Massive, open, online disruption
The United States has a problem: rapidly rising student debt. It also has a solution: online education. The primary reason for spiraling student debt is the soaring costs of a college education at a physical college. Online education strips away all of those expenses except for the cost of the professor’s time and experience. It sounds perfect, an alignment of technology, social need and limited resources. So why do so many people believe that it is a deeply flawed solution?
Because it means massive swaths of higher education is about to change. Technology has disrupted many industries; now it’s about to do the same to higher ed.
Why high corporate profits aren’t so bad
Over the past month, America’s largest companies reported their earnings for the first quarter of the year. These quarterly reports provide as much insight into our economy as any of our leading indicators. And these results, if read correctly, highlight once again the bifurcated world we live in. Our gross domestic product is growing about 2.5 percent a year for now, but that masks a vast divergence, not between the 1 percent and the 99 but between what works and what does not. What this earnings season demonstrates is that capital and companies are thriving, along with tens of millions of people connected to those worlds, while labor and wages are not. But that is not how it is being interpreted.
It’s an old numbers game. What if they’re wrong?
When President Obama unveiled his $3.77 trillion budget, a key selling point relied on a somewhat arcane economic indicator: the ratio of federal debt to GDP (the goods and services the nation produces).
How much debt can the nation manage? The United States was at about 102 percent in 2012, with the amount of debt held by the public closer to 75 percent. To some, that signals danger. Others say we could handle even more. In certain wonky circles, the debate over what ratio is sustainable is almost endless. And yet, serious people assess the president’s budget, indeed any budget, by how it decreases this ratio in years to come.
On Monday, by a comfortable 69-27 majority, the U.S. Senate passed a controversial bill that will require online retailers with annual sales of more than $1 million to collect state sales taxes. Said Republican Mike Enzi of Wyoming: “This bill is about fairness. It’s about leveling the playing field between the brick-and-mortar and online companies, and it’s about collecting a tax that’s already due. It’s not about raising taxes.”
Wait, isn’t it? Leaving aside the anomaly in today’s world of a Republican sponsoring a bill that raises revenue, the proposed law is entirely about raising taxes. The question, then, is whether these are taxes that ought to be raised, and if this is the way to raise them.