The Price You Pay for College

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: Hello, welcome to The Price You Pay for college episode of Slate Money, the podcast that gives you the business and finance news of the week.

S3: I’m Felix Salmon of Axios. I’m here with Alan of Breakingviews. Hello. I’m here with Emily Peck of Huff Post. Hello. And we have from The New York Times, Mr. Ron Lieber. Welcome, Ron. It’s great to be back. I think the last time you were on the show, we were talking about airline miles or something like that. But this time you have a whole book out. What is your book about?

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S1: The book is about who pays what and why for college, how the system became so complicated and opaque, and when if ever anybody ought to pay up to two hundred thousand dollars more for a college education than whatever it is that their flagship state university is charging.

S3: We are going to dive into that very subject here on Slate Monday. We’re going to talk about what it means for parental finances. We’re going to talk about student loan relief, which is a big thing on Capitol Hill right now. We are also going to talk about another one of your investigations, which we have going on right now into how to get vaccinated against covid, which is of relevance to everyone. So all of that coming up on slate money. So, Ron, you have obviously been working on this book about paying for college for a while since long before the pandemic hit. And now suddenly the pandemic seems to have turned the entire question about paying for college and whether you should even go to college on its head. Has anything changed permanently, do you think?

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S1: I don’t think that anything has changed permanently. I mean, here’s how I see it. All right. There’s three reasons to go to college. You go to college for the education. You go to college for the kinship. You go to college for the credential. Right. So when everybody went home last March, the education got really bad, really fast, which is not the fault of the institutions. Nobody was ready for this or saw it coming. But the education was nowhere like what it once was. The opportunities for making friends and finding mentors that obviously went by the wayside to a fair bit as well. And so the other thing that was left was, you know, the sheepskin which, you know, came electronically or in a plain brown envelope and not with pomp and circumstance on the quad in May. And so much of what people used to pay for was essentially stripped away. And so is it any great surprise that teenagers came flocking back in September to very compromised situations and were willing to pay effectively what they paid before? It actually wasn’t surprising to me, because we’ve come to see this residential undergraduate education experience as a sort of rite of passage in the United States. And I don’t see any freight train of technology coming down the tracks that’s going to blow all that to smithereens.

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S4: If anything, I’m wondering if the pandemic experience showed people that actually being in physical proximity to other people and teachers is actually really important, despite what some people, in fact, might say.

S1: Well, so here’s the thing about that, right? For all of the intellectual and research prowess of these institutions, they are remarkably uncurious about themselves. We don’t know very much about how people learn and what people learn and how much they learn and what makes for an ultimately satisfying undergraduate educational experience. It’s almost as if they’re afraid to find out. Right. But if you look at what’s supposed experts are saying in public, right. The president of Spelman College wrote just a searing essay in The New York Times in the spring about all that had been lost academically when everybody went home. It’s just taken as a given. Jonathan Zimmerman at Penn just wrote a book about college teaching called The Amateur Hour. Right. Which gives you some sense of how well he thinks he was trained. Right. And, you know, given that the state of undergraduate teaching is uneven in general, when you throw a bunch of middle aged professors into a Zoome room. Right. It’s not necessarily going to get better.

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S5: It sounds like the pandemic didn’t do much to tamp down demand for college. Like customers came flocking back in September, like you said, Ron. But what about financial consequences for the schools? Is there anything that we need to be thinking about or worried about, especially for public schools now that the pandemic’s economic consequences have been so grave?

S1: So the trouble tends to start for the public institutions. Roughly twenty four months after any recession, it takes a while for the system’s. Kind of gears to a creek into action, right, because what needs to happen when a bunch of people lose their jobs or the dominoes to start to fall is that tax revenues need to decline and then budgets need to be adjusted for the following year. And then the universities themselves need to adjust their prices, which can take 12 months in a cycle. So, you know, two years later, you start to see the after effects. And, you know, it absolutely went down in a really severe way during the last recession. But it is unclear what we’ll see this time. Right, because every recession is different and, you know, the market for higher education might be a little different right now, too, but the effects will be non-zero for public institutions. That’s absolutely right.

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S3: And private institutions, too. Right. There was a lot of hand-wringing about how the big cash cow for universities in general across the United States, not all of them, but many of them was foreign students who invariably pay full whack. And obviously, no foreign students are coming to crossing borders right now. And it’s not clear when or whether they might start doing that again. How how big of an impact is that going to have?

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S1: The loss of revenue from full paying international students has been a real factor for these higher education institutions. But, wow, did they have a good week? Right. I mean, it may be a year until 19 year olds, you know, in the developed world, you have needles in their arms, but it’s not going to be four more years of Donald Trump making them feel completely unwelcome. And so they are stoked to use an academic term and the Muslim ban has already been overturned.

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S3: So that’s step one.

S4: And could you maybe explain a little bit about what actually happened at universities and their finances and how that affected financial aid after the financial crisis?

S1: Sure, well, let’s start with the private institutions, the richer ones have large endowments and, you know, if your endowment falls by 20 or 30 or 40 percent over the course of a year or two, that means that it throws off less income and you have less money to spend on things like financial aid. And so you have to make a decision as an institution how you allocate limited resources. And in many instances, there were schools that used to admit people without any consideration for their ability to pay, who then had to make an adjustment right. Where maybe the last quarter of the class, if you could write a check for seventy thousand dollars, you might have a better chance of getting it lower down the food chain. There were schools that just had more trouble getting bodies in the door. Right, because Americans were suffering. A lot of people use home equity and borrow against home equity to pay for college. The banks were cutting people off, 50 percent of equity was disappearing. And some parts of the country and it was it was a real mess. And the way in which some colleges respond to that was just to discount further, not based so much on the ability to pay, but just as a sort of coupon to get people in the door. So how will it work this time? You know, it’s not completely clear. I mean, it’s a very different recession. And there are lots of people, especially educated people, which, you know, people with degrees are more likely to send their kids to get degrees. Those people are better off than they were 12 months ago. Economically, for the most part, the market has gone up. Their 529 college savings plans have gone up. Their incomes have stayed intact. In many instances. They’re not spending on fancy clothing or going away for the weekend or for the week. And so, you know, it’s possible that those folks have more money to spend and might be more likely to invest it in a, you know, fancier, more expensive institution that might provide a sort of forcefield shield of protection for their twenty two year old. I mean, you can see how people talk themselves into things when the world looks very scary outside their window.

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S3: So I’m fascinated by this concept of what you just called the food chain and the top tier institutions, middle tier, bottom tier, that kind of thing. And one of the things that really jumped out at me, probably the main thing that really jumped out at me from your book is this idea that universities really do compete on price and that different universities have different like clearing prices, that there’s a revealed preference at each university in terms of how much people are willing and able to pay to send their kids there. And that number is different from university to university, obviously, like it’s higher at USC than it is some place in Alabama that we’ve never heard of. And universities have an incredibly sophisticated and incredibly opaque system. Basically, it’s a little bit like airline seats. Everyone pays something slightly different. No one knows how much anyone else is paying. And this, I think, cuts against the impression that I had before I read your book that universities were largely processes. They were like, this is the price and this is how much you’re going to have to pay. And if you want to come here, this is the bill and it turns out to be much more reactive to demand. And so I have two questions. First of which is like, does this basically mean that universities don’t have any real room to raise prices because they’ve already been trying to? Most of them, like the bottom 95 percent of them, have already been trying to maximize revenues anyway. And secondly, do you think this revealed preference that people express in terms of willingness to pay for this university rather than that university? Does that correlate significantly with those three things that you were talking about earlier, the education, the credential, the friends you make along the way, those clearly or implicitly better at the more expensive institutions.

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S1: So, you know, Felix, you’re describing the world as I would like to see it and as I would like people to to act in it. But what we’re really talking about here is, you know, a world governed by snobbery and elitism and pride and shame. All right. So how does that work? Right. What are we talking about here? Well, the thing that I was most fascinated by, it’s sort of a corollary to what you were talking about, is that I wanted to explore the part of the market where the ability to pay was crashing into the willingness to pay. So if we’re just going to like name checks, some schools here, you know, if you look at like the 25th most selective college or university in the United States, if you’re at like spot twenty five. So selectivity, maybe you’re Colby College in Maine. Kolby is. Really worried that it is going to have an Oberlin problem. So what is the Oberlin problem? The Oberlin problem is that 10 or 15 years ago, maybe 20 now, people in the Midwest in particular decided that while they had the ability to pay for Oberlin, they were no longer going to have the willingness to pay full price. And that was because all of the other small liberal arts colleges in Ohio had already made the decision to give out coupons, including to the affluent, to try and sort of induce the smart set to come there and then had to sort of fold and begin to offer discounting as well. Oberlin was one of a tiny number of institutions that flat out refused to talk to me about this. They want nothing to do with this conversation. Are they ashamed or are they embarrassed to be participating in what is essentially red blooded capitalism and discounting, even though they’re a nonprofit institution? I don’t know. They wouldn’t say. But if I’m the president of Colby College, I am worried sick right now because in my sports league, Connecticut College in the last couple of years has started aggressively using merit. Right. And so, you know, Colbys, a more selective institution. But now we’re competing in the same sports league for lacrosse players who can get a twenty thousand dollar coupon for going to New London instead of being in Waterville, Maine. And the market is eroding. But. Right. You asked about pricing power just down the road for Colby in the same day I met with the president of Bowdoin College and the president of Bates, and they just sort of like blithely tossed off the fact that, you know, they’re headed to a one hundred thousand dollar a year list price and eight or nine years. And, you know, the president of Bowdon is also on the board of Bank of America, and he’s no elbow patched slouch when it comes to understanding, pricing and economics. And he just assumes it’s going to happen. And why is it going to happen? Well, if you look at the demography here, you see that because of inequality, they’re actually going to be more people, not a ton more, but they’re going to be more with the ability to pay full price. And what are we going to pay full price for in America and around the world?

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S5: We’re going to pay full price for our children to sort of reflect back what Felix just said and some of my feelings. Reading your book, Ron, because the conclusion I came to was just college in the United States is kind of a scam. It should be free and no one knows how much it costs, like you’ve come close to figuring it out. But I mean, the guidance to parents in the book, I mean, my oldest is 12, so I have some time, I guess, but is just like the research it’s going to take to figure out how much it costs to send my son to school. It seems overwhelming to me. And you have a quote from someone in the book, a college admissions guy who says, like, what else do you buy where you don’t know the prices until you’ve already limited your choices? And I couldn’t really think of anything as opaque as this. At the same time, as important as this and as elitist as this is, it’s just like a whirlwind of unfair and outrageous facts in a book is what you’ve done without the solutions chapter.

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S3: By the way, it’s meant to be clear about this. You’re not coming in and saying this is how to fix it. You’re just saying it’s broken.

S5: Well, he has advice on navigating.

S1: Yeah. I mean, I’m no policy guy, right? I mean, this is the role I play in the newspaper, too, at the New York Times. I’m here to tell you about how to live and win, you know, in the world that we live in. But I’m not smart enough to solve the problem for people, but I like the way you frame it. And there is another question that gets asked rhetorically but should not. And in retrospect, I wish I put it in the book, but I didn’t in part because it was uttered to me off the record by somebody who I have a previous relationship with. But let’s just say he is a pretty fancy academic dean at a pretty fancy school that is able to command full price more than most. And so he was sort of grilling me like, are you coming for us, Ron? Like, what’s going to happen here? Are you, like, holding the pitchfork? You know? So I sort of I sort of FILEMON Right. And he says to me, you know, he’s got two kids, right. Makes a good living. But, you know, it’s definitely in the part of the market with his income where the ability and the willingness to pay might well be clashing. He says, I don’t know. He says, what else are we going to do with our money?

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S4: What but you do make the point in the book as well that while this can differ, if students do go to college and finish and finish within four years for the average student, the return on that investment is is not bad. Oh, sure. They’re not making the investment their parents are. Well, well, actually, some kids are.

S1: Well, they’re going into debt. They’re going to debt for thirty thirty. And on average, but, you know, I think it is important to frame the parenting question almost like in the in the same larger frame as the as the financial planning one. Right. Because, you know, the way Dean, friend of mine, put it. Right. He I sort of wanted to have a whole conversation with him about it. Right. Because like. Well, OK, well what else are we going to spend the money on. Well, you know, if you’re an upper middle class person who has everything they need and some of what they want, what would you actually do with the hundred thousand dollars you might save by sending your kid to Ohio State instead of Denison? Are you going to take a hundred thousand dollars away from your child who desperately wants to go to Denison’s so you can have it for your 401k or upgrade your kitchen? Are you going to upgrade your kitchen? Yes. Right. Or are you going to have these things? Are you going to actually invest in that child who you are hoping to launch into the world with a whole bunch of rocket boosters and whom you have like sort of loved and cherished and taken care of for 18 years.

S3: But to be clear, I just I want to have it is very much, but so are your children.

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S5: But but I give my kid that money to buy a house, you know, and raise a family. And, you know, there’s lots of stuff I could do to help my kid with the money.

S1: You can buy that. You could do that. And I’ll tell you exactly what will happen, because I essentially bore witness to one of these conversations where, you know, the the parents said, look, you know, the difference between and this was interesting. This was it was an out of state public that was going to be super expensive and a very good private that was offering a fantastic package of merit aid money not based on need. And they said, look, you know, this is going to be the difference, right? If you go to the aid of state public, this is going to be the difference between us being able to go on vacation for the next five years is going to be the difference between us doing a whole bunch of things that we might want to do. And she burst into tears and she said, you’re bribing me. And they were. And maybe the problem with that, I want to ask the question.

S3: The answer pointed to about sometimes people pay for college on their own. And let’s say that we’re in this situation right now. There’s one hundred thousand dollar difference between this college and that college. And let’s say my parents say, OK, I want that one hundred thousand dollars for your future house and or my present kitchen. And so I have made the decision that the parental contribution here is going to be enough to get you into the cheaper one, not enough to get you into the more expensive one at that point. Does this 18 year old kid actually have the ability to go to the more expensive one?

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S1: No, no, no, not in the immediate moment. Right. So you need to think about if you’re 18 and you’re trying to work this out. Let me let me temper that. Not necessarily right here. All of the factors in play and vis a vis what Emily was talking about, you know, about the complexity, man, is this complex is a complex question, Felix. So here all the things in play as an undergraduate dependent student, you can borrow up to call it thirty one or thirty two thousand dollars a year. So you can get access to that right above and beyond the call it one hundred thousand dollars that your parents will pay. You can make money, right. Maybe ten or fifteen thousand dollars a year after taxes. If you work full time during the summer and 10 or 15 hours a week during the school year, maybe you work a little bit more, maybe find a higher paying gig and you can do a little bit better than that. So there’s some money that you can generate there. If that’s still not enough and you happen to go to Purdue University, you can sign something called an income sharing agreement, which means the lender, in effect, just grabs four percent of your paycheck for ten or 20 years. Until that part of your obligation is paid off, you could take a gap year or two. Right. And just work 80 hours a week and save all the money. And hopefully your parents will let you live at home and maybe that puts forty thousand dollars in the bank. Or if you know about how things work and your parents actually have this conversation with you when you’re in eighth grade. Emily’s going to now. No, no, no. OK, in eighth grade. Right. You can say to them, look, we are only good for one hundred thousand dollars. You are an incredible student. So here’s what you’re going to do. Even though you might be on a trajectory for the Ivy League if we were willing to pay for it, we’re not. So what you should really do right, is shoot for Oberlin, which doesn’t want to talk about it. Right. But they will discount from three hundred thousand dollars to two hundred thousand dollars, maybe because you are a lights out student so you can earn your way into a discount. Right. And that plus the debt plus the gap year. Right. Plus maybe an income sharing agreement, if it comes to Oberlin, Ohio, back then, might equal the extra hundred. You need above and beyond the hundred thousand dollars that we’re willing to give you so you can go to Obermann instead of Ohio State. That’s how it works. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. I knew I can make you throw up. Thank you, Kiran.

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S3: So let’s move on to public policy, which I know you said is not your thing, but it’s definitely the talk of Washington right now, it seems probable that some amount of student debt is going to get forgiven by the Biden administration and or Congress. Somehow, it might be ten thousand dollars. It might be fifteen thousand dollars. If you listen to AOC or someone, it would be like all of it. Would any of that have any impact on anybody except just the people who have their debt forgiven? That changed the landscape at all?

S1: Well, the danger when you do something like that is that it may persuade some people or convince some people wrongfully who are coming into the system that debt cancellation will become a semi-permanent feature of how we do things in America. Now, the fact of the matter is, is permanent debt cancellation already is a feature of how we do things in America when it comes to student loans. We just don’t talk about it that way. You know, the messiness of the politics here. Right. And I think the reason why the Biden administration does not want to do any of this through an executive order is they don’t want another one of those Rick Santelli moments. You remember that crazy CNBC guy yelling on the on the floor of the Chicago Board of Undeserving Homeowners. Exactly. Undeserving homeowners getting, you know, getting rescued right now. Many of those homeowners did not have college degrees who are getting rescued. But now we’re going to do debt cancellation for people who were doctors. Really, we’re going to do it across the board. We’re not going to put an income cap on it. Just to keep it simple. I get the policy reasons for doing it across the board. But the politics have the potential to be ugly. Right. But what we don’t talk about, right, is that, you know, we already have an enormous public service loan forgiveness program as part of the federal student loan program. It doesn’t work very well, but we have it. We have something like 400 billion with a B, 400 billion of the one point seven trillion dollars in student loan debt is like on a trajectory to also be canceled because it’s in an income driven repayment program where at the end of 20 or 25 years, if you’re not paying it back at a high enough rate, it just gets canceled by the government. Sort of like you’ve done enough. We’ll let you go. We’ll tax you on that forgiven debt. But you can go now, right? So, like a quarter of the outstanding student loan debt is already going to be forgiven. And we don’t talk about it that way. Rick Santelli doesn’t talk about it that way. I can guarantee you that.

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S5: I think instead of cancelling student debt, if you’re thinking seriously about public policy, the proposals to make public universities free are the ones to watch. I mean, that would be game changing for so many people and go a long way in solving what is the inherent problem, which is that colleges and universities pretend to be meritocracies, but they’re actually just elitist institutions that favor wealthy people and upper middle class people. They give discounts to people with money, as Ron explains in his book, which is so frustrating.

S3: But as we know from a conversation with Daniel Markovits, if you made you UC Berkeley free, it would still be just as elitist and probably even more elitist because there’d be even more competition to get into it. And the ultra highly educated elites have the ability to get into those institutions.

S5: Yeah, but then there would still be assorting where those ultra wealthy elites would still want to go to the Oberlin’s or to Harvard or Yale or, you know, to the non-public schools. Right.

S3: Even when they want to be free.

S5: Yeah. Because it’s it’s still a credential that means so much. I mean, Ron talks about in his book and we all know, like, if you’ve gone to Harvard, you have the edge over pretty much everyone else in the country in terms of job market, in terms of wealth in the future, like it’s it’s everything. So people still pay money for that.

S1: Do you believe that or do you believe that’s only true in certain segments of the economy?

S3: I don’t think that’s true. I think Daniel Markovits actually had data showing it’s not true.

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S5: In my experience, it is true. I went to a state school undergrad and then I went to Columbia for a year and I could see the difference in how I was treated and in opportunities. It was just it was a world of difference. And I see it in the in the journalism world at least, where everyone’s got, you know, and a lot of people, the most successful, the ones at the most prestigious publications have typically Ivy League degrees. Have you read I mean, look at the government, look at the Supreme Court, look at who gets to be president. I mean, on and on and on and on. The most fancy people in the country usually have gone to an Ivy League school.

S1: Fancy that word. The fancy. I tried so hard to avoid using the word fancy the price you pay for college. But what you are what you’re talking about, Emily, is you’re talking about snobbery. You’re talking about elitism. You’re also talking about. Pedigree, there’s a Kellogg professor named Lauren Rivera who’s actually going to grill me at one of my book events next week, I cannot wait. She did this terrific bit of like stunt sociological reporting where she embedded in a super elite, I’m pretty sure is a management consulting firm. Read between the lines and just listened in as these interviewers, who are twenty six, railed on the choices of twenty one year olds who had gone to Brown instead of Princeton or had gone to Cornell instead of Brown. And we’re like, what could these people have been thinking? Right. And they’re like, no, no awareness at all of how they sound and also no awareness of the fact that somebody might choose one Ivy League school or the other because the need based financial aid package is like ten thousand dollars a year better. And their parents, their immigrant parents might not have had to go into debt depending on it’s like these people can’t even imagine that choice even within the Ivy League, let alone the choice of somebody who might take the full ride at USC over over a place on the Williams lacrosse team.

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S4: Although I would say that while it is I think it is certainly true that in some of the most elite of the elite industries and companies and especially first jobs, having an Ivy League degree and and especially having a Harvard, Yale, Princeton or I guess also Stanford, you’d probably fit in there. Not that that makes a big difference, and it obviously does. But I don’t think that that is necessarily true for every extremely well-paid job, I think anyone who’s ever done hiring knows that, that, yes, it is true that if you have that Ivy League degree, you will probably get an interview. And that is a big deal, because when you have lots and lots of resumes, like that’s a big job, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get the job.

S1: I think you’re right on the whole. But here is what I am curious about. Right. And I you know, I generated all this data in the book where it is just absolutely the case that, you know, 30, 40, 50, 60 percent of the baseball general managers and the you know, the kids who get money from Y Combinator for their start ups and, you know, MacArthur Fellows and people on the Hill, a huge percentage of them come from the forty five schools in the United States where the undergraduates have the highest average SAT scores. This is true. It’s a demonstrable fact. But I don’t know about you all. I would just say generally, as I wander around in New York City, there is way more skepticism about 22 year olds coming out of the Ivy League than there has been by a long, long way in my twenty five years in New York. And I would venture to say that, you know, and other elite or elite adjacent parts of the country, you know, industries or geographies, some of the same thing is true, right? I mean, isn’t there more of a taste, at least in progressive hiring circles, for the underdog than there used to be?

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S3: Definitely. And we’re looking at people like Josh Hawley, you know, who’s Harvard and Yale and clerked for Supreme Court and is suddenly trying to pretend to be a man of the people. And you’re like, yeah, now this is all kind of bullshit. So with any luck, your book will help reveal just how kind of bullshit all of that is. I do want to change the subject completely, though, and talk about this other thing you’ve been writing about, which is vaccine distribution, which looks like it’s completely chaotic, but somehow getting better. I want to ask you, is there a right way and a wrong way to do it? There are some people who are doing it the right way and some people who are doing it the wrong way.

S1: Felix, you’re trying to trick me into answering a policy question when what I really am is just just a bullheaded logistics guy. Right? I mean, my beat is beating the system, right? I grew up in line outside of Rose Records in Chicago, waiting for like the on sale moment for the journey tickets, a ticket, Tron. Like, I know how to bust through those ticketing systems. I know how to get the business class ticket, the only free seat on the flight with my frequent flyer miles to Hong Kong or whatever. Like all of those skills were made for this moment. I was built to help people crack the get me a vaccine slot legally, but like make sure I’m the first one to get one. I was built for this moment and it was why I was called on to write the How to get a Vaccine in New York City guy. And I was glad to do it. But in terms of like, how could we have done it better? Well, you know, it’s still a little bit of a mystery to me why we did not stand up, kind of like more and better extra large centralized vaccination hubs. But, you know, then you have to ask yourself, all right, well, who is responsible for that today? It’s mostly like the states and the counties in the cities who should be responsible for that? Well, people who should be responsible for it are the people with the most money and the entity with the most money is the federal government. All right. So you let all the states fend for themselves and the states are distracted with other aspects of the pandemic, and they’ve all lost 10 or 15 percent of their tax revenue. And and then you get a goat rodeo. Right. What do you expect you’re going to get?

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S4: I think we probably all agree that if we had had a competent federal government the last number of months, that that would have probably made a significant difference. And hopefully moving forward, that will get better. But I do think that there can be some arguments made that certain states seem to be doing things maybe a little bit better than others. And partly like, I think New York early on, the idea of this like really strict rules for who could and could not get the vaccine was probably not the best way to go.

S1: Well, I don’t know. Right. So in addition to writing about this, I’m living it personally. I’m like running vaccine ops for a household in Florida, helping to run it for my mom in Chicago. You know, I’ve seen it with my in-laws here in New York. You know, I’ve got siblings and siblings in law. We’re like all working the system. And, you know, Florida and Illinois are actually a pretty interesting contrast. New York is is kind of more in the middle. You know, Florida just opened the floodgates and I assume it was for political reasons. Right. Governor DeSanto, you know, rules a relatively purple state and old people vote. And they were one of the first states to just throw the barn doors open kind of willy nilly. And then you had a bunch of 67 year olds and. Camping gear, as you know, poor things overnight in 50 degree overnight weather in Florida, it’s like really roughing it down there. But, you know, the ones who were the ones who are hardy enough were able to get out and stay up all night and be the first one in line for their further jobs. Right. But what we’re seeing now is that Florida is having incredible shortages in my father’s dying of ALS. He’s got full time caregivers, their hard won and I mean extremely hard won. Vaccine appointments were just yanked because they ran out of vials. Right. And like, what the hell are we supposed to do now from here?

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S3: Is there an efficient and effective way of doing that, that maybe some state has found? The federal government can say that states have got it right. We can now scale that to the rest of the country.

S1: I’m not sure who’s doing the best job in a bad situation, but that state is out there somewhere. Right? And we can almost certainly learn something from I think it’s called Israel.

S3: Right.

S1: Right. Well, you know, it depends how much you want to talk about the equity issues in that country. Right.

S5: Ron, can you quickly tell us how to do vaccine ops or do you have any quick tips?

S3: There was no protip except to spend a lot of time on the Internet.

S1: Well, I mean, Felix pretty pretty much hit it, right? It’s like, you know, you you have to have a lot of privilege. You have to have the technology. You have to be, you know, reasonably fluent with it. And you have to have the time to just like war dial these things. Right. You know, just pound away at the websites. There are already, you know, third party software bots that you can download that scrape off the sites every, you know, 17 milliseconds, you know, looking for openings. It’s not clear how well those work. The New York Times Security Department declined to allow us to test them because they thought they were really sketchy. But, you know, that stuff is out there, right? You can pay an unemployed twenty three year old bartender who lost his or her job to do it for you. This is the thing that’s happening, right? So, you know, privilege, privilege, privilege. But the other thing the other thing that’s important to note, there are civic minded communitarian people all over the country, even in Florida, surprisingly so. As much as I love to rag on Florida, who are all kind of ganging up in Facebook groups, private Facebook groups with groups that anybody that can join and everybody’s kind of sharing information and swapping tips. And I mean, thank God for the South Florida covid-19 vaccine group. I think that’s what is called somebody tipped us off. And that has just been an incredible wealth of information. So if you’re trying to sort this out in, say, L.A. County, right where it’s been pretty difficult for the old people and they waited a long time to let them in, start yourself a Facebook group, or just get a text chain going with all of your friends who are like geeks out personal finance nuts who always seem to like know how to crack impenetrable systems and get them all on a text chain. You know, all the ones who have aging parents or health care workers. And there’s lots.

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S4: And just like Fortgang, this is obviously like a sample size of one. But my mom got the vaccine last week or this week. And basically she said the website was slightly annoying and it took like Hermandad like a little bit to figure it out. But they figured it out within maybe like forty five minutes. She got a vaccine appointment, she got a vaccine. I’m seventy five. So she was in a group that was prioritized in Michigan, but it wasn’t actually harder than that.

S1: You are incredibly lucky. Or maybe people like me who like lived to solve problems and shine a light on them, are paying too much attention to the dysfunction. But I don’t think so. I think things are things are way better for the folks who live where your mom lives than they are in New York or Chicago or Florida.

S3: Other certainly better than you. I just got an email from my physician saying, you know, all that vaccine that we said we were getting in. Yeah, we’re not getting that. So if you had an appointment, you’re not getting it.

S1: Yeah, I mean, I’m pretty much anchored to the Jewish holidays at this point. You know, I feel like if I’ve got a needle in my arm by September, I’ll be happy.

S3: Let’s have a numbers round. My number is fifty eight billion dollars, which is the amount that the market capitalization of Alibaba went up after a one minute video of Jack Ma saying nothing in particular to Chinese school, Schoolteacher’s appeared on the Internet. There was literally nothing, he said, that moved his company’s stock up fifty eight billion dollars, except for the fact that he was alive and on the Internet and, you know, sort of proof of life. And that apparently is worth fifty eight billion dollars. Man, we don’t know if he has any actual control of his company right now or what the Chinese government is letting him do or not letting him do. But just being alive is worth fifty eight billion.

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S5: Those still alive. Emily, my number is 10. That is ten for the ten hours a day that indigenous hunter gatherers spend sitting. I listen to this really good interview with a guy named Daniel Lieberman, who’s a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard that was on fresh air while I was jogging this morning. He was talking about this idea that everyone likes to to lament about now that we are going to die because we all sit too much, you know, like sitting is the new smoking kind of a thing. And he was like, actually, it’s fine. And then he said, he’s gone to all these places and studied all indigenous people. And like they said all the time, too. So it was very reassuring, especially now in the pandemic when we’re all like, so sedentary. And he did say one key thing to know is that you if you are sitting for long stretches and we know this like it’s really effective if you just get up and do a thing like make tea or anything, just get up for a second and it’s the health benefits kick in a little bit. So I think people should feel reassured by this. I might read his book even while the problem maybe.

S3: And then. Do you have a number?

S4: I do. It’s one hundred and forty for the London Metals Exchange. Commodities Pit is officially closed to the open cry pit that has existed for one hundred and forty four years is now officially done. It had obviously closed down in March last March because of the pandemic, but now they’ve said they are 100 percent going to go to electronic like basically everybody else has. But of course, you’ve had people who’ve said, oh no, this is this wonderful tradition. And it’s like, no, no, actually, it makes absolutely no sense. And this should have probably happened a while ago.

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S3: That’s basically the scene at the end of trading places right where they all crowd around and shout each other and have the hand signals that the last place in the world that happened was the London Metals Exchange. And now that one is dead.

S4: Exactly. And it was it was funny, too, because they were like when they were trying to explain why they should have kept it, they were like, well, no, we need this because we have these really complex contracts. And you’re like, yeah, because it’s a great way to understand complex contracts and a bunch of men yelling at each other.

S1: All right. All right. My number is fifty two thousand percent as in discount as in what actually happens at private colleges and universities. The nation over that is the average discount rate in the most recent survey for the National Association of Collegiate and University Business Officers Discounting survey, which is done each year. Right. So it is true that there are hundreds and hundreds of families paying eighty thousand dollars a year at the University of Chicago. It is true that there are thousands of families paying twenty eight thousand dollars a year at the University of Illinois. But what is actually going on behind the scenes, and this is true for eighty nine percent of all undergraduates, there’s another number. What’s actually going on behind the scenes is that people are getting deals. And while the net price that people pay has continued to go up and for public schools, it’s gone up at a, you know, somewhat alarming rate, it is possible to pay much less than the rack rate for college and most people actually do.

S3: And is it reasonable to assume that the higher the rate, the higher the average discount? When you get that first official one hundred thousand dollars a year tuition fee, that college is going to have an average discount of probably much more than 52 percent.

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S1: Well, it will depend their on their commitment to need based financial aid because the schools that charge the most tend to be ones that are most elite and prestigious, and therefore they can attract a higher percentage of people who are willing to pay in full. And therefore they do not have to give away the merit aid because people are unwilling to pay full price. They only give the discounts to the people who need the money.

S3: OK, no, I think that’s it for us this week. Thank you, Ron Lieber, for coming on the show. It has been most illuminating. It’s a pleasure. Thank you to Jessamine Molly for producing.

S2: Thank you all for listening and writing in to sleep money at Slate dot com. We will have a sleepless segment coming up on pardons, but otherwise, we’ll see you next week on sleep. Money.

S3: In classic Trump manner, there was a cock up, of course, or at least a weird mystery where one of these pardons was given to a guy after various high powered people like Tom Barrack, who’s a friend of the president’s, and Sean Parker asked Donald Trump to pardon him, except for then The New York Times phoned up Tom Barrack and Sean Parker and said, did you really ask the president about this guy? And they were like, we’ve never heard of this guy. We’ve never met this guy. We didn’t ask. So there was a lot of chaos there. But the one that jumped out at me was Anthony Lewandowski. He was the guy who stole billions of dollars. I’m not exaggerating here. Billions of dollars worth of corporate secrets from Google’s self-driving car operation. We and took them over to Uber, where Uber was trying to build its own self-driving car operation. And this was all extremely illegal. And eventually he went to jail. I did go to jail. I was he just sentenced. I think he might have just been sentenced.

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S5: Yeah. There are still working on the jail part.

S3: They’re waiting on when he would go to jail post covid. And it seems hard to justify that particular pardon. And if you read what the White House wrote about why he was getting pardoned, it was incredibly weak sauce. It was like, well, he’s he’s promised to do a lot of work for charity in the future or something. You know, there was nothing that I have this kind of take on it, which is why is it so bad that he got past work with me? Like, the obvious reaction is, yeah, this is terrible. He stole the stuff we need to care about intellectual property protections. There needs to be jurisprudence around this. But my take is like he got sentenced to jail. Right. That’s the deterrent. If you do this kind of thing, you get sentenced to jail. So once you go through the process and wind up being sentenced to jail, the fact that Donald Trump was this once in a lifetime president who does crazy things like pardoning people for no particular reason is it doesn’t reduce the deterrent effect at all. And having him in jail doesn’t serve any particular purpose. So is it that bad? It’s bad. Yes. Yes, it’s that bad. Really. Explain why it’s bad.

S5: Well, there the obvious reasons, but I’ll start with one. The New York Times had a good piece today where federal prosecutors who had brought a lot of these white collar cases to court and spent years and hours and lifetimes trying to build cases against white collar criminals, that Trump just snapped his fingers and pardoned, including Leverne dalkowski are pissed. And I think the deterrent when you pardoned these white collar criminals is to the prosecutors, what message are you sending them? It’s already really, really hard to go after white collar criminals who make lots of money. The book Chickenshit Club kind of goes into a lot of detail about that. If the message here is that eventually every possible lever will be pulled to help these guys get off, in the end, I feel like, yeah, it’s really bad to do this. It sends yet another message on top of all the other ones that if you do little crimes, you’ll go to jail. But if you’re super rich and you do big, big crimes, you’ll probably be OK. And even though Trump is this, like, supernova, I think I think it’s still sends that message.

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S4: I think I’m a little bit in between you two. Like I do probably agree that I don’t think that people are going to be like, oh, well, I can commit this crime because maybe there will be this irascible president who I will be able to get me pardoned. And so this is my plan like that. That seems somewhat unlikely. But I also feel like what the pardon system really was kind of designed for was to be a check on the judiciary and the idea that if there were extreme sentences or those, that there wasn’t a basis for that. That was a way to check that. And, you know, I think that was one of the ways that Obama used the pardon power and all of the sentences commuted. There are a lot more often related to drug offenses. I think that that makes a lot of sense. I don’t you can let me know what exactly was his sentence, you know, was a couple of years, I think, because I feel like that’s to them. To me, then that’s not actually a particularly good use of the pardon power, if only just because overall, I don’t think we should be encouraging the use of the pardon power simply for people that the president likes, you know, or that have told him they will vote for him, which does appear that that was the case. I mean, Obama was a little bit of an extreme in how much he used the pardon power and to commute presidents in the modern kind of post Nixon era. The pardon power has just not been used as often. But I don’t think we should encourage it to just pardon people because you like them, not because their sentence is actually a bad sentence.

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S3: Yeah, it’s definitely not something to be encouraged. Like the system of jurisprudence runs on consistency and predictability. And this is just this curve ball which comes in. And I 100 percent agree with Emily that if you wind up in a world where the people with the connections and the wealth are more likely to get pardoned, that just tips the playing field even further in that direction. It’s already tipped and. We saw the flip side of all of these pardons was the federal government executing more people in the last two months than it has in the previous, I think, like 30 years or something. And those people had no connection. Those people didn’t have any connection to Tom Brokaw or Sean Parker or anyone else. And what’s really sickening about all of this was the people coming going to the press and saying, oh, yeah, I asked Rudy Giuliani, you know, could he help me get a pardon application in front of the president? And Giuliani said, yes, that’ll be two dollars million. And there’s just a pay to play aspect of all of this. And I think with a bunch of these. That’s exactly what happened. That unit that someone paid enough money to, one of the president’s closest associates, the president was like, OK, I’ll do you a favor. And that’s just horrific and should never happen. So there’s every possible reason to object to the specific pardons that Trump gave out and to the method in which he did it. And that’s clear from the point of view of an 11 dalkowski. However, I still believe that the world is not obviously better off with him like in jail than it would be with him out of jail. I mean, he’s out of jail right now. And just putting anyone in cages is generally a bad thing.

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S4: I think that overall, whether we’re talking about white collar crime or any any color crime, our instinct should not be just let’s put all these people in prison. I think overall, the US justice system just puts too many people in prison.

S5: Yeah, for too long. I 100 percent agree with that. Like, it’s fine to let most people out of jail. Probably I would say I’m sure people will tell me I’m wrong. The other thing that was really egregious about the pardons I just want to say is that, you know, the obstruction of justice angle here, I mean, Trump has pardoned a lot of men who theoretically we don’t actually know could implicate him in crimes and really pushed the limits of the pardon power into the criminal, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Manafort, but not himself. Right. But not himself, because that would be like a tacit admission that he did crime.

S3: He managed to avoid pardoning himself or his large adult son, but he didn’t want to admit that he and his kid were criminals.

S5: The other thing I would say, and I’ve heard a lot of people defending pardons like they’re a good thing because of how, you know, Barack Obama used them and even Trump also, he actually did pardon and grant clemency to people who, you know, were serving over long sentences and things like that, as well as a couple of rappers, which I feel is a public good. Lil Wayne. Yeah, little Wayne. Thank you. And but the pardon power, it’s a tradition that dates back to monarchy. It’s like something the king did. I just feel like we don’t need it. Like it’s not we shouldn’t rely on this arbitrary does feel very much anarchistic.

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S3: You’re right.

S5: Yeah. It’s like the philanthropy of criminal justice. You’re not I mean, it’s it’s arbitrary. It’s like based on whims. It’s it’s unjust at bottom. It’s like based on the beneficence of the leader.

S3: This goes back to when Clinton pardoned Marc Rich. Right. It was like everyone is like that doesn’t make sense. And my main policy prescription here, I can’t remember who who came up with this one. But it makes perfect sense is that the easy thing to do is to say that the president’s pardon power expires on the day of the election. You just can’t pardon anyone between the election and the end of the presidency. And I think that would solve a lot of the problems with what we what we’ve seen until now.

S4: I think there should also be limits on pardoning people who’ve worked for an administration. Yes, absolutely. I do think that there are ways that the pardon power can be a way to offset excessive but legal sentences. However, it also is so broad that it just invites abuse.

S5: Yeah. And like you could see, like with the thing with sentencing, people convicted of selling crack had more jail time than those of cocaine. And like, yeah, you could fix that with a with lots of pardons and clemency. But like, no, you have to change the law. You change the guidelines. Like, that’s the right. Fix it. You know. I agree. I agree.

S3: So that’s a that’s that’s basically plus that’s for hanging out.