Social Forces and Vulgar Libertarianism


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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251 Responses

  1. Avatar alkali says:

    I’m not sure that Wilkinson has said anything particularly profound here.  The fact that the radicalized right rejects the legitimacy and/or utility of taxation, regulation, government spending, etc. does not mean that the left must approve of those things unconditionally, and indeed there’s no evidence that anyone on the left of any influence holds such views.  The argument in contemporary American politics is between radicals on the right and pragmatists on the left, not between radicals on both sides.Report

  2. Avatar DarrenG says:

    The free market creates a more level playing field, ideally, that allows for fewer distortions of power and more equality of opportunity.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “distortions of power” here, but if you’re referring to imbalances of power, I disagree. One of the primary results of market forces is precisely to create and support imbalances of power.

    I think you get it right in the concluding paragraph, and would extend the point about one of the biggest failures of many current markets in the U.S. is not allowing for failure at the top end of the market. Our large corporations, their executives, and wealthy individuals have managed to create too many no-lose scenarios for themselves that insulate them against the consequences of failure, sometimes in collusion with government, but often without.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      What I mean is simply that when the government intervenes on behalf of corporations and protects businesses from failure, it creates a distorting effect. Government creates many power-distorting effects on behalf of the well-to-do. My suggestion is that government work to end these and instead focus on creating safety nets for ordinary Americans.Report

      • Avatar b-psycho says:

        Government creates many power-distorting effects on behalf of the well-to-do. My suggestion is that government work to end these

        Why would they? Their interests are being served already.

        Sorry to sound broken record, but I just can’t get over wondering how the kind of reform you envision is supposed to get past a wholly captured system.  If my view of government is wrong and that power distortion isn’t the enduring principle of political authority itself, then there has to be a way of getting rid of collusion short of tossing the state itself.  Shit, where to even startReport

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          we can start by screening our candidates, both for intellectual ability (seriously, some of them are really, really not suited) and asking them questions on how they will deal with a captured gov’t. If nothing else, asking them, “whose side are you on?” will get you somewhere (not acceptable answers: “the people’s side”. No, I want which corporations you plan on favoring.)

          Finally, a few probing questions on blackmail — at least enough to get them thinking (asked of significant others as well).Report

          • Avatar b-psycho says:

            It says a lot about how we do things here that in the age of the permanent campaign we don’t come close to this type of evaluation.  Our political media coverage might as well be a Jersey Shore marathon.


  3. I mostly agree with alkali’s point that Willkinson hasn’t really said anything really helpful here.  It was a good piece, but wouldn’t rank even amongst the top 20 or 30 things that I’ve read just from Wilkinson himself.  That said, I can’t help but think that you hit the nail on the head exactly with your first two paragraphs after the blockquote.  There’s a real cognitive dissonance involved in talking up the distorting effects of state intervention in the economy, and then hold those who don’t really succeed in the resulting distorted economy as morally inferior, etc.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Well, Will’s stuff lately has all been really good. Maybe this isn’t the most original observation, but I do think he says it very well.

    • Avatar DarrenG says:

      To be fair, the Calvinist notion of wealth equaling virtue and the converse mostly lives within the conservative world, and doesn’t exist as much among the libertarians, Or at least not among those whose moral philosophy isn’t entirely cribbed from Atlas Shrugged.

      And cognitive dissonance among conservatives is a deliberate feature, not a bug. After all, these are the same folks who believe the same government that is too incompetent to regulate health insurance or fund transportation infrastructure can infallibly manage land wars and nation building in Asia and border security and criminal law enforcement here at home.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        That’s an inaccurate portrayal of what every conservative I know thinks. In fact I can’t find a conservative who believes our government is infallible at ANYTHING! Worse, what they feel is that the more gov’t gets involved, the more fished up everything becomes. But as long as the left gets to characterize the right, we’ll see quotes like yours and not have to put up with what Reagan (would you agree he’s a conservative) said, oh, thousands of times?Report

  4. Avatar Renee says:

    While I agree with most of what you write, I get nervous when people talk about “… making markets work …”  We are absolutely on the same page about the wealthy and well-connected as well as recognizing that there are social structures that dramatically affect an individual’s ability to be successful.

    But a core component of the libertarian argument seems to me to be:  by what mechanism do you intend to “make the markets work”?  Government?  Run by people?  Who will have a monopoly on the use of force to carry out their will?  What could possibly go wrong . . .

    In the end, I am for a well-defined safety net, but I would be much more on board with cooperative and non-coercive solutions to these problems.


    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      You make markets work by A) allowing them to function as freely as possible and B) by providing safety nets to bulwark against inevitable failures, market shifts, etc.Report

      • Avatar Renee says:

        So you aren’t ‘making’ them work at all.  You acknowledge that they simply work on their own.  But there are consequences of the market (hardly failures – the market doesn’t have a goal that it can fail) that can hurt individuals, about whom we should care.  So we should help those people.  I would argue that bottom-up is still the best way to handle this, but that some level of safety-net at the top is necessary.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          I believe that a failure to ameliorate the pains associated with the market will lead to backlash against markets. I also believe we have a collective responsibility to alleviate pain and economic hardship. So yes, you could say “allow markets to work” but I think government nevertheless will play a role in writing some rules and boundaries within which markets exist. There is no true free market whatever the merits of such an idea may be.Report

          • Avatar Renee says:

            Agreed that there is no true free market.  But the same powers that allow the gov to write rules and boundaries within which the market exist are the same powers they use to bail out the wealthy and well connected.  So how can we limit the gov powers to setting a good framework and nothing more?  Who gets to decide what is best for the economy?Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

              I’m not sure there is any ideal mechanism to do this, actually. We use the democratic process, or something like it, much of the time. An imperfect solution.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                I was in a discussion where we were talking about how to undo capture.  One suggestion was to create a series of bodies akin to a Grand Jury ( a randomly selected group on 12-15 citizens who remain anonymous) whose job, when called, is to evaluate the merits of regulations.  Yes, this would require an amendment.

                Note this would only apply to regulations, which are created by bureaucracy, not legislative process.

                So if a government passes a law, and a governmental body crafts the regulations, then any person who is affected by said regulation would have standing to request the impaneling of this regulatory jury, and there would be arguments heard (pro & con) .  If the jury finds fault with the regulation as it stands, they can kick it back to the crafting body, or even to the legislature.

                I know the courts serve this function in some capacity, but I think there is a structural flaw that prevents such challenges from getting very far.  We need something more streamlined, and less constrained by precedent.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            Is dating a truly free market? Just wondering.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:


              “Is dating a truly free market?”

              Fascinating question. What are the similarities between dating and the free market, and is it possible some of our instincts on markets were partially honed from millions of years of romance?

              Consider that out of all the potential mates one wants, dating requires you to find someone who voluntarily wants you too. Consider the effects of choosing a mate and the externality of indirectly harming everyone you don’t date (that wants to) via your choice. Note the frequent introduction of coercion and exploitation…

              Now for the real question… should compassionate libertarians push for state safety nets for the broken hearted?

              After all, it’s not my fault I’m an ugly nerd. What did Brad Pitt do to deserve Angelina?Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Well, it’s definitely a market that has been greatly liberalized in the last few centuries- often with the same Enlightenment philosophical justifications for doing so. It has also reached greater parity between the parties- in fact, I’d say that the rather obvious sexual advantages that women have over men have started to come to the fore only as the patriarchal structures and traditions intended to limit those advantages have fallen into desuetude. And, just like with the market, you wind up with some big winners, some tragic losers, and lots of people in a middling position. Now, I don’t want to ask whether the market is as irrational as the heart or not.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Rufus – This should really be a post of it’s own.  This question is fascinating.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I concur, Doctor.Report

        • Avatar Renee says:

          I apologize if I seem to be playing a verbal “gotcha” between ‘make’ and ‘let’, that is not my intent.  I am concerned, however, about how easy it is to assume that we can make things work the way we want by simply saying the gov will enact appropriate … whatever.Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

            Fair enough. I am equally unimpressed by thinking the market will solve all our problems. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s what anyone here is actually saying.Report

            • Avatar Renee says:

              It’s interesting . . . this idea of libertopia gets tossed about a lot.  But I don’t think, even amongst the hardest core libertarians that anyone thinks that free markets will solve all (or any) of our problems.  … The poor will always be with us….  The question is when is the medicine worse than the disease?  I suppose anarchists would say ‘always.’  I would say ‘sometimes’ and the burden of proof should be on those peddling the medicine.  What you are proposing here seems very sound to me.  There will be unintended consequences to a safety net, but they are still better than the alternative.Report

              • I’m an anarchocapitalist.  Does that count?

                To my mind, markets — mostly networks with price systems — are tools for figuring out what people need and providing it to them.  They’re not magic things that make everything better and solve all of our problems by virtue of being all market-y and stuff.  Like any other system, they have inefficiencies and vulnerabilities, but they also have the virtue of being efficient carriers of local information and requiring less coercion than anything else we’ve tried at a similar scale.  Maybe we can do better.

                I see the “libertopia/market-paradise” concept as a particularly uncharitable reading of freed-market libertarianism by its critics.  It often comes across as “You libertarians think that markets work better than governments.  But holding everything else constant, eliminating governments tomorrow and expecting the market to step in would be a terrible idea.  Therefore libertarianism is wrong, stupid, and evil.”

                The problems here are “holding everything else constant” and “tomorrow”. Our social and cultural gestalt is built around the expectation that government, in some way, shape, or form, will intervene in our lives.  That’s less true now than it was a hundred years ago, far less true now than it was five hundred years ago, and (I think) more true now than it will be in another hundred years.

                For example (from the “democracy, coercion, and liberty” thread), most people are instinctively respectful of public law enforcement agents and instinctively mistrustful of private law enforcement agents.  I suspect that’s less true now than it was in the 1950s, as cellphone cameras and internet reporting make it harder to hide and ignore police abuses of power, but it’s a massive obstacle to the fantasy that we could have anarchotopia tomorrow without changing anything but the level of government.

                So when I say I’m an anarchocapitalist, I mean that I think that as time t goes to infinity, society will converge to an anarchism based largely around market-like institutions (bottom-up, heavily networked, price-system based) — and that I think this is a good thing.  I don’t mean that I endorse any effort, without qualification, to replace public institutions with private ones.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Libertarianism is one the most, if not the most, misunderstood and misrepresented political philosophy in existence, and “vulgar libertarianism” is a diversion. The insistence on a government-run safety-net, with government-run being operative, puts in doubt the motives of the stubborn proponents, especially in light of the performance and likely implosion of the welfare state. Those concerned about welfare per se will depoliticize the concept and then consider the best means  to achieve the best results.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG says:

                I don’t see libertarianism as more commonly misunderstood or misrepresented than liberalism or conservatism. Any political grouping that’s even half a going concern will regularly get unfairly tarred by critics and opponents.


                I also see quite a lot of “consider[ing] the best means to achieve the best results” regarding the social safety net among center-left policy wonks. I would very much love to see more of that and less dogma and demagoguery from the conservatives and libertarians, though.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “[B]y what mechanism do you intend to “make the markets work”? ”

      By the same mechanism you use to make children grow: not stopping them. If one child grows faster than planned we do not put a brick on his head to stop him growing so fast. If one child grows faster than another we do not put a brick on her head because everyone ought to grow the same.

      But that also means that failures cannot be ameliorated by government action. We don’t require children to run around in those seat-with-wheels things until they’re 18 years old.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

        Density – your analogy is flawed. Whereas a child is simply one entity, a corporation is no such thing. A corporation is also all of its workers, all of its shareholders, all of its customers and vendors, clients, etc. When a corporation fails, I do not suggest government intervention to save the company itself, but I do find the thought of thousands of people losing their income and health insurance in one fell swoop to be quite disturbing. We ameliorate the vagaries of market failure, and can do so, without saving the failing companies themselves.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          I do find the thought of thousands of people losing their income and health insurance in one fell swoop to be quite disturbing.

          It’s their own damned fault for not realizing that the company was in trouble and getting out beforehand.  The safety net you propose penalizes people who are paying attention by making them subsidize people who don’t bother..Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          ED and Density,

          If taken too far,  most analogies fail. But they are still useful.

          ED, I am not sure what principle you are using to determine when to ameliorate the vagaries of markets. If a self employed person goes bankrupt, or ten thousand employees get laid off, other than the number affected, why would the situations demand different responses? And wouldn’t markets be able to provide unemployment insurance better/ more efficiently/ more competitively than the state?Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “Whereas a child is simply one entity, a corporation is no such thing. A corporation is also all of its workers, all of its shareholders, all of its customers and vendors, clients, etc.”

          When Mitt Romney said that everyone laughed at what a tool he was.Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I will say that there’s often a temptation toward post hoc reasoning on the part of libertarians, who will say that since everything is always due to personal choice then an unsatisfactory situation must always be the result of an incorrect personal choice. No matter how far back they have to look. “Oh, eight years ago you bought a Kia Optima, you should have known that it would require $4000 of work to keep it running once it hit 120,000 miles! The unexpected expense is your own fault!Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Indeed. Or they will criticize the school system as failing for poor kids, but then blame the decisions poor kids make and their future poverty on the kids themselves.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      If you go back far enough, you find that a lot of children are so dumb they choose to be born into poor families. We can’t correct for that.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Housing has been going up for decades and buying a bit more hose than you can afford right now has been an excellent investment during that time.  How irresponsible of you to do the same thing right before the bottom dropped out!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        When I was a kid, the wisdom I received from my elders was usually of the form “Here is a rule. Follow it.” rather than “Figure out what everyone else does and you can get away with doing that.”Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      Each situation has to be judged on the individual circumstances. Some might conclude that even if a decision was made by a stressed individual, the person’s options were limited due to circumstances, or lack of knowledge or understanding, beyond the person’s control, and, thus, they still deserve help, but covering all decisions under some general cencept of the “oppressed” because a person falls into a class category is ridiculous.Report

  6. I concur almost entirely.  A brief quibble:

    [M]any libertarians only take that critique so far, and at the end of the day we find ourselves still with a discussion about winners and losers. It doesn’t make sense to craft a broad social critique of the state and its interactions with society and then turn around and pretend those factors play no role in the success or failure of you and me.

    Many libertarians I know came from civil libertarianism (perhaps this is a Canadian phenomenon) when they noticed that the too-powerful state could pick winners and losers independently of individual effort and merit.  (AIG, Solyndra, &c.)  Maybe your criticism applies more to “libertarian fellow-travellers”: people who want lower taxes and disdain welfare recipients but don’t necessarily share a broader liberty-based world-view.  I’m coming dangerously close to a “No True Scotsman” argument here, but I think there are a lot of folks out there who call themselves “libertarian” because it sounds better than “selfish”, rather than because they’ve actually tried to build a cogent political philosophy around the non-aggression principle.

    In any case, it seems to me that a well-implemented and properly-functioning safety net should enable a much more hands-off, even indifferent, fiscal policy from government.  Rather than bail out institutions that become too big to fail (socializing otherwise-private losses), such a safety net should be able to mitigate the consequences of that failure (lost jobs, lost savings, &c.).  State-provided unemployment insurance and vocational training might lessen the blow of high unemployment during a recession, removing the need for large fiscal stimulus and leaving the door open to less-distortive monetary policy like inflation or NGDP targeting.  I think the term for this is “neo-liberalism”, and the Nordic countries seem to have made a strong case for it in the last recession.  We’ll see how they survive the pending implosion of the Euro.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      … you’re seriously talking about the AIG bailout as the gov’t “picking winners and losers”??? My dear, when someone points a gun to your head, and you hand them money, that’s not picking and choosing anything, merely accepting the reality on the ground.Report

      • Considering the feds handed AIG the gun, and said “Hey, guys, any time you’re short on cash, c’mon over and rob me”… yeah, that’s not such a bad analogy.

        In any case, I don’t so much object to the September 2008 bailout by the Federal Reserve as I do the fact that, despite the way the credit markets kept signaling that AIG was going to go bust, the feds kept pumping in more and more capital to try to keep AIG afloat rather than brokering an orderly bankruptcy.  Spoiler warning: it didn’t work, and the feds ended up half-assedly brokering a disorderly bankruptcy that’s still trying to sell assets.  But hey, at least AIG got to sponsor Manchester United for a couple of years, and send its executives off on a bunch of junkets.  That’s stimulus spending, right?  Here, have a read at Wikipedia’s timeline.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          bitch at Goldmann. Know who was on the other side of deals, kiddo.Report

          • Oh, now I get it: when you can’t win a point on its merits, you write up a cryptically vague sentence or two that implies an argument I’m clearly too stupid to see because it’s obvious to everyone else, and season it liberally with contemptuous language.  This is to signal to the rest of the commentariat that you’re the alpha dog smacking down an inferior.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              Blunt, you have nailed Kimmi in a nutshell. That’s her commenting M.O. and I’ve made the same complaint on several occasions. On the other hand in an OP she’s capable of writing coherent thoughts so I mostly just look at her crypto-posts as type-farts and move on. You should do the same.Report

  7. Avatar Jeff Eaton says:

    I think there are a lot of folks out there who call themselves “libertarian” because it sounds better than “selfish”, rather than because they’ve actually tried to build a cogent political philosophy around the non-aggression principle.

    For better or worse, that probably applies to many self-identified adherents of almost any political philosophy…Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:


    • + another one.  On another thread a liberal commenter recently claimed an “entitlement” to paid parental leave.  Setting aside arguments about whether paid parental leave is good policy or not, the claim to be entitled to it smacks an awful lot of selfishness.

      No need to pick conservative examples; it’d be like shooting fish in a barrel.Report

      • James, not sure if you’re referring to me as E.C. Gach replied as well, but here are two of the comments,

        James Hanley: Ah, the market doesn’t supply you with everything you desire, so it is therefore inferior to….well, to what? I’m pretty sure government isn’t going to supply you with everything you require, either.

        And of course demanding paid maternity leave means demanding that somebody else pay you for providing nothing of value to them. It’s not the kind of policy I’d put near the top of my “must-repeal” list, but still, have you ever thought about the morality of that demand?

        Creon Critic: James, obviously paid maternity leave is immoral. It should be replaced by its more gender equitable cousin paid parental leave, with flexibility for parents to distribute time after the birth or adoption between themselves. But something tells me that isn’t where you were headed with that comment…

        It is pretty difficult to turn the communitarian reasons to favor paid leave into a form of selfishness. Children being a fact, it makes sense to adjust the work-life balance to accommodate their existence – for all workers, not just the privileged who currently receive this benefit in the US. Raising children well being highly valuable to the community, state assured paid leave transfers a small portion of the burden of child rearing more broadly.

        I see an impulse towards egalitarianism, all workers deserve the benefit, and an impulse towards reciprocity, you may gain today by being a parent and I support you, I may gain tomorrow when I become a parent and you will support me. And finally I see an impulse towards community, even those who are childless lifelong chip in to help support raising the next generation.

        Why doesn’t the interpretation, “paid maternity leave means demanding that somebody else pay you for providing nothing of value to them” deserve the selfish moniker?Report

        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          “Why doesn’t the interpretation, “paid maternity leave means demanding that somebody else pay you for providing nothing of value to them” deserve the selfish moniker?”

          Asking to pay for your own decisions is selfish?Report

          • Avatar dexter says:

            Why aren’t the t three Walton that  made around 15 billion last year while many of its employees are so poor they are eligible for  state assistence called selfish?Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              Why do so many conflate ASSETS with INCOME? This is bookkeeping 101, not even economics. sighReport

              • Avatar dexter says:

                Sigh, Walmart made 14.7 billion last year.  That is not counting the money they made in other investments.  That is income.  Their houses are assets.


              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                What does “Walton” have to do with Walmart? Sam Walton was the founder yes, but MANY other people own the corporation now. Therefore you were either being disingenuous when you said “Walton” or you were purposely trying to bait this as a class warfare point (which of course was your /real/ intent, if you were honest). Walmart’s income other than its effect (if any) on the share price has limited utility to even a major shareholder like a member of the Walton family. But you knew that right? I’ll accept that you “misspoke” when you said Walton instead of Walmart.Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                If you don’t think there is class warfare happening in America you are not as smart as you think you are,or you are being disingenous.  The Waltons own around 49 percent of Walmart and, according to Forbes, three of them are worth around 66 billion while their employees earn little.  I do believe they are part of the race to the bottom that has been inflicted on America.  My definition of free trade is the ability to move to the country with the lowest wages and the fewest environmental controls and everybody else can be damned.  Please see “store wars, when walmart comes to town” and get back to me.  One final question:  When does enlightened self interest become greed?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Again with the conflation between earnings and assets. You’re not the only guilty party in this, just the one I am attempting to educate. Perhaps your major in (?) doesn’t give you the proper background to discuss these points, hence the education element. BTW the Walton’s own 33% or less at present. For the math challenged that means 67% is owned by people NOT named Walton. Those greedy bastards, who do they think they are, owning a stock that pays dividends and all?

                Perhaps Sam should have donated his stock to charity instead of leaving it to his (many) children. On the other hand, he wanted to build something that would grow, thrive and employ more people than the federal government (not counting soldiers). The /real/ reason Walmart is successful has everything to do with logistics. They were early users of sophisticated inventory control and traacking software and forced their vendors to use same, or they wouldn’t stay vendors. There’s a damn good reason I’d rather look to Walmart after a natural disaster than the Gubmint.

                Yes there are winners and losers as the OP says. Yes that’s too fishing bad. Perhaps in the Heaven most here don’t believe in we are all going to be perfectly equal (except for the Cherubim and Seraphim) but here on the blue marble called earth that ain’t never going to happen.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Walmart, the company which has lost money (for years) because its customers are running out of money before the end of the month? Oh, who are these GREEDY people who can’t run a balance sheet? Who are these GREEDY people?

                Dumb money, that’s who.

                If you want a growing retailer, you want Family Dollar.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer says:

              Do you know how much WalMart gave to charity or how many jobs they created for people with no jobs or how much they paid in taxes or how much they saved consumers with low prices or how much they contributed to the export/import sector or how much the wealth they created is used to good effect in general?Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                If your employees are not earning a decent wage, I don’t care how much you give to charity.  I don’t know how much they paid in taxes, but it probably was not enough to compensate for the damage they did to America  .Every day that America sends more jobs and money to China is one more day that America becomes weaker and more likely for someone to pull a Berkman.  Maybe the League’s resident philosopher Jaybird will answer the question: At what point does enlightened self interest become greed.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                At what point does enlightened self interest become greed?

                Enlightened self-interest is when I do it.

                Greed is when you do it.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                This post needs to be in the Jaybird book.Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                Jaybird, the epitome of pithy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Is it enlightened self interest or greed to close the borders to people who want to work?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                BTW “employees not earning a decent wage” harkens back to the “sweatshop” discussion = only less so. I’m not certain that in the USofA there are so few choices that employment at Walmart at supposedly starvation wages is the only choice.

                I do know exactly one employee of Walmart, he went to school with my son and as far as I could tell majored in partying. The only job he could get out of college was an entry level one at Walmart. He was happy with that job, it was his dad who subsequently pushed him to try and achieve more. He is now a manage at that Walmart and is pulling down a healthy six figure salary plus bonuses. I suppose he could have stayed at the entry level position too, damnable ambition anyway.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                plenty of small towns have no more mills left, and are decaying from the inside out. There are plenty of places where Walmart is the only (largeish) employer.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Maybe the League’s resident philosopher Jaybird will answer the question

                When did Jaybird become the league’s resident philosopher? If he is the resident philosopher, what am I? Poached eggs?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If we are going to have “Resident (whatever)” titles, I freely admit that there are people on the League who deserve “Resident Philosopher” much more than I do. If Murali wants it, I suggest that he should have it.

                I would be pleased with “Resident Buffoon”. The expectations will be lower.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Not poached eggs, Mr. Murali.  Chopped liver. J/K.

                I’d put JB in the Eric Hoffer folder of philosophy, something I’d think he’d take as no insult atall.  We have dire need of those who bring philosophy down out of the clouds and walk it about on Earth a bit.Report

          • The decision to have children is required for the continuation of the civilization. Having a next generation doesn’t weigh on the scales at all? It isn’t something of sufficient value to merit social support?Report

            • Things may be of sufficient social value to merit support, but not actually need that support.  The decision to have children is a very strong biological drive, so people can pretty much be counted on to take care of doing it themselves.

              But if you want to create a social program to encourage having children for the next generation, how do we figure out how many children we need in the next generation?  (And that’s just the first of the many technical questions we’d need to answer to create such a policy, but it’s a tough one because there is no technical solution that allows us to answer it).Report

              • James,

                O, reason not the need: our basest beggars
                Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
                Allow not nature more than nature needs,
                Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s: thou art a lady;
                If only to go warm were gorgeous,
                Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,
                Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need,–
                You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!
                King Lear

                Given the import of infancy and early childhood, it pays to invest heavily in those years; parental leave fits into that investment in my view. And I don’t see how that amounts to selfishness when compared to the quoted view, “paid maternity leave means demanding that somebody else pay you for providing nothing of value to them”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Parental leave is a poor investment. It’s… what? Six weeks?

                6 years would serve the child best.Report

              • Jaybird, the US is a miserly country, parental leave. Look at the more generous end of the spectrum, Sweden for instance, paid maternity leave: 480 days (16 months) (77.6% (80% of 97%) up to a ceiling the first 390 days, 90 days at flat rate) – shared with father (dedicated 60 days). Swedish paid paternity leave: 480 days (16 months) (77.6% (80% of 97%) up to a ceiling the first 390 days, 90 days at flat rate) – shared with mother (dedicated 60 days) + 10 working days in connection with the child’s birth.Report

              • Creon,

                Show me the data that demonstrate that children of working parents are more likely to be unproductive citizens than the children of working parents.

                And you still haven’t shown me how we’re going to figure out how much our society actually wants (e.g., what would be demanded if we could price it).  That’s not actually a small thing you’re overlooking.

                And in the interests of holding the League’s liberals to the “but where do you draw the limits” standards that they like to hold us libertarians to, how much parental leave should be given, and how do you justify just that amount and no more?

                On the personal anecdotal side, when my first child was born I was in grad school.  I effectively took the first year off, not officially, but in terms of how much I progressed that year.  I was also working part time, and my wife was working full time.  I volunteered to work evening hours at my job so that one of us could be with our kid at all times.  We didn’t see each other much that year.  Do I believe my fellow taxpayers should have paid for parental leave for us?  Fish no!  At some point we reach the line where everything becomes an argument about how everybody should be doing everything for everybody else, but nobody should ever have to buck up and take on the burden and responsibility of their own choices.  It was not society’s responsibility to pay my bills that first year of my daughter’s life, anymore than it’s society’s responsibility to pay my bills in her 14th year.  I was not “entitled” to anything like that, and I would have been embarrassed to have even thought that I had such an entitlement, such a claim to demand anything like that of others.

                That’s where our ideologies part ways dramatically.  Your vision is fundamentally collectivist, and while I am firmly in support of voluntary collectivism (my ideal libertopia welcomes communes with open arms), I’m staunchly opposed to enforced collectivism.

                The idea that you’re “entitled” to that support because you’re providing something of value to society is a thin cover of pseudo-market talk.  But it’s not a voluntary exchange, so we can’t really talk meaningfully about how much value is exchanged for how much.  You’re operating on faith that somehow it all evens out fairly enough for everyone.  But that has to be taken on faith because there’s no way to demonstrate it.  Let’s say my child ends up stocking shelves in a gas station–society needed to pay for that?  Would they really have gotten any actual value in exchange that they wouldn’t have gotten anyway? (And would I then need to repay what I got from society during my parental leave?)  Again, show me that children whose parents work end up so much less productive than those whose parents don’t work; and don’t forget to disentangle all the confounding variables like wealth, social status, etc.


              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Show me the data that demonstrate that children of working parents are more likely to be unproductive citizens than the children of working parents.

                That would be tricky, but I think I can demonstrate that they’re no more productive.Report

              • James, because my reply is on the longer side, I put it further down the thread.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                America is barely sustaining a positive birthrate. you should see Russia, or Japan. Mating is a biological instinct — having babies is substantially less so.Report

            • Avatar dexter says:

              Jaybird, One time you said that you were tribal.  Well so am I.  My concern is like a rock dropped in a pond with the first wave being my children, then my wife, then family and fieinds, and then America.  I believe that open borders hurts Americans.  So, yes I do believe that it is enlightened self interest.  Since I care more about Mexicans than I do about Monsanto, I would curtail farm subsidies to 640 acres and you would have to work the farm yourself to get them.Report

  8. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I see government distortions being more relevant at the top than at the bottom. That is, it may explain why doctors and lawyers make more than engineers, and how the CEO of some corporation that got a huge government subsidy is a billionaire. But there are many very obvious reasons why the poor are poor that would almost certainly remain in the absence of government micromanagement of the economy.

    If you don’t show up for work consistently, or slack off while you’re there, or get addicted to drugs, or have children that you can’t afford while still maintaining a safety buffer, or if you haven’t saved enough to weather a spell of unemployment (including COBRA), then you’re probably not going to do any better in a truly free market. There’s really nothing we can do for you other than pity-charity.

    And I really don’t see an acknowledgment from the left of the role that personal responsibility plays in these situations. They’re constantly making lame excuses when the reality is that a lot of people just kind of suck (granted, the left acknowledges this, but only with respect to productive members of society who vote Republican).Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Many people live paycheck to paycheck and cannot save up enough to weather a spell of unemployment.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Only those who live paycheck-to-paycheck at subsistence level. Anyone with an above-subsistence income is living paycheck-to-paycheck by choice.

        I’ll grant that someone with no dependents living on a subsistence income has a valid excuse for having no savings. This is a very small minority of the population. And a smaller minority still has a good reason (e.g. a disability) not to have a greater income.

        I’d be open to the idea of a forced-saving scheme. While not strictly libertarian, it at least eliminates much of the moral hazard and perverse incentives inherent in tax-based alternatives, and would also have salutary economic effects.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      It is certainly possible that the left understates the role of personal responsability in this but surely you would agree the right merely mirrors the failure in overstating the same? Certainly the left has, however reluctantly, addressed this failing in many ways. All over the first world (in some cases frog marched by the right, in others not) the left has taken steps to rationalize and limit safety nets. I mean we’re not living in the seventies any more.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I don’t see how fighting welfare reform every step of the way and railing against it even fifteen years later counts as acknowledging that there was a problem. Perhaps you have a different left in mind.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        Personal responsibility is only aspect of the issue. Practically everyone recognizes that financial hardship is a reality, and practically everyone agrees that people need help every once in a while, and practically everyone knows that some people are handicapped through no fault of their own, and practically everyone embraces the virtue of assistance for those in true need. The main issue is how we go about giving the needed help. Much has been written about the negative consequences of the current welfare state approach, so it’s time to innovate in this area and enlist the help of the private sector. As long as society is under the impression that government handles assistance to the needy, and as long as government transfers money from the private sector to itself for the purpose of providing welfare, the true power of a helping society will remain suppressed and insufficient. In my estimation, private sector assistance would be more efficient and effective than what government is presently doing. In addition, private insurance/retirement/safety net policies would work much better for the majority of Americans, thus preventing the financial crisis we now face regarding entitlements, and leaving much more money to apply to the needy.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Having lived for a while earlier in the year with a 49 year old alcoholic on SSI, I’m okay with the argument that the current welfare system isn’t working. But, if I’m a private sector group, how is it in my interest to expend money or energy on welfare?Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            The same interests as any group like Red Cross, Goodwill or United Way. From the level of individuals helping individuals to religious groups to local charitable organizations to large corporations, our society has valued helping thoise in need. But beyond helping others, it’s a way to make a living that many people feel good about. In the 70s and 80s, and the then through the first part of the 90s, treatment for alcoholism was usually delivered by recovered alcoholiics. A private hospital for alcoholics was built close to where I lived in the late 70s by a recovered alcoholic who was a local surgeon. I worked there for ten years, and at one time the counselors on staff consisted of a guy from Alabama who was independently wealthy, a history professor from a local university, a retired Navy lawyer and the lady who onced worked with the CIA. They recoved from alcoholism and decided to give back, making way less in pay than they could’ve made. Many people have natural skills suited for the helping business and they love what they do. But then when treatment got big, kids from college with psych degrees  were applying for jobs, and state regulations demanded the degrees, because they chose this kind of work. That hospital has helped a lot of alcoholics, drug addicts and their families — regulations and insurance craziness has almost driven them out of business. In the beginning they charged a price mostt people could pay over time, and they did a lot of indigent care, but now it’s expensive.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. says:

              That’s really interesting. So, do you think charities would be more successful if they were less regulated? I can sort of see that, but most of my experiences with working at them were that they were always underfunded and understaffed and I’m not sure if that changes much with less regulation. Maybe the way to find out would be to deregulate charities first and see what happens. I’d like to hear from some of them on this question too because it’s pretty interesting.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Everything I recommend is within a free market — yes, I think they will self regulate, and donors will regulate them, once they are free of all government interference. Plus, they can do what we did in the private hospital, get certification from a company that certifiesorganizations are doing the right things — this will be needed to boost donor confidence. With the hospital, it was JCAH who did the accreditation, but with charities it can be any independent accreditation company willing to put their reputation and future in business on the line.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I was one of those non-addicts who worked in a treatment center for a while. There are pluses and minuses to having people in recovery performing treatment. As much as they have valuable personal experience they also tend to have giant blind spots and tend to cling to what helped them. AA has been a very successful organization that could not be replicated by the gov. It also does not work for many many people and can in no way solve all the addiction problems out there. There is no treatment center out there that doesn’t either have recovering people on staff and/or refer to AA/NA. Treatment centers often only stay open due to state and federal grants. This is an area where both private and gov actors work effectively.

                There are relativity simple licenses people can get to allow them to work in treatment centers. We went through all that up here just a few years ago. I know all the criticisms of licenses and all that. In the case of addiction counselors a certification of some sort is vital. I knew to many recovering people who  did wonderful within the bounds of their experience but missed all sorts of other problems until they were forced to get some education. ( Or is gave it to them in supervision.)Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                I went through all these issues regarding recovering/non-recovering in 1983. Believe me, I’m familiar with the issues, and so were the hospital clinical managers. I interned under a psychiatrist for a year. Education wasn’t lacking among our counselors — it was “gave” to us by the hospital, and the counselors brought their own to the table.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer says:

              Good lord, I read my post above and it’s filled with typos — it was early.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Adding to what Brandon and Mike are saying, it would be more fair to say the political dynamic has rationalized and limited safety nets. To attribute the left with this achievement is questionable at best.

        Substantially smarter safety nets that prohibit free riding and exploitation from below are very good things. I read somewhere that welfare recipients have a lower opinion of the ethics of fellow recipients (and of welfare abuse) than does the population at large.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Roger, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. My point was not to launch fireworks in praise of the left on this subject  but rather to question priorities.

          Welfare reform has happened all over the world. Specific to this country, the left recently controlled all branches of the government and no significant effort was made to undo that particular reform. Welfare, while certainly not peanuts, is not a program that leaps to mind as being one that is a significant fiscal problem for the national fisc. Economists generally agree that welfare currently is a relatively automatic and useful economic stabilizer. This strikes me as pretty good evidence that welfare specifically is both in a relatively sustainable mode in the US and is accepted as such by the practical left.

          Why then, is it such a focus for the slings and arrows of the right; possibly because it’s easy? Aiming the guns at social security, defense spending or industrial subsidies often comes off as an afterthought if mentioned at all when the right starts bloviating about personal responsibility. Possibly this is because touching the statist goodies of one’s own base is considerably less comfortable than going after safety regulations and food stamps for minorities and the impoverished.

          Perhaps if the right put corporate welfare and the areas where their own sacred cows violate their small government principals square in their sights people would take the entire government shrinking agenda more seriously. Or, to poach ED’s terminology, maybe if the right cut the chains off first it’d give them some credibility to make arguments (like Mike’s above) that they could be trusted with removing the crutches as well.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Depression, which, when masked leads to drug abuse and alcoholism, is a result of poverty, not the cause of it by and large.

      Showing up to work and slacking off is only a problem if you can’t do a good job. There are plenty of jobs for slackers (sys admin?)…

      When I reference rich Republican sociopaths, I do NOT mean the productive members of society. Entrepreneurs can stay, in my ideal society. The “landed rich” would go, as they’re actively hindering productivity.Report

  9. Avatar One of Bach's 20 Kids says:

    Just about every kid I know–nephews, cousins, kids of friends, are TOTALLY hooked and addicted to video games. Is this good?  When I was a kid, I remember going for long, long walks in the woods with my three labs.  Why have people gotten so terrified of solitude?  Do you EVER see anyone just walking for the pure joy of walking?  They have to have those damn cellphones going ever second of the day–I mean, good God, does one second separated from humanity cause absolute terror?   Is it that unbearable?  We would have zero artists or musicians, or painters, or writers were their lives so ruled by the need to be connected to humanity.  I like people, I just don’t particularly like being around them.  And without question, I much prefer the company of animals.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      Human relationships are overrated, for sure, and that explains the enthuisiam for the talking IPhone. My friends aren’t nearly as helpful. I’m waiting for the IMate.Report

      • Avatar One of Bach's 20 Kids says:

        Hey Mike, how’s it going?   Hopefully, well.   Hard to believe a kindred spirit could possibly exist when it comes to the subject of solitude.  And thanks for the reply, sir.Report

    • People in my neighborhood walk to the neighborhood school.  And it’s largely minority.Report

    • To the extent that I’m an artist, it’s because I was able to learn colour theory on the internet.  If all I’d done was walk in the woods with my dogs, I’d still think that all tree trunks were brown and all leaves were green, because that’s what I was taught by real authentic people (with real authentic B.Ed.s) in school.

      I like dogs more than I like people.  And I like my “damn cellphone” — and especially my damn internet pipe — because it lets me learn shit without having to deal with those damn bipeds.  One second separated from humanity isn’t absolute terror: it’s respite.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      200 in the past two days. What? I live in a fantastic city with gleaming parks, and it was sixty in November! Yes, we walked — for hours outside. Lotta other folks too.Report

  10. Avatar Benno says:

    Matt Welch’s brand of libertarianism, quoted by Wilkinson, is nigh insufferable.  Wilkinson quotes him as saying of OWS that “we’re not going to feel too sorry for you if you made some bad decisions about taking out mortgages and/or student loans, even if everybody you knew was making them too,” and further that if there is a case to be made for bailing out “your [personal] bad decisions” it should begin with “you” taking personal responsibility.

    I won’t even go into Bush’s notion of an “ownership  society” that encourages people to do things like buy homes (oh, and that meddlesome “American Dream” that’s been shoved down our throats since WWII, but I do want to address the idea that taking out student loans is a “bad choice” and we should all just realize and, what?  Get a vo-tech job?  I don’t know what Welch expects the bulk of Americans to do here.

    Let me say about myself that 1) I have a doctorate and largish student loans, 2) I worked labor jobs for years, 3) I’ve taught public schools K-college, and 4) I firmly believe that vocational education needs to be more robust in the U.S.  That said, we have been told for decades that the way to get ahead is through a college education, that degreed folks earn n times more over a life time than merely diploma-ed people, that not going to college is a sure way to end up an under-achieving drag on society.

    Meanwhile, university costs have sky-rocketed and jobs that formerly did not necessarily require a degree level education are now impossible to get without one.  So, according to Welch, if you use loans to go to university you’re probably making a bad decision, but if you don’t you literally will not be able to get anything but the most menial job.

    So either you make Welch’s bad decision to get a degree using loans in order to get a low-paying but “white-collar” job, or you don’t take the loans and, in the absence of any sensible system for vo-tech education in this country you end up with what?Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      Have you read Welch’s reply at Reason? What do you propose as a solution to student debt?Report

    • So either you make Welch’s bad decision to get a degree using loans in order to get a low-paying but “white-collar” job, or you don’t take the loans and, in the absence of any sensible system for vo-tech education in this country you end up with what?

      You end up with a false dichotomy, because all degrees are not created equal. You can earn a STEM degree, or a business degree, or an education degree, or a nursing degree, or &c. and get a job that cashes in on the college bonus to which you referred above. Or you can earn an English degree, or a Sociology degree, or a puppetry degree, or &c. and get a low-paying “white collar” job that does little to help you pay off your staggeringly huge student loans. (Or you can learn a trade, or you can give up and work at Wal-mart, but we’re focused on the four-year degree options.)

      “Going to college” isn’t the bad decision Welch was talking about. “Going to college and getting a degree you know isn’t going to pay off” is the bad decision.Report

      • Oh, sonofa…

        First link: College bonus.

        Second link: Puppetry degree.

        Clearly I need more coffee.Report

      • Avatar Benno says:

        Your response mystifies me.  Getting an education degree results in a high paying job?  It may very well still require student loans, and the end result is not going to be a job that makes repaying them very easy.  Getting a nursing degree may very well still require student loans and the end result will not necessarily be a job that makes repaying them very easy.  Getting a business degree may very well still require student loans, though I suppose you are likely to eventually be better payed than your teaching and nursing counterparts, who in the current environment of cuts to the public sector may not have any income at all with which to repay their lucrative education and nursing degrees.

        Your easy dismissal of English, Sociology, and similar degrees suggests to me that you see education as nothing more than professional preparation, so I won’t argue the general value of the humanities for preparing thoughtful, clever, and capable people for a variety of careers (not that it manages to even do that anymore), but learning a trade isn’t nearly as easy as it was when I was a lad, hence the profusion of trade “universities.”  I think more people should learn trades, and I think more professions should have sensible apprenticeship systems in lieu of requiring a 4-year degree.  But they do not, and they do not.

        The bad decision isn’t made by the student choosing a degree they “know” won’t pay the bills. The bad decision is made by the society that promulgates a warped and incoherent system of educational values.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith says:

          Why did 17 million go to college? Like the Charles Murray reference? Here’s his paper. For some reason I’m inclined to repost the Vonnegut link concerning the poor boy who was above average in the world that deemed it a crime to excel, but I think the irony would be lost on too many. When picking winners and losers, not only is there that damnable lucky gene that allows one to be born to good parents, there’s the other one that allows one to use that thing on their shoulders for something other than a dew rag holder.

          Not just bad degrees, but people who had no business in college in the first place getting degrees for which they aren’t intellectually qualified, hence diminishing the reputation of said degree for the entire population sample.Report

        • Your response mystifies me.

          I’m glad it was my response, rather than my failed attempt at markup.

          Getting an education degree results in a high paying job?  It may very well still require student loans, and the end result is not going to be a job that makes repaying them very easy.

          Relative to the opportunities available to non-professional degree holders, yes.  Certainly it’s easier to pay off student loans with an engineer’s salary than with a teacher’s salary, but if university students are getting their degrees in order to improve their job prospects an education or nursing degree actually fits the bill.  As my first link shows, graduates with education and health degrees have high rates of participation in degree-requiring jobs, and those degree-requiring jobs pay noticeably better than those taken liberal-arts graduates (in the median).

          I don’t blame you for not following that link the first time around, as I made it unnecessarily difficult.  But please click through this time and have a read: I do have numbers to back up my claims.

          I notice that you ignored my STEM example.

          Your easy dismissal of English, Sociology, and similar degrees suggests to me that you see education as nothing more than professional preparation

          Kind of you to be up-front about your easy dismissal of my position.

          The context of your first comment, to which I replied, was specifically the value of higher ed as professional preparation.  You claim that most people go to college to “get ahead” and “earn more”, and I agree.  With that in mind, someone who goes to college to “get ahead” and “earn more” is making a bad decision if they decide to major in English rather than Engineering.

          I’m not arguing, and I don’t believe, that a humanities degree is a waste of time.  If someone wants to earn a B.A., and can afford to do so, more power to them and I wish them all the best.  I’m simply arguing that a humanities degree is not as effective for professional preparation, and I don’t think it’s controversial to claim that prospective humanities majors don’t know that their compatriots in the sciences (for example) have better career prospects.

          I won’t argue the general value of the humanities for preparing thoughtful, clever, and capable people for a variety of careers (not that it manages to even do that anymore)

          Your parenthetical admission neatly sums up my argument.

          I think more people should learn trades, and I think more professions should have sensible apprenticeship systems in lieu of requiring a 4-year degree.

          I agree entirely.

          The bad decision isn’t made by the student choosing a degree they “know” won’t pay the bills. The bad decision is made by the society that promulgates a warped and incoherent system of educational values.

          Are you arguing that society tells its students “Go to college!  You must have a four-year degree to get anywhere in life!” and also tells them “Once you’re in college, it doesn’t matter what degree you get — one degree is as good as another”?  That would be pretty warped and incoherent.Report

          • someone who goes to college to “get ahead” and “earn more” is making a bad decision if they decide to major in English rather than Engineering.

            Yes, and those who want to get a humanities education just for the value of becoming more educated (which is a good value), need to think seriously about how much they’re paying for that.  Because one of the things that’s not well-understood here is the distinction between investment spending and consumption spending.  Getting a degree that will help you earn more is investment spending, and getting a degree that is delightful, meaningful, and enlightening, but that won’t help you earn more is consumption spending.  That should affect decisions, but it can’t when people aren’t thinking about it.

            But it’s also worth pointing out that getting an STEM or business degree does not mean a person has to ignore the humanities, or ignore education just for the sake of becoming more educated.  An increasing number of students these days double-major, and of course students have done minors for ever and ever amen. There’s no reason a person who loves literature can’t double major in English and Business, or get a major in Geology and a minor in comparative lit, etc.  Without intending any criticism of anyone here, we all (the country as a whole) need to stop phrasing the issue as a choice between professional and humanities education, and emphasize the value of doing both concurrently.Report

            • Getting a degree that will help you earn more is investment spending, and getting a degree that is delightful, meaningful, and enlightening, but that won’t help you earn more is consumption spending.

              Well put!

              Of course, most degrees are going to wind up somewhere in between.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            College ought to be more than a white-collar technical school.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Not that you were arguing that it should be, of course.

              The point of the university humanities education, it seems to me, is to train people to train themselves how to do any intellectual pursuit. Not everyone is built to do Engineering, after all. (And my silly degree taught me how to train myself to do Unix… I don’t know that a degree in Unix architecture would have stuck with me the way that my time learning to do research in the library did. Given that “everything changed” a few years after graduating, the fact that I had a degree about learning stuff rather than about running a Vax lab was far more useful to my 2010 self.)Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                JB I think your success has far more to do with your native intelligence viz my post above than your choice of major. You are one of the few people I (virtually) know who is clearly smart enough to have achieved with no degree, a degree in oral basketweaving or even puppetry. The issue is never the piece of paper, it is the brains belonging to the person holding the piece of paper.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I do think that the degree has diminished in usefulness as a signal and created a weird positive feedback loop on the part of employers where they’d rather hire a bartender with a degree in anthropology and a two week course at bartending school than merely a graduate of the Bartending Academy.

                We used to deal with folks being “overqualified”. What happened to that? Has the degree been devalued to the point where we don’t know if someone with an anthropology degree is overqualified to sling beer?Report

              • There’s a world of difference between a well-taught B.Sc. or B.Eng. and a “four-year vocational degree”.  Using computing science as an example, the former will give you a deep theoretical grounding in programming languages, data structure and algorithm design, and complexity; the latter will teach you Enterprise JavaBeans and Oracle’s dialect of SQL.  (If you want more background, Joel Spolsky complained about “JavaSchools” in an epic rant from 2005.)  The temptation with professional degrees seems to be to slide into the JavaSchools model, as half of your class will be complaining about the lack of “relevance” in the theory courses (which often just happen to be the hard ones), and any institution that would offer you a degree in “Unix architecture” is probably a JavaSchool.

                On the flip side, I think that a STEM degree with a solid theoretical foundation is comparable to a humanities degree in terms of “teaching people how to teach themselves”.  I’ve never been able to figure out precisely what the humanities are supposed to be doing that makes them better than, say, the sciences at this sort of thing.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Joel makes a good point when he brings up Latin.

                Once upon a time, being educated meant knowing Latin.

                Then it meant having forgotten it.

                Now it’s not even a requirement at anyplace except Hillsdale, maybe.

                It seems odd to think that it ever was a requirement outside of “Latin for Doctors” courses that Doctors needed to take because of all of the Latin stuff that Doctors encounter.

                Once upon a time, being educated meant knowing Latin.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                I wish they’d bring back Latin. I didn’t understand fully how English worked until after I took Latin. I’ve met many people with the same experience.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Ego quoque.  German would probably have worked too.  Hebrew didn’t have the same effect, probably because it’s so different.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I didn’t understand fully how English worked until after I took Latin.


              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Tod, I had the same thing happen for me with regards to Greek.

                Ancient Greek taught me how to think about the English Language… and I think you still see a number of Greek “tics” in my English that weren’t there prior.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I want to live vicariously.  Can you give the Spanish-taker an example?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:


                This means, basically, “I, for my part…”

                A sentence that says “I think we need to do X!” is much different from a sentence that says “If you’re asking my opinion, my opinion is in favor of X”. Egoge holds the second sentence within it.

                There was also the exploration of the Perfect Tense.

                “The wall, having been built, held off invaders.”

                “The song, having been sung, lulled the emperor to sleep.”

                And so on.Report

              • Is this a function of studying Latin, or a function of studying any language from a formal perspective?  I learned French in an immersion programme from age 6 to 14, and we didn’t actually start studying its grammar until the last few years.  By that time I had a pretty good intuition for how the language worked, and muddled through the grammar more by guesswork than by understanding.

                By dubious analogy: I didn’t really start to understand programming languages until I wrote a compiler.  It’s possible to spend a lifetime programming with an almost-correct intuition for how language constructs work, but to write a compiler that worked I had to develop a fundamentally correct understanding of those constructs.  It’s that difference between “good-enough intuition” and “fundamental understanding” that I’m driving at here.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I’d say its a function of studying two things that are similar enough to be usefully compared but different enough to present significant contrasts.  You’ll wind up understanding both better than if you’d never studied the other one. The is especially true for English and Latin, because many of the foolish rules we’re taught about English (don’t split infinitives, don’t end a sentence with a preposition) come from misapplying Latin grammar to English.

                To use a programming analogy, you’ll understand more about Java if you also know C++, and can see where Java either found simpler solutions to or simply punted on some of the problems C++ tries to address.  You can also appreciate where C++ is over-complicated by seeing what Java can get along without.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Hebrew has to be the worst language to learn. Because it’s basically made up, and hasn’t had the time to wear the sharp edges down.

                Regardless, I’d rather people learn chinese or japanese or spanish than Latin. Latin never teaches you how to Listen.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                If you can’t tell me about the primary bottleneck in current computer architecture, and how it differs from the past — and how that’s influenced algorithms’ usefulness, I don’t wanna hire you.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Bluntobject, I’ve read your posts more thoroughly now and recommend you do a guest post on this when you get a chance. Your own blog has very interesting ideas and I enjoyed my own trip down memory lane with the Spolsky link. Back in /my/ day you couldn’t get a plain Jane CS degree. You had to get a math and computer science one and most of the CS profs were mathematicians with tenure handed this new thing they didn’t understand. I fondly remember my best class on data structures where the prof literally threw up HIS hands and said, “I just don’t get this – anyone have any ideas?” Conceited jerk that I was, I stepped up to the chalkboard (no whiteboards then) and essentially took over the class. The prof thought that was such a good idea, he basically handed off the entire course to us students, we were each given chapters and had to present them to the rest of the class. Nothing crystallizes understanding better than teaching.

                Of course the first thing any current CS curriculum needs is a lecture on the half life of CS knowledge. Every 5 years (or is it much less now?) half of what you’ve learned will be completely useless. That was meant to chase away the weak of heart but it is what originally attracted me since the learning is the adventure, not the knowing.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Oh and the first compiler I wrote was an ADA compiler (and mine was done before Honeywell’s), just to underscore my uselessness point. 🙂Report

              • Thank you, that’s quite a compliment.

                Of course the first thing any current CS curriculum needs is a lecture on the half life of CS knowledge. Every 5 years (or is it much less now?) half of what you’ve learned will be completely useless.

                I don’t think this is as true as most people assume, although again this could be the difference between a “deep” CS degree and a “JavaSchool” degree.  I started my B.Sc. 13 years ago, and the only things I’ve been taught that became obsolete were specific tools used to teach general concepts.  I don’t use Oracle stored procedures any more, for example, but the schema design concepts I learned in that databases course is still relevant.

                This gets back to the question of whether a CS degree is supposed to teach people how to do a programming job, or to teach people how to teach themselves how to do any programming job.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Every 5 years (or is it much less now?) half of what you’ve learned will be completely useless.

                But it’s largely the same half being replaced over and over.Report

            • Avatar Benno says:

              I agree.  Sadly, with high schools failing to do what they are meant to do, that is precisely what they have become.  You ought to be able to get a low-level. non-specialized white collar* job out of high school and “learn the ropes” through experience.

              *I will clarify at this point that I mean “white collar” simply as a shorthand to mean office-type work, as opposed to driving, manufacturing, etc.  I am making no distinction between skilled and unskilled.  Thus: public library general librarian staff (white collar unskilled) vs. reference librarian (white collar skilled).  It’s a ham-fisted distinction to try to make, but I hope that my usage is clarified.Report

          • Avatar Benno says:

            I didn’t ignore your STEM example so much as grant it.  But that, as I see it, is precisely the problem.  University is seen no as nothing so more than the means to personal wealth production: encouraging students to go only  into fields that will literally  “pay off”  in the end perpetuates the notion that manufacturing personal wealth is the only decent and proper way to contribute to society.  It is short-sighted and dangerous, insofar as it creates an insular, provincial society that has no grounds upon which to engage with the world at large.

            And yes, I think society DOES tell us “go to college.  You must have a four year degree to get anywhere in life.”  It’s been telling us that for decades and only recently have people started to step back and re-evaluate that imperative.  And on the contrary, not only are the NOT saying,  it doesn’t matter what degree you get — one degree is as good as another,” the message now is becoming “you must get a STEM degree” or you will be a useless drain on society!  Who the f@*% needs to understand Chinese culture?”Report

            • Your assertion that society is putting overwhelming and unhealthy emphasis on STEM degrees is not consistent with the data, which show that STEM enrollment has stagnated over the past 25 years while fine arts and humanities enrollment has roughly doubled.  Either that, or college students really don’t care what society wants them to do.Report

              • Avatar Benno says:

                It only takes the author two paragraphs to opine that American students are studying the wrong things, so yes, I think that out market driven society stresses a market view of education but, as you point out, students just aren’t paying attention.

                Where the university is failing is that is offers insufficient preparation for how best to use these “wrong” fields in the job market.  Too many old-guard academics take a dim view of students who use their history degrees to become a corporate archivist or bring their anthropology degrees to urban planning initiatives.Report

              • I’m confused: I thought the problem was that students were so helpless in the face of society’s demands that they effectively have no choice but to go to college and accumulate massive student debt; hence, Matt Welch’s complaint about “bad decisions” was unreasonable.

                Would it be fair to describe your argument like this?

                1. Society is pushing too many students irresistably into four-year college degrees, which they need to finance with unbearable debt;
                2. Society is further pushing students into narrow-focus professional degrees, which has a dangerously insular and provincial influence on society as a whole;
                3. Students, having been chased into four-year degrees by society’s overwhelming pressure, have no time for society’s insistence that they study professional degrees and prefer to study humanities, fine arts, and “area studies”; and
                4. Universities are failing to prepare liberal-arts graduates to use their credentials in the job market.

                If that’s a fair summary, I agree with 1. (and endorse your suggestions upthread), am skeptical of 2. and 3. when taken together (I will cheerfully grant 3. if 2. is withdrawn), and think 4. is probably true but irrelevant (particularly if 2. is still on the table — if society pushes STEM and &c. so hard, why would it reward graduates who defy its wishes?).Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                #Occupy/StudentDebt listened to the wrong “society,” the Big Education establishment, because they liked its siren song better.

                Real society, the one that’s not Big Ed or working for the gov’t, said learn to do something useful, work hard at it, and someone will pay you.

                Well, shit, that song’s a drag.  Who would buy it?Report

              • Avatar Benno says:

                You’re summary isn’t entirely accurate, but I expect that it is my fault.  I accept 1 and 3 (almost) unreservedly.  I think that 4 does matter more than you think.  A university’s job ought to be to serve the student.  Other interests have taken control, but that isn’t directly germane to my central argument,

                The fact is that students ARE studying liberal arts fields, that those fields are important to the long term health of the nation, but it is unrealistic to think that all LA majors will even want to reproduce themselves by earning a PhD for the purpose of teaching younger versions of themselves.  But this is unfortunately still the ideal held my many old-guard academics.  I faced this myself while working on my PhD in an area studies field.  Some faculty hold any public sector/non-academic job in abject contempt, several to the point where there resist writing recommendations outside the academy.  Others cheerfully chime in that “friends don’t let friends join public service.”  But this kind of academic doesn’t really have any clue how to work outside of the academy.  There is, fortunately, a younger generation (of which I count myself) that is actively seeking to engage students in imagining their futures and helping them to shape identities outside of the academy, in part by being honest about the actual opportunities in the academy.

                That leaves us with 2, which I will reject as you frame it.  Let me put it this way: maybe not society-at-large but rather the ESTABLISHMENT opines that the US does not have students interested STEM fields, that China and India (particularly) are killing us in the these fields, and that as a result the US is losing it’s dominant position as a leader in innovation.  This is the trope, and I don’t think that you can disagree that it is a loud one.  It is not society at large, but it is the part of society that produces the messages.  It is the part of society  that is killing primary and secondary education through things like NCLB and the increased focus put on standardized tests that stress memorization over thought.  This is the part of society that, at least for the time being, controls the discussion.  Students are currently rejecting this, but over time the danger is that this message will sink in.  Already there are deep cuts proposed to title VI and like funding.  Over time this new paradigm will establish itself, rendering 2 very real and very damaging.Report

              • I accept 1 and 3 (almost) unreservedly.

                I suspect we still disagree on to what extent job-seeking students are making a mistake by entering four-year liberal-arts programmes, but at least we’re arguing on the same footing.

                I think that 4 does matter more than you think.  […]  The fact is that students ARE studying liberal arts fields […] Some faculty hold any public sector/non-academic job in abject contempt, several to the point where there resist writing recommendations outside the academy.

                Are we talking about jobs for Bachelor’s graduates, or Ph.D.s?  I recently earned a Ph.D. in computing science, where the situation is vaguely similar: CS graduates 20 Ph.D.s for each available faculty position, but the degree is still very much geared towards preparing academic researchers.  I find it hard to believe that a prof in any department would routinely refuse to write recommendations for an undergrad except to grad programmes, but I don’t have any actual experience either way.  In any case, I think the influence universities have on their students’ job prospects is tertiary to that of employers (first) and students themselves (second).

                As for your restatement of 2., would it be accurate to say that you see a strong push (from the “establishment”) towards the industrialization or mechanization of education in general?  (I’m inclined to agree that this push is taking place.)  If so, I think your inclusion of STEM as part of the problem is a grossly unfair mischaracterization, for reasons I touched on upthread.  I also think that the NCLB/standardized-testing approach is self-defeating if it expects to increase STEM participation: a deep and intuitive command of fields like basic algebra is required to survive the first couple years of a STEM programme, let alone to thrive in the field.  Teaching to the test is exactly the wrong approach, but that’s where the incentives point.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Society tells us to pay way too much to get interesting degrees at places that signal we are better than others. The market tells us something different.Report

              • Part of the problem is that “the market” for college degrees — by which I mean the price signals that students can actually see when they enroll — is foxtrot uniform.  Student loans are easy to get, don’t discriminate by major (that is, the price of a student loan doesn’t tell you whether an Engineering degree is more or less desirable than an English degree), and those loan payments are far in the future and easy to ignore.  Public-choice theory talks about fiscal illusion, where debt-financed spending is perceived as “cheaper” than tax-financed spending; I think the same thing holds here, in that students underestimate the amount of debt they’re taking on because its payoff is so far away.  Universities respond to this tendency for students to take on a lot of debt by raising tuition to capture as much of it as possible.  Lenders have little reason to worry about students’ ability to pay back their loans, because student loans are very hard to discharge in bankruptcy.

                The problem here is that the education/student loan market is almost completely misaligned with the job market.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                if you haven’t read the behavioral economics paper on credit cards, ya should 😉Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      If I had to do it all over again, I probably shouldn’t have gotten that degree in Advanced Puppeteering.  I blame Bush just the same. Let’s vote for Obama and maybe we can get state subsidized vo-tech or rainbow ponies.


      • Or state-subsidized puppetry programmmes!

        The pro-puppet American Recovery and Reinvestment Act doled out $50,000 to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta; $25,000 to the Sandglass Center for Puppetry and Theater Research in Vermont; and $25,000 to the Spiral Q Puppet Theater in Philadelphia.


        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          The 1% puppet masters do quite well. The question is — who pulls the master’s strings? Think about it.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Because people who work in puppet theaters don’t have paying jobs? They don’t have construction work done?

          Its the kind of piece by Reason that you linked to  that Reason often seems more cranky Repub who likes to smoke pot then anything else.Report

          • Because people who work in puppet theaters don’t have paying jobs? They don’t have construction work done?

            You seem to believe that all stimulus spending is equally effective, and therefore that ARRA spending on puppetry is just as good as ARRA spending on anything else.  Let me know if I’m misrepresenting your argument.

            Here’s the problem: puppetry is a luxury good.  Luxury goods are procyclical, which means spending on puppetry should decrease in a recession.  That means puppet theatres and puppeteers will see disproportionately less income than, say, farmers (who produce consumption goods which aren’t procyclical).  So if you give stimulus funding to puppet theatres, they’re more likely to use it to pay off outstanding debt than to buy new things.  That’s all well and good if your funding is designed to preserve puppetry, but stimulus spending is supposed to increase velocity in the money supply — by getting people to buy new things.  Giving money to puppet theatres is actually counterproductive.

            So, no, puppet theatres in a recession are not likely to have construction work done.  And while they have employees (whom they pay), those employees are more likely to pay down their mortgages (especially in this recession) or put that money away in case they lose their jobs than they are to go out and buy lots of stuff.  The multiplier of stimulus spending on puppetry isn’t likely to be zero — it’s not like the ARRA money was just set on fire — but it’s not likely to be greater than one, either.  More to the point, there are other places that money could’ve been spent to greater stimulative effect, which would’ve led to more jobs “created or saved”.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              I don’t know squat about the puppetry business. My guess is most puppetry it done at grade schools for educational purposes, but thats just a wild guess. Personally puppetry has been dead to me since MST3K went off the air. You certainly may be right. But the Reason piece is just fox news type hippie punching. Puppetry sounds funny so its somehow an example of wasted money. Maybe you’re right, maybe there is more there that the general public doesn’t know about. But without some actual facts then its meaningless.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Imagine that he had gotten a degree in “Libertarian Studies” and was complaining that he couldn’t get a job.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                If he had majored in Libertarian Studies then he would certainly be a millionaire already and have several FREEDOM bumper stickers on his Hummer.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                We should be thanking Goddess that there are still people principled enough to get Masters Degrees in Puppetry instead of “getting the Hummer”.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                And people willing to look down on people who get “those” kind of degrees. Real Americans don’t use puppets, they use other people.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t think that anybody would care if the guy used his own disposable money to get a degree in puppetry.

                Let’s break this down:

                He got loans.

                He got a lot of loans.

                A lot a lot.

                To get a degree in a field that is not likely that will employ him often enough that he’ll be able to pay off these loans that he got.

                He’ll likely have to get a job in something that is *NOT* puppetry.

                He’s complaining about this.

                Greg, if you think that he deserves a job in his field, may I suggest that you hire him? I’m sure he’ll do parties. Imagine the fun you could have at your next soiree when you have a professional puppeteer!

                Now if you find yourself thinking “well, I’m not obligated to hire him, there’s other stuff I’d like to do with my money than hire a puppeteer” then allow me to ask you to extrapolate from yourself to everybody else in the country.

                And, from there, we can go back and think about the “a lot a lot”.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Yes, I get it. Anybody who took a student loan and didn’t take a major you personally approve of should never ever ask for any help ever.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that there is space between “stuff that Jaybird approves of” and “spending thirty-five grand on a master’s degree in puppetry”.

                To be quite honest, I don’t understand the position that a master’s degree in puppetry would be anything but a luxury good.

                It’s like someone who goes to Vegas and blows a lot of money on the video poker slots. When they do it with their own money, it’s foolish… but, hey. It’s their money. When they start asking me to bail them out for their foolish choices, I can understand that you and yours may have enough political power to make me pay for it… but it doesn’t stop being foolish because you and yours have enough political power to make me subsidize the luxury goods of others.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Greg and Jesse,

                This is the part of the discussion where I would normally expect  you guys to say… “OK, good point. He probably shouldn’t be complaining about not being employable or about his student loans after getting a degree in something that is not in demand.”

                You guys do agree now, right?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Yes, it will be easier to give on this one. You won’t lose your red badge.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                You guys do realize the reason he went and got the Master’s degree wasn’t to be a puppeteer, but because he was a teacher and was continually told that if he went and got a Master’s, he’d be in more demand as a public teacher and as a result of our screwed up compensation system, would have a higher income.

                Now, unfortunately, said public teacher wasn’t a precog and didn’t see the economy collapsing while he was at school. Now, one can argue whether he would’ve gotten a degree from a cheaper school or the like, but the idea of a teacher getting an advance degree to get higher pay has been pushed by politicians of all ideolgical stripes.

                But, I know. It’s easier to make fun of the guy for getting a degree in puppetry. As I’ve said before, we’d be better off as a world if most of those in charge at Wall Street had gotten a degree in puppetry instead.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Maybe he would have found the education marketplace more amenable to his skillset if he instead got a degree in Teaching/Education.

                If he wanted a Master’s Degree in Puppetry to become a Puppetry Teacher he should have done some research in MLM before dropping $35,000.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                He was already a public school teacher. A public school drama teacher. He went back to school because he was told, on top of your BA, get your MFA since you are a drama teacher and we’ll bump your pay $10,000.

                *Joe goes to school. Economy collapses. Joe is pissed.*

                So, he got an advance degree in his chosen profession. Oh, and it’s not like the guy is doing nothing. He’s working as a full-time sub. But again, it’s easier to make fun of somebody to get the rest of the story.Report

              • You guys do realize the reason he went and got the Master’s degree wasn’t to be a puppeteer, but because he was a teacher and was continually told that if he went and got a Master’s, he’d be in more demand as a public teacher and as a result of our screwed up compensation system, would have a higher income.

                Two things:

                First, there is an immense system built up inside higher ed specifically to handle this problem — professionals with Bachelor’s degrees who want to upgrade to Master’s degrees for career reasons but who already have jobs.  There are a ton of distance-ed options available for people like our friend the puppeteer to climb the compensation ladder without quitting their jobs and without incurring anywhere near $35,000 in student debt.  This is a huge market, and it’s one where universities actually turn a profit — IMHO it’s one of higher ed’s greatest successes.  But Mr. Therrien didn’t enroll in one of those programmes — he quit his job and relocated to Connecticut to pursue a nonprofessional Fine Arts programme.

                Second, Richard Kim writes in the source article that Therrien was “[f]rustrated by huge class sizes, sparse resources and a disorganized bureaucracy”, which motivated him to leave his job and pursue his MFA.  Later on, he went back to his old school district “because puppeteers aren’t exactly in high demand”.

                Now, when I read an article on The Nation, I kind of expect to be lied to — or at least to have the truth shaded.  But not being a precog myself, I don’t always know exactly how I’m going to be lied to, and generally take statements about the facts of the story as mostly factual.


              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So let’s hammer this out:

                Someone told him: We’ll give you money at some point in the future if you do this thing that costs $35,000.

                He spent the $35,000.

                He did not get the money he was promised by the first Someone and, as a matter of fact, his MFA is proving to be useless when it comes to making more money than he was making before.

                Does that sum it up?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                You can blame the guy for choosing poorly as far as the way he got his Master’s. I don’t mind that. I may disagree with it as we don’t know whether getting a Master’s as a teacher in the NYC public school system is as easy as say, getting a Master’s in business while you work at Widgets Inc. But again, I can agree with that distinction.

                The problem I have is, “hey, it’s his fault. He got a degree in puppetry” and moving on as if he should just shut his trap about his problems.Report

              • I may disagree with it as we don’t know whether getting a Master’s as a teacher in the NYC public school system is as easy as say, getting a Master’s in business while you work at Widgets Inc.

                Sorry, I was unclear.  A huge chunk of the “Master’s degree upgrade” sector in higher ed is specifically targeted to public school teachers, for the incentive reasons you cite.  It would boggle my mind if Therrien didn’t have a number of colleagues who’d upgraded to Master’s degrees through exactly that sort of distance-ed programme.

                I have no problem with Therrien complaining.  I’d have no problem with him asking for help.  I have a problem with him putting on a mask of righteous indignation and demanding that his student debt be forgiven, and I have a problem with your passive-aggressive rejection of Jaybird’s argument that he might’ve made a bad decision (in which, I note, Jaybird never told Therrien or anyone else to sit down and shut up — if Therrien has a right to complain, so does Jaybird).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                He made choices.

                His choices had consequences to them.

                He is now in the “I don’t like the consequences of my actions” phase that followed his “this is freakin’ awesome!” phase that is the getting of an MFA in Puppetry.


              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Greg, Jesse, For some reason the link I keep trying to post to a website that is full of nothing but places where you can get a masters in education isn’t working (ie the post is disappearing). Either I’ve just been banned or something at WordPress doesn’t like the link. Bottom line because of teacher’s unions and school districts trying to improve – something – regarding educational outcomes, an M.E. is a highly sought after credential in teaching, in much the same way that an MBA is sought after in business. Whether I’m a teacher or a businessman, if I get an MFA instead of an MBA or an ME, I’ve “purchased” something that has limited economic benefit.

                Hell, my brother has an MFA from Julliard, something that has distinction if not economic benefit. His chosen profession is his chosen profession, not necessarily the one that would have granted him the most economic utility. He has no one to blame but himself for the decisions he’s made his entire life, but of course blames no one (self included) since he’s happy with his life. Maybe it’s the kvetching everyone is caught up in, rather than the outcome. When you bet on black 21 on the roulette table and it doesn’t come up, you can complain but no one really cares. At least you got to play the game. Too bad for you if you played with borrowed money. Maybe betting the pass line in craps would have been a safer bet?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Yes and God knows they were all out of Masters in Education degrees at ye ole degree factory, so all he could find on the shelf was that silly puppet one.Report

              • But the Reason piece is just fox news type hippie punching. Puppetry sounds funny so its somehow an example of wasted money. Maybe you’re right, maybe there is more there that the general public doesn’t know about. But without some actual facts then its meaningless.

                The article is full of actual facts.  Anecdotal facts, to be sure, but facts nonetheless.

                There are two arguments here.  The first, from the first paragraph of your comment above, is whether ARRA funding to puppetry was well-spent.  I think it’s pretty clear that the ARRA should’ve allocated that money elsewhere.  That’s actually a door into a bigger question from the Reason article: whether any money spent on puppetry is a good investment.  Not all spending has to be investment spending, of course — and there’s nothing wrong with consumption spending in and of itself — but again, I think it’s pretty clear that spending $35,000 on an M.F.A. in puppetry is not a high-percentage bet when it comes to getting a better job in a recession.

                The second argument is whether Reason’s engaging in gratuitous hippie-punching or just making the above argument in a particularly snarky way. Now, I may be just a narrowly technical STEM graduate, but I think the erudite and sophisticated liberal-arts majors here will back me up when I claim that the interpretation of a text isn’t limited to a narrow version of authorial intent.  We can get as post-structural about this as you like, but for now I’m perfectly willing to grant that the words that say “enjoyably snarky argument” to me say “gratuitous hippie-punching” to you.  I’ll cheerfully concede that if Mike Riggs had wanted to persuade progressives that spending money on puppetry was a bad investment, he should have adopted a less sarcastic tone (and probably not used the Team America: World Police sex-scene image).Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              Our ARRA money went into public parks. You say — how the hell does that produce money? I say — bikeshops. REI (we’ve got one in town), dogwalks — a ton of stuff (plus people driving to our park).

              It was my impression that puppet shows would say “give us X for new puppets”, just liek the Chicago planetarium got a new star-displaying-thingyReport

              • It’s a matter of opportunity cost — not “does this stimulus spending produce other spending?”, but “of all the stimulus options we have, which ones produce the most other spending?”

                For example, ARRA could’ve spent low six figures buying me a Corvette Z06… and, say, a few sets of Z-rated Goodyears… and, say, a few dozen gallons of race gas… and, say, a private track day at Road America.  All of that creates employment — for the ‘vette builders in Bowling Green, and the tire-plant workers in Akron, and the corner workers in Elkhart Lake.  Wonderful!  Stimulus!

                Bad idea.  I don’t have to explain that buying track toys and track time for random motorsports nerds isn’t efficient fiscal stimulus, do I?  Obviously there are better things for the government to do with ARRA’s budget.

                For example, they can backstop loans to construction companies that want to buy new equipment.  New equipment keeps the equipment manufacturers working, and probably makes the construction company marginally more efficient.  But the equipment loans also add liquidity to the credit markets, and the old equipment goes on the used market, where other construction companies can afford to buy it, which makes them marginally more productive.

                Tyler Cowen has some comments on the structure and goals of short-run stimulus that’re worth reading.Report

              • Bluntobject, I think it’s pretty clear that the ARRA should’ve allocated that money elsewhere.

                Is it? $50 million of $787 billion went to the National Endowment for the Arts (DailyCaller). Not a lot of money proportionally speaking. In fact, if you can find the NEA quickly in this visualization of the federal budget then you’re probably cheating. The other point I wanted to make is that there has been a tendency to see all value as bound up in economic value because the economic perspective presents a perfectly coherent theory of some values.

                So granted, the question of whether arts count as consumption or investment spending is one useful optic for assessing whether that $50 million to the NEA or $100,000 for puppetry is worthwhile. But given that some people think the arts matter, it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable to allocate a potion of stimulus money for the arts. Arts organizations must have been hit by this recession as well. To my mind there’s a legitimate public interest in supporting them through what must be a difficult time. I could be misreading the sentiments expressed by several commenters, but I think this objection – “Money for puppeteers,?! Outrageous!” – is a stalking horse for a good deal of skepticism, if not actual opposition, of the NEA itself (and perhaps Masters in Fine Arts degrees).

                This discussion reminds me of a series PhD Comics did on the arts, I’ll post two, but it is a five part sequence (starting here).

                Justify the humanities

                A price tag on the human soul?Report

              • Creon, I think you’re reading too much into my objection, but you’ve drawn out an implicit assumption: I’m assuming that ARRA was intended to be effective short-term stimulus to mitigate the recession.  I’m not claiming that spending on the Arts isn’t worthwhile, just that it’s inefficient as short-term stimulus.  If ARRA was supposed to be a short-term stimulus bill, then it should have allocated money to sectors where the Keynesian multiplier would be highest.

                given that some people think the arts matter, it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable to allocate a potion of stimulus money for the arts. Arts organizations must have been hit by this recession as well. To my mind there’s a legitimate public interest in supporting them through what must be a difficult time.

                That’s a legitimate, maybe even a laudable, goal.  But recognize that there’s a tradeoff here between how much money Congress could get for a stimulus bill that nearly failed, how much money gets spent on high-multiplier sectors, and how much money gets spent on lower-multiplier sectors like the Arts.  If more of ARRA’s budget had been spent on high-multiplier sectors, unemployment would not have risen as far as it did, or as quickly as it did.  I happen to think that most of the problem came from state grants that went directly into deficit reduction rather than job creation, but while that $50,000,000 of NEA funding only has a small part to play, it still plays a part.  Had it been spent elsewhere, unemployment would have been lower — perhaps by an imperceptible amount to people like you and me who go back and look at data at the national scale, but not imperceptibly to the people who would have had jobs.

                If you see ARRA not as a short-term stimulus programme, but instead as a general expression of support for a variety of institutions that probably also has some stimulative value, well, okay.  But ARRA was sold specifically as countercyclical short-term stimulus, and that’s how I’ve been addressing it.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I think this is a good summary CC. I’m heartened to know my couple snarky comments yesterday have stimulated such continuing thread. i don’t have a ton of sympathy for a guy who chose puppetry for an MA. On the other hand none of us know squat about puppetry as an industry so those puppet companies may actually be good healthy bushiness aside from having an artistic value. But certainly part of the use of mocking the Puppet Master  is to use him as an easily mockable stand in for all the complaints of OWS.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                On the other hand none of us know squat about puppetry as an industry so those puppet companies may actually be good healthy bushiness aside from having an artistic value.

                The Nation article seems to be reporting that it’s not as lucrative as you might think.

                I am willing to believe them on this point.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Gummint money for puppets?  Is there no end?

            We at least need a constitutional amendment to draw the line at mimes.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      I won’t even go into Bush’s notion of an “ownership  society” that encourages people to do things like buy homes

      That’s not even just Bush. That is extremely Rawlsian. Look up property owning democracy!Report

      • That blows my mind, as my most recent run-in with Rawls comes from Will Wilkinson’s recent claim that:

        Rawls specifically denies that robust economic rights and liberties are in any way implied by his first principle of justice. Economic liberties are not among our basic liberties.

        Surely property rights are the most basic economic liberties.  What am I missing?  Does Rawls expect property ownership privileges to be doled out by the state in support of his property-owning democracy?  (And has he addressed the obvious rent-seeking problem?)Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Murali and Blunt,

          Thanks for the link Murali. I totally do not get Rawls.

          How can you ask someone to make a choice about what type of society you want to live in (behind a veil) while assuming no scarcity or productivity issues? It reminds me of my neighbor who used to ask me what I would do if monkeys could fly out of my ass? My only response was…”WHAT?”

          In a world where prosperity must be produced and created I would choose a world of free enterprise with non-coercive safety nets.

          Someone should do a post on Rawls’ choice, updated for the real world. Or a post on Flying Butt Monkeys.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Wilkinson doesn’t get Rawls right. Rawls requires of economic liberties only that they be consistent with the two principles of justice. This may mean that no specific economic liberty is spelled out a priori from the principles of justice alone, which I believe is what Wilkinson is getting at, but Rawls explicitly says that the right to hold “personal property” is a basic liberty. So I think Wilkinson is ultimately misinterpreting Rawls.

          This is how Rawls puts it in Political Liberalism:

          [A]mong the basic liberties of the person is the right to hold and to have exclusive use of personal property. The role of this liberty is to allow a sufficient material basis for a sense of personal independence and self-respect, both of which are essential for the development and exercise of moral powers. Two wider conceptions of the right to property as a basic liberty are to be avoided. One conception extends this right to include certain rights of acquisition and bequest, as well as the right to own means of production and natural resources. On the other conception, the right of property includes the equal right to participation in the control of means of production and natural resources, which are to be socially owned. These wider conceptions are not used because they connot, I think, be accounted for as necessary for the development and exercise of moral powers. The merits of these and other conceptions of the right of property are decided at later stages when much more information about a society’s circumstances and historical traditions is available.

          In other words, a right to personal property is basic, and necessary, but the exact form that right takes (he gives examples that look broadly capitalist on the one hand and broadly socialist on the other) is contingent.Report

  11. James,

    Show me the data that demonstrate that children of working parents are more likely to be unproductive citizens than the children of working parents.

    I took this to mean show me the benefits of paid parental leave. Here’s what I found in Parental Leave and Child Health Across OECD Countries by Sakiko Tanaka (2005 in the Economic Journal), earlier research has found “extending legislated parental leave and maternity leave has positive effects on child health outcomes, specifically, reducing infant mortality rates”. Studying data from 16 European countries from 1969-94 Christopher Ruhm (Parental leave and child health, 2000) finds,

    job protected paid parental leave significantly decreases infant mortality rates. For instance, 10 weeks of leave reduced infant mortality rates by 1-2%, whereas 20 weeks and 30 weeks of leave reduced the rates by 2-4% and 7-9%, respectively. He analysed the effects of job-protected paid parental leave and included variables such as health insurance coverage, expenditures on health care, GDP per capita, and fertility in his model. Ruhm’s (2000) results indicated that paid leave reduced mortality during the post-neonatal period (between 28 days and one year) and in early childhood (between one and 5 years). For example, a 10-week extension of paid leave could reduce post-neonatal deaths by 3.7%-4.5% and could decrease child mortality by 3.3-3.5%.

    Tanaka’s literature review also highlights a study that finds, “Early maternal return to work, within 6 weeks of childbirth, has significant negative effects on child health outcomes”.

    Tanaka’s own study finds “paid leave significantly decreases” infant mortality, perinatal mortality, neonatal mortality, post-neonatal mortality, and child mortality (those are infant deaths under 1 year per 1000 live births, still births or deaths within 1 week of birth, infant deaths under 28 days, deaths between 28 days and one year, and deaths between 1 and 5 years of age.) Moreover he finds “that the extension of weeks of job-protected paid leave has significant effects on decreasing infant mortality rates (Table 3).” Tanaka concludes,

    Comparing the effects of job-protected paid leave and other leave (non job-protected paid leave, unpaid leave, or leave provided at a flat rate without clear job protection), paid leave significantly decreases infant mortality, while other leave has no significant effect. […]

    The final model analysed the effects of leave on post-neonatal mortality rates, controlling for the social policy variables of public expenditures on family cash benefits, expenditures on maternity and parental leave, and expenditures on family services. I found that public expenditures on maternity and parental leave and expenditures on family services have significant effects on decreasing postneonatal mortality rates, yet, controlling for these social policy variables, the effects of parental leave on post-neonatal mortality are not eliminated. Therefore, the results indicate parental leave has positive effects on reducing post-neonatal mortality rates, even after controlling for the generosity of social expenditure components.

    And you still haven’t shown me how we’re going to figure out how much our society actually wants (e.g., what would be demanded if we could price it).

    I don’t understand how this pronatalist thing popped up. I’m not making an argument about proactively encouraging having children, I was suggesting a benefit to society of the decision to have children and that benefit having some weight in the discussion. Once the children exist it is important to invest in their well-being. One mechanism for doing that is paid leave. Offhand I know that early years investment pays off later in life, the thing that comes to mind first, simply because I came across it more recently, is nurse home visits to at-risk families resulting in a lower likelihood of arrest later in life (Mark Kleiman, When Brute Force Fails).

    And in the interests of holding the League’s liberals to the “but where do you draw the limits” standards that they like to hold us libertarians to, how much parental leave should be given, and how do you justify just that amount and no more?

    How much paid leave? More than the US mandates now, which (except for two or three states) is zero. I know, especially after digging around Jstor, that zero is the wrong policy. As for the precise boundary, I’m not sure, but I’d love for that to be the debate in the US, how much paid parental leave as opposed to the current, fairly hands off approach.

    Given our differences thus far it won’t be a surprise when I say I think you draw precisely the wrong lesson from your anecdote. A public policy is suggested that would’ve improved your quality of life and would improve the quality of life of everyone who has children – your write, “We didn’t see each other much that year” – and your reply is rather hardhearted. The fact that nearly every other developed country is more generous than the US raises warnings to my mind – has the US found an especially intelligent course here? Do the social welfare indicators demonstrate the US is doing especially well compared to these peers? Or is there perhaps something we can learn form their arrangements? It isn’t as though the US is outperforming most of the OECD with respect to infant mortality; only Chile, Mexico, and Turkey have worse infant mortality rates (2008 data, via OECD StatExtracts).

    At some point we reach the line where everything becomes an argument about how everybody should be doing everything for everybody else, but nobody should ever have to buck up and take on the burden and responsibility of their own choices.

    To me this idea that paid parental leave relieves the burden or child rearing is laughable. I don’t have children, but I’ve been a child. I don’t remember my terrible twos, but I remember my teenage years. Not necessarily easy stuff. Raising a child is a lifelong commitment, with or without more generous parental leave arrangements. During crucial years in child development, a fraction of the burden is shifted from the individual to the community in the interest of things I mentioned earlier: egalitarianism, available to all workers, reciprocity, you benefit today, I benefit tomorrow, and community, at the least, better infant mortality outcomes (there’s some maternal mental health research I didn’t want to summarize because my summary would be an inadequate, it is Length of Maternity Leave and Quality of Mother-Infant Interactions by Roseanne Clark et al. in Child Development, 1997).

    You’re operating on faith that somehow it all evens out fairly enough for everyone. But that has to be taken on faith because there’s no way to demonstrate it.

    I don’t understand this objection, similarly situated people are treated similarly. How does that not even out? The only people I see getting less benefit are the lifelong childless, but they too will eventually receive benefits from the fact of having children in the society (the childless are, rightly, not exempted to contributing to education for instance).

    Thus far I’ve stayed away from the word entitled, I think E.C. Gach brought it up in the other thread. The reason I’d made my first reply was that I saw morality as cutting another way entirely, towards what membership in a community means and the responsibilities that flow from it. I have difficulty with the thinly conceptualized individual of libertarian thought. Atomistic is a common complaint about the libertarian outlook, just you and your wife and your daughter, there might as well be no such thing as society. I don’t particularly think of myself as a communitarian, but I wonder at how the community figures at all in libertarian thought.

    I didn’t know this infant mortality stuff before the conversation began. I had Kleiman, some general thoughts about early childhood intervention (like Head Start), ideas on promoting human well-being through better work-life balance, and feminist arguments about the failure to recognize labor in the home in mind when the discussion began. Once again, I don’t see how any of that, or the additional info on child health outcomes with paid, longer leave, amounts to selfishness.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      ” I don’t particularly think of myself as a communitarian, but I wonder at how the community figures at all in libertarian thought. ”

      I suspect communities would be stronger and more interactive regarding community problems in a libertarian society. The atomistic charge is bogus. Statist solutions, in my opinion, weaken communities. In a libertarian society, mass, impersonal city dwelling would likely decrease, and the proliferation of smaller, diverse, closer-knit communities spread out across the country would likely be the result.Report

      • I suspect communities would be stronger and more interactive regarding community problems in a libertarian society.

        So do I — in fact, a society with strong community ties and identities is probably a prerequisite for a functioning libertarian or especially an-cap society.

        Statist solutions, in my opinion, weaken communities. In a libertarian society, mass, impersonal city dwelling would likely decrease, and the proliferation of smaller, diverse, closer-knit communities spread out across the country would likely be the result.

        I agree with the first statement, which leads me to disagree with the second.  I think statist interventions like restrictive zoning laws, “urban renewal” projects, eminent domain property seizures, and building height restrictions have artificially increased the price of urban living and driven people out to cookie-cutter suburbs and bedroom communities.  Ryan Avent has written a lot about this recently.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        One industry towns? Gee… wowsa this seems like I’ve heard of this before…

        Libertarianism, who would have guessed it could solve our energy crisis?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Might we, as a society, benefit from a cultural expectation that one parent ought stay home with the children at least until the children are old enough to enter school?Report

      • Jaybird, here are my concerns with that path. First, the fact that this responsibility would likely fall on women troubles me. Paid parental leave values caregiving, in a very small way making up for the broader undervaluing of caregiving. I’m not against children being cared for by the extended family or children going to daycare. I don’t know precisely what time period to designate as crucial to gaining the health benefits after birth, but as far as I’ve read it does not need to be as long as from birth to entering school. Also, I’d want to leave open the path back to work, the job protection, should a parent decide that’s best for them. What do you think?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          It seems to me that we’re entering an era where the majority of children spend the majority of their childhood with people that are not relations but people who are paid to be there.

          I can’t help but wonder what unintended consequences that that is going to have.Report

  12. Avatar greginak says:

    @Jay- I’m not kidding when i say i have  absolutely no clue how much of a puppetry industry  is out there. Could be a lot , could be almost none. I’ve had the experience of hearing about some business where i first thought “holy crap, that is a dead end” then i’m told how its actually a small but lucrative niche.Report

    • Avatar NoPublic says:

      There’s no evidence the teacher in question was actually interested in pursuing a career in puppetry.  He was a drama teacher.  The (rather stupid) compensation rules for his position would have given him a raise for having an MFA.  He chose to get one in a field that interested him and was connected to his job in drama.  I see the same thing happening with BSEEs and BSCSs going back to school for MBAs these days.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        I already made this point. It was dismissed as not mattering. Since after all, consequences are only for the 99%.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I think it was dismissed as “he quit his job and moved somewhere else and got his MFA and was surprised to find his old job was not there when he moved back” rather than “he worked at his job and went to school at the same time and, after getting his degree, instead of the raise his bosses constantly were promising got a pink slip”.

          There’s also that little thing from the story that mentioned how he tried to get his old job back “because puppeteers aren’t exactly in high demand”.

          That implies that his first choice was *NOT* to go back to school to teach Our The Children but went back reluctantly after his $35,000 MFA didn’t give him an “in demand” job.

          If you think he should have more money, I suggest you hire him for a party.

          If you think you have better things to do with your money, you can sleep well knowing that you have at least that much in common with the libertarians on this board.Report

        • I already made this point. It was dismissed as not mattering refuted with evidence from the primary source.

          Fixed that for you.

          Please don’t misrepresent my arguments.  If I’m wrong, refute me directly.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        NoPublic, I think the problem with BSEE’s and BSCS’s getting MBA’s is the presumption on their parts that they are management material. In quite a few cases I see this as a definite no. Peter Principle applies. The whole reason companies have added the Principle Engineer and Senior Principle Engineer (which I once was) track was to keep solid technical people engaged in a company without compelling them into management at which they might not be proficient and might not enjoy. Or equally bad, they may be ok at it, but leave a tremendous void below them that can’t be properly filled.

        In my experience, your technical people who get a MS (and/or accreditation) in Project Management are in far greater in demand than MBA’s. The reason is the rest of the company is full of people with administration chops and likely deeper finance and accounting background so there isn’t much need for someone who’s had “some” accounting but knows how computers work.Report

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