College is a Consumption Good

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Jonathan says:

    “Most people go to college for personal fulfillment — to achieve all kinds of ends way high up on Maslow’s hierarchy. The rest is secondary.”

    This may be correct, but there’s something else at play, I think. In my experience (a little over five years in HR/staffing in Canada), many jobs still consider a university degree to be a mandatory (or near-mandatory) requirement for employment. It doesn’t even matter what the degree is in or if it’s related to the field. The requirement is there.

    If you see this in job ads, you’ll start to think you need a degree, any degree, so an English degree is just as good as a Biology degree. I don’t think this is necessarily irrational.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jonathan says:

      But if you’re right, then the English degree is only good for those take-whatever-degree kind of jobs.  The biology degree is good for those too.  As well as jobs in bio-related fields.  So as a production good, the biology degree is inherently more valuable anyway.

      Why do people study English?  Because it’s fun.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        If Jonathan’s theory is correct and the goal is simply to get a degree, period, then the subject matter of the degree is irrelevant. So, yeah, why not study what’s fun?

        My point (below) is that this way of looking at things is premised upon ideas that are not likely to turn out to be correct. It doesn’t look easy working as a freelance writer, for instance; there’s a lot of marketing and networking involved in that career choice that four years of learning the literary canon and deconstructing plays is not going to teach you.

        And when the freelance writer produces something salable that does not exactly jibe with the writer’s own soul and opinions, she thinks she’s “sold out” and that’s correct. Because paying the rent is more important than idealism.Report

      • Jason, I think you are mostly right though my one caveat would be that I think most people that ‘follow their dreams’ and major in the field that inspires them hope / pray / believe they will be in the minority that find a job in a liberal-arts field. They also know that will mean grad school as well but they have been sold on the whole struggling student experience.

        I was in that camp and then I became one of the take-whatever-degree kind of job applicants and sold out to the man. The decision was difficult for a year or two but now I find that pay day is the best medicine for that illness.Report

      • Why do people study math?  Because it’s fun.  Of course, that could just be me…

        More generally, anyone who can write a two-page well-reasoned paper with paragraphs and complete sentences can learn calculus.  And anyone who can learn calculus is capable of learning (and should learn) to write such a paper.  Any proper four-year degree program should include learning both.Report

        • Avatar dhex in reply to Michael Cain says:

          More generally, anyone who can write a two-page well-reasoned paper with paragraphs and complete sentences can learn calculus.  And anyone who can learn calculus is capable of learning (and should learn) to write such a paper.  Any proper four-year degree program should include learning both.

          I agree in spirit, but i think you underestimate the need for a mindset that understands the whys and hows of algebra and calculus. just as the mathematically talented are not necessarily going to be able to write coherent papers. i’m a fairly ok writer – my lack of proper capitalization on the internet aside – but i doubt i’d be able to learn calculus very well. my wife, who is an english professor and has synthesized hundreds of sources into a single work, would have a seizure or possibly even die.

          math kills. 🙂Report

        • anyone who can write a two-page well-reasoned paper with paragraphs and complete sentences can learn calculus.

          Can learn calculus, yes, but not necessarily without great effort.  In fact English majors are among those least likely to take Math classes, and Math majors are among the least likely to take writing courses.  Not that there aren’t people who can’t do both (I had a dual Math/Political Science who had a 4.0 GPA with A’s earned in, iirc, 9 different disciplines, and who wrote beautifully).  But the fact that the two groups tend to disaggregate suggests there really is a there there.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

            It may also be a prejudice, and possibly class-based.

            (Really, it does surprise me that my contempt for the rich in the original post has been read instead as contempt for the poor.  The people who studied more practical fields are doing relatively better than those who went into humanities, and honestly, I sometimes regret not having joined them.)Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              “Really, it does surprise me that my contempt for the rich in the original post has been read instead as contempt for the poor.”

              Well, when you say the exact same things as people who apparently have deep contempt for the poorReport

      • Fair enough. The choice to go to school might be practical, but the choice of subject is based on potential enjoyment.

        And, you know, that don’t seem like a bad way to live.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Most people go to college for personal fulfillment — to achieve all kinds of ends way high up on Maslow’s hierarchy. The rest is secondary.

    You’re speaking only of “a certain class.” I would refer to that class of people as members of the capital class. That class is fewer in number than the entitlement or laboring classes.

    Sustenance is a lower tier on Maslow’s hierarchy than self-actualization. College is attractive to students first and foremost as a means by which they increase their employability and thus their lifelong earning power. One does not concern oneself with the higher tiers of the hierarchy until the lower tiers have been fulfilled. The mistake that students make pursuing degrees that do not command earning power is that they believe they will have that earning power as a matter of course. It’s a gamble to find something that will make all the pieces of the hierarchy fall into place all at once.

    Which is to say, I think you’re underestimating the importance of earning power as a motivator for most people to attend college. If you buy in to the lies your counselor tells you (“There are plenty of high-demand jobs available that require liberal arts degrees, so follow your heart!”) and wind up with a degree in something with functionally no power in the job market like Aboriginal Musicology, you still pursued that degree because you thought that there would be a good job out there that would need and use the training, education, and skills you acquired getting that Aborignal Musicology degree.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Burt Likko says:

      One does not concern oneself with the higher tiers of the hierarchy until the lower tiers have been fulfilled.

      Or unless one is badly mistaken about whether or not they’ve got the lower tiers squared away.

       Report

      • Avatar Dustin in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        College is a socially expected consumption good, but still, what we’re seeing now is the real reason exposed when all the secondary reasons (Earn a paycheck! Join the world of 9-5 office work!) have evaporated.

        My earning power post-degree is a secondary concern to my enjoyment of the experience? Wow, and here I thought I was working a full-time job, raising a child, being a husband, and going to college full-time was so I could better myself financially.  Who knew I was supposed to be having fun as my primary consideration.

        All I see here is someone of means wondering why other people of means go to college, while completely ignoring the vast majority of people who don’t fit their socioeconomic class expectations. The idea that “college = party” and that job prospects are a secondary consideration, in this economy especially, is a joke.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Dustin says:

          Anyone want to throw out numbers regarding enrollment in local and community colleges vs. top 100 universities/private colleges?

          My guess is that Dustin is right, and the majority of degree “seeking” people are doing it part time and for economic gain.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            Which is why I wrote of “the traditional four-year B.A.”Report

            • Avatar Dustin in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Most people go to college for personal fulfillment — to achieve all kinds of ends way high up on Maslow’s hierarchy. The rest is secondary.

              You and I have vastly differing definitions of the words “most people” then, it appears.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Dustin says:

                If college weren’t fun, they would be getting their credentials by other means.

                Surely you agree with that, don’t you?  And yet that’s all what I was arguing.Report

              • Avatar Dustin in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                No, I don’t agree with you on that, and I’ll tell you why.

                Employers. Employers expect their applicants to have a university degree. Having a BS, MS, or PhD after one’s name opens up employment opportunities that nothing else matches. Not experience, not testable skill, just the title.

                It isn’t about college being fun, though that is a motivation to continue attending, it’s about job prospects.

                Exactly what upbringing did you have that this is a foreign concept to you?

                 Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Dustin says:

                I grew up on a libertarian seastead, of course.  I was raised by cybernetic dolphins who taught me how to read using Atlas Shrugged.

                But anyway.

                I am well aware that employers use titles as a quick way of checking whether an employee might or might not be worth hiring.  Surely, though, it must seem a little odd that this system — expensive, time-consuming, and wasteful as it is — hasn’t been replaced?  And why might that be?

                I think I know.  After I spent a lot of time in the academic humanities, and let me tell you, the people there didn’t like to talk about the prospects after they graduated.  Their time horizons (and mine) were a lot narrower than that.Report

              • Avatar Sam M in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                More important, if it’s really about job prospects, we would expect more people to be choosing majors with the best job prospects. That’s not happening.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Dustin says:

                > Employers. Employers expect their
                > applicants to have a university degree.

                This is true, but it doesn’t explain the disparity between community and local colleges and the four-year university.

                It’s certainly fiscally responsible to go to your local community college for two years and then transfer to a four-year state school to finish up your bachelor’s degree, but this is the exception rather than the rule.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Not necessarily.  In my experience, it’s only for academic humanities majors that going to a two-year community college will actually shave two years off your time at a four-year university and still have a worthwhile degree.  Science and Engineering majors won’t be able to get the specialized technical classes they need and will have a harder time gaining the academic skills they’ll need to succeed as juniors and seniors, while business majors and practical arts majors will miss out on the networking they’ll need to be successful post-college.

                Saving $10k on tuition seems like a great deal at the time, but if it means you earn just $500 / month less in your first two years of employment, then you’re actually out $2k.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Alan,

                community college is for those people who need “college algebra” before they major in physics.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                If college weren’t fun, they would be getting their credentials by other means.”

                What’s your evidence for this?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                Because if college is already very time-consuming and expensive.

                If it were also un-fun, then presumably we’d be trying something else.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Ah yes, the made-up libertarian bullshit of “My axiom is that markets work, therefore markets work.” Always and everywhere wrong, but constantly shoved down our throats anyway.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                ” [M]arkets work [is] always and everywhere wrong.”

                And of course , I’m the one making strong claims here.Report

              • Avatar Dustin in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                They asked for evidence, not your assertion of the truth of your statement.

                There’s also the consideration of entrenched interests. That’s not exactly a small barrier to change here.Report

              • Avatar Sam M in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                How abhout something like computer science. For years, the degree in computer science mattered little. And a whole bunch of people decided not to get degrees. because they didn’t need to. They moved to Silicon Valley instead.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “The mistake that students make pursuing degrees that do not command earning power is that they believe they will have that earning power as a matter of course.”

      In other words, they’re using cargo-cult reasoning. Rich people have college degrees, therefore college degrees are what make you rich.

      “Why did Bumble Bunny go to graduate school?”
      “So he could get a Master’s Degree.”
      “That’s right! And where would he be if he didn’t have a Master’s Degree?”
      “Working on some smelly loading dock and hating every minute of it!”
      (cut to Kevin Bacon working on a loading dock.)Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Off the top of my head, it seems to me that college is probably a good place to find someone more or less your age from a similar enough background to yours that isn’t a cousin.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    A libertarian is a just a Puritan who enjoys alcohol and sex and needs something else to be a scold about.Report

  5. Avatar clawback says:

    Can you provide some evidence that college loans are generally cheap and easily discharged?  Because this would indeed be momentous if true.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to clawback says:

      *hint: college loans are not cheap, nor are they dischargable.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

      Expensive and cheap are always relative to the good at hand.  If I can buy a pound of gold for $1,000, that’s cheap.  Even if $1,000 is “expensive” in absolute terms.

      When a loan is subsidized, it’s cheap relative to what it would otherwise cost.  That’s all I’m saying.

      Note that nowhere did I say the loans were “easily discharged.”  That appears to be a claim you invented.

       Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        The few students getting subsidized loans are definitely not of the same class as the privileged layabouts you claim to have discovered.

        You referred to “get[ting] the public to write off those loans,” which, as you know, was the basis of my claim.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to clawback says:

          I understod Jason’s comment there to be a reference to the quasi-demand of the #Ouccupy Wall Street for student loan forgiveness or, slightly more realistically, dischargeability in bankruptcy.Report

          • Avatar clawback in reply to Burt Likko says:

            But neither student loan forgiveness nor dischargeability are current law; they are unlikely to be factors on which potential students currently rely, despite his implication.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to clawback says:

              they are unlikely to be factors on which potential students currently rely

              I don’t know this is the case.  This assumes a lot about incoming college freshpersons.

              In my experience, they are woefully unaware of what they’ve hung about their neck and are under-informed regarding the lack of dischargeability of student loans.Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                So their woeful unawareness leads them to rely on some hypothetical future of student loan forgiveness and dischargeability?  I think for the most part they’re simply clueless about what they are doing.  This has nothing to do with the original poster’s absurd implication that the students are cynically aware of and seeking to exploit the political gains of OWS.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to clawback says:

                You don’t think that students are seeking to capitalize on the political gains of OWS?

                Isn’t that the whole point of joining a movement?  To capitalize on the political gains, in some manner?

                Jesus, if I was a student protesting in OWS and I was carrying a $200,000 student loan anvil, I’d cheer that proposal myself.Report

              • Avatar clawback in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                The original post had us contemplating high school students making “consumption choices” regarding college attendance on the basis of OWS.  This is absurd.

                Yes, after the fact, if you find yourself with a six-digit debt, you might support a movement that advocated for your position.  This has nothing to do with the post.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                umm… fuck no!

                the point of joining the damn movement is to do some damn good, not for bloody self interest.

                Also to have some fun and amusement while causing as much chaos as possible!

                I mean, do you really think those blokes with the guy fawkes masks were showing up at the Scientology places For Personal Gain??Report

          • Avatar leviramsey in reply to Burt Likko says:

            The smartest thing the Republicans could do is to make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy.  Do it and you’re likely to see student lending disappear or become a lot more expensive.  Colleges cut tuition and fees, which in turn results in those colleges cutting jobs and/or wages.  In my experience higher ed employees tend to be fairly reliable Democrat voters: hurting them in the name of social justice can’t be a bad thing for the GOP.

             

            It’s been mildly hilarious to see folks Occupying Northampton, Massachusetts (where the economy is more or less completely based on higher ed employees who are able to earn rather large and secure salaries because they’ve spent a couple of decades selling kids into debt slavery) and calling for student loan reform…Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to clawback says:

          All federal student loans are subsidized to some degree.  What people think of as a subsidized student loan merely has the government paying off the interest while the loan is deferred.

          However, the fact that student loans are not dischargable through bankruptcy is a subsidy to the banks, so they will offer low interest rates, because they have no risk on the loan.

          Jason’s reference to the “public write off” was (I think) a reference to the OWS crowd, who want the government to forgive all student loans.Report

  6. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    STEM fields also have high drop out rates.  Anyone got the numbers on how many start in STEM but graduate in liberal arts with a B.A.?Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      Anecdotally: most people who start in STEM fields because they like the field graduate the the STEM field just like the kids who take English because they like English.

      Most who start in a field because it’s fun (or that redhead they met during orientation is smokin’ hot) wind up graduating in that field if there’s no major incentive to change fields.

      Most who start college because it’s expected that they go to college and they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up move around a bit.

      Most who major in a STEM field because It Is What Is Expected By The Parental Units graduate in that field unless they go through their rebellion while they’re in college.

      Most kids who start in Engineering who don’t absolutely love Engineering drop the major because Engineering requires so much goddamn lab time.  This is actually really common in most of the sciences; you take 17 units a semester but you’re actually taking 22 because two of your labs don’t count for three units.

      There’s one of the reasons I switched from Natural Science to Mathematics.  Too many labs.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        What’s this “most”? From my experience, most people who ditched engineering did it because they couldn’t handle the math.

        For some reason, the undergraduate engineering program I was in wanted us to take a course in business math. The back of the book had about a hundred pages of numbers, which were precalculated answers to the various formulas we learned about. It was assumed that business majors were not smart enough to isolate the unknown in an equation with only one unknown.Report

      • Avatar leviramsey in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        CompSci had a period as the hot major about a decade ago (I don’t know about right now) when you had a whole bunch of people who figured “I know Word and Excel pretty well and a BS in CompSci pays a lot of money…”

        Most of them dropped out when it became clear that the .com bubble was over.

         

        (Me, I failed out of CompSci because I spent too much time posting to sites like Slashdot)Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to leviramsey says:

          I dropped out of CompSci and switched to Theater Arts because i’d never heard of slashdot, or any of the other things that CompSci students were obsessed with.  I was good (or at least good-ish) at the work I was doing, but I always felt like I was in a room with a bunch of people who didn’t speak english.Report

  7. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Also, it might be more fair to call College a necessary investment wrapped up in a consumption blanket.

    I didn’t want my State university to cost so much.  I didn’t want it to have so many renovated recreational, eating, and meet-up facilities.  I didn’t need it to have so many computer labs, let alone several Apple computer labs, let alone such a large campus with so many buildings requiring so much maintanance.  I didn’t want or need so many administrators making such bloated salaries (the managers, not the secretaries).

    But I got all those things unfortunately, because the name of a college does matter, and whether it has local vs. regional vs. national identity/prestige matters.

    I’m all for shaving off the consumption bit of college, as long as we understand that publicaly subsidized college paid for largely through loans underwritten by the government need not be consumption goods, but are only because we allow them the benefits of being non-profits in conjunction with the benefits of being quasi-for-profit, and the benefits of public subsidy with out public standards for outcomes and practices.Report

  8. Avatar Jim P. says:
    College can be seen as a consumption good because kids have been promised greater marketability withe a college degree paired with the idea that college has been romantizied by everyone as an opportunity to live by yourself/experiment/drink/have all kinds of fun.  Students have been fed the idea that these things go hand in hand, much like many young people’s hope for social security is dying.
    I think your way off the mark when you say marketability and greater job prospects are secondary.  I think more people go to expensive colleges because its easy for them to get loans/money that feels fake and to continue down an increasingly socially acceptable path of debt in hopes of cashing in later.  The eighteen year old in me easily justifies the fact that hundreds of thousands of people pay this much for education so it must be a smart economic decision…not to mention pressure from from high school saying its the only “real” path to good employment/life.
    I think the blanket analogy above works best.  The reality/quality of marketability is just not inline with general expectations.

    Report

  9. Avatar North says:

    Good thoughts overall but I’d note that your final paragraph badly damages the tone and thrust of the rest of your piece.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to North says:

      I also don’t totally understand it. When did Americans become such relentless prigs that open contempt for the rich is some kind of vice?Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Ryan Bonneville says:

        It’s odd, I thought the right would be attacking me for that last paragraph, not the left.  Am I not more or less agreeing with Freddie there?  That complaining about student loan debt was a singularly unfortunate issue choice?  (But compare — Freddie with Kenneth Anderson.)Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Unemployment for people without college degrees is very high.  So it is a neceesary credential for economic advancement.  Unemployment for young graduates is extremely high.  Society signaled to them that the college degree was worth it, and by the time they got out, for many of them, it wasn’t.

          I can understand the desire to argue for a mulligan.  After all, the banks got one.

          That last jab at the banks is not meant for libertarians obviously, who are overwhelming consistant (for better and for worse) in their tough love.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to E.C. Gach says:

            but bailing out the banks (the first time) was completely consistent with a Libertarian philosophy. Not all threats to sovereignty come from offshore, after all.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Kimmi says:

              Last I checked the libertarians were generally against the bank bailouts.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to North says:

                Although never quite as scornful of the bankers who got bailed out as they are of the OWS people who are merely asking for bailouts. Interesting, that.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to North says:

                Oh no, North.

                The way to figure out what libertarians believe is never, ever to ask any actual libertarians.

                It’s to imagine the nastiest thing you possibly can. And if libertarians themselves deny it, you simply assert that it’s what they believe in their foul, secret hearts.Report

              • Jason – I agree that student loan debt is a terrible issue for OWS. Awful. But the last graf makes you sound mostly just scornful toward OWS in general. So it sort of muddies the rest of the piece.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Yes, my point as well. It doesn’t help with your angry libertarian thing either.Report

              • Avatar Franz Schubert in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                All things considered, it seems the very hardest of the hardcore Libertarians and softer core Freemasons would make strange bedfellows.   Their paths are certainly similar but enter the wing-nut , never say die, Synarchists, and their bizarre, paranoid world view about Jewish conspiracies and you’re soon on planet Neptune  with Marshall Applewhite running the show. Now THAT would be an unimaginable theocracy. He gets my vote as King Of All Nuts. Makes Jim Jones look like an Eagle Scout leading his tender feet flock out of the darkness. And what’s with the exact same amount of change they all had on them when “shed” their “vehicle”? Yes, they all had a 5 dollar bill and three quarters with them when they committed suicide. But here’s the killer–They all purchased Alien Abduction Insurance for $10,000 just days before “left”. Who would collect that? I know, I know, Doomsday Cultists and their messianic, crazed leaders are a dime a dozen, but he goes above an beyond anything/anyone I’ve ever heard about. As I’m writing this, a thought occurred to me–was not Hitler the ultimate Doomsday Cultist Nonpareil? The ultimate theocratic tyrant? For the time being, Applewhite beats out Manson on points… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqSZhwu1Rwo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9QXY80OxS0Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to North says:

                Depends on which ones you ask. ask Rob dawg, black star ranch, a bunch of other people “in the know” — and they’re relatively pro-bailout — as in “hold your noses and pray to Jesus this works.”

                I feel like most people don’t know how close we came to “money has no set value.”Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

              bailing out the banks (the first time) was completely consistent with a Libertarian philosophy

              Among the many wildly false claims Kimmi has made, this one may be both the most wildly  and the most false.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                Since when do libertarians believe that we ought to switch over to guns and cigarettes? (okay, someone gets points if they start quoting Friedman here).

                I mean, really! Really and truly, I thought you’d actually listen to the point I was trying to make — which was that the situation was so dire, that it falls WELL within the libertarian “government gotta defend society” clause of libertarianism. Because, my friend, we were looking at total collapse.

                Please, tell me you’re not one of the tax-evading, gun-smuggling “trades in golden Ron Paul Dollars” folks. (I thought they caught all of those)Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:

                It’s a false dilemma to suggest that either we shovel money to rich bankers or else society collapses.

                I suspect you’re obliquely invoking it.  If you are, I reject it.Report

      • When did Americans become such relentless prigs that open contempt for the rich is some kind of vice?

        Of course open contempt for the rich is its own kind of priggery.Report

        • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

          I think you don’t understand the definition of the word “prig”.Report

          • It’s someone who mistakes matters of taste for matters of morality?Report

          • Prig (n): “a person who displays or demands of others pointlessly precise conformity, fussiness about trivialities, or exaggerated propriety, especially in a self-righteous or irritating manner.”

            Anyone who hates rich people because they’re rich is implicitly critiquing the propriety of being rich, and normally does so in a self-righteous and irritating manner.

            The left is marvelous at priggery, just as the right is, because both sides are motivated by moralistic concerns.  The fact that their moral values clash don’t make either side less moralistic or less priggish.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

              I don’t dislike the rich for being rich.  I dislike them for insisting that money is the measure of virtue.  I’m not thrilled about their paid shills either.  (And no, Jason, I do not include you in that.  These guys, yes.)Report

              • Mike,

                What’s so terrible about pointing out that poverty in America today mostly isn’t as bad as poverty in America was in the past?

                Hell, if anything a liberal ought to accept those facts–because they are facts–and use them as evidence of how thankful we should be for social programs that are, undoubtedly, a part of the reason for that.

                But to dislike someone for pointing out that, thank god, 80% of the poor have air conditioning?  Hayzoos Chreestos, I don’t get you at all.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

                “What’s so terrible about pointing out that poverty in America today mostly isn’t as bad as poverty in America was in the past?”

                HURF DURF HERITAGE FOUNDATION BLERRRRGHReport

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

                HURF DURF HERITAGE FOUNDATION BLERRRRGH

                I don’t understand if this is making fun of people who look at the Heritage Foundation’s report and say “we’ve come far” or making fun of the people who make fun of the people who look at the Heritage Foundation’s report and say “we’ve come far”.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s lampooning the expected response of “well of course the Heritage Foundation would find a way to claim that poor people weren’t actually poor and it’s their own fault if they are”.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Because the implication when people aay, “see, poor people have cell phones and air conditioning” is, “we don’t need to spend any money on anti-poverty measures since those lazy poor people will just spend it on XBoxes and HDTV’s.”

                Yes, it’s great we don’t have as much extreme poverty as we did thirty years ago. It doesn’t mean it’s the time to eliminate federal anti-poverty programs and act like the massive increases in health care costs, housing, child care, and transportation aren’t a major problem for the poor, even if they can buy their kid a second-hand Playstation.Report

              • Jesse,

                This may be unfair, but it sounds to me like you’re saying you don’t like the implications some people draw from the facts, so you don’t want the facts discussed openly.  Again, that may be unfair, but in fact I only seem to see conservatives mentioning these things and liberals seeming to object to their very mention–certainly I never see liberals bringing up these facts as important things to consider.

                It seems to me, as a policy kind of guy, that any good discussion about social welfare policy needs to take account of those facts.  At the very least they help us understand what types of programs have been successful and where our social welfare resources still need to be targeted.  Just getting upset when the facts are brought up, though, doesn’t actually advance the policy discussion in any meaningful way.

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                I’m fine with discussing the facts. But, just saying, x% of households have a video game console or x% have air conditioning isn’t much of a useful fact. Do those households have air conditioning because state regulations mandate that, what are the average age of the video game consoles and how many were bought used, what’s the average cell phone plan being bought and compared that to the average landline bill of someone in poverty in 1983.

                Liberals don’t mention these things, because when it comes to poverty, they don’t really matter. The prices of electronic goods, clothing, and other such items have been dropping for the past few decades for a variety of reasons. What matters is stagnant wages, increasing cost of healthcare premiums, a lack of accessible mass transit, and so on, and so forth.

                Pointing to a superflous statistic about how many people in poverty have a good so may seem as luxury and acting like it matters. It’s an act of signaling to conservative to tell them, “don’t worry, you don’t need to worry about this. If somebody on TV asks you about poverty, just say 60% of people in poverty have a video game console, say something pithy about starving children in Ethopia are in real poverty,  and move on to how we need to cut taxes on job creators.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

                I once asked for a definition of “no longer impoverished” that said that we could touch on things like so many square feet to oneself, so many calories per day, indoor plumbing, heat in winter/AC in summer, that sort of thing.

                I was told that poverty is culturally dependent.

                This had the (surely unintentional) consequence of me caring much less about the discussion than the moment before I suggested discussing definitions.Report

              • Liberals don’t mention these things, because when it comes to poverty, they don’t really matter.

                Liberals probably should mention those things, if only to point out that the (real, not nominal) prices on these things have been dropping while the (real, not nominal) prices on other things have stayed the same or increased.  Rather than ignore the point entirely and let conservatives frame consumer goods as indicators of poverty, acknowledge them and draw a contrast to the goods that matter more (“why is it that game consoles have gotten cheaper but health insurance has gotten more expensive?”).

                It wouldn’t hurt to acknowledge that some of the consumer goods you mention really do matter, too.  If high-quality clothing gets cheaper, poor people have better odds of making a good first impression in an interview; if internet access gets cheaper, poor people have greater access to distance-ed programmes; and so on.  Those may be peripheral rather than core concerns, but it’s a sign of progress.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley says:

                Without poverty, modern liberalism is out of business.  Therefore, there is always a crisis.  Even if there were no crisis, we now have a fallback trump card—ta da!—“Income Inequality.”

                Whoever thought that one up deserves a royalty, for now, modern liberalism’s eternal survival is guaranteed.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

                A “classical education” (for certain values of that term) is available on the internet, all day, every day.

                Pretty much every book ever written up to a certain date is findable (or translatable!). An exceptionally recent date, as far as Western Civ is concerned. (1910, right? Did anything of note happen afterwards?)

                These texts are online. Commentary on these texts are online. Discussion boards where people will argue about these texts are online.

                For free (or, technically, the cost of an internet hookup).

                Of course, it’s easier to download pictures of (redacted). Pictures? Hell. MOVIES!

                As such, the internet has never been used for the whole “classical education” thing.

                But, at least, that option is there.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley says:

                That’s rather my story, JB, learning in my dotage what I should have been taught in college.  It’s been delightful.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                bluntobject – By don’t matter, I meant it’s not much of an indicator about whether poverty is better or worse than poverty fifty years ago.

                Yes, it’s good information to have, so one can compare and contract, and so on, but it’s about the 79th thing to worry about when it comes to poverty. If a conservative brings it up, any liberal pundit worth his or her paycheck should be able to respond even better than I did, but it’s not as you said – a core concern.Report

              • Jesse – I agree with you there.  I’m suggesting it more as a way to preempt the inevitable conservative “poor people have cellphones and xboxes now so poverty is solved lol” response, and to direct the discussion towards things that matter rather than the “poverty is a cultural construction” bullshit that Jaybird mentioned upthread.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Blunt, to be fair,  I didn’t know Mike was going to post a link to that study in advance. Unfortunately, there is no Liberal Commenters on the LOOG listserv. 🙂

                Plus, I did say in my original post in the thread that it’s a good thing we don’t have extreme poverty anymore, but that’s not a reason to cut anti-poverty programs, etc.Report

              • Jesse – fair ‘nuf.  I think I overgeneralized a little from “liberals don’t mention these things”.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Pretty much every book ever written up to a certain date is findable (or translatable!). An exceptionally recent date, as far as Western Civ is concerned. (1910, right? Did anything of note happen afterwards?)

                1923, which leaves off almost all of Wodehouse’s best books.Report

              • Liberals don’t mention these things, because when it comes to poverty, they don’t really matter. The prices of electronic goods, clothing, and other such items have been dropping for the past few decades for a variety of reasons. What matters is stagnant wages, increasing cost of healthcare premiums, a lack of accessible mass transit, and so on, and so forth.

                Jesse, what do you think poverty actually is?  Poverty is not being able to afford things you need and want.  So the dropping prices on those things people need and want is absolutely critical to a discussion of the issue of poverty–it’s central, not peripheral.  If your wages remain perfectly stagnant, but the price of things you want goes down, you actually end up wealthier.  Now I’m not saying the increasing cost of healthcare (one of the reasons for stagnant wages, by the way, as what would be wage increases gets diverted into medical benefits and access to transportation don’t matter, too.  Obviously they do.  But to say that declining cost of consumer goods “do[es]n’t really matter is to misunderstand what poverty actually is.

                what are the average age of the video game consoles and how many were bought used,

                Really?  Poverty is not being unable to afford things like video game consoles, but not being able to afford a new one every few years?  In some countries poverty is identified with not having access to clean drinking water–in the U.S. it’s identified with not having access to PS3?Report

              • it’s not much of an indicator about whether poverty is better or worse than poverty fifty years ago.

                That’s dead wrong.  It is very much a critical indicator of whether poverty today is better or worse than poverty 50 years ago.

                50 years ago there were still impoverished people without indoor plumbing.  That number today has dropped dramatically.  50 years ago no poor people had air conditioning, and in some places at some times that can be a life or death matter.  Today 60% of poor people (taking that number at face value; I can’t vouch for it) don’t have to worry about dying in their home in the summer heat; can sleep much better at night, making them more alert for work and for school;  50 years ago many poor people didn’t have access to telephones, and a long distance call was very expensive, today most poor people have their own portable telephone and the marginal cost of a long-distance call is effectively zero; 50 years ago most poor people didn’t even have televisions, and didn’t have that entertainment option, now many of them not only have televisions but have cable and video games, having those extra entertainment options.

                And you claim those things don’t tell us much about poverty today compared to poverty 50 years ago?  I’m sorry to be harsh, Jesse, but you have an astonishingly naive conception of what poverty is.

                 Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to James Hanley says:

                “being able to afford the things you need and want” does a whole lot of heavy lifting.  If the price of things people want goes down but the price of things people need goes up, can we really say that the poor are vastly better off?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                … one can be worth millions of dollars and still not have a shred of freedom. Money might not be everything — do you really consider yourself rich if you work 60+ hours a week, and are always in danger of being fired because your kid was sick one day too many? (particularly if you can guarantee you wouldn’t be hired at a living wage elsewhere?)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                Alan scott,

                what you’re describing is precisely the conditions of the Great Depression, and of the current one as well. Just purchased a 300+ dollar luxury good for 100 dollars.Report

              • @Alan Scott,

                “being able to afford the things you need and want” does a whole lot of heavy lifting.  If the price of things people want goes down but the price of things people need goes up, can we really say that the poor are vastly better off?

                Alan, well stated.  Fortunately, the price of lots of things that we need actually have gone down.  I’m not talking about just the U.S., but for the world’s poorest.  The book “Getting Better” provides an excellent and readable overview of this.

                Of course people tend to focus on the things whose price has gone up, because those things are more worrisome.  That’s fair, but then they tend to downplay those things whose price has gone down, and discount that from their analyses.

                It’s also worth pointing out that people who are struggling to afford what they actually need tend not to have many things that they merely want.  So the presence of “wanted” things is an important, albeit not perfect, proxy for the presence of “needed” things.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                James,

                1) “Wanted goods”

                2) “Needed Goods, market-based”

                3) “Needed Goods, collective-based”

                In 2), I see houses as having increased in cost (mostly in downpayment needed, making virtually unaffordable without help from parents for twentysomethigns), clothes having decreased, and energy prices skyrocketing, along with food.

                But a big big problem is 3) — “wash your hair, kill a baby” (yes, I’m exaggerating. But it doesn’t sound as good to say, ‘wash your hair, change a baby’s gender”). London fog — thick as peasoup and just as yellow.

                On a different note, you’ve got drains on the whole system (older than sin refridgerators, air conditioners that would be cheaper if you could replace them yourself) — these suck money out of other needed goods.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Because the point of it, as you know, James, is that there is no more poverty, just freeloaders who need to start paying their fair share so that we can lower taxes on the job creators.Report

              • No, Mike, the point of it is that the American definition of poverty has gotten ridiculously skewed, as demonstrated by Jesse’s reference to poverty being defined by the age of one’s video game console.  There are people in the U.S. who are truly, deeply, impoverished.  But it’s not people who have cell phones, video games, air conditioning, cable television, etc.

                Poverty is not having access to the things you need.  There is serious poverty in this world, as you obviously will agree, but we’re talking about people who don’t have air conditioning, they may not even have indoor plumbing, they don’t have access to basic education, they have access to a doctor maybe once a year or less (I don’t mean they go to the doctor that infrequently; I mean that’s the only time they may get within 10 miles of a doctor); people who have to walk several miles each way just to get potable drinking water.

                And we’re told that air conditioning, indoor plumbing, cable tv, cell phones, etc., don’t matter in the discussion of poverty?  Go to Somalia and tell the people there that their real problem is they don’t have a new enough video game console.  See how that goes over.

                 Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                James,

                American poverty is not the same as other countries poverty. It is True.

                But I can tell you sure as sunday that there are many places where the only place to get tomatoes is a Wendy’s. It’s called an urban food desert. Where kids shouldn’t go outside, even in the daytime. Slums are places where the HEAT don’t work (where people DIE of lack of heat), where if the fridge breaks, you don’t get a new one for half a year. Places where black widow spiders live. Where you are poisoned every day by the water and air and the soil as well. Where people “ask” if they can have your stuff, and you give it to them — why not, it’s cheap and the other person is desperate.

                Damn, this sounds pretty grim, don’t it? Don’t much help if you can get a used, mod-chipped out Playstation, does it?

                 

                 Report

              • Yes, Kimmi, those are the poor in America, because they’re not the ones with amenities that make them not poor.

                Of course the urban food desert claim is pretty debatable.  Draw the boundaries closely enough and it’s easy to make the claim.  Draw the boundaries loosely enough and there’s no claim at all.  Ideologues on either side can’t be trusted to draw meaningful lines, and where the line should be drawn to make the idea meaningful is wholly open to debate.  One reality that is uncomfortable for the claim is that the idea focuses on grocery stores, but doesn’t pay attention to bodegas, which tend to be ubiquitous in urban environments, even poor ones.  They do not offer the range of choices that a grocery store does, and their prices tend to be higher because they can’t buy in volume, so that is bad news for the poor.  But in fact they usually do sell a limited selection of fruits and vegetables, particularly those that their customers actually want, which often includes tomatoes.  So the idea that the only place to get tomatoes in the ‘hood is Wendy’s is false. (And of course Wendy’s, BK, etc, prefer not to put their franchises in high crime areas, for obvious reasons).  Happy Meal deserts, yes.  Tomato deserts, no.  Inexpensive tomato deserts, probably so, unfortunately.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                James,

                ow. your vocabulary just made my head hurt. The last time I was in a bodega, it was selling sherry — and only sherry. 😉

                I’ll not be an idealogue here — I don’t count most of pittsburgh as being a food desert — because people are quite capable of using public transportation to get food from grocery stores (this may not include icecream or milk, to be fair. But I’ll call milk a luxury good — so long as you eat your collards).

                But if your definition of a food desert is “within walking distance”… yup. We’ve got entire neighborhoods where the closest thing to a supermarket is a bar (There are about five neighborhoods in “the hill” -and its only market (bodega) just closed a few months ago).

                http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110303141557.htm

                http://newsone.com/newsone-original/jothomas/americas-worst-9-urban-food-deserts/

                Camden seems to really have it bad.

                Semi-randomly, it strikes me that multi-generational households provide more mobility, which tends to expand food options (even if you’re using the old shoeleather taxi).Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Poverty is not having access to the things you need. 

                Like heath care (other than the emergency room when you’re  already in bad shape) and decent schools,  Someone who has no access to these is poor, video game console or not.  The fact that high-tech toys are cheap is irrelevant.Report

              • Mike, you are a master of pretending a statement means far more than it actually means.  I find it a repugnant trait, indicative of your unwillingness to engage in sincere debate.

                Where have I claimed that there is no poverty?  Where have I claimed that not having health care is not a problem?  No where; you just find it convenient to infer the worst, without evidence.

                The reality is that poor people in the U.S. have long lacked health care.  It’s a myth to pretend that there was a golden age when everyone had access good health care.  One could actually argue that despite how bad our system is now in causing people to use emergency rooms as primary care facilities–a point on which I agree with you–at least the poor have that option, which many did not 50 years ago.  (And for evidence that access to health care for the poor has gotten better, just look at life expectancy changes for lower economic classes in the U.S.)

                But even if access to health care has gotten no better for the poor, being in the same position vis a vis healthcare as one’s grandfather, but having AC, a cell phone, and cable TV <i>does</i> make one less poor than grandpa was, all other things being equal.

                It seems like there’s an almost desperate effort to deny evidence so as to claim that the condition of the poor today is fully as bad as it was several generations ago.  I don’t get it.  I don’t buy Tom Van Dyke’s analysis, that the whole liberal program falls apart if they recognize improvements, because of course there’s still plenty of room for improvement, and because liberalism doesn’t depend just on the existence of poverty but on the existence of unfair outcomes in general, and there’s no shortage of things liberals can point to on that score (even if I would disagree on some of them, there are a lot that are, at a minimum, more plausible than the claim that being poor today is as bad as being poor in the past).  I don’t get it.  In few things is the difference in world-view so brilliantly highlighted.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                James, You and bluntobject (Matt) are hammering in the same theme here, and I think it’s a good one to hammer on. It’s a bit lazy for liberals to skip right over discussions about the material conditions people are living in when the entire liberal project, from an economic pov, is to create arrangements which improve the material conditions people are living in.

                I don’t have a very good answer for why liberals don’t/won’t concede even that much when it’s entirely apparent that materially, the poor are on average in a better position now than before. I think at the end of the day, liberals like to think they’re economic program is to help the worst off (Krugman has made this argument alot – that the point of Modern Liberalism is merely to protect social programs) when it’s actually more complicated than that (I mean, of course it is). So conceding that the poor are materially better potentially forces them to redefine their priorities, priorities which always piggy-backed off the ‘help the poor’/’help the middle class’ premise.

                I mean, lots of leading liberals don’t even believe that a robust middle class is general good anymore, so priorities, for some, have indeed shifted..

                 Report

              • Stillwater,  could you restate the following?

                lots of leading liberals don’t even believe that a robust middle class is general good anymore

                I think I probably agree, but I don’t quite follow that sentence.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                James, Yeah, that’s a bit unclear. I meant it mostly to contrast past liberal views, in which middle class issues formed the cornerstone of their economic policies, with current versions of liberalism where middle class issues are either diluted or dismissed. Not too long ago, liberals economic policies were built around support and promotion of the interests of the middle class. And the support wasn’t merely an end in itself (for purely political reasons) but also instrumentally. A healthy, accessible middle class permitted people to move up the economic ladder.

                So, back in the day, liberal’s economic thinking was very class oriented, and primarily oriented around preserving and promoting the middle class. Currently, I see fewer and fewer (very few) liberals who adopt this type of thinking. I’m not saying it’s good or bad – just that the role class plays in determining liberal’s economic policies is less than it once was. And I take that as evidence that liberal’s priorities have changed.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                stillwater,

                man, you must have caught Krugman on a Bad Day. I can’t believe that’s what he really thinks liberalism should be doing (he’d certainly throw in some freemarket theory). But, I can’t blame him for saying that, staring as we are into the third year of our Lost Decade.

                you should hang with the cynics over at calculated risk. hear what they have to say about politics.Report

              • Hmm, I wonder about that, Stillwater.  The OWS movement seems solidly middle class, and liberal statements about the decline of the middle class seem, if anything, to have become more pronounced in recent years.  My experience seems very different here than yours–perhaps it’s a consequence of the liberals I associate with/read on-line?

                Could some other liberals chime in on this (if you’re still reading this thread)?  I’m intrigued and curious.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                James, I’m not sure OWS is really about middle class issues. I think they may be derivatively, but primarily I think they’re focused on the 1% (or maybe the top 5%) of income earners. And the gripe is that while a very small group of people have seen their wealth dramatically increase, the remaining 95% (or really, about 80%) have seen their economic prospects decline over the last 40 years, their real wages stagnate, unemployment skyrocket, etc, all while government seems to cater to the class that needs support the least.

                If there’s a class issue there, I’m not aware of it. (Granted, I haven’t been paying that much attention.) But from what I can gather, the OWS folks are more pissed off that income-increases and profits aren’t reaching the majority (and themselves) than they’re making a class based argument.

                I could very well be wrong about that. And likeyou, I’d like to hear from other people about this.Report

              • Stillwater,

                Granted the OSW crowd is pushing the 1% vs. 99% mantra, but how many people in the 2nd through 10th percents are really part of that crowd?Report

              • And we’re told that air conditioning, indoor plumbing, cable tv, cell phones, etc., don’t matter in the discussion of poverty? Go to Somalia and tell the people there that their real problem is they don’t have a new enough video game console. See how that goes over.

                I don’t think Jesse is saying that having an old video game console is indicative of poverty (though he can correct me if I am wrong on that). I think he is saying that just because you have a video game console doesn’t mean that you are not living in poverty. You can get those things for near-free. They are not indicators of wealth or lack thereof. But the Heritage numbers imply that it is.

                (On the stuff about AC and indoor plumbing, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know how you look at some of these things and don’t at least acknowledge that the poor are better off.)Report

              • You can get those things for near-free

                Sure, but near-free means we can actually have more of the things we want, so that in fact it means we really are not as poor.

                Take a poor family that at time T1 has no video game console and can’t afford one.  Then one becomes available cheaply, so at time T2 they have one.  They are not as poor at time T2 as at time T1, because they have more of the things they desire. The fact that the family doesn’t have any increase in income does not mean that their poverty has not marginally diminished, because money isn’t wealth, ability to command goods and services is wealth.

                Obviously the video game doesn’t move them from poor to not poor, just from more poor to marginally less poor.  But the more of these things they have, the more margins away from their “more poor” position they move.  Every element of increased access to a good or a service is an improvement in their wealth, even if small.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                James,

                Granted the OSW crowd is pushing the 1% vs. 99% mantra, but how many people in the 2nd through 10th percents are really part of that crowd?

                Yeah, I see what you’re getting at here and I agree. There is certainly a class-based argument inferred by the OWS folks. On that score, you’re right.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

              I think he used prig when he meant prick, in keeping with house style around here.Report

  10. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    We also shouldn’t forget that private loans are a huge market, not just the ones subsized by the fed gov. 

    Retaining the near impossibility of discharging student loans would probably lead many people to continue borrowing to pay for college even without low interest government loans.  Though those from poorer families without adaquate credit scores would probably not be able to.Report

  11. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    So, in other words, unless you’re independently wealthy, don’t get a liberal arts degree. Or if you get a liberal arts degree, never, ever, ever complain about your lot in life or a libertarian on the Internet will scold you. Good to know.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      Yeah, if you wanted not to be poor, you should have either studied something that makes you miserable and rich or gotten yourself a sinecure at Cato, you goddamn leech.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Ryan Bonneville says:

        You have some sort of chip on your shoulder this morning, Ryan.Report

        • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          I just find libertarianism exhaustingly one-note. It’s not a philosophy; it’s an excuse.Report

          • Ryan,

            You’ve repeatedly demonstrated that you don’t actually understand libertarianism, but have a strawman version of it.  The “one-note” version you focus on is not the reality of libertarianism, but the easy strawman that you prefer to stick to because it requires less mental effort and less ideological risk than actually hearing what libertarians are saying and putting anything resembling intelligent thought into considering it.

            Your statement is about as meaningful as a conservative’s claim that liberals are exhaustingly one-note; all they ever want is more government.Report

            • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

              Why does it always come down to a misunderstanding? Why is it never possible that I have looked at libertarianism, considered it on the “merits”, and rejected it because it strikes me as a thinly-veiled pseudo-philosophical defense of white male privilege? I get that you disagree with me, but that’s no reason to attribute our disagreement to my mental laziness rather than my straightforward disagreement with you.

              Trust me. I’ve been to the internet. I’ve met droves of libertarians in their native element. I am not basing my rejection of libertarianism on lack of exposure.Report

              • <i>Why does it always come down to a misunderstanding? Why is it never possible that I have looked at libertarianism, considered it on the “merits”, and rejected it because it strikes me as a thinly-veiled pseudo-philosophical defense of white male privilege?</i>

                Because every time you describe it you are describing something that I, an actual libertarian, don’t recognize.

                If you began with, “I reject libertarianism because my values base is fundamentally different,” I wouldn’t have a problem with you.  When you begin with “libertarianism only has one note” then I know you’re misrepresenting libertarianism because that is a factually false statement.  Ron Paul, Jason Kuznicki, and James K, for example, are each substantively different kinds of libertarians.  If you don’t notice the distinctions between them, then you don’t in fact know libertarianism.

                I’m not saying that knowing it would make you like it any better, but it would likely limit the frequency of your factually erroneous claims about it.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                How often do I actually make factually erroneous claims about libertarianism? Leave aside ad hominem things like the “one-note” business, because I don’t feel like having an argument about whether my rhetorical flourishes can be explicitly grounded in the facts of your internal experience of your emotions, and point out to me places where I have attributed actual principled positions to libertarians to which libertarians do not subscribe.Report

              • Ryan,

                How often do you make factually wrong claims?  How about on this very thread?

                the made-up libertarian bullshit of “My axiom is that markets work, therefore markets work.

                If you actually think what underlies the libertarian claim that markets [tend do] work is just the claim that markets work, then you don’t know libertarianism because you don’t know what actually underlies that claim.  It also may be that you don’t know that libertarians don’t necessarily think that markets always work, although it’s not clear whether you believe that or it’s just an implication of a “rhetorical flourish.”

                And I assume if I said “liberals all just want another excuse for a big government program,” you’ll instantly recognize that’s just a rhetorical flourish and not criticize me for such a mis-statement?Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                That’s what you’ve got? Kimmi says libertarians support bank bailouts, and you’re upset at me because of that statement? Libertarians do [as you say, tend to] think markets work! My misattribution here is that I oversimplified a position that libertarians actually hold because I didn’t go into Hayek’s theories of price and information and whatnot? That’s pretty weak sauce.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

                Compare Ryan’s attempt at describing libertarianism:

                “My axiom is that markets work, therefore markets work.”

                To Hayek:

                “The economic problem is a problem of making the best use of what resources we have, and not one of what we should do if the situation were different from what it actually is.  There is no sense in talking of a use of resources ‘as if’ a perfect market existed, if this means that the resources would have to be different from what they are, or in discussing what somebody with perfect knowledge would do…  The argument in favor of competition does not rest on the conditions that would exist if it were perfect.”  (From “The Meaning of Competition,” in Individualism and Economic Order, Chicago UP, 1980, p 104.)

                It is precisely because markets are imperfect — lacking to some degree in knowledge, technique, and resources — that we need competition at all.  Fear of a truly effective competition, or its persuasive threat, is the reason that people go out and try to make their businesses more efficient.  That they can make their businesses more efficient suggests that markets are never perfect.

                Note that if we had truly “perfect competition,” as taught in basic econ textbooks, we wouldn’t need competition at all.  In such a case, socialism would obviously be preferable, because no innovator could ever offer a better product, or offer a given product more cheaply, than was already being done.Report

              • Ryan,

                You might notice I threw down on Kimmi, too.

                But the issue is not that you said libertarians tend to think markets work, and the issue is not that you didn’t go into an explanation of Hayek (or Smith, or Ricardo, or Marshal, or Schumpeter, etc. etc.).

                The issue is that you said libertarians’ basis for thinking markets work is that they think markets work.  In other words, you treated the belief as a mere tautology.  That’s not a simplification, it’s a distortion. You can only rhetorically flourish and “simplify” so much before you’re just plain misrepresenting.

                And is that “all” I’ve got?  Probably not, if I wanted to go dredging through this blog, but I think it’s pretty damned funny that you claim not to misrepresent libertarianism, challenge me to find an example, and I didn’t even have to leave this thread to do it.  Your pretense that it’s not actually a misrepresentation just adds to the hilarity.  If I said, something about liberals’ axiom that government works, therefore it works, I doubt it would pass in silence (and it shouldn’t).Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                Sigh. I said “prig” where I should have just said “completely humorless”.Report

              • Ryan,

                Humor?  You need to work on your delivery.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                I suppose. You might also work on not being quite so incredibly thin-skinned. Jason’s original response to my “axiom” comment was about what it deserved.Report

              • I could.  Or the liberals on this blog could start being honest about libertarianism.  It’s not a one-off thing here, but an on-going smug carelessness about the facts.

                There is, ironically, a real element of privilege in the League liberals’ attitude toward libertarianism.  You all subconsciously know that liberalism is far more prominent in society than libertarianism, so you all treat your views as generally accepted knowledge and consistently demand that libertarians justify themselves.  It’s kind of ironic, given liberalism’s values.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                This is sort of what I mean about the thin-skinnedness. The League’s liberals, if anything, are awfully sympathetic to libertarianism in general. Our smug carelessness with facts is a meticulously-constructed persona – or at least my smug carelessness with facts is; I can’t speak for everyone.

                If there were going to be a proper home for the so-called liberaltarian project anywhere on the entire internet, it would be here. Unless of course you’ve missed all of the posts that I, for instance, have written. I believe they include a castigation of liberals for ignoring Obama’s foreign and immigration policy, and a defense of Ron Paul against general charges of quackery. Not to mention E.D.’s ongoing philosophical journey.

                Just because I’m a dick doesn’t mean I’m not on your side here, man.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley says:

                Ryan, isn’t liberaltarianism out now?  Bedrooms, bongs and bullets fit under plain old leftism.  I guess there’s property rights, but aside from crabbing about Kelo, that seems rather a dead letter.

                Libertarianism is based on a skepticism [that it shares with modern conservatism] that systems can be designed to be a) idiot- and corruption-proof and b) that political systems can take the place of individual accountability and initiative, or that they can do the jobs of cultures and societies despite a [valid but only theoretical] claim to greater efficiency.

                Modern liberalism does indeed place more faith in systems, and indeed in man himself to act morally and rationally inside those systems.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                I think that’s a somewhat willful misreading of what modern conservatism is, but you’re certainly correct that liberaltarianism went out the window. As soon as it became clear that a fusion between liberals and libertarians would require libertarians to, you know, accept some of liberalism’s ideas in exchange for liberals accepting theirs, the whole thing broke into a million pieces.

                The thing that’s always held together the right/libertarian fusionism is the fact that a lot of libertarians seem oddly forgiving of civil rights trespasses in exchange for low taxes (the only libertarian thing the right has ever really given them).Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley says:

                The libertarian/conservative alliance isn’t taxes, Ryan, as much as regulation.  If Romney’s smart, he’ll run not against Obama, but against the administration’s regulatory overreach.  For instance that 1-2 million jobs are going uncreated with the screws put to the oil industry.

                http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Relaxation-of-Obamas-Anti-Energy-Policies-Could-Create-1.4-Million-New-Jobs.html

                And there’s the KeystoneXL thing, where BHO is squoze between labor and the enviros.

                Since I’m not a polemicist by vocation, I don’t have a handy list of the admin’s record in this area.  But hopefully, it’ll find some air in the coming year.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                Far be it from me to defend the Obama administration on much of anything, and perhaps you’re right about regulation being the linchpin of that alliance. I think conservatives and libertarians make much ado about nothing w.r.t. regulation, which of course is why I’m not one of either of those things, but I still fail to see how regulatory loosening even comes close to issues of war, immigration, and drugs, all of which are places where libertarians and liberals have far more in common. Which, of course, is not to mention the number of liberals and neoliberals (like Matt Yglesias, or me) who are fairly sympathetic to looser regulation anyway.

                I realize none of this maps especially well onto the political parties we actually have, but again, I’m not here to carry water for them.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley says:

                Again, Ryan, if it’s just bedrooms, bongs and bullets, you can just be a lefty and dispense with the “libertarian” rubric.

                 

                I’m speaking of a worldview, the nature and purpose of governments. And their limitations, which perhaps liberals recognize but leftists surely don’t.Report

              • @Ryan,

                The League’s liberals, if anything, are awfully sympathetic to libertarianism in general

                Oh, yes, there are some great liberals here.  I don’t mean to indict them all.  But there’s a subset that repeatedly makes statements about libertarianism that cause us libertarians to scratch our head in wonder.

                There’s a reason why Jason sardonically wrote, on this very thread;

                The way to figure out what libertarians believe is never, ever to ask any actual libertarians.

                I would argue that it’s an evidence of your smug privilege that you write so condescendingly to us libertarians about how well liked and understood we are here.  Why, I bet some of your best friends are libertarians, right? (Not that you’d let your daughter marry one *grin*.)Report

              • The libertarian/conservative alliance isn’t taxes, Ryan, as much as regulation.

                Bingo, Mr. Van Dyke.  Mark that down as another factual error about libertarianism for Ryan.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                Ryan,

                Don’t bring me in on this — me tossing out flamebait for the libertarians doesn’t count as an actual characterization of libertarian philosophy by a libertarian.Report

              • Ryan,

                Just because I’m a dick doesn’t mean I’m not on your side here, man.

                Dick or not, I haven’t noticed that you’re particularly on my side, or the libertarians’ side more generally.  Color me astonished, and wondering what you construe my side to be.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

                Hey Ryan, why are liberals like you such faggot bitch morons?

                Oh, do I offend? Gosh, maybe you should work on not being quite so incredibly thin-skinned.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

                Duck, could you do a count of who called whom names so far in this thread?

                Thanks.Report

              • I’m not sure if Duck is calling out me or Ryan.  His comment’s a bit incoherent.  Either way it’s misplaced as neither Ryan nor I have said anything remotely like what he wrote.  Had Ryan written something like that I would have been far less restrained.  Had I written something like that I would expect to be called out on it in much clearer terms.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well, again, as I said, you could review the things I’ve written at the League here. How many of my posts do you find offensive to the libertarian project in general? The one where I said Obama and liberals in general are kind of a disgrace on immigration? The one where I explicitly called out liberals for not caring enough about our horrifying foreign policy? The one where I defended Ron Paul against liberal smears? I can’t think of a single post I’ve written that would be particularly out of place at any libertarian blog.

                You’re certainly right that I have harsh words for libertarians, and of course I’m not actually a committed libertarian in any sense, but you’re still choosing to take offense because I was mean rather than interact with anything substantive I’ve said about anything. Granted, you don’t owe me that, in that I didn’t extend that courtesy to you in the first place.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

                James and I agree on that much at least. To paraphrase my own statement on Twitter today, I think everything James Hanley thinks about politics – and probably religion and movies and TV too – is ridiculous and I’m happy to tell him so, but at the end of the day all I want is to sit down with him over whatever shitty beer he likes and laugh at how stupid everyone else is.

                Just because I think someone’s political philosophy is silly doesn’t mean I have any particular personal problem with him/her. James strikes me as a perfectly nice person with terrible taste in politics, and [EDIT: I hope] the feeling is mutual.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

                My point is that Ryan’s response, up-thread, was “I’m sorry that you’re so touchy that you can’t stand criticism”.  I reply in an intentionally combative mode to show the flaw inherent in that reasoning.  I switched to a lower thread level because that particular thread had hit the tab limit about twelve comments previously.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James Hanley says:

                Oh. I get it.

                I think that it’s too close to stuff I’ve actually seen to have seen it as hyperbolic overstatement.

                That’s on me, though.Report

              • you’re still choosing to take offense because I was mean rather than interact with anything substantive I’ve said

                Bullshit. First, I showed you how your comment was substantively wrong.  You can choose to ignore that and pretend I haven’t interacted substantively, but it doesn’t change the fact.  Second,  I care about people misrepresenting other people’s views not because it’s mean to do so, but because it’s impossible to have reasoned debate in that case.

                I don’t have good enough google-fu to go searching for you and libertarianism specifically.  But I’ve seen–and commented on–misrepresentations of libertarianism on this blog enough times that it’s quite a hoot to see someone seeming to suggest that it doesn’t really happen here.  Anyway, as I read I’ll keep an eye out for what you write, and if I happen to see you misrepresenting libertarianism another time, I’ll be sure to let you know.Report

              • whatever shitty beer he likes

                See, now that’s mean.  I’m a Leinenkugel’s guy, and that’s not shitty beer.

                And, yes, I’m sure you’re quite a nice guy when you’re discussing your totally fished up, evil, destructive to America, the flag, god and the queen politics.Report

            • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to James Hanley says:

              Also, it’s probably worth pointing out, as E.D. does every chance he gets, that my hatred of libertarianism is disastrously out of proportion to my actual disagreements with libertarians. There’s got to be some appropriate quote to insert here (“All happy families are the same…?”), but I’m not finding it.Report

    • Jesse,

      By all means – complain.  I suggest though that rather than pointing your finger at the 1% who weren’t thoughtful enough to create a job specifically for a Philosphy major you might want to thinking about how many professors and department heads told you that Philosophy jobs were plentiful and convinced you that graduate school was a right of passage.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      I’m not scolding anyone who chose to consume.  I am simply asking that I not be the one to pick up the tab.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        What’s this, I thought libertarians hated one-size-fits-all approaches!?Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        So, like I said, don’t get a liberal arts degree unless you’re independently wealthy.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

          Acquiring a fine wine collection would also enrich my life.  Perhaps I should ask the public to subsidize that?Report

        • So, like I said, don’t get a liberal arts degree unless you’re independently wealthy.

          I’m curious to know what Jesse’s degree was and what school he earned it from–did he really pay good money for a degree that didn’t teach him logical argumentation any better than that?

          Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

            Let’s see. Jason doesn’t want subsidized student loans at all, but just limit this to student loans for majors he thinks won’t help you get a job. Most students of middle-class or lower-middle-class vintage even if they go to an in-state university need student loans to afford school. Thus, without student loans, you can’t get a liberal arts degree unless you happen to be smart enough to get a full ride _or_ you’re family can pay for school _or_ you’re able to get private loans, which are an even worse deal than federal student loans.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              Do you think that the result of subsidized student loans will be anything but the price of a college education going up?

              If not, why not?

              (Note: Compare to the last kabillion years.)Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                I have a solution to this problem, but it would never fly.Report

              • I would like to read this solution.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I quote E.C., who summed up the problem nicely up above:

                I didn’t want my State university to cost so much.  I didn’t want it to have so many renovated recreational, eating, and meet-up facilities.  I didn’t need it to have so many computer labs, let alone several Apple computer labs, let alone such a large campus with so many buildings requiring so much maintanance.  I didn’t want or need so many administrators making such bloated salaries (the managers, not the secretaries).

                Money is fungible, and if you just increase the general flow of cheddar into the university system, the universities will spend that money on those things that they believe will attract students, even to the extent where it increases operating costs such that Overhead and G&A go up enough that you need to up tuition to keep the lights on.  Well, increasing tuition is no problem, because we’ll just provide bigger loans!

                The boosters might donate 100 million over 10 years because they love the football team to build a new stadium, but nobody donates money to keep the lights on there.  It comes out of the operating expenses.

                So you change the rules for federal educational loans such that you need to attend a qualifying school, such that certain expense ratios are met.  Of course, the system can still be gamed (and will be), but immediately those institutions who spend most of their overhead on facility cost will have a huge incentive to stop building yet another plush dorm with a spa and a mini-theater, and put the money back in hiring humanities professors.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better than letting any Tom, Dick, or Harry University rack up huge price hikes in tuition and still get access to federal student loans.Report

              • I’ve been thinking along similar lines for a while.  Give assistance, but only if certain conditions are met by the institution in question.

                Another avenue would be to push liability for repayment back onto the schools.  It could be attached to something like job placement or performance on national assesment.  But things like that are trickier to measure and have other unintended consequences.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                You’re in danger of making schools too big to fail with that one.Report

              • Expense ratios? Assuming that the laws weren’t captured the second the committee was formed, I’d love that idea.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                You’d see some of that, of course.

                This is one place where the coupling is low enough, and the problem domain is specific enough, that it would be hard to get the corruption going and it would be pretty easy to spot.

                If you have a six member committee and they’re fudging the numbers such that, say, NCAA football programs are eliminated from the “un-allowable expenses”, that would get reported and people would get thrown out.

                Regulatory capture is easier when the problem domain is very large and diffuse.Report

              • An anecdote: a friend got her PhD at a big and prestigious Midwestern university where the administrators brought in outside experts to try to determine why the tuition was rising so quickly (and probably to get the students’ parents off their back). The report came back with the answer: they had a seriously bloated administrative structure. Their response was quick: they froze the faculty salaries!Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rufus F. says:

                This is the sort of thing I’m talking about.

                Since the administration has no real incentive to tackle the problem, they won’t.

                If the administrative overhead was pinned to a relative percentage of the cost, they’d either have to cut their administrative overhead, or they’d have to forgo students who require Pell grants or Stafford loans.

                This provides a very real incentive to get off your ass.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                My wife & I kick that idea around a lotReport

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              Most students of middle-class or lower-middle-class vintage even if they go to an in-state university need student loans to afford school.

              What does this tell you?  Not, where does it lead you… but what does it tell you?Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to James Hanley says:

            Jason hasn’t made a secret of his degree so far as I know. Of course I don’t know his /undergraduate/ degree but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess it was BA, not BS.

             Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      After I graduated from college with a philosophy degree, I realized that the only thing on my resume was a philosophy degree and a handful of years of restaurant work.

      For the next two years, in interviews, when interviewers made fun of my philosophy degree, I pointed out that it meant that this job (whatever it was) was in my field.

      Eventually I landed a job scanning documents for an accounting department at a multinational conglomerate. For seven bucks an hour.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jaybird, my author friend who has over 40 wildly successful textbooks (largely in computer science) to his name likewise started with a philosophy degree. He told me several times the rigorous logic courses in Philosophy were considerably more challenging than what they were doing over in Comp Sci. Because he understood the fuzzy logic of philosophy so well, the logic of CS and computers was clear as glass. In other words after Philosophy CS (for him) was cake. I’m not sure if philosophy is taught as rigorously at all higher ed locations, more’s the pity if not.Report

        • Avatar bluntobject in reply to wardsmith says:

          My undergrad institution had a number of profs cross-listed between the CS and Philosophy departments.  They’re two great tastes that taste great together.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to bluntobject says:

            Philosophy and Set Theory too.  (Russell, Whitehead, and Quine)Report

            • My only exposure to Quine was in an entirely forgettable (and mostly forgotten) Epistemology course.  I should’ve taken Rhetoric, I guess.

              But yeah, excellent point.  I’d throw Cantor and Gödel into that list as well.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to bluntobject says:

                When I was at Berkeley, Qunie came and gave a talk about The Reification of Universals.  I won;t claim I understood more than half, but it was still very cool to meet him.Report

            • Avatar Renee in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              Not to mention Logic and Creative Writing (Charles Dodgson).

              In fact, I would argue that the whole point of a truly liberal education is to realize that all these subjects (STEM, English, philosophy, etc.) are inexorably linked and that the point is not to learn a subject per se, but to learn how to learn.  In order to learn to learn, it is useful (perhaps necessary) to rigorously choose one field to pick apart.  It is a shame that academic disciplines are pitted against one another instead of being viewed as pieces of the same great edifice.

               

               Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to bluntobject says:

            I work in a field that is a cross between philosophy, psychology, computer science, neuroscience, linguistics, and on occasion, anthropology. There are faculty “cross-listed” between all of these. It’s awesome.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to wardsmith says:

          My best Philosophy Professor explained the Philosophy department to me once thusly:

          “Jaybird,” he said, “there are four kinds of philosophy students.” He held up his hand with the index finger extended. “The first kind is the Computer Science major. This student wants to tighten his code and takes all of the logic and rhetoric courses.” He held up the peace sign with his hand. “The second kind is the radical politician. You’re not going to hear about Marx in most departments. You’re not going to hear good things about Marx in the business department. The History Department stops talking about Marx and immediately starts talking about Lenin. If you want to hear good things about Marx, you have to come here.” He held up three fingers in the way that Americans do. “The third type is the ‘Big Questions’ student. ‘Who am I? Why am I here? How ought I live?’ These students gravitate to the Philosophy department.” He put his hand down. “The fourth kind is the fuckup who can’t make it in any other department. We always need more students and usually to the point where we’ll take anybody.”

          (Aside: This is the professor who sang us the Internationale.)Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird says:

        But at least you found a job that was in your field 😉Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      thinking ahead sits somewhere between virtue and necessity.

      har har jabs at #freeponies aside, i don’t see why “lib arts degree = totes fucked” in everyone’s calculus. most of the people i know are non-stem types – some of whom are deeply allergic to math, science or any other “hard” practicality – and outside of those trying to get academic jobs* most of them were able to build skills along with (dubious?) credentials.

      * i think i’d apply your “don’t do it unless you’re drowning in ducats” line to would-be professors. like a young kid who wants to be a rock star, there’s only so many slots and so many, many more contenders. and the ha ha joke when tenure starts eroding in ten years as the edu bubble explodes will be on them. and those of us who married or otherwise yolked ourselves to them. yay!Report

  12. I’m kind of all over the map on this one.

    First, I firmly believe that we have an education bubble driven in part because of artificially easy access to higher education (which is of limited practical utility to most people in most careers) and in part because of an irrational insistence on college degrees (usually of any stripe) by employers (I suspect if you follow the money, you’ll even find plenty of big money corporate lobbying for increased subsidization of higher education).

    But I also completely disagree with the notion that college is primarily a consumption good as you say.  Don’t get me wrong – the experience of college is certainly part of why people view college as desirable.  I just can’t agree that it is the primary part – there are too many people who opt to go the commuter route for a good chunk of their college education, and many of those who don’t presumably would go that route if their homes were closer to campus.

    Additionally, I would submit that majoring in the liberal arts is quite rational above and beyond the fact that many/most find them more enjoyable majors.  First, as Jonathan correctly emphasizes above, there are relatively few jobs where an employer cares what an applicant’s degree is in for hiring purposes.  Second, the more “practical” majors are going to be pretty specific to a given career path, which itself has a limited number of jobs available.  Worse, it’s pretty hard, and indeed close to impossible, to predict what the job market in that given career path will look like four or five years down the road when you graduate, much less 10, 15, or 20 years down the road when you’re looking to advance your career.  This is especially true nowadays, when the pace of technology makes predicting the market in a given field even more difficult.  Worse, because of this unpredictability, the tendency in choosing “practical” majors is going to be for students to prefer whatever field is hottest at the moment, almost certainly assuring that when they graduate, the market will be oversaturated with freshly minted ________ majors.

    The hard sciences, I suspect, seem to do a pretty good job of preventing oversaturation by being exceptionally difficult and effective at weeding students out.  But other majors? I rather doubt it.

    The one thing you can clearly say about the liberal arts is that they’re pretty effective at teaching students how to think critically, and in theory they should be pretty good at teaching students how to write semi-competently, or at least better than other majors.  These are useful skills in the overwhelming majority of professions and career paths, even if they are rarely the primary skill relevant to performance of a given job.

    Point being that majoring in the liberal arts helps develop generic and versatile skills, while more “practical” majors seem to develop very specific skill sets that likely don’t translate very well to other fields.  Since those “practical” majors only rarely make a difference in an employer’s hiring decisions anyhow, I’d go so far as to argue that for the bulk of college students, liberal arts majors may prove more useful in the long run.

    It’s true enough that we can’t all be lawyers or writers; but it’s equally true that there’s a limited number of people who actually get to work for advertising agencies, or engineering firms, or in law enforcement, etc., etc.

     Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Great points Mark. 

      I’m of the mind that, even if we graduate enough people in STEM fields to fulfill current demand, you’d still have a lot of people left over wanting to better themselves, seeking a college degree as a general way to do this, and then being dissappointed when the realities of our 21st century marketplace don’t make that possible.

      On the one hand, I don’t think that there are enough “middle” jobs out there, e.g. somewhere between highly specified labor positions and highly lucrative tech/business careers.  On the other hand, I think a lot of this could be resolved my more avenenues for on the job training.  There’s a reason why internships are so key now, above and beyond just the increase in competition, and that’s that so much of the skills/duties that are required for various entry level jobs way to specific enough that they require training, but not specific enough to warrant being added to a 4-year degree program of study.  From my limited experience hopping around temp positions at various businesses, it appears as though there’s just a lot of work that doesn’t require anything more than a college degree (if that), but which employers would rather higher someone with previoius experience in that niche office task to do.

      Then again, a lot of this just probably just have to do with everyone getting bumped down the ladder a bit.  I often think of the fifties, at least as they’re remembered on telelvision and in movies, where if you had a 4-year degree you were set, not necessarily because you had great work experience or the skills then and there to do all the job required, but because labor at that level of education was so scarce they’d take whatever they could get.

      So I guess the problem is that the colleges are still pumping out grads even though society has failed to keep producing jobs.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        So I guess the problem is that the colleges are still pumping out grads even though society has failed to keep producing jobs.

        This is certainly part of the problem.  It is exposing the balloon a bit early.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      It certainly does give me a “wtf” moment when I see someone complaining that Americans spend too much money on the military and also don’t have enough jobs for engineers. Dude, what do you think those engineers are gonna do?Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Years ago, when it was the Japanese not the Chinese who were the economic menace to (our) society, I had the temerity to suggest that if we hadn’t wasted so much engineering talent on (for instance) missiles that could accurately fly a thousand miles and then through your bedroom window to reduce collateral damage we /might/ have designed a better VCR. The Japanese (and Germans) didn’t need to /waste/ money on defense since we were doing their defense for them (and a LOT of others too, but I digress).Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to wardsmith says:

          Freeriders on the Pax Americana, WSmith.  The alternative of letting a Red Axis replace the old Axis seemed worse at the time.

          As for Japan, it’s kind of meh now, and China is about to pop its own housing bubble.  We shall see.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      Thank you for this, Mark.Report

  13. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    A lot of this discussion also begs the larger question of, what if everyone had gotten stem jobs?  You’d likely still have the same problem, though perhaps to a lesser extent.

    While career advice works on an individual level, if everyone takes it we’re back to where we started.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      It’s an extension of the, “why don’t those lazy OWSers move to North Dakota. They have a 4% unemployment rate there.”Report

      • Jesse,

        Funny you should mention that.  Not only have I made that claim on this blog, I was telling my career seminar students last night that they ought to consider moving there after they move, since Michigan’s unemployment rate is still in double digits.  It’s not necessarily great advice for someone with a family and a mortgage, but for recent college grads who aren’t so encumbered it’s the best fishing advice they could get.  And moving to Fargo, North Dakota, doesn’t have to be a permanent commitment–it allows you to work, earning money and experience, until there are better jobs available in NY or Boston or Saginaw or wherever it is the person prefers to live.

        What on earth is wrong with telling people they’d do better to move where the jobs are than to complain about the jobs not being where they are?  Nobody has a fishing duty to bring a job to you in the place you prefer to live, certainly not as much responsibility as a person has for getting themselves to what jobs are available.

        I have personal experience with leaving where the jobs aren’t and going to where they are, having left the Midwest in the late ’80s and moving to San Francisco.  That was a hell of a lot better than sitting on my butt whining that somebody wasn’t bringing a job to a town near me.

        I will take my stand on that advice and say that anyone who doesn’t give that advice is actively doing harm to the unemployed recent college grad, just so they can feel morally pleased with themselves.  That is where liberalism devolves from being truly concerned about the well-being of others to putting moralism far above concern about the lives of real-world individuals.

        If some unemployed recent college grad came up to you and said, “should I stay here in NY where I can’t find a job, or should I go to North Dakota, where jobs are available,” what fishing advice would you give them?Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

          Leave, knowing that you’ll never be able to afford to return. You’ll get a job and live poor for the rest of your days.

          But hell, maybe I’m pessimistic. Silicon Valley doesn’t hire older than 30somethings anyway.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kimmi says:

            Yes, they do.

            Silicon Valley, like everybody else, hires who is recommended to them by the people who already work there over anybody in a resume pile.  This goes almost triple for any startup.

            If there’s any age skew at a tech company it’s just because they started young and the young folk know other young folk.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

            Leave, knowing that you’ll never be able to afford to return. You’ll get a job and live poor for the rest of your days.

            More Kimmi bullshit.  It’s listening to people like you that would freeze these recent grads in place, deterring them from taking the chances that could give them real opportunities.  The easiest position from which to get a job is to currently be in one–I don’t claim that’s fair, but it’s the reality.  So I tell my students, if you don’t find a job reasonably quickly here where you are, go where the jobs are, take what’s available, then keep looking for better opportunities and work your way up.  Now say someone from NYC does that.  When jobs do start to become available in NYC they’ll be able to apply for them with a fuller resume, and they can have some money stuck away for the move back.

            That “never being able to afford to return” line is complete bullshit, especially when we’re talking about people who right now can’t afford to be there in the first place because they don’t have a frickin’ job!

            These aren’t abstractions, folks.  Your advice is detrimental to real live people who have a real chance to succeed, but unfortunately don’t yet grasp how things actually work  (and that doesn’t say much good about our educational systems in the U.S.).Report

            • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley says:

              I left Madison, WI – a city I love, for the PacNW to chase a job (Boeing).  Now I’m angling to move to Portland, OR in a few years.

              One thing to keep in mind, Kimmie, is that most companies who are willing to hire professional workers, and are willing to recruit or interview from out of state, are willing to pay for relocation.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                that certainly makes sense. otoh, how many of those are “buy into our company” situations? (honest question — I know NY loves to have financial people in debt so they can’t leave.) And how many “good happy” places are going to pay to help you relocate later?Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

              *yawn* So you sell your $20,000 house, and then need to move to a city where it’s $1000 a month for a shitty apartment? I guess that’s fine, IF you’ve already gotten a job (and you’re willing to give up your sweet sweet home). But companies tend to price your salary based on your last one.

              Note: your advice goes counter to upthread, where it’s “who you know” — how ya gonna know anyone in NYC if you from Large, Pa?

              Maybe if you can find a commensurate employer in another place, you’re okay with moving to ND. I ‘unno, maybe someone working in Omaha for Buffet would be easily able to walk and talk into NYC.

              Thing is? Most jobs aren’t like that. Either you get quality work or you don’t — and there’s a lot more “low quality work” out there. Low quality pays less, and can actively railroad you out of harder jobs.

              Why do physicists make more than doctors and lawyers, on average? (that is to say, one can be poor, while being rich on a relative scale)Report

        • Again, the problem comes in because N. Dakota can’t absorb all of them, so while it’s good adivce for one, if everyone followed it you’d still have a problem.

          Transfers alone won’t solve the issue.  It’s like a state governor saying look how many jobs we created (read: poached) during my term.  Here’s how I’m gona do that for the nation! 

          Except while transferring jobs can be a net plus for the state, it doesn’t change the overall picture.

          Likewise, simply transferring from major to major doesn’t seem to address the underlying problem (though perhaps some here don’t see this as a problem, which is where the real discussion should be then) which is that there simply aren’t enough jobs of a certain caliber.Report

          • Ethan,

            N.D. is just a stand-in for “go anywhere that has some fricking jobs!”  Of course ND can’t absorb them all, and probably at the moment the U.S. can’t absorb them all.  But that’s a really stupid reason for any particular person to not go, because when most don’t go, it’s the ones who do that will be absorbed into the job market while the rest are sitting with their thumbs up their ass waiting for some kind of magic to happen.

            And I’m not talking about transferring jobs from state to state–I’m talking about jobless people transferring to a state where there are jobs.  And sitting around where jobs don’t exist does not help create new jobs–going somewhere and being productive can help create new jobs.

            In your commitment to looking at and bemoaning the big picture you’re ignoring the reality of how some real living breathing individuals can better their own situation.

            I’m pretty frackin’ fanatical about this point because I’m working with these young people.  They are not just names and faces to me, but individual personalities, and in many cases current and former students who I would call friends.  And in my mind, when you object to the argument that they ought to go where the jobs are you well-intended, big-hearted, socially-concerned liberals are fucking over my students!

            I know exactly how hard the job market is for them.  I created a Career Seminar class in my department specifically to help them recognize what types of job opportunities are available to people who major in political science (not a humanities, but fits in with them in the general terms of this discussion), and additionally they draft and re-draft their resume, we talk about developing their resumes by doing things like internships, study abroad, and extra-curricular activities, we work on their interview skills (I’ll be doing 15 mock interviews in the next two weeks, and not for my own pleasure), talk about grad school and law school options, and  I drill it into them over and over that moving into the workforce just ain’t gonna be easy so they better get really damned serious.  This isn’t abstract for me, and it makes me righteously angry to see a thoughtlessly flippant rejection of some of the best advice these kids will ever get.

            Seriously, if one of them came to you, what would you recommend?Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

              Hell i’d recommend your kids apply for a job in ND. If they get it then it might be a good idea to move depending on the job. But moving to a place without a job or family/friends in the area is risky. Its even more risky if you don’t actually have the money for an apartment, etc.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to greginak says:

                greginak,

                If the unemployment rate is low enough, finding a job is pretty much guaranteed (absent really bad interviewing skills).  But yes, moving to a new place without guarantees is risky–anyone who isn’t willing to take some risks for their economic future is making their choice.  But their choice is not without risk, as it is risky to sit around jobless for a long time, given how employers prefer not to hire the currently jobless.

                I’m not going to claim there aren’t risks in moving, but I will say that the desire for life to be risk-free is not realistic.  (Although I want to emphasize that I’m not saying you are demanding that, since you didn’t say anything of the sort.)Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

                I agree people need to take risks but i also understand peoples reluctance to move especially if they have school age children. Moving carries more costs then just the money.

                I live in AK. Lots of people move here to restart their lives for all sorts of reasons. I’ve known people who saved and scrimped at their Walmart job to move here and end up working at Target. It may have been a good idea to move but I always remember all the people  for whom the grass is always greener some place else.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to greginak says:

                I agree people need to take risks but i also understand peoples reluctance to move especially if they have school age children. Moving carries more costs then just the money.

                Greg, absolutely I understand anyone’s reluctance to move.  And I am especially sympathetic to those with school-age children (and a mortgage).  I hesitate to criticize them for not moving, because I can’t say with any certainty that it’s a better choice for them.

                My criticism is directed specifically at recent college grads who are childless, mortgage-less, don’t need to stick around to care for an ailing parent, etc.  That applies to most recent college grads, but obviously not all.   Individual circumstances vary, and any advice I gave a specific individual would take that into account.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

                “My criticism is directed specifically at recent college grads who are childless, mortgage-less, don’t need to stick around to care for an ailing parent, etc.”

                Careful now, that sounds like some of that “criticizing the poor” stuff we aren’t supposed to be doing.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                DD,

                he’s giving well-intentioned advice to “get off your keister”. it’s not like he’s just scolding them.Report

              • Avatar dexter in reply to greginak says:

                Greginak, If I am not mistaken you live in Anchorage.  That means unless you have travelled to Fairbanks in January you don’t know what North Dakota is like in the winter  Think Nome without the ocean..  Even with jobs  I would not recommend that Southerners try North Dakota in the winter.  Your definitely right about the risks.  Even the ones who have  had a real winter experience had  better have a place to live and a job before they go there.  I went to Fairbanks, site unseen, the first time in hopes for a job, but it was May and all one had to worry about were mosquitoes and hungry bears  One could go fifteen miles in any direction and pitch camp.  By September one needs cozy nook to winter in.  I would not have tried it in November.  But, if I were young and without a job I would probably be in North Dakota now.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to dexter says:

                Completely agree. I do live in Anch but have been in Fairbanks, Nome, Kotzbue and Barrow in winter. You do need to be able to handle serious winter or you will never make it without spiraling into depression or drinking. Hell lots of people who do like “real” winter get depressed and drink a lot. I’ve known lots of people, often southerners (most often people in the military and their families who were stationed here) who just couldn’t handle it here in relatively mild Anchorage. Being far away from family and social support can be a serious obstacle and difficult.

                I’ve known quite a few people who were happy to move to follow jobs. For some it worked, for many it didn’t. For the ones with school age children there was a heavy toll on the kids education. For some of the people who moved around a lot it always seemed like moving was a way to escape other problems or take the focus off their crumbing marriage.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to greginak says:

                My wife gets the winter doledrums here in Southern California.

                North Dakota would be right out.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Winter..So Cal…..404 404

                I just got back from my first day on my xc skies right here in almost sea level Anchorage.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to James Hanley says:

              James, First I want to commend you for actually caring about your students. Too many professionals in your field develop a McDonald’s checker mentality saying, “Next customer” and stop thinking of them as human beings with dreams, ambitions and goals. You’re helping to shape their minds and their world and I’m proud to (virtually) know you.

              When I went to school (Carter years), times were at least as tough as today, possibly worse. Economists will pretend different, but when interest rates were high double digit and still weren’t keeping up with inflation, trust me, times were tough. No one was hiring anyone, everyone was hunkering down and even if you wanted to buy something, the interest rates were so high that you were basically paying twice what it was worth if you financed for more than 4 years.

              So I did the only logical thing. I started a company. If no one would hire me I needed to hire myself. I also hired friends from school and let me tell you, what they don’t teach in management school is how to hire and fire. Hiring friends is the pits, and firing them is even worse. I may have been a bit immature, but knew enough to make appointments and actually keep them. My friends had a bad habit of blowing off appointments and making the company (me) look bad. Consulting turned out to be better than any college course because when you spend enough time with businessmen and they’re telling you their problems and concerns, you quickly realize it spans industries. I’d sold myself as a system analyst, but quickly morphed into a business analyst instead. Within just a few months my clients who had told me in no uncertain terms they couldn’t afford to hire anyone full time were offering me a full time job.

              Anyway, it’s an idea.Report

              • Wardsmith,

                I work at a small college, with small classes.  I graduate 5-10 majors a year, most of whom I’ve had a chance to get to know personally.  If I worked at big-ass state U., I can’t say that I’d care about them individually because I probably wouldn’t know them that well.

                I admire your story.  I’d like to see more of my students have that kind of entrepreneurial mindset, and I try my best to encourage it.  But I think the reality is that most people don’t have that mindset, and couldn’t make it work if they tried.  I’m sort of one of those people, so I’m not too judgmental about that.  I think it’s more than a “just commit and work hard” thing.

                I’m reminded of my 20th high school reunion, and how some people were eager to see me because I was the only one in my class (that we knew of) who got a Ph.D. (not that I was the only one intellectually capable of it, mind you–I was far from being valedictorian).  But I was more impressed with my classmates who’d started their own businesses and become successful–I’d had a couple of opportunities to try that and passed.  I found graduate school to be a safer route for me.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to wardsmith says:

                Wardsmith, would you say that the regulatory environment is significantly different than when you started your business?

                If so, is it different in the “more regulation” sense, “less regulation” sense, or a big chunk of both that make a big difference in this one for the better to be balanced by this other big one in that direction?

                Or what?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Jaybird says:

                JB, Definitely more regulation today especially concerning employees and reporting requirements for taxes. Wouldn’t stop me from starting another company (I already have) but is more of a pain in the ass than before.

                Washington State has something on the ballot concerning working with the elderly . Now I’m not going to argue on the merits here but in general these laws are camel’s nose under the tent kind of laws and as already happened in California work to SEIU‘s benefit and no one else.

                I had personally encouraged a perennially unemployed woman who has a big heart to form her own home-health care company, which she did. This law is precisely designed to either put her out of business or force her to join SEIU’s union. This I believe is the “economic capture” you’ve spoken of before.

                Just because SEIU was Obama’s biggest contributor and has visited him the most in the White House means nothing in this equation of course.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

              1) okay. your bitching is noted. And I come from a Totally Different field. In your field, going to ND makes a fuckload of sense — work a campaign, get hired on the next campaign. Because the knowledgenet of political science is pretty damn tight. (or go work for the AFL-CIO — you’ll get to DC eventually, if you want to).

              2) Political science seems like one of those fields that will hire from “far away.” — it feels like a mobile workforce. every damn place I’ve interviewed in this town (steel city) has asked, “do you live here? Do you LIKE living here?” Coming from out of state would be seen as a lack of seriousness (errm, particularly when they want research associates, who make $20,000 or so.)Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            The reason there are jobs in North Dakota is because of the Bakken oilfield. Unlike the GOM, there is no permitorium going on in the Bakken (yet, although they are trying). Oil (WTI) is over $90 per bbl last time I checked, and they sell every drop. Texas also has oil so it isn’t all just stealing industries from other states (but by all means if California wants to destroy every industry except “entertainment” there, other states /should/ capitalize).Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            Of course ND can’t absorb them all, and probably at the moment the U.S. can’t absorb them all.

            Exactly. And if all the lazy humanities majors had become chemical engineers, the current job market couldn’t absorb them either.  So when you rant against them rather than against the people who caused and profited from the situation that led to the current collapse, you tempt me to believe that libertarianism amounts to nothing but money worship.Report

            • Not all people are workers to be absorbed.

              A handful become entrepreneurs on their own. Some of those even hire other people.

              Someone, somewhere, hires the folks who get degrees in philosophy. We need more of those.Report

            • Yeah, all those lazy humanities majors I am ranting against.  Perhaps you missed the part where I mentioned my students are political science majors, not technically the humanities but career-wise more akin to the humanities than to STEM.  Yep, I think all the students in my major are just lazy suck-asses.

              The point I was making was not that if they all move to Fargo unemployment in America would disappear.  The point I was making is that any particular unemployed recent college grad is going to do better for themselves by going where there are jobs than they will by sitting in place complaining that there are no jobs.

              And you haven’t come up with an argument about that, so you go off on a tangent that doesn’t address anything I actually said.  A cynical person might suggest you don’t actually have a meaningful response but just feel the need to express your unhappiness with the libertarian, no matter how off-the-mark your response is.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                The point I was making is that any particular unemployed recent college grad is going to do better for themselves by going where there are jobs than they will by sitting in place complaining that there are no jobs.

                And taking a few practical courses so that they’re more employable than the average poli-sci major.  I’d give the same advice to anyone I was trying to help.  But unemployment is currently a systemic problem.  Those kinds of band-aids aren’t gong to fix it.Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to James Hanley says:

          My parents have moved city 3 times to follow work, twice with kids in tow, and one (recently) in their 50s.  I myself live where I do because that’s where I could find the work I wanted to do.

          I find that notion that you could live your life in one place bizarre.  I have clothes I’ve owned longer than any house I’ve lived in.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to James K says:

            Is there a bit a different dynamic involving moving in a country the size of NZ?

            I hear liberatarians often say private charity and informal social networks can take the place of Gov social service programs. The US has tremendous geograpic mobility, so much so that many peopel don’t live within  a thousand miles of family. It seems one of the consequnces of our mobility and nomadism is the withering of the informal social networks and family support many libertarians seem to think we can rely on.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

              greg,

              I think those informal networks and shit are great. for SOME people. Problem is? They leave them atheists out in the cold, unless they’re willing to mumble some jumbo. And anyone too irascible (me!) is also in the cold. Voluntary giving goes to those “most deserving” — those best able to act (and I do say act) humble and nice to their “betters.” it doesn’t go to the whacko busy collecting guns (and not buying food) because he’s convinced his neighbor is going to kill him.

              And that’s what pisses me off about libertarians, occasionally — the feeling that “private funds take care of everything” — which to me reads that “those obstreperous, inconvenient, insolent people ought to just die.” (or suffer for being “who they are”).Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach says:

      A lot of this discussion also begs the larger question of, what if everyone had gotten stem jobs?

      I don’t believe this is reasonably possible.  Innumeracy rates are high enough across the first world that it’s just improbable to suggest that anybody can get a degree in a STEM field.Report

      • But say back when the first stimulus went out, hundreds of billions were pumped into your choice of educational reform to increase achievement in science and math rather than reading/writing.

        My guess is that you’d have a glut in the other direction, and that most of the OWS discontent is simply an expression, not of the lack of social mobility (look at all the college grads), but of the lack of a middle space to mobalize to.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          Not really.  I can’t find the report at the moment, but it compared the top N countries in STEM, with of course the oft-quoted “Finland is number 1, and the U.S. is terrible!”

          Well, compared to Finland, we are terrible, but Finland still had a astonishingly huge innumeracy rate (goddamn why can’t I find that report, I linked it here a while back).

          It seems likely to be that regardless of your educational method, a substantial portion of the adult population just ain’t gonna get Algebra, let alone Calculus.Report

          • Avatar dexter in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            “a substantial protion of the adult poputation just ain’t gonna get Algebra, let alone Calculus.”  I agree 110 percent of that statement.   I am fairly good with numbers, but start throwing in signs and I might as well trying to understand Sanskrit.Report

          • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            Been my experience, with myself & others, that most times, the failure to understand math is not a fault with the person, but the teacher.

            I’m an engineer, and I didn’t “get” math (as in, barely getting C’s in HS) until I was out of the Navy & in college.  My College Algebra teacher started to do something no other math teacher had ever done.  He plotted every function we learned, and explained everything graphically & symbolically.  Once I saw the plots of the functions, it all made sense, and has ever since.

            I’ve had lots of other people tell me they experienced the same thing.  And a lot of the people I’ve tutored in math didn’t get it until I started to plot it all out.  I think most people would do fine at math, if the teaching of math wasn’t done by mathematicians (or teachers following curriculum developed by mathematicians).Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

              There seems to be many people who find a sharp divide in thinking by numbers and equations (algebra) and thinking via curves and shapes (geometry).Report

              • Is it weird that this thread has provoked for me an “aha!” moment about visualizing the (complex) eigenvectors of rotation matrices?  (Yeah, there’s a reason I’m a geometry guy.)Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to bluntobject says:

                Not weird.  Inspiration is found anywhere.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to bluntobject says:

                I’ve always thought the teaching of math and science should be integrated, starting with a little practical astronomy.    Showing little kids a time-lapse movie of the night sky, the moon moving, the planets moving on the ecliptic, with an inset of a clock….

                Well, I can dream, can’t I?   Imagine little kids learning what thousands of generations of children once knew instinctively, that the sky is a clock, that the motions of the celestial objects can be computed.    Math arises from the world we see but it doesn’t end there.   It’s a way of thinking.

                Instead, we torture little kids with math as it appeared in the West, with all that brain-deadening algebra.    I despair of education at turns, like King Midas in reverse, all it touches turns to shit.

                Sigh.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

              Most people are taught math by non-mathematicians, Mad.

              You don’t need a degree in mathematics to teach mathematics at the elementary level.

              But back to the as-yet-still uncited report: if Finland, who according to everybody kicks ass at education, still can’t graduate a decent percentage of people with basic mathematics skills, I again say it’s pretty unlikely that the U.S. ever will.  Even if there were true wizard ninja mathematics teachers who could teach math to anybody, there ain’t enough of ’em.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                You don’t need it to teach at the HS level either–otherwise my current career plans would be pretty fished up.

                But I do think there’s a real problem in that “primary school teacher” is a valid, and even encouraged, career choice for that section of college graduates who are completely hopeless at math.

                I’ve long advocated that Bachelors degrees, or at the very least, humanities degrees, require a quarter or semester of calculus in the same way that engineering degrees require a quarter or semester of college-level english composition.Report

              • You don’t need calculus to teach at the primary level.

                I’d rather see you take college geometry and introduction to set theory and probs & stats than calculus.  All of those will give you tools you can use to teach basic math to everyone other than an AP junior or senior in high school.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Alan Scott says:

                The Last Psychiatrist had a post discussing this, where he suggested that the reason so many people can’t do math is that their teachers couldn’t do math either.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                But who develops the math curriculum in Middle & High School?

                Mathematicians.  People who understand math at almost an instinctual level, who probably never had trouble getting it, and are at a loss to understand why so many others struggle with it.

                They write the books, and develop the teaching methods.  And knowing math is not a qualifier for being able to teach it.  I had the same trouble with a few Math professors in college, for who teaching was a distant second to research, and who taught math either straight from the book, or taught it the way they understood it, with no thought, or care, as to why so many students did poorly.

                Teaching math & doing math are not the same thing.

                I think BlaiseP is right, math is learned so much better when it’s coupled directly to science, or art, or music.  I learned linear algebra & differential equations not because such things are interesting, but because I love working with numerical simulations, and the equations the computer is solving are all nasty differential equations, all jammed into a massive matrix.  It’s so much more fun to learn math when you know doing so will help open up a whole section of the world that, from the outside, looks really damn interesting.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

              *snort* knew a guy who failed algebra four times in high school. Got the highest grade in the state on the physics exam (only knowing things like “the COS button converts angles to distances”).Report

  14. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    We need better numbers.Report

  15. Avatar Rufus F. says:

     Some of these liberal-arts students might be signaling authenticity: 

    That’s a pretty clueless explanation though; a bit like listening to a radical feminist try to explain the appeal of team sports for young men.

    I deal with these students every day. At that age, they’re a lot less concerned with ‘signalling authenticity’ to a society that doesn’t generally see majoring in the humanities as anything but foolish, than they are with finding a life that they believe will make them happy. They’re, of course, a bit clueless about the economic realities, but people who live their lives totally in accord with economic realities aren’t exactly the most enjoyable people to be around anyway.

    Incidentally, our friend Kate has achieved every commonplace goal of this society- she’s on her third house, having moved up to something mammoth, has an executive buying position for a clothing distributor, and owns all of the sorts of things people want to own now. Her college major? Medieval love poetry.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Do you find Kate’s story to be reasonably common? Based on her experience, would you steer other undergraduates towards medieval love poetry?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Burt Likko says:

        To some extent, yes. What I steer them towards is majoring in something they want to and just finishing the degree. Then, I tell them to keep their options open. Too many of them have this idea that their only hope with a degree in the humanities is to become a prof somewhere because the corporate world won’t touch them. I know plenty of people who found out that was nonsense. My good friend, Somaieh, for instance, completed a PhD on Heidegger and silence (!), decided that academia wasn’t for her, and now makes about four times what my wife and I make sitting in an office building reading books and waiting for them to send her company communiques to edit or rewrite. It’s just more important to finish a degree and show employers that you can stick with something to completion than people seem to realize.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Ditto this.  It’s not normal for those students to just walk into really good paying jobs, but if they’re actually bright, flexible, and continue to learn, they are able to progress to better and better paying jobs.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Oh yeah? Well, how do you explain the different avatars, then? Huh, Mr. Rufus F.? If that is your real name…

          (Burt Likko, of course, is not my real name. Oh, and I’ve been drinking so don’t take me too seriously here. Really, that was a pretty good response.)Report

    • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Some of these liberal-arts students might be signaling authenticity: 

      That’s a pretty clueless explanation though; a bit like listening to a radical feminist try to explain the appeal of team sports for young men.

      Yeah, you’re right.  I sure would’ve been pretty clueless if that was the only explanation I offered — especially if I hadn’t prefaced it with an admission that I don’t know what’s going on and am throwing out wild guesses.  (Jason even quoted that part!)

      The “radical feminist/team sports for young men” analogy is painfully (and amusingly) accurate, though.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to bluntobject says:

        Well, all apologies, but honestly the difficulty comes because I’m making due with brief visits here since I’ve decided to limit myself to an hour online per day. (I’ve even installed the sort of software people use to keep their kids off the Internet) So, I’m surely missing a lot of context and content in these discussions. Sorry.

        I have a lot of experience with these students and I find that they’re obstinate in an endearing way. They absolutely know that majoring in the humanities in the current economic environment signals to many of their peers and relatives that they’re clueless, but they’re determined to carve out a niche for themselves anyway. I tell them to keep all of their options open and learn as many skills as they can while they have the chance. Certainly, with the way things are right now, all of us are going to need to have Plans B, C, D, and E, regardless of our profession.

         Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Give you a tidbit or two: “A women’s studies major goes on to become a AFL-CIO union organizer” “A poetry major joins the military, and when he gets out runs a department store”

          These are old anecdotes, but they’re still right 😉Report

  16. Avatar Sam M says:

    “It’s not about building human capital or about signaling that you already have human capital. It’s about enjoying yourself.”

    Remember that the students aren’t the only ones paying. There are also the parents, who are buying prestige and social standing by sending their kid to Middlbury to major in whatever versus sending him off to an apprenticeship in plumbing.Report

  17. Avatar Jaybird says:

    How many levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs do I need to be on the hook for, now?

    I understand the physiological and safety levels but now it’s somehow my problem if people can’t fill out the stuff on the esteem level for the price that they want to find it for?

     Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jaybird says:

      As others have pointed out, the unemployment gap between people who have a college degree and people who don’t probably indicates that we’re still implicating the safety level to some extent.Report

      • There’s another dynamic in the discussion above, Ryan. See, for example, Jesse’s arguments.

        “So, like I said, don’t get a liberal arts degree unless you’re independently wealthy.”

        He’s not talking about people who have to choose between dentistry and rent.Report

        • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jaybird says:

          I agree, but I think that’s an artifact of the way a bunch of people who went to relatively selective universities talk about this stuff. It remains the case that the vast, vast majority of people with college degrees didn’t go to a place like Duke, or even a place like Michigan State.

          You can make the argument that the people who have the crushing student loan debts *are* the people who went to Michigan State, I suppose, and I don’t have the data to contradict that.Report

          • Well, one of the things that has been kicked around on this website is the whole $35,000 MFA in Puppetry in the last couple of days… and a couple of weeks ago, we were all looking at the 99% tumblr that mentioned such things as “I graduated with $200,000 in debt, I am the 99%”.

            I think it’s fair for us to say such things as “you shouldn’t spend $X on something that isn’t worth $X”.

            It’s interesting to hear arguments such as “So, like I said, don’t get a liberal arts degree unless you’re independently wealthy” in response to that.Report

            • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jaybird says:

              We can agree to agree on this one.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

              If you’re going to make a utilitarian argument then you shouldn’t be surprised when someone restates that argument in distasteful terms.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

                “Don’t get a Liberal Arts degree unless you’re independently wealthy” is a restatement of “you shouldn’t spend $X on something that isn’t worth $X”?

                We may have a language problem here…Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                “Don’t spend $X on something that isn’t worth $X” assumes that you’re making a transaction with an expected benefit–that is, the reason you’re spending $X is that you expect to get at least $X back from it. It also assumes that the thing you’re spending $X on is what is going to produce $X for you.

                So, given those two assumptions, if you aren’t actually going to get a job in the Liberal Arts field, then you shouldn’t be bothering to get a Liberal Arts degree as anything other than a form of recreation.

                Now, if you assume that a Liberal Arts degree is worthwhile as a signaling method–that is, your $X is buying a badge that reads “I SPENT $X ON THIS BADGE”–then you might see it differently.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

                My Philosophy degree gives me an amount of happiness that cannot be monetized. There are all sorts of intangibles that make me delighted to be a philosophy degree holder.

                The fact that it cannot be monetized does not mean that I’d not feel ripped off if I paid $200,000K for it and found that the only job I was qualified for upon graduation was a $7/hr scanning job.

                I’m pleased to have gone to a college that did not cost $50k/year.

                Had I gone to one that did, I probably would have felt the obligation to get a “real” degree instead of the “silly” one that I did get.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

                What if you were told by people, including your own parents, continually for 18 years ago that if you don’t get a college degree, you’ll be useless in life. However, you aren’t that great at math and science, but you do enjoy English. Your middle-class parents are cool with that idea and since your scores are good enough, why not go to the best possible school? I mean, sure, there’ll be a little debt at the end, but you’ll have a college degree and have a decent degree.

                *cut to massive economic implosion, layoffs in the private and public sector, even public universities jacking their rates up by 10-15%*

                Wait, what happened? You did everything you were told, now you can’t get a job above $9/hour and have to move in with your parents? This fucking sucks.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                First you say that your college education can’t be evaluated on a utilitarian basis, and then, right away, you evaluate it on a utilitarian basis.

                For a lot of people, this translates directly to “college educations are only worthwhile to the extent that they pay for themselves!” Which is where “don’t get a liberal arts degree unless you’re independently wealthy” comes from; because if you’re price-shopping for something, that implies that you think it’s a luxury good, and it’s hard to justify societal charity for the purchase of luxury goods.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                “I was just following orders.”

                (I was wondering how we’d be able to work that particular reference into this thread.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                First you say that your college education can’t be evaluated on a utilitarian basis, and then, right away, you evaluate it on a utilitarian basis.

                Yes. That was, in fact, the joke.

                college educations are only worthwhile to the extent that they pay for themselves

                If they do not pay for themselves, either in monetary terms or in more existential terms (or in some combination of the two), then I submit that we are not only in a bubble but fairly close to the bubble popping.

                At which point universities will wonder why they require 17 vice-presidents and what possessed them to install a fountain rather than another 5 shelves worth of reference materials in the library.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                Your last post contains many things with which I agree and I’m not even sure where I’m trying to get this to go anymore.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                “I pay $200K for a college education and now I find you working the register at a McDonalds!  What’s your excuse?”

                “I was just taking orders.”Report

  18. Avatar Renee says:

    Can businesses make hiring decisions based on High School GPA?  (Need not apply <3.8)  If there is truly an education bubble, couldn’t businesses hire top students right out of high school.  Other than some very specific jobs, most companies have to train the employee anyway, sometimes re-train how to do things the company-way.  Why not hire top high school students who have demonstrated their ability to learn to think and pay them well enough not to go to school.  In other words, why aren’t companies looking for their Kobe Bryant?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Renee says:

      A: you presume that there’s anything coming out of American high school that’s worth hiring.

      B: why spend thousands of dollars (both in salary and in effectively-lost productivity) training someone only to have them turn around and go work for the competition? You can’t force them to stay; years of employment litigation have effectively destroyed the notion that you can make someone sign a contract and then own them forever. (About all you can do is ding them for improperly transferring proprietary data, if they do and you can prove it in court, which costs even more money.)Report

      • You can sell this, you just have to work at it.

        This is what managers are actually supposed to do.  They’re almost uniformly terrible at it, though.Report

      • Avatar Renee in reply to DensityDuck says:

        A:  Yes I do.  There are a lot of problems with public education, but I know there are some incredibly smart kids coming out of high school (perhaps despite the system).

        B.  Fair . . .  but isn’t this essentially always the case?  My point is that, in most cases, college graduates aren’t able to just pick up and do the job you want them to do – they will also require training.  Specifically, there are a lot of jobs that require a degree, but not a particular degree.  In which case the requirement seems to be more about signaling (the person has the capability to think at a high level) than acquired knowledge.  So why not hire a capable individual 4 years earlier for less money?  Retaining them would be about maintaining a good work environment and promotion potential . . . just like with any other human being.Report

  19. Ugh. I was teaching special ed 5th and 6th today and missed this entire conversation. I don’t really have time to go through the whole thing, but maybe I will write a post on what I believe might be a glaring problem with Tabarrok’s data (or, if not a glaring problem, a glaring oversight). Will have to do some tracking down of info.Report

  20. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    Dear Lord that’s a lot of comments.  I’m not reading them all, and am just saying, at the risk of repeating someone else, that I don’t think the data Tabarrok brings up mention the Humanities at all.  (Or the liberal arts.)  I say this because I did a double-take at the accusation that all our “O, Woe are we!” everyone-hates-the-humanities sessions were unfounded.  Now, clearly the social sciences and performing arts (which, presumably, would include technical audio and visual training at the collegiate level) aren’t STEM fields.  But to pivot from increased enrollment in those areas to “What Do You Get with a B.A. in English?” is erroneous.

    Also, from the perspective of us hapless humanities people, “Journalism/Communications” counts as pre-professional sell-out more than those who wanted to be engineers or doctors.  So, again, it may not be a “STEM” field, but that’s a huge jump in a pre-professional area (albeit one that may, in hindsight, may have been a worse bet this decade than in the last).

    A(n untested) thesis: if there is some sudden upsurge in people not caring about “marketability” of their major, you’ve got to account for the new, “You need an M.A.” attitude.  If, at some point in the next decade, I’ve got to go back to school and work for an MBA/JD/MSW/etc in order to advance beyond the bottom-tier of my field, then why not study something I want to in my first go through?Report