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Elizabeth Davies on student debt struggles, a 20c tip, dining below the line, cookies and rent, happiness and bravery (or stupidity), the definition of success, Dilbert & more

Elizabeth Davies on student debt struggles, a 20c tip, dining below the line, cookies and rent, happiness and bravery (or stupidity), the definition of success, Dilbert & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Elizabeth Davies, a regular contributor to You can see more from Elizabeth here.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comment stream below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

1. The ‘Occupy’ movement buys $4 million in student debt ... and forgives it
The Occupy Wall street movement marked its third anniversary by setting its sights on student debt, focusing on one particular for-profit Education Company that’s been in the middle of a legal storm recently regarding its predatory lending practices.

Marking the third anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the group's Strike Debt initiative announced Wednesday it has abolished $3.8 million worth of private student loan debt since January. It said it has been buying the debts for pennies on the dollar from debt collectors, and then simply forgiving that money rather than trying to collect it.

In total, the group spent a little more than $100,000 to purchase the $3.8 million in debt.

While the group is unable to purchase the majority of the country's $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt because it is backed by the federal government, private student debt is fair game.

This debt Occupy bought belonged to 2,700 people who had taken out private student loans to attend Everest College, which is run by Corinthian Colleges. Occupy zeroed in on Everest because Corinthian Colleges is one of the country's largest for-profit education companies and has been in serious legal hot water lately.’

2. Staff sell receipt of millionaire’s 20 cent tip
A millionaire US football player redefined the term ‘cheap’ when he gave a 20 cent tip on a $61.56 bill at PYT restaurant.

That’s 0.03%, an absolute insult to the hardworking staff who make their living off tips.

The original receipt is was then sold on eBay for a staggering sum – all of which will go to the staff that made and served his burger.

Philadelphia Eagles player Lesean McCoy, who earns more than $9 million a year, left a 0.03 percent tip on a US$61.56 bill at a local PYT restaurant last week.

The original copy of that receipt has since sparked a bidding war online.

The auction opened on September 13 with a starting bid of 20 cents but has since risen to US$99,900 with just over three days remaining.

“The aforementioned receipt has caused quite the media buzz amongst social media/news networks/celebrities along with many others,” the first-time seller, Fauxrean, said in the auction description.

“Not only do you get to keep a memento of weird current events/social media history but you also get an autograph from incredibly talented Philadelphia Eagles running back, LeSean McCoy!!!”

3. How to dine… below the line
Live below the line is a campaign encouraging people around the world to gain new perspective and line on a daily sum equivalent to the World Bank’s International ‘extreme poverty line’, in New Zealand that’s $2.25 a day.

This year Tear Fund has produced a cook book titled ‘One helping’ which consists of meals costing 75c per portion. All proceeds will go towards combating sex trafficking and slavery.

It may not seem like much, but for many in poverty, NZ$2.25 has to cover more than just food, it pays for housing, transport, bills, education, clothing and the other necessities of everyday life.

It's the price of a piece of cake and a store-bought coffee, says Bell, who plans to live off porridge, bread and "very cheap" coffee for a week.

"It is just a small taste of what many experience in living in poverty, it's really to raise awareness of those living in extreme poverty, and raise funds to help.

"Really I should be giving up the car and walking everywhere as well."

On hand is Tear Fund's cookbook One Helping, providing weeknight recipes from NZ chefs at a cost of 75 cents a helping.

Bell's favourite is the pumpkin and yellow splitpea dahl with homemade flatbread, made at a cost of five cents a loaf.

4. Easy, breezy ... not so beautiful ... cover girl?
Cover Girl is a major sponsor of the NFL but the league’s growing reputation for domestic violence has left a number of fans unimpressed and determined to get Cover Girl to pull their sponsorship.

Fans acknowledge that money talks so the only way to send a message to the NFL is to cause them to lose sponsors. So a series of Cover Girl images featuring beautiful models in makeup and uniforms have been photo shopped to depict abused woman and highlight the appalling and largely unpunished behaviour of famous athletes.

MacFadyen said that her goal is for the pictures to shock female NFL fans into activism.

“I hope they open female NFL fans eyes to the fact that we have the power to make the NFL owners take action and get rid of the leadership that has led the league astray on this issue,” she said.

Stan added, “I hope the pictures are just jarring enough to spur women who are NFL fans, or who just love make-up and fashion (as I do), to raise their voices and demand the ouster of Goodell, and the appointment of a commissioner who gets it. (I nominate Oprah.)”

5. I moustache you a question ... How is this fair?
If you haven’t had a snickers bar cookie from Moustache Milk and Cookie bar in Auckland’s CBD, you simply haven’t lived. In the two short years it’s been around this place has become an institution.

Now its owners are facing a proposed 36% rent increase that would likely put them out of business. A petition has been set up to prevent such a tragedy.

Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar in Auckland's CBD was set up by 23-year-old Deanna Yang in 2012.

But two years into a seven-year lease, the shop that sells cookies, milk and coffee faces a 36 per cent rent increase - taking it to $56,080 a year, or $1650 per sq m - which its landlord says is based on market value.

Ms Yang said such an increase would likely lead her to bankruptcy. She has set up a petition on the website to save the shop, which yesterday had 3256 signatures.

"It basically means we have no choice but to shut our doors. It's seriously just unsustainable to pay that increase in our rent and it seems almost impossible for the market value to have gone up that much in such a short amount of time," she said.

She had seen about five nearby shops shut down within six months and she saw the shop next door being advertised for rent on Trade Me for less than they were proposing to charge her.

6. Fed up ... why the food industry is not your friend
While this movie was released a while ago now, I only saw it recently. After a particularly indulgent binge session my partner suggested we sit down and watch this terrifying documentary which reveals just how much power the food industry in America holds over the government.

I came from a school which had a gold health tick – no soft drink or fried food in our tuck shop. These schools have contracts with pizza hut. This is a must watch of the true horror genre.

A US Government study recently found that 17 per cent of children and young people aged between 2 and 19 are considered obese. Another predicted that today's American children will lead shorter lives than their parents.

Laurie David, who made the climate change film An Inconvenient Truth, calls that statistic "sobering and tragic".

According to Lustig, however, neither obesity nor fat is the issue.

"The food industry wants you to focus on three falsehoods that keep it from facing issues of culpability. One, it's about obesity. Two, a calorie is a calorie. Three, it's about personal responsibility," he said.

"If obesity was the issue, metabolic illnesses that typically show up in the obese would not be showing up at rates found in the normal-weight population.

"More than half the populations of the US and UK are experiencing effects normally associated with obesity. If more than half the population has problems, it can't be a behaviour issue. It must be an exposure problem. And that exposure is to sugar."

7. Can new interim CEO save American Apparel? I kind of hope not
If you’ve never heard of American Apparel, you’re probably not a fourteen year old boy, or you’d have their site saved to your tool bar and their catalogues under your bed.

The label’s founder Dov Charney was ousted three months ago as yet another former employee accused him of sexual harassment.

The company has a bad reputation for its exploitative, sexist and plain offensive advertising campaigns.

In June, Mayer led a board coup against Charney that accused him of “willful misconduct,” charging that he failed to prevent an employee from posting nude pictures online of an ex-American Apparel worker who had accused Charney of sex harassment.

In the ensuing melee, the retailer replaced all but two of its board members as part of a deal with New York investment firm Standard General LP.

The New York hedge fund, which partnered with Charney to amass a 44 percent stake, extended the company a $25 million financial lifeline.

Standard General hasn’t taken a side in the dispute over whether Charney should be allowed to return as CEO. A board committee hasn’t yet ruled on the results of its investigation into Charney.

American Apparel has lost about $270 million in the last four years, leaving it with a heavy debt load. In March, it sold $28.6 million in stock to meet an interest payment.

8. How happiness makes us brave ... or stupid
Science is telling us that happier people take more risks. We take bigger risks more frequently in the summer, and in the winter we go into conservative hibernation.

If the All Blacks win, our stock market will likely get a boost and if you guarantee us a higher level of safety we’ll take bigger risks meaning we lose just as much as we always have.

The Cypres eliminated “no-pull” or “low-pull” deaths. These types of accidents are exactly what they sound like — deaths resulting from divers pulling the cord too late or not at all. The Cypres opens the parachute automatically if the diver is seconds away from impact.

Great innovation right? In fact, in 1998, Cypres devices recorded 12 “saves” and there were no low-pull deaths that year. In 1991, before the Cypres penetrated the market, there were 14 deaths. The technology of the Cypres worked to make skydiving safer.

But people were still dying during skydives. And in roughly the same number. What was going on? The divers were trying riskier landings.

With the added safety of the Cypres device, divers started trying to execute more difficult landings to impress their friends. Called a “hook turn,” the diver makes a 90 or 180 degree turn just before landing — and probably dies if he doesn’t get it right. When the Cypres device became standard issue — and the chance of a “no-pull” death plummeted — hook turns became popular.

The reason: risk homeostasis.

“The Cypres device practically eliminated the risks of parachute malfunctions — so skydivers compensated by trying to get themselves killed in other ways,” writes the Agile Lifestyle blog.

You experience this in your own life. If you’re driving down a rainy, winding street, you’ll slow down to stay safe. But if that road opens up into a clear, dry, highway, you’ll probably speed up — yet the chance of getting into an accident is about the same either way.

The takeaway: We all have an appetite for risk. In extreme cases, we’ll risk our lives to keep it sated.

9. For the man/woman who has everything
It seems the more money people have the more desperate they become to spend it on utterly strange and useless things.

When once you had to trawl car boot sales for weird and wonderful things the magic of the internet can now connect weirdo with weird item at the click of the button. Behold weird things sold on eBay.

An entire village in the mountains was put up for sale on the site. However, it was only available on the basis that a new owner would fix-up the derelict buildings in the area.

It was hoped that the sale of would draw attention to the depopulation of mountain areas in Italy and offer the chance for someone to breathe new life into the hamlet.

Back in 2008, two sisters from Virginia sold a cornflake in the shape of Illinois on the site. Yes really. The winner was revealed as the owner of a traveling museum who wanted to add the specimen to his collection. It sold for US $1,350.

It transpired that it wasn't the first cornflake that Monty Kerr from Texas had bought either; he'd once bought one described as the largest flake. Unfortunately, by the time it arrived, it had crumbled.

10. Do psychopathic personality traits translate into success?
Has the modern definition of success, and the extreme pressure to achieve it turned us into smooth talking, childish bullies who are only looking out for ourselves?

Are our ethics and our personalities changing in order to achieve a success which rewards our worst qualities and penalises our best?

Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organisation.

Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak – in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other.

Constant evaluations at work cause a decline in autonomy and a growing dependence on external, often shifting, norms. This results in what the sociologist Richard Sennett has aptly described as the “infantilisation of the workers”. Adults display childish outbursts of temper and are jealous about trivialities (“She got a new office chair and I didn’t”), tell white lies, resort to deceit, delight in the downfall of others and cherish petty feelings of revenge. This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults.


* Elizabeth Davies is a regular writer on

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if i had four million dollars to spend i don"t think yet more subsidisation of students _ tomorrow"s high earners _ would bt the thing i"d think most worth spending it on _ more help to the most educationally disadvantaged ie those who currently have no chance of getting to university in the first place seems to me to be a much better use of resources

dp, sorry; and for the illiteracy!  Keyboard problems
By the way - any chance of an item that tells us something about New Zealamd?

... house prices in Auckland up , hit a record in September ...
Dairy prices down ... once again , again ....
... Westie comedian Ewan Gilmour ( 51 ) died overnight ... bless him , helluva funny guy ...
Still no obvious solution to NZ Labour Party's 6 years ( and counting ) leadership battle ...
AB's likely to be ambushed at Ellis Park , Brodie Retallick & Wyatt Crockett out of the test match ..
Sh*te weather about to hit the country ...we  must be approaching the weekend !

Thank you GBH, but I really would be genuinely keen to understand quite why seems so utterly obsessed with telling us how horrible America and Americans are, without ever making the slightest attempt to discuss how far the same conditions do or don't apply in New Zeland and therefore what, if anything, this has to do with helping New Zealanders make financial decisions. 
As a matter of interest, Elizabeth, have you ever actually vistited the US?

"obsessed with telling us how horrible America and Americans are"??? what are you on about, I read some good articles and dont see anything about how horrible America is? Been there and love the place especially East Coast, though they need to lay off the cheese fries...who puts cheese on fries?

Great Post Elizabeth thank you. The Occupy Org buying up the student debt for pennies on the dollar and then cancelling the debt is fantastic. We should look into it here in NZ especially those predator lenders targeting the low income earners. 


Please check out Brian Fallow's Herald article on 18 September - I am sorry I do not appear to be able to copypaste the weblink.  He sets out just how  generous the NZ taxpayer already is to students, and asks whether yet further generosity in that direction is really the most socially and economically desirable use of public resources

Education should be 50/50 unlike the Boomer generation which the state paid 100%. Just reduce the coporate welfare (Sky City?) and make the younger generation start saving at a early age for a college degree. These loans are crippling ....and at the same time slipping down the rankings.
Auckland University is the only New Zealand higher education institute to crack the top 200 in the Times Higher Education rankings, despite slipping 11.
Otago and Waikato also dropped while Victoria (Wellington) and Canterbury maintained their rankings from 2013.
Auckland University is listed 175th, down from 164 last year. Otago ranked 251-275 (down from 226-250) and Waikato fell to 301-350 from 351-400. Victoria (276-300) and Canterbury (301-350) held their rankings.
But Universities New Zealand (UNZ) says the downward trend is likely to continue unless the government offers more support. 

Frazz, if you want to have your parents pay a top tax rate of 66 cents in the dollar as mine did in my university days, you too could have "free" state paid education...tell me what you'd prefer. 

Until the Count arrives with something funnier , this's your Friday Funny :
... a guy is on safari in Africa , big game hunting with the wife and mother-in-law ...
One day the older lady goes missing , and the guy and wife head into the bush to look for her ...
... they come across a small clearing , and there in the middle is the chilling sight of the mother-in-law standing face to face with a lion ...
" What're we going to do ? " whispers the wife ...
... " Nothing " replies the husband ... " the lion got himself into this mess , let him get himself out of it ! "

Student debt is a growing problem. 
Especially when many graduates start and often stay on low wages. 
E.g.  An Art/design graduate clocks up 30k of student loan debt, gets a retail job, goes to Aus, pays 6% interest, never gets rid of the debt..    
What responsibility does the university have?  are they really helping the grads to get related industry jobs?   

The shorthand for this phenomenon is the Higher Ed Bubble.
I'd suggest a read of Glenn Reynolds' 'The New School' - what he suggests as a prime cause of the bubble is a lethal combination of:

  • administration and management taking a larger slice of the funding pie (classic empire-building)
  • credentialism seen by Gubmints as a Good Thang despite the tenuous link to increment in lifetime earnings
  • ZIRP and cheap credit
  • Funding the 'markers' of the middle class by subsidizing and/or lowering entry barriers to, higher ed, without realising that it's character traits such as deferral of gratification, ability to save/say no, stickability/persistence, that really count in education.  Reynolds' favourite aphorism:  it's like expecting a cohort of great basketball players, to emerge from a drive to buy every prospect a really good set of court shoes.....

Like a number of other things in the zeitgeist, it ain't gonna end well.  It is a ferocious waste of young lives in so many ways:

  • deferred family formation
  • opportunity cost of lost earning years
  • later start to, or outright impossibility of, FHB
  • impaired credit rating

And, a current rational economic choice for higher ed prospects of my acquaintance, is to survey this dismal landscape, simply say 'Nope', and get a job.

Interesting Waymad. 
Unless of course the institute can offer work experiences, internships, industry projects and graduate transition help , networking etc.... Those are the questions that the would-be tertiary student should ask. 

Universities are selling products.......students do not have to buy the product there is a choice. Students have to look at the product they are buying and make sure that it is going to get them to where they want to be.
It is up to the purchaser of that educational product to ensure that they can get a job which then pays back that student debt they intend using.
Student loans are just another product sold by the Government gift wrapped as an opportunity....students therefore need to be extremely cautions in buying this product.
Helen Clark pushed the education barrow long and products add to GDP !

Earth quakes also add to GDP.   The average 18 year old going to uni has spent their whole education being taught how to think.  What part of that education do you think gives them the skills to evaluate whether getting a degree in subject x is a good idea?  In case you are not sure of the answer it's none. 
I did a law degree at uni.  Apart from having an interest in the legal system my main reason for doing a law was that the girls doing law were by far the best looking. Some would argue this is not the best reason for choosing a degree. As an 18 year old however I don't know many who would. 

LOL, I did engineering....class of 70+ with 3 girls...beefy shall we say...

Better educated people will indeed add to GDP.

Primarily Universities are about teaching people to think critically and do bleeding edge research.
The first should be a direct help in a student's career, the second is indirect.
The old Polytechnics are more about related industry jobs, providing under-degree tertiary training that is job focused. eg builder, plumber.

That's the way it should be steven  but it's changed/changing.

(PS Universities are actually about research.  The teaching thing is done to provide funding for the research.)
(PPS But know they looking for profit, research is a cost. selling crap to students is profitable; selling crap people say they want is even more profitable.)

Maths: 20c on $61.56 is 0.3%, not 0.03%.
Good top ten though. Some tough lessons for the 23 year-old Moustache entrepreneur who is facing the enormous rent rise.

The greatest failure: incorrect identification of the root cause of the problem.
In this case it is not acknowledged that higher learning institutions exist only because it is lucrative to the academics and the institutions in which they operate.
It is assumed they are a universal good and that their output is positive in all respects.
In fact they do not so much educate as simply sell education. The end result to the student or the nett effect on commerce and society is not their concern.
Education for the sake of it alone is prone to poor outcomes for all as is shown by those who have spent time pursuing worthless ends.
Any industry which operates internships as unpaid experience for the hopeful is one to be avoided as over subscribed.
Of course all the academics ask is a blank check and the right to flog as much as they can at the greatest margin.
It is oversold.

Agree Spinach and much emphasis is now placed on how to make a coffee, (except we call it a barista) how to use a chainsaw, how to ride and ATV, How to pour a drink, how to use microsoft office, how to prune a tree etc. Can't be far off and we'll have, how to wipe your rear-end theory and pracitical courses runing at a place near you.....attend now don't miss out on this exciting new opportunity, selling out fast so get in with your order now by phoning blah blah blah or go to

These examples are not University things.

Universities are starting to realign their courses now too.  (crazy I know - move away from what works (but is glamorous) to whats proven to be a fad market (but provides much more profit in the "education as a retail product" market )

Steven you have missed the point......University education is selling a product!  I never said that the University sells the courses I mentioned above.......I was stating how these skills-based courses are other products that people sell on the open market........selling these skills-based courses is big money to the purchaser.........once many of these skills-based courses were learnt on the job and people wouldn't have incurred the costs associated with them.........the cost and time in becoming certified is on the whole an inefficient method of learning........the knowledge-based economy ends up working against us......far to much trivial information behind what actually needs to be done..........why, what, when, where, how and your physical senses are there for a reason.......people who are naturally curious by nature will have things worked out in a very short they simply ask better questions and take in more information with their senses.

You put up straw man arguments that are patently un-realistic and then show them up.
This is simply not true.

Perhaps a little off the subject but hopefully interesting in regard to the Cypres technology. Well before it made an appearance in the sport scene this device, known as an AOD (Automatic Opening Device) was being used by the military. It was probably developed for the Military.
Main application was for SAS where the extreme loads they would carry meant that the act of opening a parachute could make them unstable and compromise a safe opening, so they relied on the AOD to perform this function.
In terms of risk though, the SAS mitigate what is a particularly high risk profession first by a rigourous selection process and then through training to a high degree of proficiency. Their job is risk minimisation rather than risk taking.

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