What this really boils down to is that these weapons, especially used in such a deadly attack, don’t conform to the narrative. They shatter it. They prove that literally every anti-gun measure being pushed post-Parkland would do nothing to actually stop these attacks. This also shows that would do little to nothing to even minimize the casualties.

The one thing that did minimize casualties was school resource officers who engaged the shooter, injured him, and convinced him to surrender before there was further bloodshed.

In other words, it was a good guy with a gun.

And their guns were just as lethal.

The post USA Today Celebrates Santa Fe High School Killer’s Guns As ‘Less Lethal’ appeared first on Bearing Arms.

Read more from Bearing Arm…

Of Royal Birth, Descended, Part 1

[These are my views as a woman living in England, on how the culture and spirit of my country has changed over 50 years.   Why the country does not feel protected or strong any more, how it has lost, and is losing it values and decency, and how we are daily losing our free speech.]

Prince William and Katherine Middleton announced the name of their third child quite recently.   It is Louis Arthur Charles, and he will be known as His Royal Highness, Prince Louis of Cambridge.

I noted that the actual birth of Prince Louis had been somewhat low-key, in comparison to previous royal births.    It was a whole week before I knew he had been born.   I believe the reason for this was that public world attention was being given to the plight of two year old Alfie Evans, who died under controversial circumstances in Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool very recently.

The story of Alfie Evans can be viewed here.

Public celebrations for the royal birth also seemed very minimal, and whilst we have delighted in viewing the beautiful photographs of the royal baby meeting his siblings, you could not help or fail to compare the images of privilege and happiness, against the many images of little Alfie, who at the same time, in his own vulnerability, appeared to many people to be in the hands of another authority who did not have his, or his parents, best interests at heart.

The controversy around a court decision to switch of vital life support and refuse his parents permission to seek further alternative help which was being offered to them raised a great amount of frustration for many British citizens who questioned the reason for this.  What impact would that decision have on all vulnerable patients, who could possibly have a chance of life?

Some people were very vocal about the treatment of Alfie Evans and his parents, and also against Alder Hey Hospital.  There were accusations directed at the demonstrators being insulting to staff and visitors outside of the hospital.  Staff staff spoke of genuine fear!

But not everyone was critical about the decisions being made about Alder Hey Hospital and Alfie Evans.

The Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, was very ‘supportive’ of the decisions made by Alder Hey Hospital, but emphasized they were praying for Alfie’s parents. [Link]

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, showed sympathy towards the case but respected the ‘difficult’ decisions made by clinicians, and it is reported believes that clinicians should decide on a child’s life, and not parents. [Link]

Unfortunately, it appears The Church of England, which belongs to The State of England, and answers to the government have said very little.  Her Majesty the Queen is the supreme governor of The Church of England.

Therefore, some people have stayed silently watching. Sympathetic, but silent.

Merseyside Police, who are the police force for the Liverpool area had also issued a statement in relation to criticism against Alder Hey Hospital.

Chief Inspector Chris Gibson said:

“Merseyside Police has been made aware of a number of social media posts which have been made with reference to Alder Hey Hospital and the ongoing situation involving Alfie Evans.

“I would like to make people aware that these posts are being monitored and remind social media users that any offences including malicious communications and threatening behaviour will be investigated and where necessary will be acted upon.”

Somewhere in that silence, where some people have the authority to speak up and make their voices known, and some people are being silenced; and amidst the celebration of new life and a sentence of death for a baby, hangs the truth, staring back at you.

What exactly is going on when parents and children are held in hospitals against their will, and all offers of alternative medical help are rejected?    That is the question?

What’s it All About?

The divide between people who used the words of compassion and dignity to excuse the decision made upon Alfie’s life, against those who saw the spirit of arrogance and dictatorship staring right back at them and laying down its law, was tangible. It could not have been more evident.    The aftermath of that decision is still hanging in the air.   It has left a stale taste and many un-answered questions for those who rely on a National Health Service, and also for some of those who work in the National Health Service.

An establishment which once preserved and fought for human life at all costs, seems to have become infiltrated with a culture of death and decision making which goes against reason.   Whilst the public greatly appreciate our medical services, there are also decisions being made which the public and many members of the medical profession are also at odds against.   They support the Hippocratic tradition.

Alder Hay Hospital in particular, has already received many bad reviews and has a very dark history which involved organ retention and organ harvesting from children’s bodies without permission from parents.  During the period from 1988 – 1995 more than 2,000 pots containing body parts from 850 infants were uncovered.

In 1999, the public had been unaware that Alder Hey and other hospitals were retaining patient’s organs without their consent.

The Alder Hey report (known as Redfern Report) was published in 2001.

Dutch pathologist Dick van Velzen had ordered the illegal stripping of every organ during a post mortem from every child during his time at the hospital.

The report also revealed that Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Alder Hey Hospital gave thymus glands removed from live children during heart surgery to a pharmaceutical company for research in return for donations.

You can read the report here.

This is the reason why people should not stay silent or be silenced on such important ethical issues in healthcare. [Link]

When Alfie’s life support was removed on the 23rd April, at the final instruction of the High Court, and he breathed on his own, showing signs of recognition and normality, not only did a population cheer for this little human life, but thousands of medical staff did too.

Many staff who wanted to sustain Alfie’s life and give him every conceivable chance was also being over-ruled by senior medical staff and a court system, who it is reported, had refused to consider any appeal by the parents.

It appears they also refused to listen to citizens who pay for the National Health Service, and they also refused to listen to an appeal from Pope Francis in Rome who had granted the child Italian citizenship to be treated in Italy, with absolutely no cost to Britain.   On the 23rd April, the day Alder Hay Hospital switched off his life support machine, a military air ambulance fully equipped to take Alfie to Bambino Gesu Hospital was already waiting.

The anguish, knowing about that offer of hope for some chance of life, which must have been experienced by his parents, was felt by thousands.

Alfie died on the 28th April.

Today, Monday 14th May it is his funeral.

We honor his short life.   Thank you Alfie for showing us your trust and your vulnerability in this harsh world and from your silent and peaceful world at least alerting us once more to our responsibility in protecting and valuing human life.

“If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace the truth the truth revealed by God.”

To be continued……..

© 2018 Shirley Edwards – All Rights Reserved

E-Mail Shirley Edwards: [email protected]

1- Prince William and Kate Middleton announce the royal baby’s name

2- Alfie Evans executed by lethal injection organ harvesting

3- Doctors and parents

4- Open letter UK bishops handling of Alfie Evans case was an abject failure

5- Alder Hey organs scandal

Read more from News With Views…

US: Border Crossing at Capacity, Migrant Caravan Must Wait

“Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, those individuals may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities,” CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said. “As sufficient space and resources become …

Read more from Kevin McAleenan…