“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Student loan debt doesn’t have to be overwhelming—and it isn’t in many other places. Photo illustration by Sofya Levina. Images by Burlingham/Shutterstock and irin-k/Shutterstock.
Graduate from college this year? Congratulations! If you borrowed money, you likely need to pay back more than $35,000. Just how bad is that? Well, the average American with credit-card debt owes less than half that amount. Perhaps that’s why MyBankTracker recently discovered 30 percent of those they polled would agree to sell an organ in order to pay off their student loan bills.
Good luck getting started in the world with that amount of debt—one reason why many economists believe millennials aren’t buying homes or cars at the same age their parents did.
It doesn’t have to be this way—and it isn’t in many other places. Let’s visit Australia, where politicians congratulated themselves this week for closing down what they considered a major loophole in the nation’s student loan program: scofflaws moving abroad to escape the automatic salary deductions of the nation’s income-based student loan program. “You should have to repay that debt,” thundered Simon Birmingham, the nation’s education minister.
But that’s still not true for everyone. Earn less than $54,000 Australian dollars—that’s about $38,000 in the United States—and you have no worries, at least for now and maybe not forever.
So the United States:
Australia offers students an income-based student loan plan, and has since 1989, when the system was set up to compensate for the fact that universities were charging tuition at all. That was a change. Higher education had been free in the 1970s and 1980s.
Today, there are two ways Aussies can choose to finance their college educations. If they pay up front, they get a 10 percent discount. Most don’t do that, however.That’s where where Australia’s income-based repayment plan comes in.
Australians borrow money from the government through the Higher Education Loan Program (or HELP—get it?) and related offshoots. When it comes time to repay the bill, the monthly amount has nothing to do with the sum borrowed. Instead, debtors earning more than AU$54,000 ($38,000) pay between 4 and 8 percent of their income, depending on how much they take home annually. Unemployment or illness? Salary falls under the minimum earnings required for repayment? No worries. Payments temporarily cease, with no interest or penalties accruing to the borrower.
Climate change is unfair. While rich countries can fight against rising oceans and dying farm fields, poor people around the world are already having their lives upended — and their human rights threatened — by killer storms, starvation and the loss of their own lands. Mary Robinson asks us to join the movement for worldwide climate justice.
For years now, China has faced the daunting challenge of managing its roughly 260 million “domestic immigrants,” or migrant workers. They flow itinerantly from countryside to cities, where they dwell as second-class citizens and temporary guests with no formal urban status because of a system, known as hukou, that prevents them from settling and easily accessing basic services such as health care, social security, primary education for their children, and decent housing.
At nearly 20 percent of the population, China’s migrants, if they were to form their own country, would constitute the world’s fourth most populous nation. It is a demographic that has grown 30 times over the past 30 years, according to figures from an official Chinese Communist Party (CCP) journal, Seeking Truth, even as total population growth has increased by less than one percent over the same period. Relative to the overall population, the migrant demographic is younger, more mobile, and not particularly smitten with the status quo.
What’s more, a rising generation of “millennial migrants” aspires to the same lifestyle and opportunities afforded their urban contemporaries. As a result, their expectations are shifting rapidly, increasing the possibility that their accumulated discontents will turn into a volatile force that catalyzes social instability.
MAO’S URBAN BIAS
The irony of the migrant predicament is that it is the direct result of the CCP’s attempt to ensure stability back in the 1950s, when Chairman Mao Zedong implemented the hukou, or household registration system, to control the ballooning population. It broadly categorized the Chinese population into rural and urban and was strictly enforced to prevent rural farmers from flooding the cities. Under Mao’s statist economy, the rigid form of control was designed in part to keep abundant labor on the farms in order to produce enough food for one billion–plus mouths.
Still, the politics at the time—and which remain today—favored the cities, with the government allocating significantly more resources and benefits to urban China, usually at the expense of rural farmers. It’s what political scientists call “urban bias,” a well-worn strategy that authoritarian governments tend to apply to maintain a tacit alliance with their urban constituencies out of concern that they would be the most likely troublemakers.
Mao, who grew up in rural China, understood that the CCP’s power base resided in urban China. And in fact, the party began organizing vigorously in major Chinese cities early in its existence. Ensuring that the urbanites were happy and satisfied was key to the political system’s staying power and ability to maintain order. As for the rural folks, they tend to be easier to control and have a harder time engaging in collective action that can threaten the regime.
According to Jeremy Wallace, a professor at Cornell University, that’s because unlike rural populations, “urban areas have high population densities, reducing the costs of large-scale collective action. Proximity to the locus of economic development and industry renders urban protest more politically relevant.” Mao, like authoritarian leaders elsewhere, seemed to intuitively grasp that fact.
The inflexible hukou system may have worked relatively well when China was largely an agrarian economy, at least in terms of imposing control and stability. But it began to creak under the weight of economic reforms in the 1980s, which demanded a more flexible labor market as China focused on industrializing and building a massive manufacturing sector—a growth model that banked on its comparative advantage: abundant labor.
As a result, Beijing had little choice but to relax its restrictions on population movements in tandem with economic reforms, because it needed to tap the rural labor pool to serve the gargantuan infrastructure and manufacturing expansion along the coast. As parallel reforms on Chinese farms freed up labor, workers left rural China in droves and started filling up the factories that dotted the Pearl River and Yangtze River Delta regions. They were the first wave of migrants that came to be known as the “floating population,” which also included the migrant laborers that built Shanghai’s gleaming skyline.
The irony of the migrant predicament is that it is the direct result of the CCP’s attempt to ensure stability back in the 1950s, when Chairman Mao Zedong implemented the hukou, or household registration system, to control the ballooning population.
In June the European Union (EU) responded to the colossal toll of people fleeing war and poverty dying on its borders by launching an 11.8 million euro ($12.8m) per year naval mission. EUNAVFOR Med was launched to tackle human trafficking from North Africa, a major contributor to the migration crisis that has claimed 2,000 lives in the Mediterranean in 2015 alone.
But while the EU has declared war on traffickers in Libya and elsewhere, another trade is booming on its doorstep. Land smuggling preys on desperate migrants and refugees hoping to escape the EU’s Dublin Regulation — whereby people seeking refuge are required to do so in the first country that they set foot in — and illegally cross European borders.
VICE News travels to Sicily, a main stepping stone into Europe, to follow a police operation to arrest suspected smugglers at a boat landing, and meet a former member of a people trafficking network operating between Libya, Egypt, and Italy. We also find out about the land smuggling business of taking people from Sicily to northern Europe, and meet a small group of activists helping newly-arrived migrants and refugees avoid being exploited.
In this extra scene from ‘People Smuggling in Sicily: Europe or Die,’ VICE News visits Europe’s largest migrant reception center, Cara di Mineo. We try to find out if the prospects for migrants who choose the legal route of entering the Italian system are better than for those who attempt illegal smuggling routes into other European countries. What we discover is a segregated migrant city of more than 3,200 frustrated residents, hidden away in a former US army base in the Sicilian countryside.
Modern slavery is a problem few people are talking about.
A staggering number of people around the globe, and even in the U.S., are slaves.
No one knows the number. That’s what’s so scary.
It could be more than at any time in human history. It might be less (though that’s doubtful). What is true is that there are millions who are trapped, with virtually no recourse. And very few leaders are even paying attention, much less actively doing anything about it.
Yes, the State Department issues reports. They’ve issued one every year for the past 15 years. The United Nations issues reports. Both just issued their most recent reports. Pope Francis has recently highlighted the issue as one that deserves our utmost attention.
Thailand Remains Blacklisted by U.S. for Human Trafficking
Yet, for all of the reports and the high-minded talk, we still don’t know the number. We don’t know the actual toll of suffering.
I’m talking about modern slavery – and it is beyond comprehension that in an era where virtually every CEO in any industry you can name knows the precise consumer habits of nearly all of us, we still don’t know how many people are actually subject to forced labor, human trafficking in sexual slavery, forced marriage and domestic servitude.
“At present, there is no sound estimate of the number of victims of trafficking in persons worldwide. Due to methodological difficulties and the challenges associated with estimating sizes of hidden populations such as trafficking victims, this is a task that has so far not been satisfactorily accomplished,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its most recent report on Global Trafficking in Persons.