The Kids Aren’t Alright

By James Vonder Haar

When I took my first practice LSAT, the day after my father’s funeral, I scored in the 45th percentile. Six months of night classes, daily practice sections, and weekly practice tests later, I had ascended to the 98th. I got my dream school- the University of Texas. It was the first school to ever break the fabled T-14 monopoly, the elite cadre of schools that had only ever swapped places in the rankings, never dethroned until the upstarts from Austin came knocking. It was the best law school for a thousand mile radius, with a stranglehold on the legal market in one of the most populous states in the union.

When I finally emerged from the monastery of my undergraduate life and took stock of my options, I was greeted with a very different world than the one I expected.

53.6% of college graduates under 25 are unemployed or underemployed. Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly an identical proportion of 18 to 25 year olds are currently living with their parents (PDF). UT may as well have a stranglehold on the horse and buggy trade, for all the good it might do me. “Don’t go unless you can manage a full scholarship,” I was told. “Give it a shot for a semester,” some other 2Ls counseled. “If you’re not in the top half of your class, leave; you’ll only accrue more debt for a useless credential. If you’re in the top half, you just might make it with a little luck, but there are no guarantees.”

This is the advice given to a student at the top of his class, with mensa-qualifying standardized test scores, studying one of the supposedly safe degrees, at an elite institution. The only privilege I lack is being born in 1988 rather than 50s, 60s, or 70s. I’m an upper middle class white male whose parents could afford to pay for a college education. If the world offers little opportunity for me- and it does – what hope does anyone else have?

This is not a depression for my generation. It’s the apocalypse.

Tragedy met me in a more personal way, as well. A few months into my first semester at UT (I did not, of course, heed my elders’ wisdom), I was called away from my studies to be with my grandmother in her last few days on earth. Carrying the grief for both her death and my father’s, it was obvious that I could not perform at the level I would need to succeed. I took a medical withdrawl from the university, and headed home to right my mind in time for round two. Three months later, I was hit by a drunk driver. Traumatic brain injury, right frontal lobe.

It was divine providence, of course; I will be one of the lucky ones, to be unburdened by debt and a useless degree that will only make finding a job at Starbucks that much more difficult. It is providential for a rapid fire succession of tragedies prevent me from pursuing my dreams, because I live in a world where those dreams are impossible.

The eurozone is hurtling towards the abyss, and we have no answers. The technocrats succeed every once in awhile in throwing up a roadblock, but the beast slouches still towards Bethlehem. My own politicians are gearing up for yet another round of the self-immolation we call a “debt ceiling standoff.” Growth has slowed in the nations where it could do the most good, leaving millions in Russia, Brazil, China, and India mired in poverty.

Somewhere tonight, a Slovenian family fearful for their life savings is pulling their money out of a Spanish bank and putting it in a German one, wisely beating the inevitable run.

Somewhere tonight, a worker in a Chinese village clawing its way out of poverty has to tell his family why his paychecks have ceased.

Somewhere tonight, a law school student three years graduated, three years unemployed is huddling around a trash can, soothed by the embers of that quintessentially decaying American institution, the newspaper.

So yeah, we’re a generation of alcoholics. Why shouldn’t we be?

The world will give out long before our livers do.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.

164 thoughts on “The Kids Aren’t Alright

  1. The tragedy is not “There are no Jobs”
    It is that we have created a system where creating your own job is a death sentence.

    We have plenty of solutions, but nobody’s got an ear to listen.


    • It is that we have created a system where creating your own job is a death sentence.

      And yet an entire political party rails against health care reform that would allow people more freedom to create their own jobs.


      • I’ve got several friends who are self-employed and they seem to think that buying their own health insurance is a modest cost compared to actual capital expenditures. It really shouldn’t be a major obstacle to starting a business if you have a sound idea.


        • $1000 a month is more than a car (which, I will grant, may very well be necessary for quite a few contracting jobs) costs per year (we’ll go super conservative and say $4000 a year per car, say…).

          That’s an awful big drag.

          And we aren’t talking about “not starting a business” really, sir. We’re talking about “Moving to England.”

          Plenty of entrepreneurs I know have been in that situation.

          I knew of quite a few entrepreneurs who are dead right now because the writers guild insurance sucks, and they didn’t have the money to get the procedures done.


          • “I knew of quite a few entrepreneurs who are dead right now because the writers guild insurance sucks, and they didn’t have the money to get the procedures done.”

            So I guess my question is, why write full-time if the insurance sucks? Why not do it part-time on the side?


            • Plenty of people do that. (moreso poets than science fiction writers… might have something to do with the time committment).

              But more importantly…. Spider Robinson didn’t start writing to keep working in sewers (at least according to Bova).


        • Buying your own health insurance is plenty cheap…if you’re a single man who doesn’t drink or smoke, exercises regularly and doesn’t overeat, has no chronic conditions, and has no family history of any medical issues more serious than an occasional hangnail.


        • I can’t believe I’m about to say something agreeing with DensityDuck, but in essence that’s the problem. Private, single person health insurance is incredibly expensive if you have any of the following:

          – Preexisting condition (congenital or from a previous illness or accident).
          – Family history of something severe (breast cancer, heart disease, liver disease, any genetic anomaly disorders).
          – A career where injuries or complications can occur or physical activity is high.
          – Are over 30 years old.
          – Have kids.

          It’s not small potatoes even without those. With any of those conditions, you’re going to be lucky to find “insurance” for catastrophic events only, with a high deductible and a high monthly payment. And you also have to remember that getting denied is an excuse for other companies to deny you – so if you get denied once, other companies probably won’t even look at your application and you’ll just get shut out of the marketplace completely until you go crawling back to a some company with a comprehensive all-employees plan or enter a public sector position.

          Mike Cantone, 27, of Orlando, was denied a health insurance policy last year by UnitedHealthcare, which considered him a risk because a doctor used a monitor to test his heart for a few days in 2007. No problems were detected, he said. “I was shocked and frustrated,” said Cantone, a political director for a community organization. He is still uninsured.


              • cite me on that one?
                c-sections are standard. that means that roughly 15% of the populace has a preexisting condition. Without talking any REAL medical issues.


                • Roughly 50% of the population has boobs. More if you count Moobs.

                  About 12% of women will have breast cancer of a malignant type in their lives.

                  This is factored into the insurance rates. It’s one of the reasons (can’t believe I’m about to quote him) DensityDuck’s point is valid about “Buying your own health insurance is plenty cheap…if you’re a single man


                  • Insurance is cheap for those who are fit and healthy and will likely not need any during the term of coverage?

                    Hmm, hoodathunk.

                    Now if the magic of the marketplace could only turn all of us into fit healthy young men, we might be on to something!


                    • That’s a bit cowardly, M.A. It seems to have escaped your notice that the libertarian crowd isn’t exactly gung ho over our current health care system in the U.S., and has proposals that they think would help. You may disagree with their proposals, but if you are an honest person, you’d look at them and realize they’re not exactly FYIGM.

                      That is, if you’re willing to pay attention and willing to be honest, instead of engaging in selective readings and confirmation bias.

                      Really, this blindly ideological approach is juvenile. I’ve seen you write thoughtfully, and I know you’re capable of better. Why not strive to be better than the Fox TV types, instead of lowering yourself to their level?


          • How is it that progressives can spend thirty years screwing up the health care and education markets and then…..
            Wait for it….
            Complain that the health care and education markets are screwed up?

            And your solutions…. Let’s screw ’em up some more!

            Now you complain that your degrees are worthless? Now you complain you can’t afford it? Maybe you shouldn’t have voted for the idiot that wanted to limit competition, add mandatory coverage for things you don’t want to pay for, restrict entry into the field, institutionalize redistribution and so on.

            Now your guy requires everyone to provide this screwed up, overpriced health care to people when they become employees and you wonder why nobody is hiring? Seriously?

            We should call you all Pogo Progressives.


            • This deserves a flame in response.
              My dead friends (and friends of friends) are telling me to be good.
              So light a goddamn candle when you kneel in the church this week.
              For those people dead from your blasted free market.
              Died well before Obama came into office.


            • Progressives screwed it up? Come again?

              The rise of the health insurance industry? That wasn’t a “progressives” thing. That was a “market solution.”

              The rise of Death Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)? That wasn’t a “progressives” thing. That was a “market solution.”

              The rise of healthcare being tied to sticking by one employer? Ahh yes. A “market solution” come up with when wartime governments (conservatives) restricted how much specific employees could be paid. The “market solution” was to bundle health insurance and pensions (remember those things? The things Mitt Romney made his millions raiding?) to attract workers in a relatively competitive employment market.

              “Market Solutions” are the last thing that should be suggested to fix the problems wholly caused by “market solutions.” The whole “market solution” line is tautological, non-falsifiable, pseudo-religious hooey. Anytime it breaks, there’s another “market solution” that will supposedly fix it and never does anything but make things worse.


              • Less heat, more light response. In my state (Washington) during the Clinton administration the insurance commissioner managed to get legislation passed that was to quote Hillary, “The model” for national healthcare *(Hillary-care for the misinformed). Unfortunately the results of that experiment got less press. Read it and weep. As usual the problem is never the /reasons/ for doing what gets done, the problem is the /results/ from the thumb on the scale that distorts the market solution you claim can’t work. Well, who wants to shop in a market where the butcher puts his thumb on the scale and so does the legislator?

                If I’m not mistaken Roger worked or works in the insurance industry, I don’t think he’s just talking out his a$$ on this. My personal experience as a business owner at the time was that my health insurance rates rocketed, and rocketed again, and rocketed again while the pool of potential insurance providers diminished at one point to two, then one.


                • My personal experience as a business owner at the time was that my health insurance rates rocketed, and rocketed again, and rocketed again while the pool of potential insurance providers diminished at one point to two, then one.

                  And that had nothing at all to do with conservative “eliminate regulation” pushers who allowed for constant consolidation and the elimination of competition in the name of a “free market letting businesses fail.”

                  A “free market” and “market solutions” inevitably swirl down Adam Smith’s toilet drain toward monopolist abuses and you’ve seen it over and over. You’re just too blind to recognize it and you’re still convinced “market solutions” will stop what “market solutions” have caused.


                  • MA, in point of fact those insurers absolutely left the state, just like the folks who left Pittsburgh and Detroit, they went off in search of greener pastures. It had NOTHING to do with consolidation, they left (as they’d warned they would) because they were obligated to provide services that could have bankrupted them. The only ones who (foolishly) stayed were those “death maintenance organizations”, one of them died and then there was one.

                    I truly recommend you actually read the linked-to article and contrary to Kimmi’s myopic world view, the source does NOT seem to be Heartland Institute unless, well there is really is no excuse, she just can’t read plain English. The Hacienda Publishing corporation specializes in health care.


                    • Wasn’t being dishonest and am more than a bit mystified why credentials don’t matter when facts are on the table. The single article I posted had ALL the information in it to show how political meddling ruined an industry in a state. Your response seems to be, “Well, the dude also does work for the Heartland Institute so I can ignore all the facts contained in the article”. Who then is being dishonest here? That looks like a email address not a Heartland one. The man is an obvious subject matter expert. Meanwhile you can’t address the substance of the argument as usual Kimmi, and this makes you the very worst kind of troll. I’ve been giving you a break because of your obvious schizophrenia but don’t piss me off.


                      I can tell you twenty reasons this story is wrong. Not gonna. This at least bases its work on facts, not on spin control.

                      WHY the blasted fuck do you hate nonprofits? I’m sorry, we work like businesses. And, to top it all off, we compete better than they do. My health care insurer is nonprofit. And it’s one of the top 10 insurances — for hospitals! in the country.


                • Wardsmith,

                  The article you linked to is amazing. It hits a critical problem with complex systems when they are connected to political justifications. Namely, that it is possible in a complex adaptive system to mistake a problem for a cure. In other words to mislabel poison as medicine. The worse the system gets, the more “medicine” we reach for, and the death spiral begins. Welcome to our health care system.

                  Progressive “solutions” are the problem.

                  Of course they could respond that free markets are the snake oil. There are two problems with this argument. First, just look at the record for the thousands of industries and markets with freedom and compare that to ones run by bureaucrats and progressives. The even better response is that I fully admit that I may be wrong. Thus I recommend we try it multiple ways and see which ones work. I am confident enough of my ideas that I am not just willing but would prefer to test them against competing ideas. Progressives would wet themselves if they thought their ideas would have to be compared to alternatives.


                  • wunderground and the NWS still kicking the fucking pants off accuweather.
                    despite santorum’s meddling.

                    scientists do a damn fine job working for the NSF/DARPA/CIA. They do a MUCH better job than the equivalent in the private sector.

                    Markets work where they work. M.A. had a fantastic post on why health care isn’t terribly transparent. YOU COULD FIX THAT. YOU COULD MAKE MONEY.

                    Or you could sit around saying “it’s gotta be like every other market” jsut because pixies need to fly around the world.


                    • Kimmi,

                      I am pretty sure we could figure out how to fix it, or at least build the system in such a way to fix itself over time. I think there is no way the special interest groups and rent seekers that we have created via regulatory and bureaucratic mess we made will allow it to be fixed.

                      This gets back to the “acceptable nature of harm” thread we had Monday. We built a system which allowed special interests to harm others for their benefit. Once you invite the vampire in the house, you can’t get them out. Ok my metaphors are both mixed and they suck….


                    • Roger,
                      Grow up, dream bigger. Fix it yourself….
                      break a story

                      We fixed the Mining regulators, who were so deep in with the oil folks it wasn’t even funny.

                      Break the next enron. Read a little.

                      Are we gonna ever have a shiny city on the hill? No, but it’d be gentrified anyway, and who wants that?


              • I’m not going to get into the larger muck but…

                The rise of healthcare being tied to sticking by one employer? Ahh yes. A “market solution” come up with when wartime governments (conservatives) restricted how much specific employees could be paid.

                Are you really calling FDR a conservative?


              • The rise of healthcare being tied to sticking by one employer? Ahh yes. A “market solution” come up with when wartime governments (conservatives) restricted how much specific employees could be paid. The “market solution” was to bundle health insurance and pensions (remember those things?

                So the story here is that government creates a market distorting regulation and the culprit is…the market?


            • I know you have immense faith that the marketplace, left unfettered, would have produced a healthcare market that delivered good quality healthcare to everyone.

              As if the marketplace would produce a product whereby indigent sick elderly people would be able to purchase healthcare in their later years.

              That health care producers would compete mightily to provide low cost easily affordable heart bypass operations and chemotherapy clinics for example.

              That people with life threatening illnesses would comparison shop and make sharp eyed deals as wise and rational consumers.

              That the only reason this has not happened is the nefarious meddling of bureaucrats and deadbeats.

              I just don’t understand where that faith comes from.


              • Liberty,

                The health care market is pretty clearly the least free and most regulated industry in America.

                Let me clarify that I am recommending free markets — which work great in whatever industry they are actually tried — in the health care business.

                I also believe in social safety nets. The progressive error is to scotch tape social safety nets for the indigent to the market. This messes up both.


                • I would love to see an example- historical or contemporary- of what you propose.

                  Because honestly, asserting that you believe in both a free market in health care, AND a social safety net, but NOT one that is scotch taped together just makes me confused. Would you accept a duct taped solution? Rivets?


                  • Liberty,

                    Rivets are fine yes.

                    Seriously though, I am just suggesting that the institutions are burying costs used to treat those not paying and those being covered at artificially low rates in our premiums. To control costs and placate special interests they then set caps on one side and provide mandatory benefits on the other. When you or I pay for medical care, we are paying for ourselves, others and the various market distortions.

                    I believe the system would work much better if we didn’t rivet safety nets to markets.


                    • No need to suggest such a thing; it is a verifiable fact.
                      When an indigent person gets treated, the cost is covered by the paying customers.

                      Thats why indigent people are called indigent- they can’t pay for anything. Which means, by definition, someone like you and me pays for it.

                      If your argument is that the messy combination of private insurance and government aid could be streamlined and improved, well, the only people in America who would disagree with you are the health insurance companies.


                    • Liberty,

                      If you get a chance, I would still appreciate your input on the end of the thread on HARM back on the surfing post. I want to know if you agree that an additional acceptable harm is one where someone is harmed a little so that someone else can be helped a lot. I suspect this is a dividing line between libertarians and progressives. Thoughts?


                    • roger,
                      well, i’m at times okay with that. It’s like traffic light– one person gets slowed down a bit, and the other people get to not die.
                      are you against traffic lights?


                    • Kimmi,

                      Traffic lights was actually my response to Tim on the nature of property rights. I am a big fan. That is not really the same issue though, because we can each choose to live in a system with (reasonable) traffic lights because the benefits to every driver outweigh the costs. By agreeing to the conventions we accept a small, coordinated delays in exchange for safety and longer uncoordinated delays.

                      I am suggesting that liberals value taking from one person that has less need and giving to a person with greater need, even if it is totally against the will of the person they take from. The logic is that social value in total increases. Take ten dollars from Bill Gates and he will not even notice, but you can feed a starving family.

                      My point is that libertarians will tend to reject this logic. In fact they reject it even as it impacts the poor.

                      I am not trying to argue either side in this thread, I am just asking if liberals agree to my statement.


                    • Roger,
                      oh, no, they damn well won’t! Least not any of them what has lived in DC for any amount of time. ’round there, the shmancy places have their own paid renta cops. But you see any dagnab libertarian who ain’t gonna argue that it’s for the benefit of everyone to steal money (via taxes) from those rich fuckers to make sure that there aren’t more flash mobs like philly?

                      tables. turned.

                      Likewise, Libertarians are likely to say the same dangab thing about hoovervilles, sewers or vaccines.

                      I think the prime difference is the degree of skepticism on whether government can actually fix/improve anything. (or, really, in what realms it’s a good idea).


                    • Roger,
                      I do support redistribution, and so do you. Libertarians and Liberals disagree on the use of the redistributed money, not on the forcible redistribution itself.


  2. Wow. Powerful post.

    I think we take progress for granted. Prosperity requires proper institutions and cultural mores. I fear ours are getting further and further out of wack.

    Of course we can argue the details, but some things are certainly amiss.


  3. Powerful writing, JVH. It would be easier if your story was an outlier or one of the worse ones. I fear it is not. Best of luck to you and anyone else struggling in spite of their best efforts.


  4. The real conversation is about graduating debt free vs. graduating with debt. If you can go to college debt free, it’s a worthwhile investment. If you incur thousands of dollars in debt to get that degree it is not good cost/benefit analysis.

    My oldest starts college in the fall. Our only rule for her was that she is not allowed to borrow a dime to pay for her education. We told her how much we could contribute, then she got her Pell grant info, got approved for work-study and we did the math. That determined the college she went to. It was her 4th choice school but the first one on her list that was cheap enough that she wouldn’t have to take out a loan. It was an easy choice.

    I’m still kind of amazed more people aren’t doing those simple calculations.


    • This was basically the process by which I selected my undergraduate school. I went to the best one that would give me a free ride. I ended up with a little debt because I stayed an extra year beyond my scholarships, but that year was well worth my time, as it got me the degree in physics that got me my first job.


  5. Government data last year found that 53.6 percent of people under age 25 with a bachelor’s degree — about 1.5 million people — were unemployed or underemployed.

    Wow, Jesus fishing Christ! How long you think that can last before you got worse problems?


  6. There might not be any jobs, but at least the air and water are clean, and the workers aren’t being exploited.

    I mean, the air and water are clean because there’s no factories making them dirty, and the workers aren’t being exploited because there’s no work for them to do, but still. You gotta take your wins where you can find them, right?


  7. At leaat as interesting a question (to me) is why you wanted a JD and presumably to practice law in the first place. If it was because you couldn’t think of anything better to do with your intelligence and youth, then you might be lucky for another reason aside from the debt issue.


    • I wanted to help people. For the longest time, I thought it was going to be politics, but I found blasting op-eds into the aether on behalf of faceless taxpayers at the Heartland Institute wasn’t cutting it. I wanted to point to real people I had helped in concrete ways. Mom and dad had always spoken fondly of the pro bono work they did, so I resolved to get a job somewhere in public interest law.


      • Public interest law isn’t a terrible choice, but I’ve found that for the money a policy degree generally is better for making a concrete difference, particularly for the money. Though I suppose it’s a bit academic now, but I know a good deal of my LBJ cohort’s found employment in some sector of their choosing in areas they like.


          • Public interest law is more an area of law that focuses on the underserved. Essentially public interest law encompasses everything from pro bono counsel for those in poverty, advocacy law and the like.

            It solves an enormous problem that there’s always going to be a disparity between those who can afford adequate legal counsel and those who can’t, based on ability to pay.

            And no one gets paid “lots of money” to do public interest law. In fact, the only reason it even exists is because very qualified people are willing to put the needs of society and of others ahead of their own. Hence the need for things like loan repayment assistance programs.


              • Of course, Roger.

                Because the only rewarding field of study and work is one that makes you gobs of money, rather than helps the poor and powerless.


                • I did not say doing free legal service isnt rewarding. Obviously it is. That is why people are willing to do it for free.

                  Depending upon an income by studying in a field where you compete with pro bono hobbyists sounds like a risky career track though…doesn’t it?

                  I must be missing something here…


                • And what’s more, Nob, those poor and powerless are the scum of the earth. If in the course of making gobs of money a few (or indeed many!) of them are hurt, it doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things. There are surgeons who can resect your conscience so you’ll barely notice their screams and cries.


                  • You guys really don’t see the big picture here, do you?

                    You are congratulating someone for getting an education in the exciting field of legal work for people unwilling or unable to pay, and then consoling him because nobody is willing or able to hire him?


                    • Roger, the big picture seems to be that some people can’t get much access to the law. Some lawyers try to help them but helping poor people will never pay much. So that means some people are at a significant disadvantage is something pretty important. We could have more legal aid for poor people or better paid public defenders, those are political choices. It could be easier or harder for poor people to get a fair hearing in court.


                    • In a healthy economy, there are enough sources of funds for public interest lawyers to get by. The salaries come from private donations and government grants. At the very least, states are constitutionally required to provide public defenders for those who can’t afford them. My research indicates that employment prospects in public interest law are no more or less bleak than those in, say, oil and gas law. The market talks, and most law school grads aren’t going to aim for a job making 40k/year, even with loan repayment assistance. And it’s not like the statistics I cited in the post apply only to those hoping to go into idealistic professions. Even if my field of study were devoid enough of personal fulfillment and joy to satisfy the conservative need for self-flagellation, the picture looks pretty grim.


          • One organization I really admire is Jane’s Due Process. According to their website, “Jane’s Due Process is a nonprofit organization ensuring legal representation for pregnant minors in Texas. Our goal is to have every pregnant teen know that she has the right to seek legal help, to be treated with respect and sensitivity by those who work in the legal system, and to participate in legal proceedings where everyone is interested in following the law. ” Texas has a parental notification law, but allows that notification to be waived in the event of a court proceeding proving that disclosure is not in their best interests. Obviously a pregnant minor is going to have difficulty affording a lawyer or navigating the system on her own. Without organizations like Jane’s Due Process, a pregnant teenager raped by her father would have no way of seeking an abortion without inviting further abuse by her parent.

            Obviously, people like public defenders are also doing public interest law. Our legal system is pretty awesome when it works correctly, but in order for it to work correctly you need professionals to navigate the system. Not everyone can afford them. Legal aid organizations are therefore critical to ensuring that all people, not merely the rich or powerful, enjoy the full protection of the law.


            • Without organizations like Jane’s Due Process, a pregnant teenager raped by her father would have no way of seeking an abortion without inviting further abuse by her parent.

              My first reaction is, why isn’t the dad already locked up without bail pending trial?

              My second reaction is – this is in one of the states that’s going to shove a giant dildocamera up the girl’s hoo-hoo and try to convince her not to abort anyways, isn’t it?


      • I had dreams, man. I was going to argue Important Cases before the Supreme Court about The Issues That Really Matter and be a Guardian Of Liberty.

        Then I got my first student loan bill. In retrospect, the amazing thing was that I didn’t sell out to pay off that houseless mortgage faster and more thoroughly. If I’d been the sort of person who didn’t need money… ah, but I was and I still am. And some of my cases are interesting and private practice has taught me something that I could easily have missed had I focused only on the cerebral lofty world of The Issues That Really Matter — law is about individual people at least as much as it’s about individual rights.


        • I just ask because hearing that injunction so many times is probably why I didn’t go, and I’m not sure I made the right decision. Back then I wasn’t sure I wanted to practice, though I was interested in the ideas, and that seemed like something of a bad prospect, though I wasn’t really so focused on the cost. Now I’ve seen a bit of the inside of practice, and it looks like it *can* be pretty okay work on the whole, but the numbers on the cost situation just don’t work out, at least I can’t seem to get them to.

          By the way, that last observation makes you sound a lot like like Sandra Sotomayor, which in my book is not a bad thing. I appreciate that view of both of yours very much, in fact.


  8. The more I’ve dealt with UT’s bureaucracy, the less I want to contribute money to the institution….

    Law school is increasingly starting to look like a racket unless you have a very clear and pretty narrow focus you have in mind before attending. Even then, it’s a bit of a gamble unless you can pick up the right advisers along the way.

    Just as a curiosity, what Society were you in when you were at UT?


    • Sheffield. We won the society games the semester I was there!

      Law is indeed in more trouble than other sectors; IT, STEM, and Health Care are probably better fields to go into if you want the safest investment you can get. Still, it’s not exactly underwater basket weaving (or puppetry), and if even students at elite schools can’t find work, we’ve got a problem.


      • In that I mean comparatively….

        UT Law graduates 380-400 JDs a year.

        This is compared to McCombs which graduates about 220 MBA students and LBJ which graduates about 120-130 MPAff/MGPS students.

        Essentially UT Law is pumping out more graduate degrees in one year than both the Business and Public Affairs schools do combined, for a sector that’s substantially smaller with a skill set that’s got much more limited transferrability across fields.


  9. This was a powerful post, but I think it’s at odds with some of the aggregate statistics. A number of studies show that cumulative life-time earnings for a bachelor’s degree versus a high-school degree are well over $1 million, but even if we compare “Bachelor’s Degree” to “Some College no Degree” (i.e. two groups capable enough to get in to college) that number is about $900k. Average cost at a private college is $38,589, rounded up to $40k and adjusted for 7% tuition inflation that gives us $178k in total cost for four years; borrow all of that on a 30 year loan and you’ll be paying out a total of $417k. That extreme scenario (expensive college, full loan, long repayment) is still less than half of the mean earnings increase. Of course, on top of that you also get the value of an education.

    Obviously the type of degree makes a difference, but in the general case I don’t see how one could accurately say that college is a worthless credential.


    • Past performance is no guarantee of future results. I find it very difficult to believe that a bachelor’s degree attained now is worth the same now as it was in 1960.


      • Warning : Analogy with wacky numbers ahead.

        Now, it may be true a bachelor’s degree worth a dollar in 1960 may be only worth sixty cents today, but the problem is a high school degree that was worth fifty cents in 1960 is now worth a dime.


      • 1960 is a tough point to start from for many reasons (segregation, for example), but take a look at Fig. 2 in my second link previously and you’ll see that the ratio of bachelor’s degree to high-school degree income (which should account for inflation and economy) has steadily increased from 1975 through 2005 as has the gap between degree levels. Tuition rates have probably grown faster, but this gap is still wide enough to be significant.


  10. Are we capable of employing all the people who need/want work in meaningful work that is necessary (or at least desired)? We’ve outsourced most manufacturing. So folks went to college to get office jobs. Now even much of that is outsourced. So many other things have been automated. There exists an upper limit for service industry jobs. And one thing that the recent recession has exposed is that companies had gotten a bit fat when times were good. A school I worked at had been hiring folks left and right because we had the money to. As soon as enrollment dropped and more folks needed aid/assistance, we had to start cutting folks. But, for a while at least, the product didn’t suffer. We had been paying people to sit around and do nothing, or to do tasks that were really a luxury but not needed.


    • I kind of doubt that. Human wants tend to be unlimited, and every time we find some way to fulfill those wants more efficiently, killing some employments, new ones take their place. If an economy can go from 99% of its population being engaged in agricultural work to something like 2% doing so, it can handle just about anything.

      Either that or we’re nearing post-scarcity sooner than we’d thought, and we should all be talking about employment sharing programs. Why, exactly, we have a significant population of new lawyers working themselves to the bone who would really love a break while there is also a significant population of new lawyers desperate to pay their loan bills is a mystery to me.


      • I dated a girl right out of college who worked as an accountant of some sort for KPMG. She regularly worked 10-12 hour days and 60-80 hour weeks and LOATHED it. This made *ZERO* sense to me. Growing up, my mother was a teacher and worked typical teacher hours. My father was a fire fighter and had a regular schedule; when he wasn’t doing that, he would often landscape out of the back of his truck. But that was largely to stay busy. So the idea of folks working jobs like that was very foreign to me. One day, I said, “Why don’t they just hire two of you? You’ll make less, but you’ll get to be a normal person.” She insisted that there simply didn’t exist enough people who could effectively do the job and were interested in doing so. I have no idea if this is true. On the one hand, I could believe it, given how many incompetent people are already employed in jobs they can’t do. On the other, this seemed like a bit of fluff she was likely sold on to make her feel more important than she actually was and like something that could only be true if there were breakdowns elsewhere in the system. I really don’t know the answer.

        I’m not saying we can’t employ ANYONE. But maybe 10% unemployment rates are the new norm. Maybe the lower numbers of the 90s were, as was true at my school, deflated because folks got fat during a booming economic period.

        Again, I’m far from an expert on this. But simply looking at it from a logical perspective, even with all the folks out of work, I can say that *MY* life hasn’t really been impacted. It’s not like there is no one to pick food or deliver my pizza or work on my car or whatever else it is I need from the economy.


        • We could hire plenty if we had a government willing to enforce 40-hour work weeks.

          But with the destruction of unions, the right wing’s trying to convert every employee to either “exempt” (no overtime) 60+ hour a week schedules, or else “part time” (no insurance/benefits) schedules. There is no in between and no sanity.


            • And what is it you do? There are precious few jobs that can’t be split between 2 or more people. And the heavier the load, the more people tend to find a way, unless it’s a business trying to work replaceable cogs into mental breakdown and then just switch out for a fresh one.


                  • What Will said. We’re not making a table where someone jumps in and just takes over where the other left off. And to even approximate the quality, you’d greatly decrease efficiency. You might get 80% of the quality with two of us doing 30/hrs a week compared to me doing 50/hrs on my own.


                    • Computer science has given us plenty of data on the decreasing utility of additional processors for all but a small subset of computing chores. Finite element analysis? Sure, but general business? Non.


                    • Like the mythical man-month throwing more humans at a problem rarely improves things. Dividing tasks among humans (or processors as it turns out) likewise introduces inefficiencies and bottlenecks that would not have been apparent in a single human/processor environment.

                      In other words I was agreeing with you but bringing in something from another field. However I didn’t do links because if you thought what /I/ wrote was incomprehensible… ;)


                    • Kazzy… translation: Unless the task is specifically geared for it, throwing more resources towards it doesn’t help. Or if it does help, does so with decreased marginal returns. In computers, you cannot expect two processors to complete tasks twice as fast as one, most of the time. How much of the utility that decreases depends on the task.

                      In the working world, if you have a very routinized set of chores, you can take one person out and drop another person in. This is one of the reasons that non-specialized labor commands such a minor premium. Whenever you can take someone out and drop another in, chances are you actually have a task where you can threaten the first person with giving the job to the second person unless they work more/harder/etc.

                      Wardsmith’s point is more limited than that, I think, but that’s where my mind goes with it.


                    • I had a FEELING you were agreeing, but really couldn’t parse that and didn’t want to respond based on that feeling.

                      I’d even go a step farther and say no problem exists. At least not in this particular situation. My teaching is effective. Could it be better? Sure. But not by anything along the lines of what MA is proposing. I do think there exist fields where work-sharing (I really don’t like that term, to be honest…) could be an improvement. You reach a point of diminished returns when you’re 22-year-old is on hour number 80 after spending the previous 4 years taking 15 credit hours a week. But you’d have to go through each on a case-by-case basis. Teaching is not one of those fields.

                      I will say that a co-teaching model, where you have two full-time lead teachers in the classroom at all times could improve the quality of the service, “create jobs”, and lessen the workload on an individual teacher. But questions remain… where does the money come to pay both teachers? A second full-time lead teacher might cut my after-hours work in half (say from 15 to 7.5), but I still need to be in the classroom 35 hours a week. So now you’ve got two folks at 42.5 hours instead of one at 50. Plus benefits, etc, etc, etc. Additionally, there are already two people employed in my classroom; I have a full-time aid. So you wouldn’t be making any impact on employment in my specific case.

                      Basically, one-size-fits-none models tend to fail, MA.


                    • Thanks, Will. I just had a similar, albeit from the other angle, conversation with my wife. We had steak for dinner (MMM!) and went a bit nuts ordering pound-and-a-quarter ribeyes. She couldn’t finish hers, but insisted that she ought to because it will never taste as good as it does then. I insisted that, as good as it tastes now, each bite going forward will be of marginal value, since she is already full, dealing with the meat sweats, and on the verge of having a food baby. I described the concept of “diminishing returns”.

                      She insisted no one would ever understand what I meant.

                      I told her the LoOG would.

                      Now I’m alone.


                    • I’m familiar with sunk costs. Is the SCF the fallacy people make when they fail to understand sunk costs? Or the idea that sunk costs themselves are a fallacy?

                      Is it good or bad that much of my economic knowledge (what little I have) comes from sports?


                    • The sunk costs fallacy is the error of taking sunk costs into account when making a cost/benefit estimate about the future. As in, but Tebow has a seventy gazillion a year guaranteed contract, so we can’t possibly cut him!

                      (I think that answered your second question, too.)


                    • That’s how I understood it. Just never saw it proposed as SCF… Just sunk costs referred.

                      Keith Law is great on this stuff. Harvard MBA who worked in scouting for the Blue Jays and now does work for ESPN. Combining his knowledge of economics with MLB’s largely free market free agent/salary cap structure, one can learn a thing or two.


                    • ward,
                      multiprocessor architectures work great on small problems. I multithread all my image analysis software, because each core can take a file and run with it the whole way to the end.
                      Multithreading with crosstalk takes Talent.
                      Java’s idea of multithreading is just a fools’ game.

                      Multithreading in general improves processing, by about as much as you can fork code.


        • She insisted that there simply didn’t exist enough people who could effectively do the job and were interested in doing so.

          I’m skeptical, but probably because I recall financial types during the boom justifying their idiotic compensation packages by insisting that they had precious and unique skills, and thinking “Yeah, right, there’s no way someone with a math or physics degree could learn to do that job.”


            • From what Ward linked to:

              “Li can’t be blamed,” says Gilkes of CreditSights. After all, he just invented the model. Instead, we should blame the bankers who misinterpreted it. And even then, the real danger was created not because any given trader adopted it but because every trader did. In financial markets, everybody doing the same thing is the classic recipe for a bubble and inevitable bust.

              I don’t entirely agree. If a grownup gives a group of children a loaded revolver to play with, the result is predictable. And really, it’s our own fault for entrusting so much of our economy to stupid, greed-crazed sociopaths.


                    • Uh, we could have a happy synthesis, where risk was managed in risk markets, where buyers and sellers could manage these things, like the happy shiny people of Libertariana tell us.

                      But no, we gotsta have investment bankers put their entire industry in the trick bag with over the counter markets where nobody has a clue. When it comes to power-mad idiots, it’s awfully hard to top the likes of those Wall Streeters thinking they were the kings of the planet.


                    • People have a remarkable ability to be extremely clever and shit-faced stupid at the same time. We crave sweets because high-grade carbs have great value in the state of nature, where food is scarce. Now that we can pretty much eat as much as we please, that craving turns into 64-ounce Big Gulps of sugar water, because people are too dumb to see past the immediate gratification to the obesity and adult-onset diabetes. Likewise, we crave wealth because having lots of stuff is way cool, but are too dump to value earning wealth by making or doing things people want, and skip directly to playing the lottery or its more respectable if far more deadly equivalent, high finance.

                      Break up too big to fail. Stop encouraging money manipulation with the tax code. Instead, encourage productive enterprise. Regulate markets that need regulation.


        • Your former girlfriend’s story is a good example of why I suggested that knowing why one wants entree into a demanding profession is important. Her schedule is what is demanded in exchange for “the money” if money is the goal — and it is the price that is demanded for pretty much any other sort of reward, too, like the satisfaction of helping out the underserved.

          Know what the price is before you buy in. If you’re hesitant to commit to that, then look hard for other ways to realize your goal. This sort of life isn’t for everyone.


          • Agreed.

            It frustrates me when people look at my job, which I love to do and has family-friendly hours and provides a fine living, and insist they wish they could do what I do.
            “You can!” I say.
            “Oh, no, I couldn’t. I mean, the money isn’t good enough. And I don’t know if I like being around kids.”
            “Sounds like you don’t REALLY wish that you could do what I do.”
            “Well, no. But I wish I liked my work like you do and didn’t have to work 80 hour weeks and had summer offs.”
            “Oh. Well. I wish I got paid like you did. But I like all those other things better. Plus I *LOVE* what I do. And I’ve accepted that there are trade offs in life. Sounds like you haven’t.”


      • I think the main thing about Associate Attorneys is that they may be “working themselves to the bone” but the actual work they’re doing isn’t commensurate with the amount of money they’re charging the client in billable hours. That is to say, it’s not worth it for the firm in the long run to carry that many long-term associates, so they want a ready pool of labor they can exhaust with high turnover, keep a small percentage of that which survives for partnerships and keep grinding out the rest.


        • My impression of the incentives facing law firms is a little different. From what I understand, a new lawyer fresh out of law school is a short-term drain on their resources. They don’t have the skills yet to be worth what they’re being paid. So it’s in the firm’s best interest to ensure they stick around long enough to become profitable. When times are tough, as they are right now, firms aren’t inclined to make investments that drag on the bottom line now but will pay off in 5 years.


        • Maybe the dynamics are different in American law firms, but this really hasn’t been my experience thus far in interviewing for Canadian law firms. There is a seemingly universal emphasis on, as Mr Vonder Haar has stated, having a long-term investment pay off. There is far-too much babysitting in the first few years.

          I don’t want to speculate too much though, because current Canadian legal career prospects appear to be far different from current American prospects. Articling placement rates that drop below the high nineties have been considered a crisis and have provoked systemic action.


          • Well, if you believe American universities’ placement stats, they’re still in the high 90s. Those numbers are of course bunk, and law schools are being sued for fraud. I don’t know whether they’re legally objectionable, but they’re certainly misleading, as law schools, among other things, have a habit of hiring students to short-term employment to boost their numbers ahead of the 6-month cutoff. I hope the institutional health of the Canadian system is better than ours, though.


            • “I hope the institutional health of the Canadian system is better than ours, though.”

              It depends on what constitutes a healthy system. It’s certainly healthy to a degree for anyone who is capable of practicing. Additionally, I don’t think there are the qualitative differences in legal education that I read about in American legal education. Some schools certainly have a prestige brand that they can trade off of – Toronto, Osgoode, McGill – or a particular program emphasis – Western, UBC, UOttawa – but there’s a reason the schools have not been traditionally ranked.

              But success is achieved by the sheer power that the provincial law societies have in shaping the nature of the legal profession, and limiting the number of lawyers – new law schools are a comparative rarity and result from decades of pushing from universities. Again, it’s an excellent system for those who get in, but it doesn’t speak much to mitigating access to justice issues.


          • Mr. VDH is in the zone [I’m a headhunter for lawyers]. There is the ramp-up cost for 1st and 2nd years, although bet-the-farm litigation and 9-figure transactions aren’t terribly cost-sensitive and a firm can bury some kids in the bill at $350+ an hour.

            In the headhunting biz, 3-5 year associates are most desirable, occasionally a senior associate 5-8 years. After 8 years, you should have made partner, and if you haven’t, if you’re lucky they’ll make you an “income” partner someday as a courtesy, which is to say a glorified associate.

            Big Law is really in the business of selling associates’ time. Even the best lawyers $750 an hour can bill only $1.5M per year, and Big Law’s minimum for equity partnership [real partnership] starts there.

            As for the credentials game, MR. VDH is correct again: a company’s General Counsel hires the law firm—if everybody there went to Harvard and Yale or one of the other Top 15 law schools, if the law firm screws up or loses the case, the GC has CYAed, everybody gets paid.

            “The thrill of the high price lasts long after the quality is gone.”

            Anyway, I thought those interested would enjoy a peek behind the Big Law curtain.


  11. Everyone but you already knows there are too many lawyers. A law degree hasn’t been a bulletproof career booster for at least a decade.

    If you really are qualified for Mensa membership (as you stated) then you’d have gone into engineering or one of the hard sciences. Or you’d become a plumber or learned a similar high paying trade instead of getting a (yawn) English degree.

    If you were really intelligent, you’d have taken the money you and your parents wasted on law school and used it as capital to start your own business.

    Every time I swear I’ll never visit the League of Stereotypical Beta Males again, a blog post like yours reminds me why I keep coming back:

    As painful penance for my many sins.

    Why don’t some of you “men” get off your computers, put down the Chomsky, and learn to change a tire?


  12. In 1997, when I graduated from high school, several friends parents who had law degrees warned us against going into law because law schools had been over graduating students for decades and there were very few well paying jobs unless you sold your soul … Since then law school enrollment has skyrocketed without an increase in the number of jobs.

    It is your own fault that you didn’t bother to do research into your field of study.


  13. James, this is an excellent post. I hadn’t seen that statistic before, but it seems to square with my experience. I’ve been gone over the past few days and computer-less, or else I would have loved to have participated in this thread. As it was, I was at a friend from college’s wedding. Of the thirty or so college friends I talked to at the wedding, a third to half are in school for some reason or another, another 20% or so just graduated from J.D. or M.B.A. or M.D. or master’s programs and either getting their asses kicked by the jobs market or working eighty-hour weeks, the rest are engineers.


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