Talk To Me Like I Am Stupid: The “Free Ride” and STEM Sneers

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310 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    1) Yes, baring any other changes. More supply will drive down the average wages. The “market” values things that people value. Lot’s of demand for STEM jobs, supply is more limited. That’s not the case for “social work” employees, who are more common (supply) and have less difficult education paths.

    2) Not sure what the “free ride” reference means. Maybe that the libs/dems will “take care of you” so vote for us?

    So do we have a lost generation that is going to know a life of largely contingent labor? I don’t think it’s that bad.

    Do we have a generation that is just going through a longer than average growing pain before getting good jobs? That’s certainly a factor given the slow “recovery”. Frankly, I’m not really convinced we’re IN a recovery.

    How does the partisan lens cause someone to answer one way or another? Don’t know. Perhaps you’d critique my comments, and since you know my political leanings, comment?Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Damon says:

      I’ll add that 1 also explains much of the failure of a college degree to confer as much of a guarantee of success as it used to. When 15% of a given generation graduated from college, those 15% were hot commodities. In 2014, 34% of people age 25-29 had at least a bachelor’s degree and 10% had an associate’s degree (excluding those who went on to complete a higher degree).

      Pace Tod, I think that most of the college wage premium for non-vocational degrees is a product of ability bias and signalling rather than human capital improvements. Both of those get attenuated hugely when 34% of the population has a bachelor’s degree instead of 15%. Which is to say, a college education neither signals higher productivity nor even correlates with it to the extent that it did a generation or two ago. College is the new high school.

      If we look at, say, the top 15% of 18-year-olds (in terms of academic performance) from 1970 and the top 15% from 2005, I think we’ll find that the latter group is doing quite a bit better. But top 15% to top 35% is only an apples-to-apples comparison if you buy into the pure human capital story.Report

  2. Christopher Carr says:

    Re: STEM sneers, before medical school I worked a variety of jobs in business, service, and research support. I found, more than anything, the ability to write opened doors for me. In one such place I was told point blank that this is why I was hired. Many of my supervisors at these jobs couldn’t write very well, recognized this fact, and delegated assignments to me. It is also generally the belief that medical school admissions boards consider the verbal section of the MCAT more important than the physical sciences and biological sciences sections. So, if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t necessarily short sell STEM, even though I suspect there is a bubble, but I would definitely invest long-term in an English major. If a college freshman interested in a STEM career were to ask me advice for choosing a major, ceteris paribus, I would recommend a double major, with one basic science, plus English.Report

    • Kim in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      English major is about as bad as accountant. People pick it because it seems easy, and don’t get very good at it.

      Don’t you think we’ll manage to automate basic science? it’s already happening around here, with biochips and all…Report

      • Damon in reply to Kim says:

        “English major is about as bad as accountant. People pick it because it seems easy, and don’t get very good at it.”

        If you’ve ever taken college level accounting for accounting track majors, it’s not easy. Folks you describe above tend to drop out after the first exam. Most of my questions on tests were from the state cpa exam.Report

        • Kim in reply to Damon says:

          Sorry, accountant is bad for other reasons (mostly that they’re automating the hell out of that profession). Forensic accounting’s another story…Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kim says:

            Kim, there is a big difference between automation as applied to a profession, and automating a profession out of existence.

            Automating a profession out of existence requires something of a technological leap, and as such, you should be able to quite easily provide links to the relevant technological innovations that will soon make CPAs obsolete. Otherwise you are just talking about applied automation, like using Excel or TurboTax.Report

            • Damon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              I’d agree. There’s still lots of nuance in GAAP and a good cpa can drive though a lot and still comply with the reqs. Hell, we’re currently arguing with outside auditors over how we treat certain transactions. That’s not going to go away any time soon unless some universal standard is rammed down everyone’s throat.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:


                (PS I know eff-all about accounting, except that I have to pay one to do my taxes, so all that stuff you just wrote might as well be Mandarin to me).Report

              • Kim in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                What state do you live in?
                Taxes are supposed to be easy, except if you’re running a small business or getting tips, or other weird unprovables.Report

            • Kim in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Yes, I should.
              In fact, I already have.

              Enjoy. Bookkeeping accounting and auditing clerks are at 98% chance of automation. (Paralegals are at 94%, fwiw)Report

              • Pyre in reply to Kim says:

                Having firsthand experience on this, even at the corporate Sales+Use tax level, the jobs are being automated out. The only thing that has kept them from being completely automated out are archaic state tax regulations that make it wise to keep paper copies on hand and the haggling process that is auditing. What jobs that are left at the lower levels are often outsourced to other countries (which can be problematic) or staffing agencies.Report

            • Kim in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Automating a profession out of existence doesn’t actually mean all jobs cease to exist, fwiw. If we have suddenly 5% of the current amount of truck drivers on the road I’m calling it “automated out of existence” (particularly if the truck drivers are now assisting in writing software and not actually driving).Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to Kim says:


                I’m not all that worried. Trains still have crews and they run on fucking tracks.* Google likes to tout how many miles their automatic car has driven but they fail to mention how many times the human has had to take control.

                I predict the day will come before I retire that I’ll be able to put it on autopilot and take a nap. But only on freeways and only in good weather. And even that is going to require some cooperative technology built into the road infrastructure.

                The other relatively near-term development I foresee is a truck that can scan its immediate surroundings in detail and automatically back into a dock or parking space, but with the human standing outside and supervising with a wireless deadman switch. The industry would love something like that. Backing a truck is the most difficult thing I do behind the wheel and backing accidents are the most common category. It’s vanishingly rare for one to result in death or injury (cuz you’re going so slow) but the monetary damages to equipment and other property really adds up.

                *But writers may be in trouble. Android predicted the last seven words of that sentence verbatim. It was a little freaky to be honest.Report

              • aaron david in reply to Road Scholar says:

                “Trains still have crews and they run on fucking tracks.* ”

                Well said.Report

              • Android predicted “fucking”?Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to Will Truman says:

                Will Truman,

                Yup. Of course, I’ve used the word before so it knew Daddy had a potty mouth. But starting with “crews” the word I wanted was the first choice in the predictive list without me even having to type the first letter. It was like it was reading my mind. Even offered up the period as the first choice after “tracks.” Spooky.Report

              • This is how Android thinks I talk. (Less interesting than yours.)Report

              • Kim in reply to Road Scholar says:

                Google doesn’t like to mention how many times their car has been forced to do doughnuts in the parking lot (which is when a human not at the wheel took control… they needed to fix their wireless — entirely too hackable).

                Yeah, there’s a probability that there will still be Someone Being Paid an Awful Lot Less at the wheel. There’s also likely to be people helping to set up routes, paid more.

                Next ten years or so, we’re looking at trucks being automated on most of the major routes. Now, whether or not you’ve got people behind the wheel, if you can drive a truck 24/7 and only have the people awake during bad weather… That’s a lot fewer drivers.Report

      • Lyle in reply to Kim says:

        What this suggests is a technical writing major not an english major with it’s detailed studies of old works and pontification thereon. The issue is communication skills both written and oral. Of course the english departments are in general not interested in this area. The question would be would a journalism or communication arts minor make more sense?Report

  3. morat20 says:

    STEM is just the current magic word. Oh, you’re STEM? Magic happens, you’re employable!

    Meanwhile, I know two biologists and a biochemist that went into teaching public school because it paid better and also there were jobs…(this in Texas, home of notorious low teacher pay).

    *shrug*. Call STEM the magic talisman that gets waved to make a job situation improve. Science and technology? You MUST be employable! If you’re not, it’s your fault! Not the economy’s!

    Then again, I’m still a bit irked that there’s a student loan forgiveness program that offers 3 times as much forgiveness for loans (all forgiveness contingent on teaching in low income schools) for science or math teachers. I was a little confused. Did history and English stop being required for graduation? Did we decide illiteracy is fine, as long as they can do basic math?

    Same magic wand of STEM. Sprinkle a little STEM, and it fixes itself. STEM is some mythical ideal of an economy, not the real world.

    Heck, if you wanted a planned cohort of graduates to fill likely shortfalls — we should be pushing nurses and home health care aides. Boomer’s are getting old and expensive and requiring care, and all the fancy robots and telemedicine in the world won’t give a patient a sponge bath or lance an abscess.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

      I would guess it has less to do with a magic wand and more to do with science and math teaching positions being harder to fill than English or social studies slots.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Will Truman says:

        I wonder why that might be?

        There’s something similar with doctors, isn’t there? Where you get loan forgiveness for working in a rural area?Report

      • morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

        Not that much harder. Finding a decent English teacher isn’t that much easier.

        Then again, I get all shirty about ‘highly qualified’. Not even your 12th grade, advanced placement college-credit class instructor needs to have a BS in mathematics. He or she needs to know calculus, yes — but every instructor in EVERY class is required to know the material.

        Actual teaching skills are critical.

        That “highly qualified” bit drives me crazy. We have those in college, and good lord so many of them can’t teach.

        You want Bobby to learn calculus well? You’d be better off paying the money for someone who spent those extra classes on pedagogy and classroom management skills. Their expertise in differential calculus and set theory is nice, but entirely useless when teaching seniors Cal I. But those classes on actually teaching?

        That’s the difference between recognizing students who don’t really understand and those who do, for instance. And how to reach the latter.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

          Schools reporting “very difficult” to fill vacancies (easy in parenthesis):
          English: 5.2% (69.7% easy)
          Social studies: 3% (77.5% easy)
          Mathematics: 18% (47.8% easy)
          Biology: 16.9% (43.9% easy)
          Physical science: 23.7% (41.8% easy)

          Computer science: 13.7%
          ESL: 20.4%
          Foreign language: 23.7%
          Music/Art: 7.6%
          Vocational: 18.7%Report

          • Alan Scott in reply to Will Truman says:

            I’m a little bit surprised by those statistics. I keep seeing English cited as one of the more in-demand teaching fields, at least locally.

            Reading between the lines, I wonder if “People willing to teach English classes to students who don’t speak/read/write it very well” is the thing that’s truly hard to find. Lots of ELL students in Southern & Central California.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Alan Scott says:

              ESL is a separate category, and is indeed harder to staff.Report

            • morat20 in reply to Alan Scott says:

              I’m in Texas, I know we have an issue with finding good teachers to handle ESL kids. (You don’t need to speak their native language, but teaching non-native speakers English is a more difficult row to hoe).

              Then again, my wife’s got a BS and a Master’s (BS in education with a math concentration, MS is a dual concentration in writing and reading). She’s certed in K-8th math, 9-12th Physics and Chemistry, and K-12 English. (She teachers senior AP English on one hand, and senior “These kids won’t graduate unless they pass the standardized writing and/or reading tests, which they have failed to do their entire high school career”* English on the other).

              I know her skills are in enough demand that people have actively tried to lure her away from her district (often into curriculum planning and training, as she’s even better at teaching teachers) but almost always with an eye towards English.

              Perhaps it’s easy to find English teachers, but I get the impression it’s not so easy to find good ones.

              *Our illustrious governor recently signed emergency legislation to change “You must pass all these tests to graduate” to “You must pass 70% of these tests to graduate” because the sheer number of “did not graduates” under our new testing regime was already causing him untold grief. Strangely, parents from both good and bad school districts feel that if you have a GIANT drop-off in graduates from one year to the next, state-wide, that perhaps the brand new requirements are bad….Report

              • Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

                Debt forgiveness for ESL teachers may indeed make some sense, because as with science and math teachers, they do seem to be hard to recruit.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

                Said it before, I’ll say it again: in New York, ESL track programs were ghettos used to keep the Mexican kids away from the General/Regents/Honors ones.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird :
                Fortunately, the schools I’ve been observing at have kept their ELL students integrated into the general student populations rather than creating a separate ELL track. I suspect something in state or federal education law requires this.

                Unfortuntately, they’ve also not always done a good job of actually educating the students in question, meaning many end up in a much more all-purpose Remedial track, which is a more general-purpose ghetto. They also tend to solve the logistical issues by putting ELD enrichment or support classes in Elective slots–and telling ELL students they’re not allowed to take any of the fun elective classes isn’t exactly the best way to encourage positive student outcomes.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to Will Truman says:

                Will, I don’t mean ELD* teachers–I mean general English teachers who are able & willing to teach ELL students.

                When I did my tutoring project for my ELD class, the 7th grade students I tutored took an English class alongside their native English speaking peers, and also a separate ELD class in lieu of an elective. AFAIK, that’s a pretty typical setup. The English teacher for those students is gonna be under the “English” category in your figures, not the “ESL”. Similarly, Morat’s wife is likely classified as an “English” teacher.

                *ESL (English as a Second Language) is a term that’s faced criticism in recent years because it connotes certain facts that may not be true:
                -First, that the students in question only speak one language besides English (Counterexample: some local students speak Mixtecan as a first language, Spanish as a second, and English as a third)
                -Second, that such students are more fluent in their non-English language. (Counterexample: Many students born in the US into Spanish-speaking households have limited fluency in Spanish because they’ve never received any formal instruction in that language, but also lag years behind their native English speaking peers when it comes to academic English skills.)

                In my own education, the typical terms used were ELD (English Language Development) and ELL (English Language Learner)Report

    • Kim in reply to morat20 says:

      There are three fields that you can get a hot career in, with STEM:
      Robotics, Environmental Engineering, and plastics.

      20 years out, we will be seeing automation of programmer positions…
      Sponge baths can’t be too hard to program…
      (and yes, they are pushing nurses, but after the boomers die who will have money to pay for nurses?)Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to Kim says:


        I disagree. It takes a robot something like twenty minutes to fold a towel. Robots are really good at some things and really, really lousy at others. They can’t improvise for shit and they just lock up at the unexpected.

        Sometimes we forget just how awesome this three-pound gob of jelly in our skulls really is. It’s only the most complex chunk of matter in the known universe.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Road Scholar says:

          It isn’t a tech issue really, it’s a math & software issue. It’s easy to program a single sensor to trigger a single actuator to perform a specific task when specific criteria are met.

          For every sensor &/or actuator added to the system, the math & software become much more complex. If those sensors & actuators have to work in concert with other sensors & actuators across 4 dimensions, it becomes orders of magnitude more complex as multiple inputs & outputs have to be evaluated & weighted in accordance with the desired action.

          How many times was the DARPA Grand Challenge run before a car finished the course unassisted?Report

        • Kim in reply to Road Scholar says:

          Look at the Goosinator. Water, snow, land — and pattern recognition.
          (I’ll refrain from mentioning the stuff DARPA comes up with — other than to note that automation of hunting is part of it).Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to morat20 says:

      There is a lot of magic wand stuff with STEM. We can take off most of Science unless it is pre-med, nursing or beyond a bachelors. There is also the fact that you really need a PhD to advance. Some people in my law school class had science backgrounds and worked in pharma but they were told that a Bachelors only takes you so far and that is not very far. These people decided that law school was a less painful option than going to get a PhD. One friend told me that if he were in Europe, his lab experience would qualify him for a PhD but the US demands a formal education to get the PhD.

      Math is good for accuaries and quants. Not so great for very theoretical stuff.

      Architecture has always been notoriously hard to make a career in and requires a long apprenticeship. Not all architects become as famous as Frank Gehry. Many would be lucky if they get a chance to build small businesses and homes.

      Engineering is a mixed bag. Some is always relatively safe and others can be very boom and bust as fields. Oil and Petroleum Engineers are doing very well right now but for how long? How much risk assessment can students make reasonably?

      So then we are left with tech which is what I really expect people mean when talking about STEM. I will further narrow it to coding and developing companies that are part of the vague social media tech 2.0. Where are the water desalination start-ups if the West has a water crisis? That is hard and expensive. Investing in the latest app is cheap and seems to get easy and fast profits when lucky.Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “Where are the water desalination start-ups if the West has a water crisis?”
        We HAVE great water startups in Vegas. I buy water filters from them.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Awww, that’s cute, Lawyers talking about the engineering profession as if they have a clue…

        Snark aside, you are speaking very much out of school. You don’t see me pontificating about which branch of law is more or less relevant in the current market, do you? No, I leave that to people who are in that market.

        Now, for those who are curious, the profession of Engineering is broken into essentially three main categories: Mechanical, Electrical, Chemical.

        Mechanical further breaks down into Civil, Aerospace, Engineering Physics, Nuclear, and a smattering of other specialized programs.

        Electrical has Computer & a handful of others.

        Chemical has Petroleum & BioChem, along with a few others.

        The others are all just more specialized versions of the core competency. Moving around within a competency is pretty easy, moving between them is much less so. This means there is no boom or bust in engineering, as such, since a person with a degree in Petroleum Engineering is a Chemical Engineer first, so switching over to a job in, say, the plastics industry would be no problem. Engineers can also move into positions within the core science with some additional training. So a Chemical Engineer can, with some effort, become a Chemist. Hell, some places treat Chemical Engineers as Chemists. Nuclear Engineers can do Nuclear Physics, etc.

        So Engineering is safe because it’s robust, and because a lot of places expect engineers to be jack-of-all-trades kind of workers, so we tend, over time, to pick up lots of additional skills through necessity (I have a Master’s in Engineering Physics & spend 90% of my work effort writing software tools for other Engineers).Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Where are the water desalination start-ups if the West has a water crisis?


      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I will further narrow it to coding and developing companies that are part of the vague social media tech 2.0.

        I’m really not sure where you get this idea, but believing it is consistent with somebody whose understanding of the tech industry comes from reading sensationalist magazine articles or watching Silicon Valley. It’s a bit like me pontificating about how the legal world works because I’ve watched a lot of Law and Order.Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    I’m still unclear on what the “law school crisis” is…Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:


      The law school crisis is this. For a long time say from the mid-1970s until 2007, going to law school was a safe guarantee of getting a middle class or upper-middle class life. There were some difficulties during the recession in the early 1990s. Things really took off from the boom of the mid-1990s until 2007-2008. What became known as the subprime mortgage crisis ended up creating a lot of work for lawyers.

      Law School is famously a vocational school masquerading as a graduate school. Most lawyers don’t really know about the notes and bolts of lawyering until they get a job. For a long time (decades if not longer), clients did not mind paying for firms to train newly minted lawyers on their dime.

      Law Schools allegedly (and probably) cooked their employment statistics and average starting salaries. Lots of people saw how will law paid and went to law school during the 1990s and early aughts. They applied.

      The fiscal crisis of 2007-2008 caused the whole thing to come crashing down. Firms closed down, third and four year associates were laid off, firms were not hiring. Lots of clients also began refusing to pay for the training of junior lawyers suddenly after decades of understanding that this was the truth.

      There is a whole cohort of people from who applied to and attended law school from 2005-2012 or so who are still being affected by this crash. They applied to law school in good faith and with it being a rational decision to attend law school. By the time these students had attended/graduated from law school, the economic map shifted on them. These people are still trying to find their way forward in their careers and many are doing so with high-burdens of student debt.

      Freddie DeBoer pointed out that the same thing happened in pharmacy. For a long time, studying pharmacy was a perfectly rational thing to do economically until it suddenly became an irrational decision because the market dropped out and demand dropped.

      De Boer’s stance and mine is that it is nearly impossible for people to tell when the gig is up because there is too much information to review and the change can be sudden and unexpected. People who entered law school from 2005-2008 made the decision when there was lots of work for lawyers. During their time in law school that worked dried up or ended and many people had their employment offers rescinded because firms were able to get experienced lawyers on the cheap. This not the fault of those who attended law school yet the blame is somehow being put on them by many.Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I have predictions that are for roughly 20 years out.
        Are you saying that the researchers are idiots???
        We know what is possible now, and all it takes is a bit of grunt work (it’ll be sooner for some than others).

        And these jobs will be gone for good.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Kim says:

          There are all kinds of articles from the 1950s confidently predicting self-driving cars by the 1970s and intercontinental supersonic passenger flights. It’s forty years on and we’re just now thinking about self-driving cars, and we stopped doing the supersonic passenger flights fifteen years ago.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to DensityDuck says:

            Re: Supersonic Flights

            2 things:

            1) It is illegal to create a sonic boom above populated areas (excepting the military), which is why the Concorde only ever flew between the US east coast & Europe’s west coast. There is a lot of research being done in an effort to shape the sonic shockwave such that it won’t reach the ground in order to get past this rule.

            2) Going supersonic is massively expensive fuel wise, and incurs a weight penalty because the engines have to be so powerful. If you can’t spend the bulk of your flying time well above Mach 1, you are wasting a lot of money for a minimal time savings.Report

          • Kim in reply to DensityDuck says:

            we have self-driving cars now. Did we have them ten years ago?
            no (though we did have GPS, which is one of the vital technologies for a self-driving car).
            What will we have ten years from now?
            I don’t know, but i do know what’s possible with current technology.Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to Kim says:

              “we have self-driving cars now.”

              We have self-driving cars that are either lash-up conversions of existing types or purpose-built and *slow*, both confined to specific regions of the country. And neither of them is in general service, and they’ve both only been operating for fewer than five years

              The self-driving cars imagined in the 1950s were more like what you get in “Minority Report”, where you have a room of your house that you go in and say “take me to the office” and the room detaches and transports you there.Report

              • Kim in reply to DensityDuck says:

                And we have actual industry workhorses that are being used on private roads (restricted access).

                Once they get the bugs worked out of the computing system (no more doughnuts in the parking lot!), it’s trucks first, cars second. Insurance companies will demand it, you understand…

                And yes, there are people with wild imaginations. There’s also that Playboy article that imagined satellites… (back when Playboy would publish scifi)Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Yeah, there is this glibertarian school of thought that says “oh, well, people who lose their jobs can just get another one!” and then when you say “uh, this guy just spent eight years and $300,000 learning to be a lawyer, he can’t exactly just go back to college like it wasn’t a big deal” they go “pffft, Lump Of Labor fallacy, there’s ALWAYS work that someone can do!”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Thanks for the summation. So who do you think the blame lies with?

        Interesting choice of words, by the way. I heard an interesting talk recently on the difference between blame and responsibility and the problems that arrive between conflating the two. In this situation, I would not say that the newly minted lawyers or lawyers-to-be are to blame, but I would say they are ultimately responsible for their choice. The idea that any schooling, training, or, really, ANYTHING guarantees you any sort of job or position in life is a faulty one to hold. If you put all your eggs into one basket, then you need to be willing to sink or swim with that basket. Even if the odds are 90-10 in your favor — or seem to be — you still carry a risk that you yourself much bear. It isn’t your fault but it is your responsibility to ultimately account for.Report

        • j r in reply to Kazzy says:

          What @kazzy says is important. Once you start the conversation by conflating blame and responsibility, it invariably becomes an incredibly imprecise and unfocused conversation.

          I know I say these sorts of things all the time, but when I read a sentence like the one below, I have no idea what it means:

          This not the fault of those who attended law school yet the blame is somehow being put on them by many.

          Why do you mean by fault? What do you mean by blame? Who are the many? And how are these many blaming those who attended law school?

          Is there some relatively unknown rash of “glibertarians” running around saying mean things to JDs? If so, maybe this needs some kind of awareness-raising effort, perhaps a GoFundMe or telethon.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to j r says:


            I’ve gone on record probably saying as much as, “You’ve made your bed. Now lie in it.” Perhaps that is being snide or glib or whathaveyou. It is not that I’m wholly without sympathy for these folks. But I tend to not be overly sympathetic to people who took a gamble and lost. If they didn’t think it was a gamble… well, that lands squarely on their shoulders. These folks didn’t get screwed over as much as they made a bet and lost. And that sucks. But, I mean, that’s life.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:


          I think the situation is complicated.

          1. The introduction of US News and World Report turned everything into a national game. Before that, there were plenty of local law schools that trained people for the workaday stuff and sometimes at night. The schools in this category are Suffolk in Boston, USF/Golden Gate in SF, and NYLS and Brooklyn in NYC. These schools suffered the worse because of increased nationalization.

          2. Some to many schools are to blame for cooking their statistics to get higher rankings. So schools stated that their grads got better salaries and jobs than others and/or downplayed student unemployment nine months out. They also said that students got jobs that they normally didn’t get like the BigFirm jobs which normally go to Top Ten law school grads. My school to their credit stated that most grads end up in small, medium, and government law jobs instead of at big fancy firms. There were always a handful of students at lower-ranked law schools who got big firm jobs. It went from being about 5-10 in 2007 to 1 when I graduated in 2011.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


            Do the law school enrollees bear any blame or responsibility for their current situations?Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

              I largely think not. Maybe for being a bit unrealistic in thinking that “I can become a prestigious M&A attorney at a Top 100 firm even if I attended a lower ranked law school.*” Maybe some went overboard on loans.

              These are largely people trying to do the best they can. They were told that a law degree was flexible and then it turns out not to be as much.

              I have a theory that we are not very good at giving positive career advice. Lots of people will say “Don’t do X unless 1, 2, 3” That 1, 2, 3 usually ends up being getting into the top ten to twenty of schools for any particular program. We are not very good at saying “These are jobs where your undergrad degree might be helpful or stuff that you might find interesting….”

              It is very easy to tell the top of the top how to get good jobs. Much harder is telling those in the middle and above middle but not the top. Those people tend to get a lot of “good luck….” type of advice. It is also easy to tell people with hyper-specific degrees how to get jobs.Report

          • I’ll just add that there’s another, closely related, major factor or two in play here. In the late ’90s through to about ’01, a JD was basically viewed as a license to print money. Not surprisingly, this meant a lot of people were applying to law school. The resulting demand of traditionally qualified students for a law school education was thus a lot higher than the supply of spots in law school. Not surprisingly, various people saw this and many law schools decided to expand with other universities suddenly deciding to open up entirely new law schools – between 1998 and 2008, the number of law schools increased by over 10% after staying roughly around 175 for two decades. The number of law students increased by about 20% in this same period and kept rising until 2010 (more on that in a second).

            So you’ve got a glut of new law school graduates. At the same time, the industry was hit very hard by the double whammy of the tech bubble bursting and 9/11. After the recovery from that, the industry reached more of an equilibrium – it was no longer a license to print money, but new grads could still expect to do reasonably well for themselves, though increasingly contract/doc review work was starting to seep in to the equation.

            Then came the 2008 recession, which hit the transactional firms especially hard, and I don’t think they’ve ever fully recovered. Thing is, a lot of new college grads looked around at that point in time and – quite rationally – figured that law school would be a good way to wait out the recession. After the number of new enrollees had briefly stabilized in the mid-00s at around 48,000, it suddenly jumped again between ’08 and ’11, even as the market for new lawyers was gradually shrinking.

            Things have gotten better, but by the time the market starts to recover a bit in ’11 or ’12, you’ve got this glut of recent grads competing with all the folks who graduated at or just before the recession, as well as the folks who got laid off during the recession.

            Not good. The number of new enrollees has started to decline drastically (there hadn’t been as few new enrollees as there were in 2012 since 1992 after peaking in 2010), and we will surely soon see a good number of law schools shutting their doors over the next few years.

            An equilibrium will eventually be reached again, but we’re still not there.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Mark Thompson says:


              I don’t disagree with most of what you are saying and my quibbles might have to do with different time lines.

              1. It is true that lots of schools were created in the 1990s but this does not explain the downward fortunes of places like Suffolk, USF, NYLS, Brooklyn. These were not new institutions looking to cash in on a mania. USF was founded in 1913. NYLS before that. Suffolk used to be where people went at night to learn law, see Matt Damon’s comments in the Departed.

              2. What I find interesting is that you think the real end was around 1999-2002. I saw a lot of work being generated by the subprime mortgage stuff and fiscal boom that eventually took out Bear Sterns and Lehman. I was a freelance legal proofreader at the time and worked at conference tables surrounded by young associates and a partner or two. Most of the documents I worked on were for various financial instruments relating to real estate mortgages and the like. I only realized that this was subprime stuff around 2008-2009.

              3. Another issue is how people who would normally work at the Big Law firms trickled down to smaller and medium firms. A lot of plaintiff firms were able to get law grads from T20 schools because of the law crash. These were firms where said T20 grads probably would have sneered at working before.Report

              • 1. Thing is that the increase in number of law schools probably hit those local law schools hardest since those were the schools the new schools were most likely directly competing with for the most part. Regardless, any decline in the number of applicants would naturally hit the more local schools especially hard since their applicant pool is more limited.

                2. It’s not that the real end was when the tech bubble burst in 2001/2002 (’99 and ’00 were probably the peak of the “license to print money era”). It’s that those years were when it went from being incredibly lucrative to just being a very good, safe option. Though there was a period in 2002 when summer associate positions pretty much disappeared – but that was temporary. Put another way – prior to 2001, demand for new lawyers outstripped the supply of new lawyers. From 2001 to 2008, demand and supply were roughly in equilibrium. But after 2008, supply started to outstrip demand because of the recession combined with the increase in enrollees.

                3. I wouldn’t call this a separate issue – it’s an automatic symptom of the other issues.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                Very interesting. Thanks, @mark-thompson . That whole “print money” thing is where I start to lose sympathy. Jumping on what essentially amounts to a get rich quick scheme carries inherent risk and if you ignored that, you did so at your own risk.

                Though, Saul, aren’t you also a proponent of more education for all? Why only view the value of a JD in terms of job prospects?Report

              • Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

                @kazzy That doesn’t seem fair, to be honest. Keep in mind, the “license to print money” is my own hyperbole. Trust me, there’s nothing “get rich quick” scheme-like about saddling yourself with six-figure debt and three to four years of hyper-competitive, intensive education in the hopes of getting into a lucrative profession.

                Stripped of my hyperbole, at that time it was no more and no less than simply looking at the market and seeing that the demand for lawyers was regularly exceeding the supply of lawyers, and it’s not as if lawyering was a new profession. That’s no different from what certain types of engineering students are doing today. The worst case scenario was that it would return to an equilibrium, which is exactly what happened in the early to mid ’00s in my telling.

                Given the profession’s history, once it was at an equilibrium, it was reasonable to assume that it would more or less stay around that equilibrium for the people entering law school in the mid ’00s.

                Were it not for the ’08 recession and its dramatic effects on a substantial portion of the legal industry, they’d have been right, too.

                Where things really started to go off the rails was in ’08/’09, when a whole host of new people decided to go to law school in the hopes of waiting out the recession. On an individual level, even this was probably a pretty rational decision – finding a decent job coming out of college was going to be unusually difficult anyhow, so may as well spend the time getting some credentials rather than leave a giant hole in your resume. The problem is that collectively this amounted to record numbers of people entering law school simultaneously. Worse, they were doing so at the worst possible time because of the backlog in unemployed previous graduates due to the recession’s huge effect on the industry.

                Should they have seen that problem coming? Maybe – certainly if they had asked an attorney for advice at that point in time, they’d have been warned. I personally gave that warning to several people, at least one of whom heeded my advice, and at least two of whom did not, though one of those two probably made the right decision due to some connections he made before going to law school.

                On the other hand, law school had historically been such a safe option and the rapidly changing dynamics of the industry kept so low-profile that I have at least some sympathy.

                I don’t think there’s much to be done about it either, mind you, other than to recognize that the legal market’s going to take a little while longer to correct itself – which it is doing, as the rapidly declining law school enrollments show.

                I think someone on this thread make a distinction between responsibility and blame, and I think that distinction’s appropriate. Law school grads alone are responsible for their decision in much the same sense (on a much grander scale, of course) that someone who pushes all-in on pocket Aces pre-flop is solely responsible when someone calls them and beats them on the river.

                Even if you think they should have known better that it was a risky bet, it was still, at minimum, a justifiable risk. You shouldn’t blame them for taking a justifiable risk. But I also don’t think we should be falling over ourselves to do more for them than we do for others who are struggling economically. To continue the poker analogy past its breaking point, I haven’t seen much reason to think that anyone was committing fraud or anything like that.

                I’ve seen the complaints about law schools’ claimed employment numbers, suggesting those numbers were misleading at best since they included nonlegal work, but I don’t buy those complaints very much. First, those numbers can change dramatically in the three-to-four years it takes to graduate. Second, not everyone who graduates law school necessarily wants a job as a lawyer upon graduation (law degrees can come in handy in other fields sometimes), and others who might prefer some jobs as a lawyer might nonetheless be happier working as, say, a financial advisor than whatever law jobs they’re actually able to get.

                Then there’s also this, which deserves consideration:

              • Second, not everyone who graduates law school necessarily wants a job as a lawyer upon graduation

                When I was contemplating law school, it was expressly sold as being helpful in any number of pursuits. Which was one of the things that attracted me to the idea. (Which, for a number of reasons – some of it being the worst luck in the history of luck taking the LSAT – I am glad that I did not pursue.)Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson says:


                Heh… that was me discussing the blame vs responsibility thing.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


                Argh… Clicked submit and somehow lost my edit option. Anyway, to your main point, I need mean to soudn callous. I wish things were better for these folks. I really do. I just bristle at calling it a crisis.

                I mean, who has it worse… new law school grads? Or young black men? And who has more responsibility for their situation? And which one are we calling a crisis?Report

              • Mark Thompson in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m totally with you on that.Report

        • aaron david in reply to Kazzy says:

          ” heard an interesting talk recently on the difference between blame and responsibility and the problems that arrive between conflating the two.”

          @kazzy was this something you were present at, or something that is online? It sounds really interesting and I wouldn’t mind checking it out if possible.


          • Kazzy in reply to aaron david says:


            It was on the podcast. It was maybe 3/4 of the way through the most recent episode (which is titled something about how a pop song explains everything wrong with society). In typical, it is a mix of really astute commentary, raunchy jokes, hyperbole, and smugness. Their podcasts are loooooong (an hour plus) and always interesting but if you are just looking for that little blurb (which was only a couple of minutes), you might have to wade through some stuff.

            I call it a “talk” because quoting the podcast feels silly… :-/Report

        • Zac in reply to Kazzy says:

          “I heard an interesting talk recently on the difference between blame and responsibility and the problems that arrive between conflating the two.”

          Was it the latest Cracked podcast, by any chance? If so, yeah, that was fascinating. It identified something I’d always noticed but had never been able to articulate, and they really captured that idea perfectly.

          EDIT: Whoops, I didn’t see your response further down the thread. Ignore my babbling.Report

  5. Kim says:

    I’m betting on riots. You are thinking like a peasant or an optimist.
    I’m not betting on things getting better.
    Do you realize how easy it is to eliminate the need for lawyers and paralegals?
    (Not in court, but how much needs to actually hit court? Public defender, now automated, pleads guilty — a lot).Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Kim says:

      “Do you realize how easy it is to eliminate the need for lawyers and paralegals?”

      I have a hard time imagining what I do being automated in the short or middle term. I spend a lot of time, for example, figuring out where to get medical records and bills, sweet talking front office staff to actually send me the damned things, reviewing the records to figure out where else the client went but didn’t mention to us, and which are relevant, putting all this stuff into a sensible order that the attorney can actually use. Sure, our brave new world of fully electronic records will simplify parts of this, but not all, even if you actually believe that brave new world is going to happen any time soon.

      Then there is stuff like drafting complaints. Many of those are pretty rote. A low speed rear end collision is not the occasion to wax poetic. So in principle a computer could just spit it out, but the complaint has to have *some* facts peculiar to that case. So I can input these facts into the computer and have it spit out the complaint, or I can insert these facts into the boilerplate template we already use. The difference is not great. And you don’t have to get too much more complicated before being faced with the awful necessity of using more than boilerplate.Report

      • Kim in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        We have computers now that pass the Turing test (mostly in limited subject matter)…
        trust me, they can be sensible if given the facts.

        We have completely automated medical records here, and we’re distroing them to multiple other hospital systems in the Western Pennsylvania area, and getting EMRs back.

        (That’s not to say you as a lawyer-chap won’t still have to sweet talk… Providing records for medical use is different than providing for legal use)Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Kim says:

          We should trust you?Report

          • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Well, I’ve never lied to you. I do not make up things, even if some of my sources are not publically available (I’m generally pretty clear about that), and if I do come across verifiable evidence, I tend to post it.

            Now, if you want to think that I’m loony, that’s your business.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:


        What predictive coding can do is scan for words very quickly. So on Complex litigation, you can take 2 million pages and get it down to 400,000 pages. Someone still needs to read those 400,000 pages though. Junior lawyers used to spend their first few years just reading the documents.Report

        • Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Assuming, of course, that those pages are in machine-readable form, and not someone’s handwritten scrawl.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

            A lot of lawyers resist using predictive coding for that reason. Though some judges push for it heavily because it does save costs for clients. I asked an old-timer how doc review used to be done before computers and he said it was just a lot of lawyers in a conference room or warehouse going through docs one by one.Report

            • Will H. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              I remember reading a case about the enhanced clawback provisions (FRE 502, iirc) where, in the statement of facts, there were three proposed protocols to isolate protected communications.
              The first cost some $17k and had someone reading each subject line.
              The second cost almost over $40k and had someone scanning subject lines to determine possible protected communications, then reading those e-mails.
              The third cost over $120k and had someone reading each e-mail.
              Needless to say, they went with a less costly option, and sorting out the matter was largely what the opinion was about.Report

          • Kim in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

            Yeah, there is that. Of course, there’s illegible scrawl, and then there’s drawing a horseshoe for “dosage of asprin” (doc got cussed out by the nurse for that one! She was the one getting called on a “how many of these should i take?” q)Report

        • Troublesome Frog in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          I still say that the legal profession needs a programming language. Laws and contracts seem to be an attempt to write unambiguous rules that necessarily have to with ambiguous concepts using an ambiguous language. A purpose-designed language (or even a markup system!) could at least help with the ambiguity of English phrasing and make it possible for computers to scan through legal documents more efficiently. Finding relevant pieces of law, catching conflicts, etc. You’d still need people to do the intellectual heavy lifting, but it would help with the drudgery of reading thousands of pages of irrelevant stuff just in case it might have something relevant in it.Report

          • Kim in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            you don’t seem to understand that the point of contracts is the loopholes…
            and the crayons…
            and the allowed but not mandatory viewing of Danny Devito’s ass (once per season!).Report

          • morat20 in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            Charles Stross’ Accelerando has a brief blurb about a corporate structure the protagonist set up. The protagonist was very anti-corporate in general, but had managed (through dint of luck and skill) to acquire the digital rights to a lot of 20th Century music because the MPAA accidentally let them lapse. Said MPAA had quickly rectified this, and had been trying to chase down (and serve) the person who acquired the rights to serve them in an American courts, to make them surrender such rights.

            Which is background to this: The protagonist had set up a recursive corporate structure, whose charter was “written in Perl”, that passed the CEO and board permissions between themselves every few milliseconds, meaning the ‘owner’ of the rights changed so rapidly that serving them was impossible, and the number of board positions multiplied as the whole thing recursed, creating whole owned subsidiaries that could ALSO hold the rights with the same recursive structure and passing around of board permissions.

            The entire edifice was constructed solely to play three-card monte with the rights, with ANY corporate entity having the power to grant usage of that music upon request. (In short, it made them open domain while preventing the MPAA from legally preventing it, because they could never find the owner of the structure to serve a warrant against, much less get a restraining order).

            Which is what comes to mind when you discuss contracts in programming languages. I’d LOVE to see a polymorphic contract complete with recursion. 🙂Report

  6. Oscar Gordon says:

    I’m going to agree with Mr. Carr up above & put forth that language/writing skills are in demand, especially in the STEM fields. Too many STEM graduates who are close to being functionally illiterate when it comes to putting together a paragraph, much less a paper. I spent an inordinate amount of time as an undergrad proofreading my classmates writing, and that was back in the mid to late 90’s.

    That said, I’m going to harp on a point of made before: how well are schools, high schools & colleges, teaching students to market themselves? Are graduates entering the market & operating under the idea that the degree is the magic bullet for getting a job? I’m starting to think that this is the case, and has been for a while.

    Perhaps it’s because I didn’t finish my undergrad with a 3.5+ GPA (working nearly full time to make ends meet while taking a full load at a Big 10 will do that), but my education was never the sum total of my resume. It was a shiny button, to be sure, but it sat alongside a long & varied work history that I spent a lot of effort to make attractive (and which I alter to highlight certain things based on the job sought). I also spend a good amount of time & effort on cover letters, tailoring them to the job & using them to demonstrate solid writing skills.

    Since 2000, I’ve read a lot, and I mean A LOT, of resumes & cover letters as a hiring manager or as part of a search committee, and what I see is pretty dismal. Thin resumes where there is so much white space the text gets lost, and generic cover letters that don’t address the job sought (except perhaps the first paragraph), and with writing that is obviously lifted and edited from a book on resumes & cover letters. I mean that seriously! I remember looking through candidate cover letters & feeling a disturbing sense of familiarity. Out of 10 candidates, three had almost the same letter, except for a handful of edits & additions.

    I can’t decide if Millennials just have no idea how to market themselves, or if their lives are so devoid of relevant experiences that they have nothing to market with.Report

    • Kim in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      They use glitter on resumes.
      Need I say more?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I have never seen anyone use glitter on a resume but it is from Kim so….

      I do admit that it took me a long time to work on my resume and CV and what finally happened is getting someone with an MBA to review both,

      Career Development at most colleges and grad schools is almost universally a joke. My undergrad alma mater offers life-time CDO. They are a great school for education but I have always been unhappy with their career advice. I remembered calling up in my early 20s because I wanted to talk about careers that one can do with a drama degree. The answer I got was a very kind “Are you sure you want to give up on theatre just yet.” The other call was simply hearing that I was doing everything right and a sympathetic “I know it is frustrating when you are doing the right things and not getting results.”

      The issue I think with resume and cover letter advice is that everyone has their preferences and giving resume and CL advice is cheap. I’ve incorporated this advice and been told that my resume and CL were much better and then been told by someone else “this is no good” because it did not conform to their preferences. It is also hard to tell whether my CL is good or not when I just wonder if my applications go into the ether.

      One thing I have been seeing lately is that firms might be unhappy with the talent out there because of the recession. I see a job posting, apply, and then see the same job reposted a few days or a week or so later. I have no idea whether my resume is lack or even if it is read.Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        This was for someone interviewing for government jobs. (gov’t in this case not taking the best and brightest).

        The advice for resumes is just normal writing advice. Be concise, don’t waste people’s time, frontload what you’ve got to say, and embroider creatively while not lying. A cover letter should be a couple of paragraphs, explaining why you’d fit in well.

        In one job that lasted less than two years, I worked for nearly 100 people. What does that tell you? In one sense, it tells you that i have people and time management skills. What it also ought to tell you is that I was working on small projects.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Certainly there are personal preferences at play, but if you send out enough, you should get some bites & interviews, writing & formatting aside.

        If you aren’t getting bites, then you are not selling yourself. Period, end of story.

        In my estimation, the very best thing you can have when preparing a resume is a person who has done hiring, who knows you well enough, and who will be brutally honest with you. Nothing in this world less helpful than a person who looks at your resume/CV/Cover Letter and just makes sure that it meets a checklist of criteria, rather than the actual content & how well it communicates.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Right. There is no good advice on resumes because your twin goals are 1) to stand out and 2) to not look incompetent or ridiculous. There is no sweet spot where you hit both for everyone, nor does anyone know the sum total of weird biases you’ll find among the companies where you send your resume. So yeah.Report

        • Troublesome Frog in reply to veronica d says:

          My mother was an executive recruiter, so I got a lot of job search and resume advice through high school and college, and one thing she was very clear on is that if you’re sending the same resume to everybody, you’re not maximizing your chances. You should have at least a guess about the types of biases and desires a given employer will have and tweak things accordingly.

          Doing recruiting and the executive level, she got paid with a few hits a year rather than a zillion small placements, so a swing and a miss was expensive (tens of thousands of dollars expensive). Top level executives and boards of directors aren’t going to review more than a couple of your candidates before looking to a different recruiter, so you need to maximize the appearance of fit. Everybody’s resume and story was tuned up specifically for the people reviewing it and the peculiarities of that company at that time.

          We don’t get the inside information about the preferences of the people who will be reviewing our resumes, but it’s a good bet that Lockheed Martin’s HR staff is looking for a different style than is looking for, even if the job title for both is something like “staff accountant.” Sending them something designed to vaguely appeal to both of them is much less effective than sending two customized resumes designed to appeals specifically to each one.Report

          • Kim in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            If you’re applying for substantively the same job, in reasonably the same type of company, you needn’t be changing much.

            Raise the importance of the skills that the employer needs, of course. And one employer may want “works well on a team” while another wants “works well by himself” …Report

            • Troublesome Frog in reply to Kim says:

              Those things you listed “aren’t much” in terms of text, but they can mean quite a lot when it comes to how somebody skimming your resume and building a model of you based on a mishmash of your resume and their hopes/fears/preconceived notions.

              In my experience, I had to carefully label my tuned resumes because they generally are very similar, but those differences make a difference. A line of particular experience omitted in one and fleshed out in another or an emphasis on management versus technical work can make all the difference. From what I’ve seen and experienced reviewing resumes and discussing them, most readers fixate on a line or two that makes you stand out as a good candidate or a candidate for the trash. The key is to find that line or two.Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    I think that STEM is considered different because, in theory, there will *ALWAYS* be improvements that can be made. There is always progress to be found in technology or engineering.

    I always assume that when people talk about STEM, they’re really talking about TE.

    Science/Math being nowhere near as voraciously hungry for advancements.Report

    • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

      Improvements may not require large-scale hiring of people, though.
      And who’s to say the improvements wont’ be done somewhere else?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        Well, the two kinds of improvements tend to be either incremental (which require teams of people, usually) or quantum leaps (which usually requires an outlier).

        The larger the pool you have, the greater odds of having an outlier… and, even if you don’t have one, you still have a team of people who can be part of incremental improvement.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:


      Me too but with caveats. See my response to MoratReport

    • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

      People’s vision of STEM is a bunch of rocket scientists.

      STEM is, in reality, a bunch of CS students looking forward to a career running the backend of advertising servers.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

        I hold onto my dream of thinking it’s guys working at DuPont or BASF or one of those places that makes concrete that can withstand temperature extremes plus periodic salting.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

          Well, if AMC can make working in advertising seem exciting, they can handle this pitch as well.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

          Well, there are guys doing that. But they’re mostly the same guys who were doing that back in the 1980s, only older. And there are a few new guys, but not so many as would need thousands and thousands of college graduates to fill the positions, and not so many as to create the magic economic recovery everyone hopes for.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

            I admit, I keep waiting to hear that the boomers have started retiring.

            They keep not retiring.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

              That is another part of the issue. There is a theory that a lot of younger lawyers are having a hard time establishing client relations because people just go to unretiring boomer lawyers.Report

            • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

              My Dad’s retired twice. I think he’ll retire from his current gig sometime in the next 10 years.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Jaybird says:

              The Lazy B has a bad habit of bringing retired engineers back as contractors because Knowledge Management is lacking.Report

              • morat20 in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Ain’t that the truth. It’s just as bad in coding.

                It’s rare to find decent documentation. One of the downsides of Agile As Practiced By Lots of People is the iterative process tends to result in lots of information being contained solely in the heads of programmers.

                Good management makes them write it all down and document it latter. Good management is rare.

                I’ve personally participated in large, fast, iterative projects (We’d prototype, show the customer, get feedback, repeat, until we got it working the way they wanted — then value added based on regular feedback after that) where I know at least 80% of the project was undocumented — not how the code works, but why we did it that way. Why did the customer want it that way, what were the customers needs?

                And people move in and out pretty rapidly in the programming business, and so lots of information gets lost. You can always, with enough time, dig out WHAT the code is doing — but if no one wrote down “This is why we made it do this” you’re left guessing.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to morat20 says:

                Yeah, don’t get me started on code documentation. I try like hell to keep on it myself, but the demands to push out functional code kills the time to do anything more than the most basic documentation. I try to overcame that a bit through clear structuring and naming, but that only takes you so far…

                But at Lazy B, it wasn’t code, it was whole engineering best practices, all wrapped up in a couple of heads & never really written down. Then those heads would be resistant to train others (because job security) or unable to (because there isn’t a project you can bill knowledge transfer to).

                So when those heads retire, you bring them back as contractors, until they die, and then you put together a team to basically re-invent the wheel.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              We keep waiting to hear that there are jobs for our kids, so we can afford to retire. There may be a connection of sorts.Report

  8. j r says:

    In the comments section, I always seen people make sneers about useless degrees and also how young people are only losing because liberals/Democrats convinced them about how everything is a “free ride”.

    It would probably help people answer your questions if you gave an example of the sort of sneer to which you are referring.

    I’ve seen articles about young people saddled with six-figure student loan debt complaining about how they cannot find a job, only to read halfway down the article that they majored in women’s studies or comparative literature and gave no serious thought to what a viable career path might be. And yes, some people will sneer at such a story, but I’m not sure how that related to the questions that you asked.Report

    • veronica d in reply to j r says:

      I suspect that the authors of the article chose that person as their example, rather than many other people, precisely to express the “sneer.”

      I had dinner this week with a smart young woman with a MIS major and CS minor, who had some development experience, but who could not get a break, even in a pretty good job market. Which, she’s definitely STEM, but she is (I hope it’s fair to say) a fairly average person, smart enough, eager enough, but not in a way that stands out.

      But the authors of those articles will not interview her, because she does not tell the story they want to tell.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to veronica d says:

        I always go back to what one of the old programmers at my last company said after we had chewed through a bunch of potential recruits. “I’m starting to worry that there are the same number of programmers today as there were in 1979. There are just a lot more people who have degrees.” It’s great that people are planning ahead and trying to choose fields that are in demand, but as the fields get more specialized and technical, aptitude starts to play at least as much of a role as training. That may not be true when “learn a new skill” means learning to type on a typewriter or learning to lay bricks, but it’s a real problem when “learn a new skill” means becoming an aerospace engineer or an opera singer.

        I know a *ton* of engineers from India who went into engineering because that’s what you do if you’re smart. A large percentage of them have no aptitude for it and no interest in it because they’re the type of smart that ends up becoming a lawyer or a writer or a teacher. They were smart enough to learn the skills, but they’ll never excel at it because it’s just not their thing. I worry that cultures that overemphasize a few careers as being “the answer” end up wasting a lot of their potentially excellent Xs by turning them into mediocre Ys.Report

        • Kim in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

          The plan for the h1bs is to get rich as a computer programmer (learning Lua or Squirrel! or one language only thats hot right now) in the States, then head home and live like a king.Report

  9. LWA says:

    Us architects straddle the line between STEM and the humanities. There is the tiny sliver of star architects who are more like Jeff Koons than working professionals, then there are the other 99.9% who are engineering-type technical professionals, who build the buildings we all live and work in.

    The STEM sneer overlooks a major factor, which is that technical skills like engineering can provide a mildly useful career skill. However, the really useful skill, the one that sends you up the corporate ladder isn’t your facility with Excel or your ability to determine how to make the Doritos crunch 10% more satisfying that Laura Scudders.

    The most valuable skill in business is social skill- networking, selling, persuading.

    Social skills lean heavily on the humanities- as remarked above, writing skills, language dexterity, the ability to read emotions and form cooperative alliances- these things are major components of success in business.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to LWA says:

      The old line I’ve heard is that college will not make you a banker. The club will make you a banker. College will make you clubbable.

      Or it used to.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to LWA says:

      I shall refrain from submitting the Architect sneers I picked up while working for the Civil Engineering Department…

      LWA: The most valuable skill in business is social skill- networking, selling, persuading.

      This is a skill set that the STEM set have historically been short on, but that is changing. When I was in school, networking was heavily emphasized, so much so many professors would spend time talking about it during class (especially right before recruiters came to school, or before E-Week or the Engineering Fair). We’d even role-play it a bit.Report

      • Chris in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        “You innumerate fool! You wouldn’t know the answer to an engineering problem if it smacked you in the face. Why don’t you just leave, drive off in your high-end Porsche and go back to your absurdly large $3.2 million lakeside home!”


        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chris says:

          Well played sir, well played…Report

        • LWA in reply to Chris says:


          “Apparently the juxtaposition of a subtended metaphor exploring the physical space in a constructed dialogue between role and anti-role is too much for the engineering mind to grasp.”

          [afterthought while on drive to lakehouse: “Damned if I will invite him to my wine and brie soiree]Report

    • aaron david in reply to LWA says:

      “The most valuable skill in business is social skill- networking, selling, persuading.”

      My brother is an arch, this would definatly hold true for his business (owns his own firm.) Also, being the guy that will Do It. When the recession hit, he was the guy who would do a garage remodel, slap a 200′ addition on a cheap rental etc. and have them ready when asked for.

      He is not a good writer, but he doesn’t need to be in his particular niche. For him everything is word of mouth, and plans. But he definately worked hard to get there, and still works hard (60+ hour weeks.)Report

  10. DensityDuck says:

    On the one hand: “Get into STEM! It’s real important and there’s good jobs! Your innovation is the future of America!”

    On the other hand: “No private drones anywhere. No RF broadcasting unless you conform to regulations. No pharmaceutical development without review and permission. Stay inside and watch TV.”Report

    • Kim in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Private drones are perfectly legal. Corporations have issues with the laws, but that’s different.
      Corporations also have difficulty with their drones flying into Pittsburgh Potholes and never returning…Report

  11. Doctor Jay says:

    As a long-time STEM person who also likes to read books – the sort of books that English majors like – I don’t take the STEM sneer at face value.

    To be sure, I don’t endorse it. I don’t endorse any scorn or shame or disdain. But I can tell you where it comes from.

    As a college student, a long time ago, I had to endure the sneers of the liberal arts types, framing me as a an uncultivated oaf with no soul, just a mind of numbers and the heart of a machine. I see now that this was their insecurities about the math skills talking, but at the time it made me quite angry. Even now I get irritated when someone describing everyday applications of mathematical or scientific theory as “making it more human”. This implies that what I do isn’t quite human, and I protest that the opposite is true. Only humans do math and science, so there is nothing that is more human. Honestly, the term “humanities” enshrines this attitude that there is something “less-than” to doing science.

    Humans being what they are, there is a powerful urge to retaliate, and to sneer in return. The lines of identity are drawn and battle commences. As has been described here before, people who succeed in causing the other side to suffer gain status among their own group, and the situation escalates, leaving little room for people like me who are comfortable in both modes and see all of it as being “human”.

    I am weary of this conflict, but my weariness has little effect.Report

    • @doctor-jay

      I used to be one of those humanities sneerers, both against STEM people and against business majors. I regret that I was such a snob.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Doctor Jay says:


      I just had another thought. I wonder if arts and humanities people feel the sneer is the other way around.

      As someone who tried for an artistic life, I feel like a lot of people have a want to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to art and artists. Almost everyone likes and consumes some form of art and entertainment: TV, Movies, Music, Dance, Comedy, The written word, etc. Yet there is a lot of sneering at those who try for these fields which are very hard to break into. I have a lot of respect for artists and those who try at something less common and less secure.

      There is also a lot of art around us that people don’t seem very cognizant of. This is design. Even the most humble of furniture and interior is designed to be pleasing to the eye.

      Now I admit that I am someone who cares and thinks about aesthetics more than many.Report

      • These people don’t object to people making a living producing art, though. That’s not what they’re responding to. They see a glut of artists, and tend to be impatient with people who knowingly enter that glut and put themselves in a precarious position.

        There is only so much one can listen to how extremely difficult the life is without losing patience with the thought “But you chose this” and coming to the conclusion that it’s a bad choice and responding accordingly. (This is one of the reasons why I have a great deal more sympathy for people who went to law school 15 years ago or so, but a lot less about the ones who go now, even though I recognize that the world does in fact need lawyers. It just evidently needs a lot less than it is currently producing.)

        But a whole lot of this is in response to people who got liberal arts degrees and are complaining that it didn’t work out for them. And that they chose what is perceived as the easy and self-fulfilling path.

        (Personally, I think the “you got the wrong degree” argument is weaker than its advocates suggest. In part because really, STEM isn’t for everybody and if it’s not for you, you’re not doing anybody any favors by going for it. In other part because business degrees have become exceptionally common, and business degrees are not particularly fun and the rewards are not all that much greater than – and in some cases no greater than – non-STEM liberal arts degrees.)Report

      • Autolukos in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Having been on both the STEM and the humanities sides, I’ve seen sneers going both ways. I’ve also seen appreciation of differences going both ways. I think that most people pay too much attention to the sneers directed their way, but that’s more a human nature problem than anything else.Report

      • Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Of course there is sneering the other way, Saul. That’s how this thing works. You choose up sides and reckon an insult to your side as an insult to you personally, and that justifies your own shit-flinging.

        The only way you can find peace is to eliminate the other side from your consciousness – or to decide that you will suffer without adding to the violence. And to my way of thinking, this is violence.Report

    • veronica d in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Thing is, I’ve only encountered an anti-STEM sneer once, and actually it was so stupidly ridiculous I couldn’t even be offended. It all happened in the early 90’s, on a cool autumn night in Miami Beach, where I was hanging with a couple dudes after the punk rock show. One of the dudes was a friend, who was an electrical tech. The other was this guy who I can only describe as — well, he was basically a smug ne’re-do-well proto-hipster.

      It’s hard to explain, but yes, back then hipsters existed.

      But like he was totes for-realz hipster before it was cool to be a hipster, and then before it became uncool to be a hipster unless you are a hipster “ironically,” except we’ve stripped the word irony of all meaning and thus we aim for meta-irony.

      (Yeah, hipster bashing is lame. But still, that guy! OMG!)

      Anyway, that night he explained to my friend and I how he was an “idea guy,” and our role was to execute his ideas.

      I swear to fucking god he said that! Like, not even subtle. He went on for paragraphs.

      We laughed at him.

      So far as I know he has achieved nothing in life. Haven’t really kept track, however.


      Anyway, that guy was a walking human dildo. But it seems pretty crappy to sneer at the humanities in general. I like books and stuff. I like smart people who read a lot of books and think about what they mean.

      Yay humanities people!

      Yay techie nerds!

      It’s like a great big happy party where we sing, dance, and wear colorful hats.Report

  12. DavidTC says:

    1. Doesn’t the STEM sneer just show a basic failure of economics? If everyone can and did major in a STEM field, wouldn’t the wages in those fields be decreased because of oversupply?

    This has pretty much been the major thought failure of *all* the ‘jobs are in short supply, everyone should go to college’.

    Now jobs are still in short supply, only college graduates can be hired, and everyone has student loan debt.

    Yeah, that was some *amazing* advice we were giving out for the last decade or so. Thanks, guys. That really worked wonders.Report

    • ktward in reply to DavidTC says:

      So, your advice is … that no one should go to college? I’m not entirely sure what your point is.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to ktward says:

        If you run a widget factory, and you are having a problem meeting deadlines on orders that don’t have a RUSH stamp on them, you can’t solve the problem by putting a RUSH stamp on more orders.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to ktward says:

        I don’t think that is exactly his point but David does have a point on how we really are all shooting in the dark when it comes to job-creation and educational-policy.

        There seems to be a brief moment in American/World history where it was possible to get a good middle-class life while being a relatively unskilled worker. The factors that created this world are complex and not quite fully understood. The Cold War is part of it, so were strong unions and maybe some fear of communism causing capitalists to play nice nice with the working class.

        This ended sometime in the 1980s. But you had a lot of people who grew used to a middle class life. Can’t take this away so easily yet the PTBs wanted NAFTA and now they want TPP. So how do you keep people happy and middle class? Ugh…everyone goes to college. You can’t really say “We are going to have a much smaller middle class” in a representative democracy.

        Coming up with how many people should go to college, what they should study, and what they should do after is impossible.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          As far as I’m aware, no economic ideology argues that there system is correct but will lead to a small wealthy elite, a slightly larger middle class, and most of the rest in poverty. Nearly every economic system from anarcho-capitalism to Communism argues that it is the one true way to mass affluence and prosperity.Report

        • j r in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          This ended sometime in the 1980s.

          By that argument, there ought to be a smaller percentage of people living a middle class now than there were in 1960 or 1970. And yet, almost nowhere in the world, the United States included, is that the case.Report

          • Kim in reply to j r says:

            How much of the 8% of GDP that is blackmarket counts as middle class?
            Aren’t you troubled that it’s been growing?

            Middle class means a ton more work now than it did then… (women working, yes?)

            Productivity continues to increase.Report

          • morat20 in reply to j r says:

            Your analysis is deficient. You’d have to define the middle class (what range of income) and then determine (1) changes in hours worked (which would cover the change in single income to dual or more income families) and (2) the median incomes (probably best to split that off by deciles or something). Might also add in debt.

            You’d want to see if people are staying middle class because they’re working more, and if the middle class itself has remained the same or has shifted around inside that wage range.

            It’s perfectly possible, for instance, for “more people” to be middle class, but only because “more people” are dual-income households. Or, similarly, that more people are middle class, but a larger percentage is on the lower end of the range than before — slowly sliding out of middle class.

            I’m not saying that’s the case, I’m merely pointing out saying “more people are middle class” is not really accurate without further investigation. (I’m assuming you were discussing % of population, and not just rising numbers. If the population has doubled but the middle class only increased by 50%…..)Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to morat20 says:

              There are some charts here. Median income for 2- and 3-earner households is up since 1980, while it’s been virtually unchanged for 1- and 0-earner households. Note also the falling number of earners (and non-earners) per household.

              See also the charts on this NYT article, which show after-tax median incomes rising for the 20th percentile and up since 1980, steady at the 10th percentile, and falling only slightly at the 5th. Note that those are per-capita figures (including children and other non-working household members), which is why they’re so low.

              So the worst you can say is that at the lower deciles things haven’t improved much since 1980. There’s no sign of a vanishing middle class.Report

              • zic in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                What’s changed it the hours worked per household (increased as number of children has decreased,) and the gap between the middle class and upper-income earners, no? The middle classes’ income is much, much closer to the lower earnings than the upper. It’s not in the middle, and earning that income takes more time.Report

              • morat20 in reply to zic says:

                So in short the bulk of the middle class is working longer while sliding downward towards the ‘bottom’ of the income range?Report

          • Alan Scott in reply to j r says:

            Doesn’t that depend rather heavily on how you measure “middle class”, though?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Alan Scott says:

              Personally, I’ve always seen “middle class” as being as much of a set of behaviors/culture as being within a band of income.

              There’s no shortage of lottery winners who file for bankruptcy later. On the other hand, there’s no shortage of people who go through a rough patch and leverage their non-monetary (and non-zero-sum) privileges to make it to the other side.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

                Re: behavior/culture. See my comments to Iron Turn about who goes into what jobs and why.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird I’m with you on this. To really understand who is and who is not middle class, you need to go to the French term bourgeoisie. Bourgeoisie were originally just the people who lived in towns but during the 18th and 19th century the term got a more definite meaning. The bourgeoisie were not only urban but believed in things like delayed gratification and education. The term middle class originates in 18th century England as the middling sort, people who were wealthy enough not to worry about sudden disaster and able to afford some luxury but not wealthy enough to live like the gentry and peerage.Report

        • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          No, you’re shooting in the dark because you won’t read the bloody research.

          Please, for the love of god, read the article.
          The initial part may inform your understanding of how technology has changed employment over the past two centuries.


          (Yes, I do realize it’s over ten pages. Deal.)Report

      • DavidTC in reply to ktward says:

        So, your advice is … that no one should go to college? I’m not entirely sure what your point is.

        People certainly should not be required to spend four years of their life and hundreds of thousands of dollars *paying* for a college education so that they can have a slight edge in the job lottery for jobs that *don’t require any college skills*. That is pretty much the textbook definition of ‘inefficient’.

        It is like if people starting putting the tallest mountain they had ever climbed on their resume, and ten years later half the young adult population could be located halfway up the slopes of Mt. Everest. This serves no possible purpose. More to the point, it cannot actually *solve* the lack of jobs. The problem is not unemployed people with a lack of mountain climbing skills. Or unemployed people without college degrees.

        This is an example of the stupid logical fallacy ‘This would make your chance of beating the odds better, so we’ll just make it general advice’, while ignoring the fact that playing ‘who gets the job’ is a zero-sum game. Advising *everyone* how to play a better game of poker cannot result in the outcome ‘everyone wins at poker’. That is not how poker works!

        And, just as relevantly, it was *really* obvious lack of educated workers wasn’t the problem, and everyone suggesting otherwise was an idiot.

        If that had been the problem, there would have, for example, been a major push to simplify *things that required a education*, so unskilled people could do them. Which we’ve done before…it’s the entire premise of cash registers, for example. And there are *fields* where there are actually shortages, and they do *exactly this*. For example, the doctor shortage has resulted in the medical profession trying to do things without doctors, putting simple jobs on non-MDs

        Instead of going that way, jobs got even more technical. Why? Because it reduced staff while, and this is very important, *not causing any manpower shortage*, exactly the opposite of what everyone pretending it was doing.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

          Didn’t Vikram have a post a while back about this exact idea?

          This is what I was getting at above with knowing how to market oneself. It isn’t enough to just be able to check all the boxes. A resume/CL/CV isn’t a form to fill out, it’s a story you have to tell. I’m thinking too many Millennials think the degree is all the story they need.Report

          • DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            I’m thinking too many Millennials think the degree is all the story they need.

            Uh, no, too many Millennials *have no relevant job experience*, so cannot tell any sort of ‘story’.

            And, again…this is literally ‘advice that would make them more likely to hire you instead of another person’, which is useful advice for any specific person, but it does not actually work as advice for *everyone*, and certainly not as any sort of criticism that everyone isn’t doing it.

            The problem is not that resume are not being hand-calligraphed in gold paint and aren’t being delivered via 12 trained messenger doves. Or that Millennials have not climbed Mt. Everest and not gotten cybernetic implants.

            The problem is the amount of jobs being chased are zero-sum, and *there are not enough of them*. Absolutely *nothing* Millennial job-seekers can do will change that.

            All adding more expensive and time-wasting hoops for Millennial to jump through does is make their starting position *worse*.

            It’s akin to solving a nightclub not being large enough to hold the people that want to attend, by only letting in the most attractive people, or the richest. Actually, it’s like raising the cover charge, and *then* turning away the same amount of people…after they have paid. (And then complaining they didn’t wear solid gold hats while trying to get in.)

            This…is not fixing the problem. The same amount of people are attending, and the same amount are kept outside. Perhaps it’s *different* people, but it’s the same amount.

            Hell, if anything, raising the employment bar, so everyone has to have a degree, in a world with a limited employment prospects is very slightly counter-productive. If the choice is between the college graduate flipping burgers, and the high-school dropout being unemployed, or vis versa…well, the college graduate is slightly more likely to figure out some *other* thing, perhaps starting his own business. At the very least, he’s more likely to have a privileged background and savings. So, strictly speaking, we’re better off having him unemployed and the guy *without* skills working the grill….which is the exact opposite of the system we’ve set up.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

              So my question from here:

              Oscar Gordon: I can’t decide if Millennials just have no idea how to market themselves, or if their lives are so devoid of relevant experiences that they have nothing to market with.

              Is answered. Millennials have nothing to market with.

              Except I don’t believe that. Or rather, if that is the case, it is one of their own making. At least, to a degree.

              Riffing off Kazzy’s blame/responsibility dynamic, GenX/GenY is to blame for instilling the idea that the degree is enough, but Millennials have to take responsibility for following that advice, and take action to do something else.

              As for jobs, according to the BLS, there were 5M open positions in March, a number that has been pretty constant for some time. And they aren’t all flipping burgers, washing dishes, or picking lettuce. You are right that labor supply is outstripping demand, but only in some sectors, and I bet those sectors are the ones that need people with humanities degrees.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to DavidTC says:

      Fact check: About 93% of people who have indicated to the BLS that they want jobs have jobs. Most of those people don’t have college degrees.Report

  13. Iron Tum says:

    1. A STEM graduate would point out that your “if/then” construction has a false premise, making the conclusion so much word salad. Also “things like social work which are necessary but not necessarily market-friendly” is begging the question.

    2. The Free Rider Sneer is just a rewording of the Randian maker/moocher dichotomy. Your life is space awesome by any historical standard due to other people’s work that you can’t begin to understand, much less appreciate. Go complain about inequality while eating your out-of-season-on-this-continent fruit and watching Breaking Bad on your iPhone. Be sure to blog about how much you deserve more free stuff.

    Related to 2, life has gotten so easy that “good jobs” has gotten to mean “well paying for little/no substantial or sustained product.” Wearing a hardhat and hi-viz is apparently so degrading to people’s sense of self that they turn up their noses at fishing rigger’s jobs playing $80/hour for a journeyman. . You want beaucoup bux? Trades are where it’s at.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Iron Tum says:

      Well you have to admit that office work contains significantly fewer risks of retaining serious injuries and/or dying on the job because of an accident. This doesn’t count for nothing. It in fact counts for quite a lot. How much would you need to be paid to work on a rig in the middle of the ocean.

      Years ago I remember an article in the Times about factories closing down. One guy’s father was a doctor but this always seemed to be an exception rather than a rule.

      I also question how well plumbing and electrical work pays despite the claims of others. The way it seems to work in the Bay Area is that plumbers and electricians tend to be employees for bigger companies instead of working on their own. Maybe they have good salaries but I would want to see numbers.Report

      • $49,140 per year for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

          The stock photo/caption on that page is great.Report

          • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

            “Plumbers commonly cut pipes” is the title of my upcoming single, the first release from my new album, “Commonly known facts.”Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

          That is a solid income not so much to disprove the old joke but solid none-the less*.

          There are all sorts of cultural preferences and issues that go into what makes a job good and with cultural preferences and issues come deep resentments. See Doctor Jay’s comment. The dirty jobs thing seems to me a way of saying “Hey, Mr. Lawyer and Ms. Doctor, why did you find it more valuable to have your kid study ballet or theatre or art history instead of working on a rig.” See Doctor Jay’s excellent comment above.

          *The old joke involves a doctor who is shocked by his or her plumbing bill and the plumber responds that he used to be a doctor and was shocked by his first plumbing bill as well.Report

          • Iron Tum in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            One of my former coworkers left a nice cushy job in City government (including one of the little buttons that keeps the lights from turning yellow) to work for his father-in-law’s plumbing company because of the pay differentialReport

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Iron Tum says:

              I said doctor, not city government,

              You still haven’t answered the safety question. If you had to choose between 45,000 a year as an office worker or 60,000 as rig worker or fisherman on the seas what would you choose? How much higher pay do you need to deal with rates of death?Report

              • Iron Tum in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                How much would you pay for a button that kept the lights from changing?

                The answer is, you don’t drive, right?

                My response to the safety question is that there isn’t necessarily a safety question. Yes, working on a rig (and btw, you’re underestimating the pay in that case by a factor of at least two) is more dangerous than an office job. But… most trades aren’t. Office workers are notorious in their injury rates, and in the amount of money that those injuries wind up costing relative to other positions (which is why RSIs and ergo injuries are such a big deal — they cost money). The #1 cause of injury here is people slipping in the parking lot in winter. And the injuries are overwhelmingly the result of human error, or more bluntly idiocy. In the last several million man-hours worked here, we have had one (1) fatality. That was literally caused by a supervisor lying down in front of an air handler component (into the known fall zone), and one of the riggers pushing it over on top of him. The rigger claimed that he thought someone had said “go.”

                So really, even in dangerous jobs the biggest danger is your coworkers. Perhaps even in the parking lot. I’d have to see the stats for any particular job and compare it with injuries/mile spent driving and compare it with the commute, or the chance a hobo is going to push you onto the tracks, or that the spinach salad in the cafeteria has super e. colilysteriaMRSAReport

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Iron Tum says:

                I do drive. I even own a car. I just hate looking for parking which is a big issue in SF so I tend to use my car for out of town trips.

                The big issue with jobs seems to be more cultural and I am not sure how to unstick that. By cultural, I mean that it seems like there is a lot of socio-cultural segregation going on. Let’s say that they are a lot of rig workers and other trade people who make great five or six-figure incomes. What is interesting is that they tend (from anecdotal observation) to live in very different neighborhoods and also have very different tastes in almost all things than their while-collar counterparts. There are exceptions and maybe more than I am counting but my guess is that these are some of the bigger barriers as to why people who grow up in upper-middle class white-collar families don’t consider the trades.

                If I am right, I am not sure what the solution is but I don’t think telling someone to switch from MOMA to MMA is going to work.Report

              • Most blue collar types I’ve known do not view white collar through the same shades as the inverse. Most would be perfectly fine with their kids taking a white collar job, and a substantial portion specifically want that for their kids.

                A lot of what you see is defensiveness over this feeling is not reciprocated.

                This is not two sides looking across at one another. One side is looking up, and the other side is looking down.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:


                I think it is more complicated than that. The question is if blue-collar people want their children to get white-collar jobs because they see it as a step up, why shouldn’t white-collar people see blue-collar jobs as a step down? The question is coming off as snobbier than intended.

                The general issue seems to be a rise up and then a pleteau is okay. You see this in a lot of immigrant success stories. The ancestors come to the U.S. and generally work unskilled jobs with tough conditions, they tell their kids to work hard and do well in school. The first generation kids get better jobs to a variety of degrees. My grandfather couldn’t complete his education in architecture because of the Great Depression but he moved up and worked as a draftsmen and later selling kitchen cabinets instead of in the needle trades like many Jewish immigrants did. The second generation (boomers) were able to complete college and go unto grad school. I think with Jewish-Americans it was the silent generation and boomers who really entered the ranks of the upper-middle class. The third generation (my cohort) generally needs to go really far to beat their parents so this is where equilibrium happens and professionals tend to encourage their children into professions.

                This is also where you get all the divides into how kids are raised and what activities are done and generally where people live. I grew up in a town filled with professionals generally. There were some exceptions. I am not doubting what people say about the income of various trades.

                The ideal that you and Iron (and maybe the cultural right) seem to wish for is for all jobs to exist on a plane. I am not sure that has ever happened in the history of mankind or at least since we started developing cities and writing in Sumeria thousands of years ago.

                You know enough of my cultural tastes to know that they tend to be a bit more specialized than most. How much masking do you think someone with my cultural tastes or similar enough cultural tastes would need to do if I worked one of the so called “dirty jobs” to avoid getting serious ribbings or isolated at the job? Would I have to hide saying that I spent my weekend at a Truffaut revival or going to see a Polish theatre company perform at BAM? Plenty of white-collar workers don’t like that stuff either but it is not considered cool to rib for that in white-collar environments. I’ve worked in parks doing manual labor over the summer and gotten ribbings about why I spent my breaks reading books. There were plenty of times I got some minor jokes over “Saul books” in grad school or law school but not to the level of why do you read so much?

                There is also Mortat’s observation that you can continue working white-collar jobs much longer.Report

              • I’m with you on preferring white collar work to blue collar. It’s not even close! A lot of it is how you view the less desirable position, and how you express that view. Because (a) some people do actually prefer it, and (b) it’s tactless to spit on the life that someone else has (unless you’re pretty sure they’re unhappy with it).

                My wife’s cousin works on an oil rig, seven on and seven off. He has a college degree from a well-regarded private university (middle of the pack of the top 100 USNWR schools). It’s probably not what he had intended. It’s probably not where he intended to end up, and I’m sure that he hopes not to be doing it indefinitely.

                But, other than the misallocation of labor, I don’t see anything particularly wrong with it. It’s not a failure that he ended up there. If someone cannot find the work they prefer, they absolutely should consider working on a rig, and if it is better than the alternatives, they should do it.

                This is easier said than done, of course. And I’m as guilty as anyone else. When I moved to Deseret with a few thousand in the bank and no job in a place where I had almost no connections, I knew that there were some kick-ass paying jobs on the wheat fields. I never applied. I almost took a job at a ketchup factory, but pulled out.

                I chose to work a phone bank for $7/hr instead of wheat fields for $20/hr. Others would have chosen the fields, or the ketchup factory. Others still might not have had a choice. Not a single one of these choices would have been wrong, though I have to confess I wish I was the type of person who wouldn’t have balked at working the fields, but I am what I am. I’m glad that I didn’t have to, but that I didn’t have to makes me not better, exactly, but privileged.

                Talking about how you might prefer a phone bank to wheat fields is okay. Or a rig. Talking about how utterly terrible the wheat fields or the rigs are – especially when you’ve never done it? That’s something different. For some people, that’s their life. It may be there preference or it may not be their preference, but people in a place of privilege need to be very careful how they talk about it and actually have a degree of admiration for their willingness to do what we don’t want to.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

                I gotta say that I think the idea of looking down at people doing blue-collar work is greatly exaggerated in the heads of a lot of people. I am sure it happens and I might even do it unintentionally but not to the extent that Fox News has been able to mint a gold mine out of it.

                The big issue and divide is how people seem to prefer to spend their free time and also where people like to live. I admit to being pretty bougie in my tastes and liking to check out the latest restaurants and bars when I can. Also to going to theatre a lot. If someone isn’t into these things, we are not going to have many times to hang out. Burt’s essay from a while ago probably comes in here.Report

              • It’s really not an “it happens” thing… it’s pervasive in the way we talk about things and approach things. Most of it has little to do with party affiliation (Fox News is typically riffing on related but distinct things and working to make them all the same thing)… it transcends ideology and lands squarely on class. It’s a thing.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                I gotta say that I think the idea of looking down at people doing blue-collar work is greatly exaggerated in the heads of a lot of people.

                I hang out with white-collar workers alot (I live in Boulder, CO!) and I can tell without reservation that the prevailing view held by those folks is that blue collar workers are not only stupid (intelligence correlates with income for these folks) but they’re also losers (since ambition and drive also correlate with income).Report

              • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                How are they defining blue collar? Electrician? Laborer? Gardner? Plumber? Skilled BC vs unskilled BC?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                Yeah. As far as I know they define “blue collar” just like the rest of us do. I think anyway.Report

              • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’m not actually sure how people define blue collar though. I’ve met plenty of people who look down on fast food counter workers but completely respect skilled trades people.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                We all need someone to look down on. 🙂

                Blue collar, as I understand the word, is people who make their money in traditional labor-based activities: the trades, ag., manufacturing, oil/gas, etc. I’ve never thought of fast food workers as blue collar since (up until recently!) it wasn’t a career choice/path.Report

              • greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yeah but i think there is a different view of skilled vs unskilled labor. I think far more people respect electricians or highly trained factory workers than the people digging ditches in their gardens. I don’t’ think there is a general blue collar, their are tiers. Or at least i think many people see it that way.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                Yeah. And my guess is that the tiers-of-respect are highly correlated with income.

                Not there’s anything wrong with that…Report

              • Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

                Fast food (and restaurants in general) has always been pink collar.
                except if you own the place, in which case it’s white collar.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

                (intelligence correlates with income for these folks)

                It does, and this is very well documented. It’s just that the correlation is less than 1.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg says:


                I’d say it differently: test scores correlate with income.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                @saul-degraw said:

                I gotta say that I think the idea of looking down at people doing blue-collar work is greatly exaggerated in the heads of a lot of people.

                Okay, so just now in my office some man was fixing the water machine thing, which evidently is broken. So, he was a working-class man, which up here in Boston you can pretty much tell by someone’s accent. Anyway, he was talking to his assistant, who so far as I could tell was an idiot, but the experienced man kept explaining what was what. He was clearly smart.

                I have a ton of respect for people like that, and not some nonsense “I admire the working man” bullshit — cuz I fucking hate lip service — but for real respect for their achievements.

                I’ve done work like that. It’s hard and you gotta be smart to do it well.

                And maybe you don’t need to be smart like me, since I am rather in a high percentile — and I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. It’s just true. I do hard math for fun. But still! Working on physical stuff is kinda super important, and yeah I can figure it out. I’m smart enough. But it’s actual real hard work.

                I know cuz I did it before. It was hard. I had to study and think and try things and learn things, and the people who knew more than me were admirable. Plus I never was that good at it cuz I didn’t have that talent.

                Okay, so yeah.

                But here’s the thing. I’m a big old obvious transsexual, and working-class people can be really fucking rough. And sometimes I might earn their respect, and actually that’s pretty cool. But I run the risk that I won’t, that their bigoted nonsense will beat me down. I have to fight for my basic dignity. That sucks.

                This can happen anywhere, and it does happen pretty much everywhere, sooner or later. But among working-class folks I tend to hit the sooner side far more than the later side. That gets really old really fast.

                It’s hard for me to feel safe among working-class people.

                So that’s a thing.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:


                I had another thought. Do you remember when I sent you the article about the cultural changes and difficulties that happen when a white-collar person marries someone from a blue-collar background and vice-versa? Perhaps there is some that or a lot of fighting about how someone should be.

                A while ago someone on OT pointed out that in a lot of cultures “trash talk” is largely just something that is done including empty threats but this can be a problem when kids from these cultures end up in middle class and above environments where trash talk is not done. Another thread someone said that ribbing is often a form of affection in more working-class environments.

                I’ve read a lot of sexual harassment cases in blue-collar environments where the defense was that it was cultural differences and ribbing, just what is done. One case was male on male sexual harassment (this one went to the Supremes to determine whether heterosexual men could sexually harass other heterosexual men) and that case took place on a rig. The harassing seemed pretty gross to me.

                So when we have these fights they always seem to be about which group should conform culturally to the other group’s norms and expectations. If I don’t want to engage in trash talk, why should I? If switching to a more trade-oriented career path is going to involve significantly changing cultural norms and likes, why should a person want to do that if they disagree with some of the switches?Report

              • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                The issue isn’t so much trash talking, as it’s the relative inability of the culture to handle communicating “stop that” without violence.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                A while ago someone on OT pointed out that in a lot of cultures “trash talk” is largely just something that is done including empty threats but this can be a problem when kids from these cultures end up in middle class and above environments where trash talk is not done. Another thread someone said that ribbing is often a form of affection in more working-class environments.

                My g/f was raised by a military man. She worked as a roofer. She’s also worked deep water fishing off the Pacific Coast.

                She likes American muscle cars and knows a lot about them.

                This all probably signifies working-class.

                From time to time she’ll get annoyed at me and say, “I’m going to kill you.”

                Like, she’s not really expressing an intent to kill me. (Which was fun to explain to my therapist, who is of course on the lookout for domestic violence.) I know she doesn’t mean anything by it. It’s just a figure of speech.

                But still! This is not okay. She cannot say those words to me.

                She says a lot of things I don’t like. I cannot change all of them. But that one — that’s a thing she cannot say to me.

                She stopped after a while.Report

              • Iron Tum in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Completely agree that there is a cultural issue involved. Frankly, if you hadn’t learned the list of jobs that are “professions” and which were “trades” how would you be able to tell them apart these days, particularly when the services provided by the professions are so ubiquitous and non-exclusive these days? I guess in the (theoretical) past where only the elite had the need for accountants or lawyers, those service providers had a bit of reflected status (and could charge their wealthy clients to match their ability to pay) but these days, even the demimondaine have “guys that do that for me.”

                I don’t know that there necessarily needs to be an “unsticking,” but to the extent that there does, the question I would ask is why there is this scorn against particular professions. I think the answer is obvious: the group of people who tell us all about what jobs are “good,” and therefore what a calamity there is if these particular jobs are not available are all of a particular, self-selecting culturally homogenous tribe and engage in mutually reinforcing typical mind fallacies. And because of that, you can’t actually get a directed unsticking, because the people who would take it upon themselves to formulate and implement unsticking measures are the people causing the problem in the first place. An optimist might say that with the levelling effect of technology and the increasingly cosmopolitan viewpoints (I know, [citation needed]) of the population that such prejudice would break down. A pessimist might say that the Great Sort and the ready availability of media bubbles will just reinforce the tribalism that is the real issue here. How many people might refuse to consider a career in the trades, not because they are afraid of using their body, but because they don’t want to associate with “those people?”Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Iron Tum says:


                I think maybe a good way to think about the differences is by thinking about it more in the differences between a “job” and a “career”.

                My parents were professionals and talked about careers when I was growing up and in college. A career is something where you have theoretically perpetual room for advancement or you advance over decades. You start off doing all the unglamorous and drudge work that needs to be done but the bosses don’t want to do. Maybe then you get some interesting stuff thrown your way. As time goes by you get to work on more complex and interesting stuff. You make partner or maybe you strike out with some colleagues and start your own firm. You don’t like everyday at work or all the aspects of the job but there are things that you sincerely do enjoy.

                People I know from more working class backgrounds (even if they attended college) heard about jobs. A job is something that merely pays the bills. There could be room for advancement but maybe not and it might come earlier. A job is something you do to pay the bills and that is it.Report

              • Iron Tum in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Isn’t the fraction of JD’s who make partner vanishingly small?Report

        • Will H. in reply to Will Truman says:

          Those figures are baselines.
          I have checkstubs showing my compensation package was some $4600/wk in 2008 as a steamfitter.
          And I was making over $15/hr more in 2012 as an inspector. I tested on pipelines (API 1104), did mostly process piping and petroleum process piping (ASME B31.3 & 31.1), but the real money is in vessels.

          A lot of my pay was the result of the willingness to travel: six weeks here, five months there, three months in another place– on and on.
          I didn’t mind so much when I was younger, but these days I would rather work minimum wage to sleep in my own bed every night.

          Mobility kicks up the payscale a notch or two.

          Standard work hours for a fitter are six tens.
          That probably isn’t calculated into the baseline quoted.Report

      • Iron Tum in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Trades organization does vary greatly, and there is a tradeoff between being a permanent worker for a single facility and being contingent/contract. And I’m sure that the auto dealership that charges me $100/hr for labor is not handing all of that to the wrench-turner in the bay.

        Having said that, one thing about the trades is that there is in fact some degree of a meritocracy, even in the most union-protected environments (like NY). The GC on this site had to hire several dozen people from three time zones away because his local talent pool just wasn’t performing to the customer’s requirements. Those guys are making well above the median rate. We also had the sub that was providing the aforementioned riggers bounced for safety violations.

        Of course, if you have the moxie you can start your own contracting company and be the guy who is skimming the cut off of the labor portion of the invoice you send to the customer.

        As for the veracity of the pay, I know that in two different states, the plumbers running 1/4″ teflon tubing in my labs made significantly more than my lab techs did. Now they also went away after the work was done as opposed to my technicians, but the techs were degreed STEM majors. And flare fittings aren’t rocket science. Swagelok fittings are tinkertoys.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Iron Tum says:

          I loved my swage tool on my boat. Useless for field repairs, but once we got back to a depot, I’d spend all day making my hydraulic lines nice & pretty again.Report

    • morat20 in reply to Iron Tum says:

      Wearing a hardhat and hi-viz is apparently so degrading to people’s sense of self that they turn up their noses at fishing rigger’s jobs playing $80/hour for a journeyman. . You want beaucoup bux? Trades are where it’s at.
      Alternatively, that’s not enough money for the job. Perhaps it’s not elitism, so much as the free market working.

      I wouldn’t take the job — it’s not enough compared to my current salary for the dangers, the hours away, and the restricted local (I’d have to live on a coast) — and that doesn’t even get into the fact that it’d generally be seasonal labor, right? I’m pretty sure few fishing boats work all year. Then there’s long-term to look at — can I do this job at 60? Because I can do my current job at 70, no problem. But rigging jobs — if I can’t do that when I’m in my 50s and 60s, how am I gonna earn money until SS kicks in?

      I don’t have a problem with fishing — I PAY to go fish.

      Calling it elitism is just as big a sneer — you’ve decided, ad hoc, that they’re turning down the job based on snobbery instead of, you know, cold-blooded market calculations.

      I’d happily change careers depending on the pay, working conditions, and future prospects. How that calculus works out depends on the job. (If it’s a job outside? You’re paying me more. Houston is hot and humid. Screw that. There’s a surcharge for making me deal with 100 degree, 95% humidity weather for a month).Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to morat20 says:

        I think it is largely a sneer too. The big issue as I noted above is the cultural divides that seem to happen.Report

        • morat20 in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          The irony is this — my Dad was blue collar, most of his life. (Got promoted to management, then later trained to oversee rather rigorous equipment inspections, even develop procedures and train folks to do it).

          But he was pretty clear that path was closed. Pay wasn’t as go. No pensions. Weak protections. Union was gutted. White collar was less risky. Less likely to get me screwed, to have my wages ratcheted downwards or corners skimped. I’d have leverage, leverage I’d no longer have doing electrical work or pipe fitting or carpentry or running machines.

          I can’t quite see him as a elitist, you know. 65, retired, worked his way up from the bottom, through a skilled trade, into management. Never did get a college degree.Report

      • Iron Tum in reply to morat20 says:

        morat20: (If it’s a job outside? You’re paying me more. Houston is hot and humid. Screw that. There’s a surcharge for making me deal with 100 degree, 95% humidity weather for a month).

        QFT. Houston is the most miserable place I’ve ever had to live. Fantastic opera though.

        Seasonality/lifespan are highly dependent on the site and the particular job. Construction in New Hampshire is seasonal. Arizona less so. And yes, people tend to retire earlier in the trades, but they can also afford to. And there is advancement within the trade, the supervisors and forepeople are older, you can move into QA/QC/inspector roles, that sort of thing. You might be surprised by the amount of gray in people’s beards.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Iron Tum says:

          My dad can probably afford to retire now. So can a lot of boomer lawyers at his level. The issue with my dad is that he doesn’t want to retire. I think this is true of a lot of boomer professionals. Lots of firms and businesses used to have mandatory retirement at 65. Same with academia. This changed sometime in the 1980s.Report

        • Troublesome Frog in reply to Iron Tum says:

          And there is advancement within the trade, the supervisors and forepeople are older, you can move into QA/QC/inspector roles, that sort of thing. You might be surprised by the amount of gray in people’s beards.

          My father was a carpenter and is now in his 60s. He was a bright guy with a knack for computers and logistics, so he ended up as a foreman and then superintendent, and now that he’s retired from the union he works part time as a contractor in the office when they need estimates and management stuff done. But for every one of him, there are a whole lot of young guys swinging hammers. None of the guys who swung hammers with him climbed that high, and there weren’t enough slots for most of them to climb even partway up–it’s just numbers and the shape of the pyramid.

          My dad can’t swing a hammer without shoulder and elbow pain, and most of the guys his age are worse off because they stayed in the field longer before going to lighter duties. There absolutely are paths for advancement, but there aren’t enough slots for everybody. By necessity, a lot of those guys are either going to have to change careers or keep swinging hammers until they’re doing it with arthritic hands. That’s why I feel fortunate to be working a job that I can do until my brain goes to mush.Report

          • Iron Tum in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

            Yes, man is mortal. And yes, not everyone can (successfully) be the big boss. But these issues are non-unique for those fields of employment that result in physical changes to the world.

            The one huge advantage that the trades have over some of the white-collar jobs is that by their very nature they produce a good or service that is inherently valuable. A carpenter that gets pissed off at his boss can quit and go into business for himself. An office manager only has work to the extent that someone else has an office they need managed (yes there are fringe exceptions like professional closet organizers but I’d wager there are fewer of those than there are stagehands). Of course, some professions (law, medicine, clergy) also have this potential for independence. But a non-zero fraction of white collar jobs are completely non-value added. Isn’t that the entire impetus behind the OP? That as soon as people figure out a way of eliminating the need for these positions these “good” jobs evaporate? The economics behind thinking a (for example) Title IX Compliance Officer is a good job is pretty much a restatement of the broken windows fallacy.Report

            • Kim in reply to Iron Tum says:

              95% of our economy rests on people buying stuff they don’t need. Be it chairs, a new kitchen, or “service” at a restaurant.Report

              • Iron Tum in reply to Kim says:

                I hope to never live in a society where it’s only acceptable to acquire what you “need.” This website would not exist in that case.

                Pursuing happiness necessarily involves “wants.”Report

              • Kim in reply to Iron Tum says:

                I need a new kitchen! I loathe the color of the last one!
                There are wants, and there are practicalities, and then there are sheer frivolities.Report

              • Iron Tum in reply to Kim says:

                I am uncertain of the proper way to respond here. Do I:

                Make reference to a certain Empire State governor with a penchant for banning things with the phrase “Nobody needs…”


                Point out that “sheer frivolities” are the best parts of sex.Report

              • Kim in reply to Iron Tum says:

                The latter will do more to amuse me.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Iron Tum says:

                Welcome to the world of Kim @iron-tumReport

              • Kim in reply to Iron Tum says:

                But I don’t think you see the way my mind is bending, sir.
                Not towards banning, but merely the simple understanding that we could cut most salaries in half, and not notice… overmuch. After the economy was done rearranging, of course.Report

              • LWA in reply to Kim says:

                “I don’t think you see the way my mind is bending, sir.”

                He’s not alone.Report

              • Kim in reply to LWA says:

                “The pendulum swings an arc, from the dawn of the dinosaurs, to dusk in Menlo Park”
                … sorry, couldn’t help it! Poem leaped into my mind, and demanded quoting.Report

              • Kim in reply to Iron Tum says:

                And when was the last time you had a want of your own? Not sold to you by some advertiser somewhere?

              • Troublesome Frog in reply to Kim says:

                If you define “need” correctly, we need almost nothing beyond breathable air, water, a manifest of certain molecules to consume, and a temperature in a certain range. We passed beyond the “need” range a long time ago.

                Strictly defined, I don’t think anybody would be happy with having only exactly what they truly need. Find me somebody who claims to be and I’ll find something to take away from them without shortening their lives–something they’ll almost certainly miss.

                Talking about “wants” as though they’re ridiculous frivolities is silly.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Iron Tum says:

          I agree that there are paths to advancement but I also agree with Troublesome Frog’s assessment.Report

      • Will H. in reply to morat20 says:

        I never wore any of that safety crap out on the Gulf, late 80’s, early 90’s.
        I never saw any of it either.
        A pair of shorts and some fishing boots, maybe a t-shirt for when it was chill at night.

        Fishermen are not the sort to be greeted kindly at shore, unless the loved ones are there.
        Most towns don’t want them around.
        They are there basically for the locals to rob in one way or another.Report

  14. Pyre says:

    I would imagine that the STEM sneer is based on people going into college and not thinking about what the end game is. One of the things that I used to try to do when I was a regular at Gamespot was plead with people who were going into one of those gaming colleges to try to get a more generalized CompSci degree than a specific gaming degree. The words always fell on deaf ears because everyone going into those programs is convinced that they are the next Hideo Kojima. They would also fail to take into account how the gaming industry has changed since the mid-80s/early-90s.

    With my younger brother, he took Psychology because it was largely an easy thing to get a major in so he didn’t have to work too hard and he could still get the degree. Then he got the degree and found out that a bachelor’s in psych isn’t really good for that much.

    On the other hand, as a corporate accountant, I worked with legal and one of the lawyers there had three kids. The son seemed to want a degree in Fast and the Furious so that was not something he talked about much. (Although I did glean some interesting tidbits such as “Wait, women really do offer themselves as the prize in street racing? That’s not something Hollywood made up?!?”) The two daughters were pursuing music degrees with the oldest working on marketing herself to various orchestras both here and abroad (or, at least, Russia and Australia abroad). At one point, I asked “What if the orchestra thing doesn’t work out?” and I got a fairly detailed plan of the other career paths that she would be able to take with her studies.

    That, I think, is where a lot of the sneers come from. The kids who take the Philosophy degrees solely to glide through college without asking what the degree is going to do once they get out. While it is true that it used to be that you could just go to college, get a degree, and land a job, now you have to be planning out your endgame before you even start. This is not to say that you can’t get a job with a Philosophy degree but you need to know that the time you save gliding through class needs to be spent on setting up a job after college.

    Is the next generation doomed to contingent labor? Possibly. A lot of the expectations that people were raised with aren’t really panning out. However, as the birth rate continues to fall, the supply and demand will gradually even itself out.

    There are also the unexpected issues that new technologies will bring. As a big fan of Ectogenesis, I do a lot of thinking on the social but very little on the economic. At first blush, it would lower the jobs in prenatal and young child medical fields but there are bound to things that I’m missing that would alter our economics. As the rate of technological innovation has increased, predictions on the future have become less and less reliable.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Pyre says:


      1. This raises a question about what is the point and purpose of an education. Is it to make oneself marketable/competitive in the economy? Is it to develop knowledge for the sake of knowledge? Both? I suspect that in the middle-class and above you see a split in families. You have families that urge their kids into more practical degrees and fields because they see the point of education in market terms and others who see it as being primarily about education for the sake of knowledge. My parents wanted me to get am advanced degree because they thought it was important to show that level of expertise. They did not care about the field and probably had some biases more towards the academics and the arts. I wonder if a lot of STEM people grew up with parents who said “Your future isn’t secure or guaranteed. You gotta pick something practical” or even did so in gentle and more sub-conscious ways like picking science camp instead of music lessons. Trips to the Natural History Museum, etc.

      So this is another little culture war going on.

      2. The arts are a tricky spot. There is and will always be more demand for people who want art careers than there are paying art careers. We will also probably never solve the can artistic skill be taught debate. Meryl Streep went to grad school at the Yale School of Drama. Was this necessary for her or not? How many people out there were just as talented as Meryl Streep but never made it because one actor at that level is all that is needed?Report

      • I wonder if a lot of STEM people grew up with parents who said “Your future isn’t secure or guaranteed. You gotta pick something practical” or even did so in gentle and more sub-conscious ways like picking science camp instead of music lessons.

        I think this is quite true. It’s a divide I’ve actually noticed with the in-laws. It’s a little bit culture war, but also a little bit class (not the class the child was born into, but the class the parents were raised in). And some of it is just plain temperamental. I’ve actually seen splits within the family of my in-laws. It’s kind of interesting (and has played a bit of a role in our godparenting arrangements).

        Pyro gets at with what my response to the reason for the sneer is. Had time permitted earlier in the thread, I would have said something to the effect of “STEM majors often feel like they are the ants to the comparative folk dancing major’s grasshopper.”Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

          My GF is from Singapore and a lot of her friends in the Bay Area grew up in Singapore and Malaysia (Singapore is majority Han Chinese. Malaysia has a substantial Han Chinese ethnic minority). One thing I noticed about the educations of her Malyasian friends is that it is relentlessly practical in a STEM, STEM, and more STEM kind of way. I wonder whether they even studied history or literature in school. Singaporean education seems to be more balanced in the American way.Report

          • Murali in reply to Saul Degraw says:


            Not everyone studies history and literature in secondary school. About 40% of the students will take history after secondary 2 (8th grade) and 40% take geography. Some take a combined humanities course while maybe some 10-15% take literature as well. Most secondary schools are extremely STEM focused. And there is a definite hierarchy. Being in the science stream is considered more prestigious than being in the arts stream. Students who end up in the arts stream have lower scores on average in their streaming exams than those who end up in the science stream. Similarly, students who end up in the arts faculty, on average, have a lower A level score than those who end up in the science or engineering faculties (but medicine and law tend to draw and accept only the highest scorers with the best co-curricular activities records) .

            On another note, one of the reasons why STEM* fields are better career wise (or even just perceived as such) is because of 2 things.

            1. Whichever major you embark on, you have two career options. One is academia. The other is in a corporate or government position where your major is irrelevant. However, with some exceptions, majors outside of the faculty of arts and social sciences have another option available to them as well: specific industries. If I had wanted to parlay my BSc into a career path, I would have also had the option (if my grades had been better) of working in biotech or pharmaceutical companies. If I had a degree in statistics, I would be in demand in almost any industry as there is always demand for quant work. A chemistry major could also find work in various petrochemical companies. A philosophy or sociology, history or psychology major just doesn’t have the equivalent options (at least not to the same extent as someone who majors in the life sciences or in statistics). Interestingly, economics and media are two majors in the arts faculties which do have industrial demand lots of corporate and government agencies want people who major in media or economics. And by contrast, there is little industrial demand for theoretical physics and pure mathematics (which in some ways are a lot more like philosophy than other majors in the science or engineering faculties.

            2. The first problem would be bad enough, but the academic prospects for humanities majors are much slimmer than for science or engineering majors.

            Science and engineering faculties are much more heavily funded than arts faculties. It’s general policy for the university to apportion undergraduates in a fixed ratio with the number of faculty in a given major. However, each tenure track faculty member in the science faculty has on average 2-3 PhD students attached to him/her. That ratio in the faculty of arts is reversed. On average in the arts faculty, for each PhD student, there are 2-3 faculty members. And all this does not consider the actual cost of funding a science student vs funding an arts student. A science student requires lots of lab equipment and materials on top of library access etc. An English or a philosophy major does not require much. He has his laptop. He has access to the library resources. That is all he needs. Even so, humanities departments can afford to take on fewer PhD students per faculty member than science departments.

            Thus even the academic prospects in a humanities major are worse than in the STEM majors.

            The STEM sneering (which I have been guilty of in the past) is partly a function of these two factors.

            The fact that there is significant industrial demand for STEM majors but none for the humanities provides a concrete answer to the “what is your degree good for?” in a way that humanities majors cannot answer. This also allows STEM majors to position themselves as people who are learning something useful (because actual things are the end product of research and work in those fields) and align themselves with the working and professional classes as against humanities majors whose subject matter has no apparent concrete applications and thus only a matter of idle curiosity: something pursued by the aristocratic parasites of yore.

            Another part of the snobbery comes from the fact that STEM majors know that they could do the humanities stuff if they had the inclination to, were willing to read a fish-ton of books on subject matter and/or were willing to bullshit their way through an exam paper. They also know that most of the humanities guys couldn’t do the science stuff because they are irredeemably mathematically illiterate.

            There is also the issue that the STEM guys think that while they peddle in cold hard facts, humanities majors peddle in opinion.

            How do I know all this, I was the kind of STEM guy who thought like that 5 years ago. Now, I know that while the view is not entirely correct, it is not entirely mistaken either. There is a reason that humanities majors reflexively feel the need to be defensive about their subject matter. I constantly feel the need to defend my current major (philosophy) against people who question its usefulness. And if I am honest with myself, it is probably because philosophy is not that useful*, especially when compared to what my immediate family does: medicine (parents, sister and sister in law), forensic geneticist (brother), accountant (fiancée).

            *Of course when compared to English literature, we fare much better. But that’s only because English departments have become the repository for failed theories in the other humanities. But saying that you’re more useful than English literature is not much to brag about.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Murali says:

              One of my best friends, my son’s Godfather, has a Master’s Degree in Medieval German Literature.

              Let the utter uselessness of that degree sink in for a while.

              He went to a private school to get that degree, paid a lot of money for it. Really enjoyed getting it, but wasn’t interested in doing the work for the PhD that would be needed to get into academia. While he was getting that degree, he worked for the a local theater group doing prop & lighting work. He also managed the groups Linux webserver. Taught himself all about backstage work & Linux administration in his free time.

              Got pretty good with that Linux stuff, good enough that he was able to leverage that into a job working for an ISP doing Linux IP administration. This was almost 20 years ago. In that time, he went from low level admin to senior manager for one of the companies that would manage backbone traffic for the northeast. He was the go-to guy whenever the NYT needed an explanation for why local or international web traffic just went gaga. His company got acquired by Dyn a year or so ago, and he decided he was ready for a break, so he retired.

              His wife has a BS in Biology, and an MBA. She’s never actually used her BS, but that MBA has made her a highly sought after medical administrator (I’m not entirely certain what she does now, but I know she made her bones managing EMR implementations for hospitals & earned a reputation as a no-nonsense agent who would make the most hard nosed & stubborn doctors buckle & weep).

              My point here is that neither of these people is super smart, or well connected, but they are focused, creative, and most importantly, flexible. When it became obvious that they would not be using their degrees specifically, they both looked at what other skills they had developed along the way, cultivated those, and leveraged them into careers they were satisfied with.

              Hell, before I was 18, I was a decent mechanic & a trained draftsman (pencil & paper, not CAD). I taught myself how to fix cars with my local library, and between my dad & a few summer school classes I learned drafting. Before I started college I had tacked on Navy Veteran & Gas Turbine/Hydraulic Systems Tech. During college, while learning to be an engineer, I picked up IT Administration & software development.

              Despite having all that, I still could not get a job as an engineer right after graduation. I needed to do more, but at least I had enough skills I would not live in poverty while I did what I needed (get the Master’s & do enough non-class engineering work to be noticed).

              Which reminds me of the other crap advice us GenX/GenY types are to blame for perpetuating – “do what you love!”. Always forgot to tackon the qualifier at the end – “if you can, otherwise do something you can be satisfied with that pays the bills until you figure out how to do what you love”.

              I think Jaybird is right, the value of the minor has been lost to students. So has the value of developing hobby skills & the skills picked up along the way.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                My uncle was studying to get a PhD in Linguistics during the 1970s but he decided he did not want to leave the Bay Area and did an ABD. He taught himself computer programming, got a lot of certificates, and became a programmer for Pacific Bell.

                I wonder if the hobby to skills thing is still relevant or whether it becomes less relevant as fields become more established and colleges and universities start setting up their own departments (which can’t be stopped).

                So maybe 20-40 years ago it was possible to teach yourself computers and get a job with just skills alone but I am not so sure how many young programming hotshots are being hired by companies anymore. There are always a handful but I think this is more the exception than the rule.

                Cars used to be largely mechanical and you could take them apart with simple tools that almost every household owned or almost every school had car shop as a class. Now cars are largely computerized and getting more so. Does each type of car have a different computer system with a different training program? Etc.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:


                As a person who does hiring, I want to explain what the informally acquired skills tell me.

                It tells me you are a self starter & capable of teaching yourself how to do something (which implies discipline & focus). It’s an critically important thing, especially for professionals.

                The guy who has a CS degree is interesting. The girl who has a CS degree & a portfolio of popular apps she wrote while messing around during college is even more so. Who gets called in? If the guy did write a bunch of apps in school, but never puts that on his resume because it wasn’t professional work, why would I call him in for an interview?

                BTW cars may be more computerized, but that does not mean they are beyond the skills of the shade tree mechanic. I can pick up an ODT dongle for $20 that will fit any car and is equipped with bluetooth, which will then sync with my phone or tablet & give me access to every single bit of data that computer outputs. Error & other diagnostic codes can be looked up online. I believe you can flash the computer memory and reprogram it, or replace the chips with flashable ones. So sure, cars today require a larger skill set to work on, but that just makes the modern, self-taught shade tree mechanic all that more impressive, doesn’t it?Report

              • Iron Tum in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Just make sure your HOA allows you to work on your car under the shade tree, or you’ll be getting a bill.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Iron Tum says:

                No worries, I have a garage. 🙂Report

              • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Hobby to skill works well in video game development, or anyplace else where your portfolio is your life’s work.

                Know a guy who routinely gets amateurs jobs in the industry… if they’re good that is.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Kim says:

                Yeah but this still misses the script on this whole conversation. Yes, there are those who win the employment lottery, and a ton of small things can affect how you end up. But that doesn’t help the typical young person, who is bright but not a genius, is ambitious, but not to a Shakespearian degree, who is plays by the rules as best they can understand them — as best any of us understand them. Cuz most of us who think we know the real big truth don’t realize that we would probably fall apart if we had to play the game the way young people have to play the game.

                (I say that acknowledging there are those on this forum now playing the game.)

                I’m one of those people who didn’t attend university. In fact, I didn’t finish high school, although I got a GED and did attend community college for a couple semesters. But I didn’t graduate. I was a mess.

                (Being an autistic trans teen is really hard. A lot of us don’t make it.)

                Anyway, blah, blah, blah.

                I worked in tech, but in shitty jobs for people without school, installing network cable, setting up workstations, stuff like that. And yes, over time people figured out what I could do and I advanced. But really slowly, while my years leaked away and my youth was lost, working long fucking hours, which was time I did not spend learning, cuz I was tired, where I did not work on open source projects, cuz I was fucking tired and beat down, and that dragged on and on and it sucked.

                And then one day I explained to the dude GMing the RPG game I was playing that, hey, I can write software.

                He didn’t really believe me. I don’t blame him. So I wrote some software for his roleplaying game, and since he was a big corporate guy (worked for a large international bank that you’ve heard of), I drew him a fucking UML diagram of my code. (Really! A UML diagram! I still laugh about it.)

                He was like, oh, you can write code.


                (It wasn’t just a UML diagram. I also wrote code.)

                So he called a friend and got me a real job, and my life got going.

                I was 35. Great age to start a career.

                I’m 47 now. I work for one of the top tech companies in the world. It’s a big deal, I guess. I’m proud.

                I generally scored in the top 99th percentile on various standardized tests, including IQ tests. (Although I wonder how I would score now, given all the drugs and pain.)

                In any case, you can tell my story, and yes, I hope it’s maybe “inspirational” — or whatever, if that doesn’t sound pretentious as fuck. I dunno. But still. I am successful and that’s cool —

                For a weird fucked up tranny freak.

                But how does this help my friend whose IQ is probably more around 115 and who works hard but is no superstar — and how many of us are?

                Cuz I’m not a superstar, compared to other people born with a brain like mine. I fell so short of what I could have been.

                And that is the issue here: human flourishing, being the best you can given what you got.

                We’re leaving so much on the table, so much achievement, so much passion and beauty and what could be.

                It fucking sucks more than I can even describe.Report

              • Kim in reply to veronica d says:

                It could be worse. Truly it could be worse.
                For one thing, you’ve got a legit employment history.
                (I know a guy who’s jobs are all covered under NDAs, and half the time his jobs could wind him up in prison — that’s a shitty life)Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Kim says:

                Kim, saying it could be worse is one of the least sympathetic things possible. It could always be worse. That doesn’t mean Veronica did not suffer immensely. It could have also been a lot better for Veronica. I imagine that if she was born into a country with a functioning social welfare system like one of the European ones, she could have gotten necessary help at an earlier age that would have led to better outcomes. Since Veronica was born in the United States, where the motto FYIGM is paramount too many people, Veronica did not get the help she needed at the right time.Report

              • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Please, i was simply comparing a friend’s employment history to v’s. I wasn’t telling her that she’s lucky she doesn’t have scars from being hit by molten glass. While it’s true, it’s not terribly germane to the topic, as she’s not running a fucking orphanage.

                Do you really think that she’d have done better in Europe? Got stats to prove it? I can accept that people in the main might do better there, but I find Europe to be less accepting of “weirdness” than America. (McDonald’s bathrooms on Christmas being the exception).Report

              • veronica d in reply to Kim says:

                I had undiagnosed autism, and I doubt anyone in the (now) EU would have done better diagnosing it. I was transgender, which in some EU countries is more accepted, but not in most. And anyway, we’re talking the 80’s and the 90’s. Shit was different then.

                But you both missing the point. This is not about my sob story. I’m fine! I walked a tough path, but I did fine. I’m really fucking super happy.

                I mean, I work for one of those big tech companies that everyone is impressed by and they give me free lunch and shit.

                So yeah, I regret the lost years, which of course I regret the lost years, but I’m fine. Don’t cry for me.

                Cry for my friend who can’t get a job now. Or more, maybe we could actually do something to fix this mess. Cuz there is still time for her life.

                And not just her, cuz I like my friend and I want her to do well, but that’s not the point. The point is, she is not unique. There are so many like her and (as has been said in this thread ad nauseam), the fact that some strategy might help this one person make it good doesn’t help all those others who then try the same strategy and scramble for that same job. And so that strategy then becomes a huge inefficiency. It’s lost to a stupid zero sum game, instead of that passion going toward something that is not a rat race.

                This seems painfully obvious.Report

              • veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

                Oh and “It could be worse” is literally a stupid thing to say. Of course it could. I could have died from liver cancer or some shit. My friend could be murdered by a gang of bros. So what?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

                It might have rained!Report

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird — Dude! You have no idea!

                I lived in South Florida.Report

              • Iron Tum in reply to veronica d says:

                maybe we could actually do something to fix this mess.

                the fact that some strategy might help this one person make it good doesn’t help all those others who then try the same strategy and scramble for that same job.

                Pick one.

                And while any particular job opening might be a zero-sum game, the economy, to the extent that it is a thing which exists, is absolutely not.

                The rat race will exist as long as there are a) rats and b) a limited number of things which rats prefer to other things.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                So maybe 20-40 years ago it was possible to teach yourself computers and get a job with just skills alone but I am not so sure how many young programming hotshots are being hired by companies anymore.

                At the last company where I worked, there was a guy in his mid 40s who had only been in the field for 6 years. He was self-taught, didn’t really understand much about CS theory, and was competent, but not great. He also had what one might call a redneck accent. I don’t know if that hurt, but it probably didn’t help. He had still managed to get multiple jobs as a software developer during those six years.

                I have another acquaintance who got into programming a few years ago, in her 40s. I don’t know the details, but I remember her posting to Facebook about teaching herself to program, and then a couple years later she was posting about her job.

                The software industry cares more about credentials than it did back in the late 90s, but they’re desperate for…not even talent, necessarily. Just competence. It’s still doable, if you put in the effort. And it’s easier than ever to teach yourself.Report

              • Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                In the late 80’s, being online was enough to get you a job. (Yes, people didn’t bother even checking ages.)Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                The software industry cares more about credentials than it did back in the late 90s, but they’re desperate for…not even talent, necessarily. Just competence.

                I agree.

                It’s still doable, if you put in the effort.

                I disagree.

                After having gone through CS at some rather low-cost colleges, exactly during the programming boom pre-Y2K, I can say this with some assurance: Not everyone can program. It requires a specific type of thinking.

                The thing is, right now, we’re *really bad* at throwing people out of CS who can’t program. We seem unable to filter them using our education system, and unable to filter them using our hiring process. As a result, something like half of programmers functionally cannot program. They can do something that *resembles* programming, but it’s…not, by any standard.

                And every time I say this, people think I’m saying it requires someone smart, or that this is some sort of elitism thing…after all, I include myself as one of the people who can program.

                But int he real world, there are jobs that anyone can train to do (And I’m not trying to be dismissive of them or say they’re lesser jobs.), and there are jobs that require an inate talent *and then* you put skills on top of them. Programming is one of the latter, like music or art or mathematician or writing. This talent, BTW, is *not* ‘intelligence’, or at least not general intelligence.(1) Programming requires fairly abnormal and unique thought processes.

                Now, this talent isn’t a binary switch, some people are going to prodigies, and some people have to work at it and will get better…but we also need to realize that some people, probably a majority of them, simply can’t think in an manner conducive to programming at all.

                So saying *anyone can become a programmer*…is actually technically true, in the sense that, thanks to crappy filtering, they can actually train and get hired as a programmer…but they aren’t actually ‘programmers’.

                (An alternate theory is that anyone can be taught to be a programmer, and our educational system is *super incompetent* at this. I don’t think it’s true, but it also fits the facts.)

                1) Actually, what may be going on is the skill is entirely unrelated to intelligence…but to be a good programmer you *also* have to learn a lot of stuff and keep a lot of things in your head at once, so that’s where intelligence comes in. It’s like to be a good piano player you have to be good with your hands, but there are plenty of people who are good with their hands that are crap piano players. Meanwhile, there are a lot of hypothetically good piano players who won’t ever know it because they have crappy hand coordination.Report

              • zic in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                +1, @oscar-gordon

                I never got a degree, but I’ve had incredible opportunities and done some amazing things.

                @tod-kelly’s written about this, beautifully.

                He and I both advised folk here to be focused on what they love, to develop skills — to practice and master. It’s easy to become so wedded to our degrees, our home towns, and keeping up with the neighbors, and in so doing, forget to take calculated risks; we’re too focused on limiting risk, and so limit opportunity.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to zic says:

                Eventually want to build my WIG and spend my years giving people rides around the Sound.

                But until Bug is old enough to be a Gopher, I need to continue being paid buckets of money to write code.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

          For what ever reason, my mom thought Lee and I would be science kids even though neither of my parents were science people*, We went to science camp as kids but it did not hold. Eventually I discovered the arts on my own largely**

          The temperamental comment is spot on and probably goes to when people find art pretentious.

          *My mom made it to calculus. My dad’s science requirement in college was known as “physics for poets”

          **They did take us to Young People and the Orchestra Concerts and Art Museums along with sending us to Science Camp.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

          I admit, we’ve passed that viewpoint on to the kid. He’s aiming for a degree based on performance (Opera singer, in fact).

          The general viewpoint from EVERYONE (which includes a number of people, like myself, with season tickets to the opera) is “Hope he likes not having health insurance”.

          However, nobody’s really willing to crap on his dream. We’ve just insisted, to the point he internalized it, to have a backup career since even talent is no guarantee of success in the performing arts.

          So he’s working on “music therapist” as his backup plan. Which is an actual field with actual jobs and surprising demand, and not as big a supply as you think because you have to be musically trained (well enough to teach piano, guitar, and singing at the very least) AND have quite a solid education background in both psychology and physiology.

          Then again, he was taught voice in high school by several people whose original career goals were ‘performance’ and ended up doing vocal lessons or teaching choir. So perhaps it wasn’t just us that insisted “backup plan”. 🙂Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Morat20 says:

            I think this is perfectly reasonable. When my sister-in-law wanted to major in French, her parents said that she needed to supplement it with something else. She chose International Finance, which the “International” part actually worked with the whole “knowing another language” thing.

            I’m down with double-majors, or pretty much anything… as long as there is a plan… and a backup plan if the initial plan seems lofty.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

          I get the ant-grasshopper feeling but a lot of the STEM ants are going to be rather unhappy if the grasshoppers aren’t around to do things like act in tv shows and movies that they like or make music to listen to. I doubt STEAM ants are Puritans that hate all forms of entertainment and leisure.Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “There is and will always be more demand for people who want art careers than there are paying art careers. ”
        … you don’t know jack about video games, do you?
        I’m talking specifically about casual games, of the hunt and click “hidden object” variety…

        If you can’t give me some numbers about the number of artists currently employed, and why there’s a glut in that marketplace right now, I’m not inclined to listen to you speaking in broad terms about the rest of the Artistic Marketplace.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Saul Degraw:

        1. This raises a question about what is the point and purpose of an education. Is it to make oneself marketable/competitive in the economy? Is it to develop knowledge for the sake of knowledge? Both?

        These questions used to have straightforwardish answers, kinda. If you wanted to make yourself marketable/competitive in the economy, you could rattle off a list of majors/minors and point out that they’d be likely to result in a good (maybe not *GREAT*, but good) career for decades.

        If, however, you wanted to learn knowledge for the sake of knowledge, that was an option as well. There were jokes about Underwater Basket Weaving, of course, and jokes about Philosophy (“Who am I? Why am I here? Do you want fries with that?”) but the general consensus was that if you did this, and it was fine if you did, you should get a “real” minor. (Economics or Computer Programming or whatever.) And if you didn’t want to do *THAT* but get a minor in Religious Studies or something (“Dost thou wish to have fries with that?”), parents had no problem saying “well, go to a state school, then” so, at least, when you graduated with a degree less likely to get you a mid-five figure job right off the bat, at least you didn’t have an anchor tied to your ankle.

        But now?

        I wouldn’t know what to tell kids to get a degree in if they wanted a good job fresh out of college. Maybe something crazily specialized (“they’ll always need people capable of running diagnostics on mainframes!”) but probably not something broad. If they want knowledge for the sake of knowledge, I’d tell them “That’s what I got my degree in!” and point out that they should live at home and go to the local commuter college to save money and graduate with a lot less debt.

        A mixture of the old joke of “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you” with a good sprinkling of “70 percent of life is just showing up” used to be enough to get you a good living.

        The bear has eaten a lot of the people behind us now and there’s a lot more than just showing up anymore.Report

  15. Stillwater says:

    Good questions, Saul. Lots of comments so this has prolly already been covered, but …

    1. The STEM “sneer” isn’t a sneer, as I see it. Advocating for more STEM classes/degrees/emphasis is multi-motivated: better employability, a valuable skill set that allows more latitude in the job market, knowledge and skills that have great utility for basic life-skills/understanding of the world, etc.

    On the other hand, you’re absolutely correct when you say that if everyone had STEM degrees, STEM folks would find jobs harder to get as well as their salaries declining. From my pov, what you’ve identified here, tho, is subsumed by the more general critique that people nowadays are smarter, more educated, have more skills, etc, than ever before, and the job market simply cannot keep pace.

    2. I don’t know nothin about the free ride sneer, but I do know that your generation was told the exact same things my generation and my parents generation were told: get a degree and you’re on the fast track to easy street. The only difference is that while that was very much true for my parents generation, and sorta true for my generation, it’s clearly not true for your generation. The whole idea ought to be discarded as nothing more than an urban myth.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Stillwater says:

      2. A lot of the issues do seem to be social contract issues. For generations, kids across the world were told that getting an education was the ticket to success and prosperity. This has also been true for most of the same time people have been saying things like this. We are currently raising more kids with middle class expectations than we can provide middle class jobs for.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq says:


        We are currently raising more kids with middle class expectations than we can provide middle class jobs for.

        Yeah, that’s the unacknowledged dark side to the “service economy” and automization: as folks continue to get smarter and more well-trained their economic/cultural expectations of life rise accordingly. That’s why I think all this nonsense about a post-scarcity economy is nonsense. Productive well paying employment is gonna be as scarce as diamonds on the beach.Report

        • Kim in reply to Stillwater says:

          Yup. I’m predicting riots and genocide (partially because that is the plan — not that I like the plan, but still…).Report

        • Pyre in reply to Stillwater says:

          I’m not sure that I agree. A post-scarcity economy (for the short-term) isn’t nonsense except when people talk about it. When people talk about it, it is always “Here is a post-scarcity economy that continues all the pre-scarcity institutions that fall in line with the way I believe things should work.”

          One of the biggest aspects of this fallacy is birth rate. When you listen to Americans talk about post-scarcity economy, they always seem to visualize an economy where the birth rate is greater than the death rate so we have enough taxpayers to pay for all the social programs their version of a post-scarcity economy would need. It’s as if they think that, when a baby pops out, they’re clutching a winning lottery ticket or a pound of some Iso-8 type of energy source (and, believe me, if that did happen, I would be the father of 5+ children by now). All of these arguments ignore that, in any post-scarcity economy, the birth rate has to be even with or less than the death rate. If you have a birth rate greater than the death rate, then you will eventually have more demand than supply even if you lift all artificial constraints on the supply.

          So I’m not sure that post-scarcity economy talk is nonsense so much as people refuse to talk about what a post-scarcity economy actually would be instead of their fairy tale version of what it would be.Report

          • zic in reply to Pyre says:

            All of these arguments ignore that, in any post-scarcity economy, the birth rate has to be even with or less than the death rate. If you have a birth rate greater than the death rate, then you will eventually have more demand than supply even if you lift all artificial constraints on the supply.

            And this is just the tip of that conundrum; which brings in all sorts of other issues, including the impact of humans on the ability of our home to support not just humans, but some other critters. But I have some serious moral concerns about the presumption of ours by divine right. Daniel Quinn’s jellyfish parable comes to mind.Report

          • North in reply to Pyre says:

            Well current indications are that in modern egalitarian developed economies birth rates hover around or below replacement rates so it’s not like there’s a fear of some great boom in population. Also in a post scarcity economy the birth rate would be relatively incidental to the tax payer base and wouldn’t really be a concern.Report

            • zic in reply to North says:

              @north the problem, as I see it, is that when we had the right number of people, we didn’t have the technology.

              Now, we’ve got (or have developed the skills to get to) a more optimum population for a post-scarcity economy, but too many people and having population drop to an optimum level. I think this will happen naturally.

              It will also be an adjustment; it means fewer young people have to take care of more old people for a three or four decades. And that requires sacrifice; a big sacrifice on the part of folks my age and older to do with less, to ask for less, and on my children and kids younger to give more.

              I have a lot more faith in their generation to hold that conversation honorably than I do in mine.Report

              • North in reply to zic says:

                I have only little to disagree with about this Zic. Speaking of the West’s aging population specifically though, I think that the compromise will not have to be as harsh as you may think. The elderly will have to simply accept that we’ll import the younger workforce necessary to care for them..Report

              • Kim in reply to North says:

                And genocide afterwards! (stupid xenophobes, planning the genocide before importing the people)
                (seriously, there WAS another plan…)Report

              • zic in reply to North says:

                he elderly will have to simply accept that we’ll import the younger workforce necessary to care for them.

                That was part of the lacking honor in my calculus.Report

          • switters in reply to Pyre says:

            What are my missing Pyre? I thought post-scarcity basically means unlimited supply, of everything. So regardless of demand, supply will always outstrip it. IS that wrong?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to switters says:

              How far back would you have to go to find someone who would look at the USA in 2015 and say “Holy crap, you guys live in a post-scarcity society!”

              The problem is that we keep discovering new things to put into “everything”.Report

              • switters in reply to Jaybird says:

                That sausage pattie between two pancakes injected with maple flavored high fructose corn syrup was delicious, though.

                But yeah, that’s why I have almost as hard a time imagining a post scarcity economy as I do the singularity or utopia. My opinion is the human condition will simply not allow it. If everyone has everything they need, people will go looking for stuff they don’t have until they find it. And they will.Report

  16. Oscar Gordon says:

    One thing I want to add to all this is to disabuse the notion that a STEM degree is a significantly better guarantee of a job or career than a humanities degree. There is a lot that STEM students do while in school that helps them secure the job afterward. The student who keeps their head down, does the work, and passes classes is going to have a hard time finding work after school, even with a high GPA, especially when compared to the student who was actively networking and taking co-ops & internships & doing research & etc.

    I didn’t do enough of that & my first job out of college was training Windows help desk employees for a small medical equipment company. It wasn’t until I went back for the Master’s & started to correct the deficiencies in my experience portfolio that I started to get flown out for interviews at places like GEGR, UTC, & Boeing.

    Also, there is nothing wrong with getting an education for it’s own sake AND spending that time at University building up a career entry point. Even STEM students are encouraged to expand their academic horizons (at least, at good schools they are).Report

  17. Kim says:

    and a rather lengthy list of sources is in moderation.Report

  18. Rufus F. says:

    I dunno. I honestly think you’ve got about a generation left in the states before there’s serious bloodshed. But I might be overly optimistic.Report