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There is a line from this article, saying,

High-income households and college graduates—which are more likely to have higher amounts of student debt— were more likely to support forgiveness. Fifty percent of households making more than $100,000 per year support forgiveness, compared to 45% of households making less than $50,000. Fifty-three percent of college graduates support forgiveness, versus 35% of people with a high school education or less.

"It's basically an off-the-rack policy to give money to upper-middle class, highly educated people and not others," said Jason Delisle with the American Enterprise Institute. "I don't think it's a good policy because I don't think that's a group of people that we should be providing aid to, necessarily, at the expense of others."

According to 3 dictionaries, the idiom "off the rack" means,

1, 2,, 3

bought, mass-produced, ready-made.

So is the article trying to say

"Hey dude, it's a supermarket policy to give money to high-income people, nothing original"?

Thank you in advance(m_m).

14

"Off the rack" comes from the clothing world, where it means a suit that you buy without any alterations for sleeves or cuffs or the like, for fit. So in this case, it means a policy that's already in place somewhere else and brought over and applied without any changes.

16

There are a lot of written instances of off-the-shelf policy in Google Books (which ignores hyphens when matching search strings, but they would usually be included). By contrast, there are only half-a-dozen instances of off-the-rack policy (which will always mean exactly the same thing).

It's just a relatively "transparent" metaphorical usage alluding to the fact that in the retail industry, products that are presented on shelves / racks are usually mass-produced (so they're all the same; "generic", not "custom-designed").


But OP has missed the all-important point that it's a metaphorical usage. The writer isn't actually talking about the retail industry or supermarkets at all - he's talking about Joe Biden's plan to "write off" student loan debt. Which is a "knee-jerk, simplistic, off-the-shelf" policy (I would have said "populist", but apparently most Americans don't support the policy, so it's not that).

In the specific context, it's a disparaging description, intended to imply the policy hasn't been properly thought through. It just follows conventional Democrat thinking - partly because it just throws money at the problem, and partly because "giving" money to the middle classes (and their college-educated children) is how politicians and bankers often seek to revive their damaged national economy.

8
  • >But OP has missed the all-important point that it's a metaphorical usage. The writer isn't actually talking about the retail industry or supermarkets at all.....In the specific context, it's a disparaging description, intended to imply the policy hasn't been properly thought through. --->Did you see my last remark "nothing original"?
    – Kentaro
    Feb 27 at 16:18
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    Yes, I saw that line in your question text. But you wrote it's supermarket policy in that same sentence - I was just making the point that the usage doesn't directly concern supermarkets at all (and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that off-the-shelf predates supermarket anyway). In any case, the metaphoric usage is more rooted in clothing sales (tailors) rather than supermarkets and grocery shopping. Another form of exactly the same idiom is an off-the-peg plan (pegs on clothes racks). Feb 27 at 16:51
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    I don't understand your point. I've just checked the full Oxford English Dictionary, and apparently idiomatic off-the-shelf was first recorded in 1936 (5 years after their first citation for supermarket). But off-the-peg (which means the same) was first recorded in 1879 (in a second-hand clothing context). Whatever - it makes no difference exactly what shelf, peg, or rack the original metaphoric "product" came from. All that matters today is they all mean "standard, "ready-made", as opposed to bespoke, tailor-made. Feb 27 at 17:22
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    You are perfectly missing your own goal. Give me a nicer answer next time. lol. Have a good night.
    – Kentaro
    Feb 27 at 17:26
  • 5
    I'm sorry if something I've said has upset you, but I've no idea what it might be. Feb 27 at 17:32
3

It's awkward in that sentence. It doesn't really mean anything. I can tell from context it means "bad", but otherwise it means the person from AEI was in a hurry and couldn't think of a better phrase.

"Off the rack" can be a snobbish expression meaning lacking taste and refinement. A wealthy woman has her dress tailored by her maids. Saying it looks off-the-rack means she's so poor that she had to buy a dress at a store and couldn't even afford to have it altered to fit nicer.

It's also a way to say that something is just regular. You got it from a store the same as anyone else could: "your car runs smooth -- does it have a custom carburetor?" "Nope -- off the rack, but I hand-tuned it".

Neither of those really make sense for a student loan debt forgiveness program.

1
  • Okay....thank you very much for your new information anyway though.
    – Kentaro
    Feb 28 at 1:00

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