Canceling student debt may not be a slam-dunk for Biden

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Today's Agenda

To Owe Is Human, to Forgive Is Politically Problematic

Though Democrats have been in more or less perpetual disarray since at least the days of Will Rogers, Donald Trump's presidency mostly united them in opposition. Now Joe Biden's presidency is dividing them again before it even begins. 

Some in Biden's party want him to cancel a whole bunch of federal student-loan debt via executive order. Biden seems inclined to offer a much less generous portion of this loaf, and via a bill that Senate Republicans could well spike. Nobody is happy! Disarray! 

But is this really such a big deal? Student debt certainly is, as Noah Smith points out:

But there could be legal hurdles to Biden simply canceling masses of student-loan debt, Noah writes. And then there's the moral hazard such an act might create, or the anger it would trigger in lots of people, including those who have either already paid off their loans or skipped college to avoid taking on debt. (For the record, I paid off all my debt and wouldn't mind if others could avoid such a fate, but that's just me.)

Beyond all that, though, it's pretty lame as a fiscal-stimulus measure, Noah argues. Student-loan debt is skyrocketing, but it's just not much of an obstacle to people spending money:

So maybe Biden's right to hesitate. One thing's for sure: Disarray awaits. Read the whole thing

Boeing Has a Totally Safe Plane for You to Not Fly On

In March 2019, Elton John was making a fortune on a global concert tour, "Captain Marvel" ruled the box office in 4,300 fully functional movie theaters, and the FAA grounded Boeing's 737 Max plane just when air-travel demand was booming.

Twenty months later, most concerts are on Zoom. Movie theaters are, uh, open, I guess? And air travel is still a shadow of its former self.  But hey, the Max can fly again! The FAA finally released the plane from its penalty box, and Brooke Sutherland writes you can rely on its safety now, after nearly two years of scrutiny and fixes. What you may not be in a great rush to do is board any airplane in the middle of a horrible new surge in the coronavirus pandemic.

The airlines who are Boeing's customers aren't itching to buy new planes, either, given the notable absence of people to cram into them. And rival Airbus has used the Max's down time to lock up the market for appealing new planes anyway, Brooke notes. It may be another 20 months at least before Boeing works its way out of this mess. Read the whole thing, and watch Brooke and Chris Bryant talk about it on Twitter.

Trump Spending Final Weeks Giving Biden Fun Problems to Solve

Trump may never concede his loss to Biden, but he's acting as if he won't be in charge after Jan. 20. You can tell this by the way he's stirring up as much trouble around the world as possible, which has the twin benefit of making his successor miserable while also keeping his base riled up for a 2024 presidential run and/or Trump TV launch. Precipitously yanking troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and antagonizing China may harm national security, but James Stavridis writes Biden's policy team has the skills to limit the damage. We just have to wait for two more months. 

Trump also reportedly wanted to bomb Iran before cooler heads prevailed. That will make it a little easier for Biden to work out a new nuclear deal with Tehran, though Hussein Ibish suggests he should use Trump's sanctions as leverage for a better deal than the 2015 pact Trump tossed. 

While he's busy repairing deals Trump broke, Biden should also join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, writes Andy Mukherjee. This will help the U.S. counter China's growing influence and set global rules for using personal data, which is more valuable these days than oil.

Further Making-Trouble-for-Biden Reading: Pre-election, many Republican senators considered Judy Shelton a dangerous kook. Now they want her on the Fed just to hamstring Biden. Welcome to the next four years. — Jonathan Bernstein 

Big Tech Will Make Us Sorry for Regulating It

One thing that unites right and left in this polarized age is the need to clamp down on the size and power of the tech behemoths. The potential benefits of doing so include healthier discourse, safer personal data and stronger competition that can lead to better products. But there could be a cost: Tae Kim points out all the stuff Big Tech gave away when it was getting big — free posting, free searching, free storage, etc. — will probably start going away as these companies try to offset new costs and avoid accusations of throwing their weight around. 

Further Big Tech Regulatory Response Reading: Apple's App Store fee cut for developers isn't nearly enough to quiet critics. — Tae Kim

Telltale Charts

The average stock is rebounding after a long stretch of underperformance, which John Authers notes is the kind of thing you see at the end of bubbles.

Bitcoin rallying back to record highs does not mean it's a stable asset, writes Lionel Laurent. In fact, it still seems wildly speculative. 

Further Reading

The economy is losing momentum and can't wait for Inauguration Day for more fiscal relief. — Bloomberg's editorial board 

Distribution of Covid vaccines will require careful monitoring of side effects and communication about risks. — Therese Raphael 

Public shaming may be one tool Democrats can use to keep Republicans from trashing democracy. — Frank Wilkinson 

Trump focused only on the costs of regulations. Biden should get us back to thinking about the benefits, too. — Cass Sunstein 

Target crammed a year's worth of growth into three months. — Sarah Halzack 

Taylor Swift's back catalog is valuable even if she won't help promote it. — Alex Webb 

ICYMI

Pfizer upgraded its Covid vaccine candidate's efficacy rate and will seek FDA approval.

The FDA approved the first at-home Covid test kit.

Trump's given up arguing voter fraud in Pennsylvania.

New York is cutting subway funding and closing schools again.

Kickers

Anglia Ruskin University is recreating ancient smells. (h/t Ellen Kominers)

Scientists find a possible brain pathway for treating alcoholism.

How to better ventilate your home.

Meet the man behind the Internet's best Trump impression.

Note: Please send smells and complaints to Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.net.

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