Libertarianism and Privilege (aka FYIGM).

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214 Responses

  1. Avatar zic says:

    Just to add to the fuel here, Steve Horwitz, with the aid of co-author Sarah Skwire at Bleeding Heart Libertarians suggests What libertarians know, and what we need to do a better job communicating, is that the general narrative that markets are bad for women and government is good, or that free markets allow men to dominate women is more than a little problematic.

    This is one of the most confused posts on BHL I’ve ever read, fwiw; with little or no frisking of actual policy and relying on the tired trope that there are sometimes there are unintended consequences.

    News flash: There are always unintended consequences; even when the policy is the non-policy of doing nothing.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The main problem that many libertarians have is that they aren’t necessarily the best at advocating for their ideas. Part of this is because that libertarianism seems so self-evident to many of them that some of them really can’t believe that most people disagree with them. Many also don’t seem to understand why they need to explain libertarian ideas to the masses. And yes, some of them do fit the FYIGM stereotype, especially those that really get into radical individualism like certain posters on this blog.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “The main problem that many libertarians have is that they aren’t necessarily the best at advocating for their ideas.”

        Yes, it’s hard for a straight white dude to prove he isn’t a racist misogynist homophobe. I mean, sure, he can say he isn’t, but if he wants anyone to listen then he has to prove it.Report

      • Avatar les says:

        The main problem that many libertarians have is that they aren’t necessarily the best at advocating for their ideas. Part of this is because that libertarianism seems so self-evident to many of them that some of them really can’t believe that most people disagree with them. Many also don’t seem to understand why they need to explain libertarian ideas to the masses.

        Maybe the problem is that libertarianism has never worked, any where, any time, for anyone except the economically privileged. And if you think economic privilege correlates with human worth or accomplishment, well, could you use a bridge?Report

        • Avatar Dave says:

          Bridge? No, but seeing as I’m currently aboard a Somali pirate ship and am about to board a commercial ship, I could use a few extra bullets for my AK-47.

          I’ll let you all know how this FYIGM thing is going.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            At least you aren’t deliberately murdering puppies and making a fine profit off it, all while convincing people to send you their hard earned money as donations.

            … I know that guy (of course, he’s using the profit to feed the kitties, and pay for people to pet and play with them).Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      @zic – OT, but what do you mean by “frisking”? I’ve seen you use it before and I just assumed it was autocorrect for “fisking”, but that doesn’t seem to strictly apply here, so I am wondering what the intended meaning is. “Interrogation”? “Explication”? “Exploration”?Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    This thread is going to erupt into flames.

    It is possible to believe that America’s history of racism both prevented African-Americans and to a lesser extent other minorities from realizing their potential and oppose free tuition at public universities. You can even make a good faith argument that making college education more widespread would hurt any minority student that manages to get into a good school. The reason why a college degree offered a good chance at getting a good job in the past because they were rare or at least rarer. The more common college degrees become, the less valuable the are economically. If you want to make up for America’s past racial determination than you prevent colleges and universities from discriminating against minorities rather than making college degrees more common. The would aid degree holding members of the minority while not devaluing a college degree.

    The libertarian thrust against any government intervention in the economy is basically that any attempt to do so will have such a distorting effect that it would make things worse for everybody. Rent control is a classic example of such a distortion effect. By capping rents, it creates disincentives for landlords to maintain their property because the costs of maintenance might exceed the amount they get in rent and discourages the building of new rental property because you can’t make motives. Therefore, rent control is ultimately bad for more people than it is good. I am not a libertarian, so I’m not against all government intervention. However, if you believe that government intervention in the economy will make things worse for more people than it would help that obviously opposing intervention makes good sense even if in the face of past injustice.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      This thread is going to erupt into flames.

      Clickbait! Page views! Lots of comments! Outrage!!!Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I am going to point out the SF is not rent controlled but rent stabilized. Landlords can raise rents but by a capped amount every year. This generally makes rent increases affordable as most people don’t necessarily receive huge raises every year. Most people including very well-off people would be damaged if their landlord said “I am raising your rent by 1500 dollars” and most people would not be able to find newer homes.

      Most San Franciscans rent including very wealthy San Franciscans. It should not surprise people that a city of majority renters will create renter friendly laws and regulations. Why should landlords who live in wealthy suburbs be allowed to control the laws of SF?Report

      • Avatar Autolukos says:

        Personally, I oppose turning SF apartments into a hereditary privilege, so I can’t support SF housing policy. I do understand that the people there have theirs, and so are inclined to disregard the opinions of people who might move there. If only there were a pithy way to summarize this attitude…Report

      • I am going to point out the SF is not rent controlled but rent stabilized. Landlords can raise rents but by a capped amount every year.

        That sounds like rent control to me.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          It’s rent control light. Slightly more defensible than pure rent control. Same disincentives. Same outcomes but milder. Rent stabilization is imposed then San Franciscans write articles “woe is us, why are landlords so cagey about signing leases? Why do you have to get all dressed up and scrape and grovel to just get an interview to get an apartment? Why do you have to have such excellent credit? Why do so many people elect to not bother with renting their extra space? Why is it so hard to get apartments?”Report

          • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:


            I know this is a special passion of yours but I do not have any faith or evidence that suggests a complete free-market and/or neo-liberal solution is going to do anything to make San Francisco more affordable. I also have very little faith in developers doing anything to make city housing for families as opposed to professionals without children of any age. I think the developers are too far convinced with the general narrative that cities are for the poor and/or childless professionals and suburbs are for families.

            What I do think the getting rid of rent stabilization will do is encourage a lot of evictions of people who are paying just because they can’t pay twice as much.

            I don’t see landlords as being more rational than anyone else. In fact they might be more irrational. There is a lot of vacant commercial property out there and this is in booming San Francisco. There is a bar/restaurant space a few blocks from my apartment that has been vacant for about 5 years. As far as I can tell this is because the landlords are not willing to lower from their desired rent.


            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              What are the cities with the most expensive rental costs?

              According to my quick googling, the top two are NYC and San Francisco.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                New York has a lot less rent control than SF. Both cities also have booming economies and populations. SF is mainly expensive because of the app economy boom/bubble.

                New York is also pretty affordable in a lot of places. I’ve written about this before but there are two Brooklyns. One where rents and property have skyrocketed and one where the rents have been stagnant or declining.

                This is a year old but:


                Trendy Williamsburg has seen a housing cost increase of 174 percent. Brownstone Brooklyn has seen rent increases of between 30 percent to 63 percent. The Eastern parts of Brooklyn like Cypress Hill, Brownsville, and East New York are seeing significant rent decreases. These neighborhoods are poor and very far from Manhattan or the cool parts of Brooklyn. Brooklyn is 2.5 million people to SF’s 850,000.

                Basically, you can probably completely or almost completely gentrify a city of 850,000 people. This is much harder to do with a city of 2.5 million people. Developers can just concentrate on the desirable parts of Brooklyn for a long time.

                Now why people are moving from Carroll Gardens and Williamsburg to Rockland County and Westchester is complicated and sometimes disturbing.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                Gee, what a surprise that a location significantly farther away from Manhattan is cheaper than a area right across the bridge from Manhattan.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              @saul-degraw Saul, first off commercial property and residential property is rather apples and oranges to say the least.

              Second I would not dare suggest that a more money based and less networking based housing distribution system would solve the problems those markets are suffering; just that they would perform better without the rent control for most of the people involved as compared to how the current regulatory/crony system does for those areas. Rather than rehash the arguments again I’ll just observe that the verdict on rent control is pretty much settled in economics from left to right. Pretty much AGW level consensus or better to say the least. Against that consensus are the ideologues and the self interested established actors. That is understandably powerful group but one I wouldn’t be happy affiliating with. What I truly don’t get is the sneering at critics of rent control with the FYIGM moniker. Rent control beneficiaries are the living epitome of established privileged actors.Report

          • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

            There is also evidence in SF of commercial landlords trying to evict more humble mom and pop tenants to go with a sleeker rehaul and clientelle.Report

            • Avatar aaron david says:

              Most commercial spaces are on multi-year leases, and are negotiated as such. What does happen is that buildings are sold (they are investment properties after all) and the new owners need to be able to make a profit on the spaces. As for the vacant spaces you described earlier, they might no longer be zoned for any type of business that would want to do business in that location. Also, tax incentives might cause the new (or old) owners to operate at a loss on purpose. Also, I do remember reading something to the effect that vacant buildings are worth more due to not have as many (or any) tenants for a new owner to deal with. The owner might make up on the back end of the sale what they loose in rents on the front end.

              Those are all effects of a tight rental market, use restrictions and laws that “favor renters.”Report

    • Avatar Mr. Blue says:

      If you want to make up for America’s past racial determination than you prevent colleges and universities from discriminating against minorities

      How are universities doing this? Other than against Asian-Americans, I mean.Report

    • Avatar Godwin says:

      “This thread is going to erupt into flames. ”

      But like the Reichstag fire, it was an inside job.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    A post like this & I’m on my phone…Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Is universal university education a huge opportunity cost? Interestingly the seemingly smart crowd here thinks yes and that it would be better if more people just started working at 18. I don’t get this sort of anti-intellectualism and strictly commercial attitude.

    If I asked whether university was appropriate for everybody, would the answer be “of course, yes!”? If that is the answer, I’d ask “Why?”

    I mean, what is the goal of a universal university education? I mean, I’m assuming that you don’t mean “university or trade school” education when you say that. If that’s what you mean, I suppose I agree with it somewhat… or, at least, don’t disagree with it overly much.

    But if you mean a university education for everybody from the guy who puts up drywall to the lady who runs the OEM down at the car shop to the guy who is the manager down at the local shake shack, I’d wonder what kind of university education you’d be talking about. I’m assuming that you’d agree that the drywall guy doesn’t necessarily need a STEM degree. So something like Art History or Medieval Poetry or Interpersonal Communication would be okay, right?

    It seems to me that there are not only a lot of jobs but a lot of careers that don’t require a college degree and, for what it’s worth, a lot of people who aren’t inclined to get one in the first place.

    And to put these people who aren’t inclined to get a college degree into a college strikes me as a lot more likely to turn high school into an 8-year program than to turn high school graduates into college graduates.

    But back to my question: what’s the goal of giving everyone a college education? Hey, maybe it’s a goal I agree with.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Jaybird covers pretty much every point I would have made here, but I’ll just add on that the (frequent) calls from Saul for universal college education feel to me like someone who really just thinks college education = better person. As a college graduate with no small ego, I’d love to embrace that, but as someone that knows many brilliant non-college graduates living great lives and working in fulfilling and interesting careers…I want to say yuck.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Perhaps the idea is that there are cultural ideas that can be given to people who go to college who won’t otherwise get them. Imagine if everyone could be like someone who went to Oberlin!

        I suspect that we’d quickly find that Oberlin stopped being Oberlin, though.

        Then we could talk about the need for everyone to have the opportunity to go to graduate school.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        It seems more like college for everybody means everybody that wants to go to college can go if they wish to. It doesn’t mean everybody has to, just that they have the choice if they wish. Post HS training/trade school could also fit into that. Simply the idea is, if you want to get post HS ed, whether college or trade school then cost shouldn’t be a deterrent.Report

        • Avatar ktward says:

          This is largely my take, too.

          Nevertheless, I remain fascinated by the arguments of some college-educated folks as to why college “isn’t for everyone.”

          Crikey. The hubris and self-righteousness is fucking palpable.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            For my part, I have friends who didn’t go to college, weren’t inclined to go to college, and now have a pleasant enough life running their own business. One’s a realtor. One does trucking.

            I really can’t imagine me saying “you guys should have gotten degrees” as being anything but hubris and self-righteousness on my part.Report

          • Avatar aaron david says:

            As someone who went to college (’cause it was the family thing to do) hated every fishing second of it (love learning and reading, cannot stand jumping through idiotic hoops) dropped out, and later went to trade school, I am very comfortable in my “hubris and self-righteousness,” thank you very much.Report

            • Avatar Mr. Blue says:

              People who didn’t graduate from college need to be quiet because this needs to be a conversation that educated, informed people have. People who did graduate from college need to be quiet instead of being self-righteous hypocrites.

              I actually liked college, but I ended up dropping out because I had a job I didn’t want to lose and it was pretty hard to do both. I found the “Scott Walker didn’t graduate” conversation very interesting.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                FWIW I think that line of attack is going to be a losing one for the left. I’ve certainly see people make it and it makes me wince.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                People who didn’t graduate from college need to be quiet because this needs to be a conversation that educated, informed people have.

                “Well, yeah. People who didn’t go to college are obviously too stoopid to have well-formed beliefs about this stuff.”Report

          • Avatar ktward says:

            I can understand why some of you might have misinterpreted my comment, but it’s disappointing to see how proudly a few of y’all misrepresent my comment.

            Did you go to college? I’m pretty sure you did. Do you have a degree? I’m pretty sure you do. Maybe I’m wrong. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure we both agree that it’s totally *okay* to have gone to college while understanding that trade school and self education also works. So please, remove yourself or your friends off the fucking cross.

            @aaron-david So, you went to college but didn’t find it worthwhile. I can understand that. The larger “socialist” conversation on higher education seeks to find solutions for all post-HS ed. But surely, you’re not arguing that college is worthless to everyone?

            Christ. When did it become de rigueur to slam everyone who found college a useful path to a profoundly better life? Stats still show that a college grad is, if nothing else, still economically better positioned than a HS grad.Report

            • Avatar Mr. Blue says:

              I’m pretty sure we both agree that it’s totally *okay* to have gone to college while understanding that trade school and self education also works.

              I don’t know. You confused me on your stance with “the hubris and self-righteousness is fucking palpable.”

              Perhaps we should take care to read that comment more charitably in the future.Report

              • Avatar ktward says:

                No one needs to read my comment “charitably”.

                My point, is that some kids should go to college in order to fully realize their gifts and talents. To society’s benefit, and their personal benefit. Likewise, some kids should go to trade school, in order to fully realize their gifts and talents. To society’s benefit, and their personal benefit.

                No one worth mentioning is arguing that post-HS education in the US is unnecessary. Unless … you are?

                All that said, it’s true that sometimes kids don’t realize they’re a bad fit for college until they’re in it. So they leave. Nothing wrong with that. But that’s in no way reflective of the kids who stay.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Usually advisable, though not always necessary.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                ” it’s true that sometimes kids don’t realize they’re a bad fit for college until they’re in it. So they leave. Nothing wrong with that.”

                ah-heh. So you agree with Jaybird, then, and this whole “fucking cross” thing didn’t need to happen, like, at all.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:


            My beef isn’t that college can be very useful for some people. Heck, if you want a career in theoretical physics, it seems like just the right choice!

            My problem is with the idea that college ought to be accessible to “everybody that wants to go”. To be honest, the only way I can interpret that claim is for increased subsidies and/or tuition-free options. I just don’t understand the arguments justifying that claim that “cost ought to be no deterrent” to a college degree when it’s entirely obvious that there’s an actual real cost to be born. And if tax payers are expected to bear that cost, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to require an argument establishing that the benefits are worth the cost (not to mention worries that such a policy won’t drive up costs over time). There’s more to it than that (at least for me) but that seems like a good enough place to start.

            Edit: and more specifically, my comment to Mr. Blue wasn’t directed at anything you’d said. I was just mentioning the circular reasoning employed by lots of “educated” folks when it comes to this stuff.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              This seems to be a uniquely American debate for some reason. European countries have just as big a percentage of their population attend college, maybe less but no one seems to do the anti-subsidiary argument in Europe except some fringe parties. The revolts seem to happen when someone tries and takes it away.

              The benefit to society is producing people like Jonas Salk. I’d rather have a society with massive subsidiaries for education and spending massive amounts on science research (real science like alternative energy sources and climate change cures and Mars teraforming) over a low-cost government.

              The U.S. military budget in 2011 was over 650 billion dollars. Imagine what could be done if you cut that by 200 billion and spent that money on education and scientific research and infrastructure!!Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                The U.S. military budget in 2011 was over 650 billion dollars. Imagine what could be done if you cut that by 200 billion and spent that money on education and scientific research and infrastructure!!

                Some of that money is for exactly those things, just so that you know. The military actually spent $540m on tuition in fy 2013.

                Additionally, lot of research gets done by defense. This year, DOD will award $167m in research grants.Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                Thats part of our secrit socializm plan.

                We learned we can get anything we want- socialized school lunches, socialized medicine, socialized housing, the works, so long as it was draped in the flag of “National Security”.

                So the scientific research into alternative fuels at Cal Berkely is tree hugging nonsense, but the research done by DoD is God-fearing patriotic job creation.

                Next up- an Eisenhower who declares that ISIS is relying our our aging bridges to stage an assault on our wimmin, and only a umpty-billion dollar National Defense infrastructure construction plan will save America.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


                I don’t honestly know how much progress you could make with that strategy, but I bet it would be significant if you could somehow get the majority of the “left” to play along.Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                Yeah, the hard part is getting a bunch of leftists to run through the streets screaming “ISIS in the sewer system! Oogity Boogity!”Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                ISIS is launching FatBergs into American sewers! Film at 11!Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Fatburger would sue them to death. Never mess with American Fast Food. Lefties would just sit back and let one of our pawns do our work for us.

                Now for a quick break for a diet drink, some mild finger tenting and an evil chuckle.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Damn greginak, that’s just evil!Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That may be, but I sure a lot of complaining about various Crises in Job Sector X, where underemployment is already effing up people’s hopes and dreams. Making tuition free (or whatever) certainly won’t create more jobs. Except for plum academic positions. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                And there’s a lot of college grads in euroland that are unemployed, so that education that the taxpayers paid for achieved what exactly? That they are “better” because they are better educated?Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              Another issue I have with libertarianism is that it seems from a status quo bias of not wanting to do anything to fix a social problem.

              Zic is right that there are always unintended consequences but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not trying to solve a problem. There are also lots of bad unintended consequences for doing nothing.

              A lot of resistance to stuff about privilege seems to reduce down to “But I don’t wanna think about this. That means acknowledging that there might be a problem and we might have to do something.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Another issue I have with libertarianism is that it seems from a status quo bias of not wanting to do anything to fix a social problem.

                Viewing it as “status quo bias” requires argument, seems to me. That’s equivalent to, but phrased more nicely than, FYIGM. I’m not gonna say the argument can’t be made (hell, I’ve made it myself from time to time) but it actually requires making. And defending. 🙂 And I’ll also grant that libertarians sometimes – even on this very blog! {gasp} – have a reflexive tendency to oppose a proposed fix, or even the identification of a problem, simply outa a dislike/opposition to gummint without giving any consideration to the actual specifics being addressed.

                In my experience, tho, many if not most of the libertarian arguments against a proposed fix to a social problem focus on a) the conditions which give rise to that problem and b) whether or not the proposed fix actually achieves it’s goals (of “making things better”). That’s not a status quo bias, seems to me. If anything, it’s the opposite to a great degree. Perhaps you just reject the stridency of that opposition?

                All that said, I’m not a libertarian, nor do I feel to inclined to defend the view. I just think a criticism of it should target the actual words they say rather than an attributed intention lurking just behind them.

                But I’ve criticized libertarians for doing the very same thing, so I guess the two isms are all square as far as that goes!Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                I’ll second alot of what Still said. There are generally two schools of thinking re Libertarian-ism.

                1) A problem was identified and a fix was crafted using the gov’t for force folks to do/not do x. That led to unintended consequences that is desired to be fixed, using the same method above. Our point is maybe you should not layer on more regulation/law, but go back and fix the original law/regulation that led to the undesirable outcome in the first place.

                2) A general outlook that forcing someone to do something/not do something is inherently wrong. As a result, solutions should be crafted to minimize that aspect.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                The first sounds reasonable in all cases. I’m all for more thinking, more thoughtful thinking before we put laws on the books. (Particularly long-lasting laws. I’m not so concerned with ARRA, because that’s a “here, have some money and spend it” — though that can have long term upkeep, it doesn’t need to.)Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Problem: college is becoming an employment filter for jobs/careers that don’t actually need it.

          Solution: make sure anyone who wants to go to college is subsidized to be able to do so.

          New problem: same as the old problem only in spades. People who are not prepared or able to handle the rigors of college are further shut out of the job market. Colleges either have to lower their rigorous standards or some other social service/program people will bitch about.

          Perhaps we can try to address the incentive employers have for using a degree as an unnecessary filter.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            I would be cool for this. The issue is how do you tell what jobs need a college education and which do not especially for people who are not super-prodigies like the students selected by Thiel for his fellowship.

            Does Marketing require a college degree? I said no but then people in marketing come up and say why marketing does require a college degree? Does acting or being a musician or artist? Potentially not but art school always existed. Michaelangelo went to art school, so did Jackson Pollock. Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro studied acting. Meryl Streep went to the Yale School of Drama for a Masters degree in acting. Would Meryl have been Meryl without Yale? That is impossible to tell.

            I was trying to get at this with my essay. I think there is a valid question in asking when and why employers began requiring a college degree for employment. You can also validly ask how can this be changed.

            What is shocking and invalid is claiming that it only happened because us dreaded liberals won’t let employers use IQ tests because it would show certain races and/or certain genders are not intelligent. Yet the SSC completely ignored the points Morat brought up below. IQ tests often work around the cultural assumptions and experiences of white, middle-class (really upper-middle class) people. I am not much into sailing but I grew up close enough to large enclaves where it was a thing (and did some at summer programs) that I could read the sailing stuff on the SATs fine.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              First off, a handful of SSC commenters do not constitute the body of libertarian thought re: IQ tests. If you want to run with that claim, you might want to find something more current & mainstream.

              On to jobs & college. Let’s ignore the whole IQ test thing for the moment. I suspect there are more powerful incentives at play. Here are two that come to mind:

              1) The education industry, both traditional private colleges, public schools, and the troubled for-profit schools have all worked VERY hard to convince employers that the training & education provided by their programs will result in a higher caliber of employee. They have also lobbied hard for the various levels of government to promote the baccalaureate model to the population (hence the decline in the perceived value of skill certifications & associates degrees).

              2) The quality of high school graduates, thanks to movements like social promotion (which began to ebb in the 80’s), was inconsistent. A High School diploma was merely an indication you did not drop out of school, not any kind of evidence of expected basic skills. I remember talking to a family friend who ran a small manufacturing firm that employed a lot of unskilled workers for basic assembly work, and he started to prefer employees with at least some college, even if they didn’t finish, to just high school grads, because he was getting too many high school grads who were illiterate in both written language & basic arithmetic. The college admissions office was serving as the filter because as an employer, he was not allowed to request high school transcripts or administer relevant skills tests (not IQ tests).

              Fixing either is no small thing. Employers have gotten used to using schools as a filter, and since there is pretty wide support for the idea that employers should not have access to large swaths of personal information, I don’t honestly see that changing. We could allow employers of unskilled workers more latitude in the use of relevant skills tests (with some kind of way to make sure the test is relevant to the work being done so as to limit the racial/political/etc bias tests can have). Improving the reputation of the HS diploma can also help, although I think that would require upgrading the public school curriculum considerably across the board (Bug is only 3, so I’m out of date as to what they are teaching in High Schools these days).

              Issue 1, however, is a genie that may well be impossible to re-bottle. I think, by & large, the education industry has been wildly successful in making itself into a necessary tulip, and the best we can hope for is for the education bubble to pop, or deflate somewhat, or to make more of an effort for the cheaper daffodil to be a perfectly valid option as well.

              Alternatively, we could tell schools that they have to stop dragging their feet & restructure education in this country. I know that many of them have been moving forward with non-traditional programs, but my impression is that the 4 year colleges & universities want it all. They want to be in tight control of the supply of a product with extremely high demand, and they want to justify that supply restriction based upon limited physical facilities. This is true in some limited cases (technical classes that require expensive lab equipment, for instance), but most topics can be taught virtually, although that may mean developing a new pedagogy & testing it out. But if Harvard allowed every student who met their admission criteria to take online classes, it would risk diluting it’s brand, and a lot of these schools succeed precisely because their brand is exclusive.

              Likewise, the insistence that degree seeking students follow a specific4-6 year education plan for a BA/BS means that studentsoften have to choose between school & work/family, because a normal full time student has little free time for a career or family obligations. But the small handful of such students who do manage to juggle a full time load & a career/family are held up as proof it can be done & justification that no changes are needed.

              This also leads into the idea (that I’ve said before) that college isn’t for everyone. It isn’t. For a small percentage of the population, college will never be for them. They have developmental issues that will not be overcome without exceptional effort*. For a small percentage of the population who won the developmental lottery, they will go straight from high school to college, get through college, gain much from it, and excel in life. For everyone else, college after high school will be a struggle. Perhaps a worthy one, or perhaps a failure. That initial failure should not count against them (but it does, admission offices weight failures & dropouts against the student unless there is some compelling hard luck story to accompany it – I just wasn’t ready doesn’t carry much weight). Not everyone leaves high school ready for college. Either they aren’t sure what they want, or they need money, or credit, or they have other obligations, or a combination of those & other issues. But we are told that if you don’t go to college right after high school, you’ll probably never go. Which is true, because going from working full time to studying full time is a massively difficult thing, especially as you accrue staggering debt.

              In short, if we want to expand access to education, the Academy needs to step up & open up & restructure. They need more non-traditional paths to a degree, with as many options as can be reasonably supported (I mean, what else are they paying all that administrative overhead for, anyway, if not to make school more accessible?). They helped to create this mess, they need to help clean it up.

              *People who may have the intellectual chops for college, but would need considerable psychological help before they could be in a headspace where they would believe it. That said, such people can still be very successful in other ways.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Saul and I come from a culture that places a great value a formal education and do assume that more education does make somebody a better person. Democracies also considered education necessary to make people fully informed and capable citizens and economically better.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          Lee (and Saul, too!),

          It’s obvious at this point that you and Saul hold those beliefs. It’s not like folks here at the OT are confused on that point. If there’s a confusion (and I don’t think there is, actually) it’s why Saul persists in pushing a view that seems so obviously underargued and so easily challenged. Simply saying “that’s what I believe” doesn’t really cut any ice here (argumentatively, anyway).

          BTW, I’m not saying that to challenge your beliefs about this stuff, but rather to clarify what might have been a confusion about the way the dialogue usually proceeds on this and related issues. Ie., that there is no confusion about what you guys believe. Just a disagreement about it.

          Substantively, I will say this, tho: accusing libertarians of FYIGM in a context where arguments opposing your views are so clearly articulated and well focused seems particularly inappropriate and circular. If opposing arguments are so easy to refute, then why not just refudiate away!

          {{No libertarians were harmed in the making of this comment.}}Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            To be honest, I’d been expecting a post like this on LOAG and was wondering why it took so long. There’s been a history of commentary that the libertarians lurking around this site are all about “FYIGM”

            For the record, as I said before, I didn’t “GM”, but generally fall into the “FY” category.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          Saul and I come from a culture that places a great value a formal education and do assume that more education does make somebody a better person.

          This is not a good assumption. I know a lot of assholes who are college grads. And a lot of extremely smart and well-educated people who couldn’t stand college, in part, because of the assholes busy getting their degrees that needed to be contended with at colleges.

          Education is a good thing to aspire to for oneself and one’s family; but education does not need to be ‘formal’ to be good; which harkens back to our recent home-schooling debates, as well.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


          I get the feelings about more education. 100% agree. Where I have some problems is the suggestion that it has to be formal education. What I realize, more and more as I get older, is that lots of people are very well-educated and never went to college. Further more, I’m sure you can agree that even for those of us who did go to college, it’s not as though education stops when we get our diploma. College was a fantastic experience for me, however I am certain I have learned more in the 12 years since I graduated than in my time there. And the great thing is that now I only have to learn what I want to. No more History department telling me I have to take two courses in South American history. No more Anthropology department telling me I have to have 3 credits in Pan African Studies. In that respect I value my non-formal education so much more. To suggest that people who never went to college are…less…than those of us who did, strikes me as thinking very small.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal says:

            Most days I see guilds as a FYIGM tribalism leading to a dim form of capitalism.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            ” lots of people are very well-educated and never went to college.”
            … you give most people too much credit. I tend to assume that most people are idiots, and that sending them to college doesn’t improve that in the slightest.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Maybe the whole “opportunity costs of higher education” thing is a good question for Saul. IIRC, the other day he commented that he spent something like eleven years in post-high school education (university plus grad school plus law school).

      Is he where he wants to be in his life, career-wise and financially?

      If he is not – would he be, if he had started working a few years earlier and presumably accumulated less debt?

      Look, I loved college and would have stayed there forever, if I could’ve. But that’s just not the way things work for a lot of people. FWIW, it’s not like I am in great straits financially or career-wise either, but them’s the breaks, and I bear most if not all of the responsibility for that due to my own choices.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I am very lucky that I don’t have college loans. My career is not where I expected it. Maybe deciding to go to law school earlier would have helped but maybe not. I met plenty of people around my age who did attend law school earlier and graduated pre-Recession. They were still the first laid off and some are still dealing with that.

        My views on university education are the product of my background just like everyone else. I grew up in an upper-middle class town on Long Island. The overwhelming majority of parents had white-collar jobs. Most of them had jobs that required educations beyond a bachelors like being a doctor, lawyer, MBA level business person, academics, etc. The overwhelming majority of people I went to high school with also went on to get university and advanced degrees. I can think of one or two people who dropped out of university or did not go.

        My school had some vocational type classes but not many. Home Economics was scrapped during my senior year of high school because of a lack of interest. The home ec classrooms were turned into science labs. The whole creationism debates would be lost at my high school because too many parents would worry about how that would hurt scores on the AP tests and getting into good colleges. There is also a Northeast thing where the push is to get into a name recognized private university. SUNY-whereever was considered second wrung at my high school (and I went to a public high school).

        Also what I said to Jaybird and Mike about opportunity costs. The evidence as I see it is that non-university graduates end up making less money, hitting their wage ceilings earlier, and are more likely to deal with unemployment at long bouts.

        This is why the whole opportunity costs argument confuses me. Yes you are spending X amount of years not making money but the alternative seems to be that you will be only making X amount for your entire working life and that amount will be hit somewhere around 23-24 plus unemployment is likelier. Why isn’t the SSC crowd talking about that? I think they are imaging a society that does not quite exist or doesn’t exist anymore.

        Now what I will say is that maybe success requires not only concentrating on grades but also being relentlessly practical in what you study. So if I ever had kids and they were also arts mad, I don’t know what I would do. I wouldn’t want to force them into a field where they will always have work but also always be miserable. Maybe I will just tell them how hard the art world is and that a lot of people live really hand to mouth existences?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      One of the things about a university education is the diversity of information one is exposed to. It inculcates a pleasure in learning, it exposes the student into the capabilities of a spectrum of subject matter experts.

      Except when it doesn’t. If a university becomes a hoop to jump through, a place where a canon of knowledge is dispensed rather than a technique of intellectual growth is imparted by osmosis and initiation, then it’s a more specialized kind of secondary education. Trade school. This is what you need to have for a comfortable lifestyle.

      The sort of high-ideal, love-of-learning mentality to which the university aspires is not unique to the ivory tower, of course, and people without degrees often have it. And not everyone takes to it or accepts some of the trade offs that go along with it. And lots of folks aren’t attracted to it. Starbucks made a huge ballyhoo over its college education benefit a while back; what’s happened with that?

      Point being, college isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. To the extent we (as a society) say, no, that’s not okay, we are probably imposing barriers and requirements on people who don’t benefit from them, and forcing unneeded expenditures of our collective resources.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:


        Starbucks made a huge ballyhoo over its college education benefit a while back; what’s happened with that?

        It missed the cut for LF, but I read an article recently that other companies are starting to do the same thing.

        Good for them, though one wonders if we’re not headed in a direction where college education is connected through an employer. Like health care.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          We had that in the past, where a company would have OJT, but that OJT was of limited utility outside of the company or industry, and if industry members agreed not to poach…

          That said, companies could implement the model that an employee gets tuition paid for or reimbursed, as long as the employee does not quit for X many years after the program is complete (at Boeing, it’s 2 years, with what is owed being pro-rated if you leave for another company – and yes, there are clauses regarding layoffs and hardships, etc.). Employers do, although, have the right to decline to pay for a program that adds little value to their business, so Boeing might decline to pay for an English Lit degree for one of the factory machinists.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        If a university becomes a hoop to jump through, a place where a canon of knowledge is dispensed rather than a technique of intellectual growth is imparted by osmosis and initiation, then it’s a more specialized kind of secondary education. Trade school. This is what you need to have for a comfortable lifestyle.

        meh. Do you actually know anything about trade school? The people who attend them?

        There is a lot of blue-collar worker stereotyping here; most particularly a presumption that tradespeople don’t have a ‘love of learning.’

        A four-year degree does not necessarily make one a life-long learner, and having the habit of life-long learning does not necessarily make one a college graduate, though I think in many cases, it maybe ought to do just that.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          What we’re trying to establish here is whether tradespeople with “a ‘love of learning'” need to spend four years not working and accumulating debt in order to satiate that love.

          Like, maybe they could take a couple courses at the local community college.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      @jaybird @mike-dwyer

      @greginak summarizes the liberal position very well.

      I don’t think college is for everyone but I do believe that everyone who wants a university education should attend college. I also do think it is a sign of a civilized and advanced society that says it is a good thing to get young people into college and let them gain some form of advanced knowledge in a field from engineering to English Lit or whatever. Call this my Star Trek Utopianism. I like the idea of young people studying in the library and seminar and lecture hall and yes partying hard too. I also went to an undergrad for people who really like school so there is that. If it were more realistic as a career, I would love to be a professor. How great would it be to teach the Shakespeare seminar or lecture on a nice, crisp autumn morning afternoon on an idyllic college campus? Yes this is how am a sap.

      I do concede that American Higher Education is currently the worst of all possible worlds as it is currently structured. We require college educations for all the decent paying jobs but this is becoming less and less certain and it is morally wrong to make young people take out massive loans for university educations.

      Yet there is still the problem that shows most people who do not graduate from college or university live very economically precarious lives and hit their wage ceiling earlier and often are more likely to suffer from serious lengths of unemployment and underemployment. I’ve heard plenty of people say college is not for everyone. I have yet to hear everyone handling this fact. So it seems not going to college usually equals getting a low-paid service job without much room for advancement. Isn’t that a huge opportunity cost?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Oh, so it’s a jobs program? Universal education would open up slots for more tenured professors (of which one would probably go to you)?

        Then let me say that framing this as opponents saying “FYIGM” was pretty sneaky.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          You’re working to hard to uncharitable readings….let it flow easily.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            “You’re reading the ‘FYIGM’ argument uncharitably.”Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              @jaybird I’m saying that Saul typically talks about the kind of job he would like and his tastes. I’ve haven’t read him as saying everybody should want to be be Shakespeare prof, just that he would dig that. That is just the way Saul rights.

              But i forgot about the FYIGM part, i don’t that was a helpful addition on his part unless he wanted to wake us up on this sunday morn.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              Greg nails it again. I am writing about my fantasy jobs. I am not saying that everyone needs to want to be a Shakspeare professor. My own mom doesn’t get why I find the idea of a career in academia appealing*. Nor does my girlfriend.

              *I decided not to get a PhD or try because I saw the writing on the wall for a life as an adjunct as early as 2005. All but two of my academic friends are working as adjuncts. My academic friends are equally divided between the arts and the sciences. One tenure track guy is in Marine Biology. Another woman I know got her PhD in Dramatic Studies and got a tenure track job by taking a job at a very small public university in Texas.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Then let me say this again: If one of your goals in pushing for universal education in order to open up job slots (one of which would go to you), then framing opposition to this as your opponents saying “FYIGM” was pretty sneaky.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Wow. If you’re right about that Jaybird, it’s more than just sneaky. Intellectually dishonest seems more appropriate.

                Oh, and – ironic in an unsurprising sorta way – perfectly selfish. FY-I’ll-Get-Mine.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                Oh! I get what @jaybird is saying now. He thinks my stance is all about making it more likely for me to get a tenured position somewhere.

                Did he just completely ignore the part where I said requiring people to get university degrees at 100,000 dollars of debt is morally untenable.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                He thinks my stance is all about making it more likely for me to get a tenured position somewhere.

                No, but I do think it’s interesting that you put a sentence about how nice it would be to get a professorial job in your paragraph about the benefits of universal education. (For the record, what I said was “one of your goals” and not “it’s all about”.)Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                @jaybird @stillwater

                The FYGIM line was wrong and uncharitable and I apologize for including it. I was being snarky and that served as a detriment from my own writing.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Isn’t that a huge opportunity cost?

        It’s hard to say without comparing like-to-like. We usually compare those who did go to college to those who didn’t. What we need to compare are people with similar K-12 academic and socioeconomic profiles. My guess is that going to college would still land you ahead in the long run, if you graduate. That last qualifier is kind of important, but so is the part before it.

        However, it should be said, that the more kids we send to college for economic reasons, the more we change what college is away from everything you talk about in the first paragraph.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          This is a fair point. One thing I noticed about a lot of well-paying blue collar work is that they tend to be located in distinct locations. I am thinking about how the American oil work tends to be located in places like the Dakotas, the Gulf, and Alaska. There was also an episode of dirty jobs that featured a train cleaning or something like that facility in Idaho.

          The oil field and rig industry seems to involve a lot of hazing based on what I’ve read. Hazing in ways that shocks me as an upper-middle class college dude. If you had that kind of hazing in an office or almost anywhere else, there would be serious trouble. I can’t imagine that it would end well to take a high school grad from Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles and place him or her on an oil rig where there is a lot of cultural hazing.

          Another thing I noticed is that the most nepotism and insider stuff tends to happen in the most lucrative white-colllar fields where it still depends on going to the right schools and such and also in a lot of trades where people tend to get jobs for their sons and nephews and what not. “This is Paulie’s kid…..”Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            This is in stark contrast to getting a PhD and having to teach classes at Dakota Western College, and where networking isn’t spectacularly important…Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              Fair point. I don’t know how far I would go if I had a PhD. One thing I’ve mentioned before is that it is important to me to live near a substantially sized Jewish community*. So Dakota Western is out.

              However, James said that there are some Jewish professors at his college in the middle of nowhere Michigan. They choose to have an hour commute and live in Ann Arbor which does have a large Jewish community (and one of the best delis in the United States!). I could see doing something like that.

              *It is always strangely controversial when I say this for reasons I don’t understand. I don’t see why it is so controversial for people to want to be around their fellow tribesmembers.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                It is always strangely controversial when I say this for reasons I don’t understand. I don’t see why it is so controversial for people to want to be around their fellow tribesmembers.

                How can I say this politely? The problem is that at some point, in the post or comments, you get to where you imply that people whose choice to be around their fellow tribesmembers doesn’t lead to Saul’s preferences in place to live, preference in work, value of assorted skills, etc, means those people are making bad choices.

                Let me pick an example. Choices made for the same reasons that limit you to living in one of a handful of large cities limits a bunch of people to living in western Minnesota and the Dakotas. You value your MFA; one of them values their master machinist skills that let them fabricate a replacement for a broken tractor part today. You value the things that you can do in a big city when you’re not working; they value things that can be done in a rural setting. But at some point in the discussion you take exception to them not valuing your MFA or the big city, while at the same time implying that you don’t value those machinist skills or any aspect of rural life.

                I don’t know if it’s your intent to do this. I’d like to think that it’s not. If not, then it’s something that you need to work on in your writing.Report

              • Avatar Zac says:

                “I don’t see why it is so controversial for people to want to be around their fellow tribesmembers.”

                It’s not that it’s controversial, it’s that it’s odd to hear from an avowed liberal. Liberalism is an egalitarian project, and tribalism is inherently divisive; it implies you are more loyal to your group than to humanity as a whole.

                Look at it this way: do you think it would be weird for a liberal to explicitly state they want to live in a heavily-white neighborhood?Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                I know you have this big thing about how we should discard all religion (which is surprising, the rest of the strong anti-theists I knew grew up in super fundamentalist households like Jesus Camp levels) but I doubt you would be unsympathetic to someone Asian or Latino who didn’t want to move to somewhere like North Dakota.

                I am not talking about living in an area like New York but just an area with a strong and big enough Jewish population. This is almost every major metro in the United States.

                Are you volunteering to move to North Dakota or Omaha?Report

              • Avatar Zac says:

                To be clear, I support everyone living wherever it so pleases them to live. I was just trying to answer the question implicit in your earlier statement. And no, I wouldn’t want to move to Omaha or Bismarck, but I also wouldn’t want to move to New York or Boston or Portland, even if I might have more cultural affinity for those places than the Dakotas. I like the weather here in Seattle, I don’t do extremes of temperature well.

                (Also to clarify, while I am indeed a strong anti-theist, I harbor no illusions that theism or other spiritualisms are going away anytime soon, certainly not in any of our lifetimes barring a truly unforeseeable paradigm shift. But I do think liberalism constantly damages itself by not working more diligently to hasten its inevitable exit from the stage.)Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            Snark aside, I wasn’t really thinking of people who work on oil rigs. I am thinking of the various people I know without college degrees and what they do: Locksmith, office manager and accountant, network management. Not typical results, of course, but indicative perhaps of what people who could have gone to college but didn’t can do with their lack of college degree.

            In other words, there are a lot of different inputs involved, that segregate people who did go to college from people who didn’t. To assess the real value of going to college, you need to control for the other inputs as best you can. I suspect that if you do so, college will definitely be to the advantage of people at the upper-end of the potential scale. At the lowest end, they’re not going to graduate and so going to college is a bad thing. The middle? Well that’s the question. How does a mediocre student at Florida International University do compared to the guy who decided to do something else? I don’t really know. I suspect favorably, but not along the lines of black-and-white distinctions we make when we talk about people with college degrees and people without them.

            The only guy I know personally who works on an oil rig has a college degree from a well-regarded private school.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              Interestingly enough, my older brother dropped out of college during his freshman year and ended up just bartending around a while. He eventually ended up in the Hotel Management program at Florida International University and is now doing quite well for himself in Southern California.

              My MFA and JD programs had people from a diverse amount of academic backgrounds. You had plenty of people from prestigious undergrads but also people who did attend schools like Florida International University or lesser known Cal States. The MFA issue is hard because there is such a chaotic element about who makes it as an actor and who does not.

              I would say that going to university helped the actors I know. Maybe not in getting roles but in getting jobs. A lot of actors find themselves working as realtors because it is a job that provides a decent living and also can be flexible. You can duck out during the day for an audition because most of your work will be done in the afternoon and on weekends. Or they got jobs as translators, editors, etc. If they did not go to college, they would probably be doubly marginal.

              Now maybe it is unique to metro areas but being a real estate agent in NYC and SF seems to be largely done by college grads.

              The grad school thing is questionable. We are seeing a lot of pushback against MFA programs now though.


            • Avatar Kim says:

              A lot of the folks without a college degree have jobs like drug dealer or blackmarket watermelon peddler.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


        So it seems not going to college usually equals getting a low-paid service job without much room for advancement.

        I really, really do not agree with that statement and I think labor statistics would back me on that. Let’s just look at one profession: plumbers.

        2012 Median Pay $49,140 per year / $23.62 per hour
        Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
        Number of Jobs, 2012 386,900

        That seems pretty good, especially considering that you learn on the job, so you’re collecting a paycheck (and paying taxes) instead of hoping Congress will make college free. And by the way, I was nearly 10 years out of college before I passed the median pay for being a plumber and in absolutely no way was my promotion dependent on have a BA. Everything I used to get my promotion was learned on the job or through self-education.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


          I would also add that if college makes a person better, why not push for everyone to have a Masters or higher? Where’s the line?Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            I didn’t say the college makes everyone better. Lee did. I agree with Zic that plenty of assholes attend college and remain assholes. Just because my brother wrote something does not mean I believe in the exact same thing.

            My stance is what Greginak wrote. Those who want to attend college should be able to and they should be able to do so in a way that does not require massive amounts of debt and/or taking ten years to graduate.

            There seem to be a million different cultural issues in the “college is not for everybody” conversation. This includes whether a culture considers college a norm or not. The conversation is rarely about intellectual ability or merit as far as I can tell and often revolves around accidents of birth. There is a lot of “college isn’t for everybody” that seems to translate as “I’m sorry Maria but you were born into a family in the South Bronx and not one in Westchester. College is not for everybody.” This is an argument born purely out of luck of birth and socio-economics. Never mind that Billy from Chapaqua might be as dumb as a sack of rocks and only interested in money and girls. Evidence shows that smart but poor kids still have a tougher time for graduating from college than rich middling kids:


            I’d love to live in a world that some how got the “stupid sons of the rich” out of college and university but this is not going to happen. The next best alternative is making college affordable so smart and poor kids can attend and graduate without going into massive debt and providing support structures that allows them to concentrate on their studies instead of juggling a million things.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              The conversation is rarely about intellectual ability or merit as far as I can tell

              This is a very odd observation, seeming to indicate a disconnect. Intellectual ability and merit are a rather important component of what most of us are talking about. That’s where my “average student at FIU” comment came from. Perhaps it remains a bit below the surface due to a trepidation surrounding talk of intellectual ability, but… it’s there. Most people who say “college isn’t for everyone” is wanting to delineate both by interest and by likelihood of success.

              I’m personally in favor of generous subsidies for college students along the axes of economic need/discipline, financial need and merit. That latter one tends not to go over so well.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I’d say it’s about intellectual as well as cultural stuff. Some folks just aren’t cut out for playing a role or sitting in a cubicle. I’m not at all sure why that lifestyle is so consistently argued as being “better” than one with less security (things are changing!) or income (see earlier parenthetical!) but tons more individual freedom. If a person desires a career path which requires them to plug into a cubicle (or whatever), then more power to em. Some people don’t, tho.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I agree that cultural and personal stuff matters. When it comes to funding, though, I am worried more about their ability to do well and take advantage of college than their personal preferences. That differs if I am giving advice to someone I know, though, or my own kids, where I can more easily get a personal understanding of their circumstances.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                ALsotoo, I agree and admit that my own views are very much about intellectual ability as far as access to an education goes. As I said on an earlier thread, a college education ought to be more about having “the right stuff” than a right of passage or students as customers or any of that other jazz.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Still, if we’re not on the same page here, we’re definitely on the same chapter.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar says:

          Mike Dwyer,

          I don’t want to get too specific online, but as a truck driver my pay puts me in the fourth quintile. I signed up to be a mentor (basically an OJT thing) and could very well hit $100K in a year or two. It’s not lawyer or doctor pay, or even where I would be if my first choice gig as an engineer had worked out, but it’s not bad for blue-collar.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            Honestly, I wonder how many of the pro-degree crowd has ever done a skilled training program (not related to the degree) & seen how much information has to absorbed & how challenging they can be. Instructors at trade schools are tough as hell and tolerate little slack (usually because the trade in question involves things that, when treated lackadaisically, result in significant injury or death).Report

            • Avatar aaron david says:

              This might be a topic that only you, WillH and I could speak to around these parts. I was actually thinking about writing something on this, but if you would be interested doing something, I would love to work with you on it. I don’t think WillH has much time, but the more people involved the better.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                More than just me & Will H, RoadScholar has a CDL (I consider that a skilled training/trade), and David Ryan has managed to learn boat building & piloting, which also falls into the skilled area. I’m sure there are others.

                But what did you have in mind? (feel free to email me at madrocketsci at gmail dot com)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        You talk a great deal about what you “like” and “believe”… but what evidence do you offer that your preferences and beliefs are correct? And thus should dictate social policy? What about the opportunity cost of paying for everyone’s college education? Where does that money come from? Is the sign of a civilized society one where anyone can study Proust* into their mid-20s but we can’t get everyone good access to medical care and early childhood education?

        * I have no idea who Proust is. Does that mean I can’t take part in this conversation?Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        “So it seems not going to college usually equals getting a low-paid service job without much room for advancement. Isn’t that a huge opportunity cost?”

        Depends don’t it? Working as a plumber or a HVAC guy or a auto mechanic don’t require a BS in EE or ME and they career prospects are quite limited. There is not much of a career ladder, but you can own your own business. I don’t consider that a negative. Folks gotta do those jobs and they can pay really well.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      It seems to me that there are not only a lot of jobs but a lot of careers that don’t require a college degree and, for what it’s worth, a lot of people who aren’t inclined to get one in the first place.

      And to put these people who aren’t inclined to get a college degree into a college strikes me as a lot more likely to turn high school into an 8-year program than to turn high school graduates into college graduates.

      As someone who went to college and now works in a job that doesn’t require a HS diploma, I worry more about how many people are out there doing the kind of job I do whose life would be subjectively better – internally, their mental and emotional life – in the same job that we do (weed whacking/grass trimming) had they had an opportunity to go to college. I don’t know how many people there are like that out there, but I do know that my life would be a lot worse if I hadn’t been able to go to college. I worry more about people out there doing a job like me who missed something by not getting to go to college than I do about the opportunity cost of a few people out there who were induced to try college for a year, found out it really wasn’t their thing, and left to take up grass trimming. If we were to lower the cost to students of college as we should, I would worry even less about that opportunity cost.

      The goals of college are obviously many-fold. Hopefully it does increase your employability and earning potential. But from first-hand experience I can say that it can add richness to your interior life, as well as provide a life-long sense of accomplishment that can sustain you at times when your immediate situation wouldn’t seem to provide that sense.

      I worry more about what subjective human utility is lost if not enough weed whackers get an opportunity to study art history at university than if too many do.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The goals that we’d like and the goals that employers like are orthogonal to each other (well, there’s a small amount of overlap, but it doesn’t seem that much worth mentioning).

        Employers want to have to do as little On The Job Training as possible and so they want you to have a degree in “Doing The Job We Want You To Do”. We, as bastard children of The Enlightenment, want the people who go to college to have a degree in the Sciences, History, Literature, Poetry, and Philosophy (and in such a way that you will be a fully fledged member of the culture).

        They aren’t quite mutually exclusive, but someone who gets a degree in “Doing The Job” will look better on paper to employers than someone who gets a degree in The Middlebrow.

        That gives a lot of power to employers. To the extent that more and more employers are going to be Gimungous Corporations rather than locally-owned businesses, we’ll have more and more HR departments casually tossing aside resumes that don’t look good on paper… which probably means that employers are going to have too much power when it comes to gaming the education system.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Disparate impact concerns* likely do reduce potential alternatives to using the college degree as an employment filter. Of course, disparate impact could also provide a solution, if we more closely scrutinized college requirements for jobs on a disparate impact basis. I mean, if we can tell employers “You can’t require a high school diploma for that job” I’m not sure why we can’t do the same for college for jobs that seem to require it unnecessarily. It’s not an ideologically comfortable solution, but it’s there.

    All of that said, I doubt that allowing IQ tests as freely as we allow education requirements would solve much. As long as employers can use it as a filter at no (direct) cost to them, why wouldn’t they?

    * – I have had a job have me take an IQ test before. It’s not completely forbidden. They just open themselves up to potential lawsuits. In the case of the former employer, they sent messages far and wide what they thought of the EEOC (they were against) and were likely chomping at the bit to take on the government. They pretty blatantly discriminated on the basis of age and disability. Ended up paying a fine for it. Ironically, that was part of how I discovered their existence while played a role in my getting a job with them at some point later. Horrible, horrible employer.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      IQ tests rarely measure what people think they measure, they’re not unbiased and rarely culturally neutral, and to be even vaguely accurate you need to give the right test under controlled circumstances — and the test needs to be given by someone trained.

      Handing someone a piece of paper with 100 questions on it or a computer screen with a 100 questions (which I’ve done for a job interview before. Their dodge on the law was “A third party contractor pre-filters our applicants for us.” And by “pre-filters” they mean “You take a boring test on abstract reasoning that had jack-all to do with the job. IE, an IQ test. I deliberately failed it. Pretty much didn’t want to work for a company whose screens were that poor) — anyways, just handing out a paper test? You’re not measuring IQ. You’re not measuring intelligence.

      At best you’re making a vague approximation of a lot of other things, depending on the test.

      Which has not stopped racists from pointing out that non-whites do more poorly than whites on tests designed for middle-class whites. Go figure.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        It’s not about the IQ test as much as it’s about using tests. Which may all be vague approximations unless they are very job-specific. And the same is true for all sorts of alternatives to using a college degree, which is why I think it’s a hindrance to potential alternatives.

        You know what else is a vague approximation? College degrees.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          I dunno. I mean, if you’re hiring a chemical engineer, asking for a degree in chemical engineering seems a fairly good approximation for “Has the bare basic understandings for this job”.

          As a programmer, I am keenly aware that one doesn’t need a CS degree to be a programmer (half my coworkers are engineers of some stripe, or were. However, I note most of them have occasional inconvenient gaps in their knowledge. Experience is a great teacher, but having a sound basis in theory and fundamentals is important too. Luckily, I’ve been around to help there — and they’ve been around to help me when what I was coding was highly technical engineering and I needed some explanations….)

          But I work in a science and engineering field, so asking for…science and engineering degrees in the relevant fields is quite important. I do understand that other jobs ask for degrees when none are really needed, which sounds problematic. (I suppose it shows one is willing to stick out four years of college and then change to a job that doesn’t require that knowledge).Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            I’m speaking of jobs that don’t require specific or deep technical knowledge that one learns with a specific (or one of a few specific) discipline. In the case of specific there are often alternative credentials you can use and things you can test, but not always. Often, though, employers are looking for individuals that they feel are smart and/or can be trained, and they use college degrees to signify those things. A very economically inefficient metric (for everybody but the employer and even for the employer it’s vague but it’s still free).Report

          • Avatar Saul Degree says:


            There are degrees that apply directly to jobs and these are STEM, Business, Accounting, Law.

            All degrees can be directly applicable to a job but most history and english lit majors will not use their degrees directly as historians or critics. They might get an indirect benefit but it is much harder to map than “I studied chemical engineering and am now a chemical engineer.” This could lead to a lot of college is not for everyone thread of thought.

            Interestingly when I tell people that I was a drama major, they can usually immediately see how that is useful for lawyers/litigators.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I wonder at how many jobs/careers actually require a college degree. You’ve mentioned STEM employment (and, yeah, you probably want someone who has demonstrated mastery of calculus and Newtonian physics for a large chunk of those) and there are probably jobs like “Physician” and “Lawyer” that require demonstrated mastery of the pre-reqs before you want to throw the kids to the wolves (though I waver on whether we should require law school prior to taking the bar).

            But, at my level of employment, it was all On The Job Training. My degree did little more than say “I am a reasonable risk when it comes to investing your time on me” (because, lemme tell ya, while I try to sell my degree as having taught me to think critically and be able to read a technical document, it’s equally valid to question whether I would have been capable of doing similar without spending 5 years reading The Great Books).

            How many jobs out there just need someone capable of drinking from the font of On The Job Training and little more than that? I suspect that it’s most of them.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


              I’ve written about the new facility my company is opening in New Hampshire. We hired a bunch of generic administrative types with all sorts of resumes. All of them are currently getting a crash course in not just our business, but in ISO, Lean Six Sigma, etc. There’s a 20 year-old in there that is still working on her degree but she knows Excel and Access and meets our most basic needs. The rest she will learn on the job and based on my interactions with her, she’ll catch on quick. The others? No degrees but equally bright. I suspect in a year they will all be impressively knowledgeable about all sorts of new things, collecting decent paychecks and have lots of potential for advancement in a company where there are about 25 more rungs in the corporate ladder before they become CEO. I see that as a net good.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                I love anecdotes like this. Enough of them and it’s a movement.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Your company is actually training? Better watch out, that seems an expensive waste of money when you can post ridiculous requirements for six weeks, claim nobody meets them, bring over a H1B candidate, train them for half the cost, and then pay them peanuts.

                Sorry, my..irritation…with the visa process is showing. (That is, in fact, how it works in the programming world. It’s really annoying, and the only satisfaction is that it most likely costs far more in the long run than actually hiring someone local and paying them the prevailing wage would. Same with outsourcing. But it looks so much cheaper at the first approximation, and that’s the one that goes on the budget. The rest is lost in overhead and project slippage).Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                Did you see the Disney story?


                I have seen some successful inshoring as Mike mentioned. Orrick (1100 attorneys) moved their entire support/back operations or much of it to West Viriginia. Reed Smith set up a 24/7 Customer Operations Center in West Virginia as well.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                This includes some lawyers:


                “Reed Smith’s customer center now employs 300 including its e-discovery group and 75 staff attorneys, who, like Orrick’s career associates, are not on the partner track but perform document reviews, e-discovery and other tasks for the firm’s associates and partners.

                “Instead of hiring a $130,000-a-year new lawyer, we get these people for less than half that number,” Mr. Sokulski said.”

                And you can probably live very well in West Virginia for 65,000 dollars a year. Hopefully there are some raises though. I wonder whether anyone moved to West Virginia to take these jobs.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                Morat, I’m fortunate in that my company really prides itself on promoting from within and developing its employees. You will often hear high level executives telling hourly employees about how they started where they are now. It’s a really big part of our company culture. I literally knew nothing about our business when I started and have learned all of my job specific skills through on the job training.Even now I’m still learning ISO and Lean Six Sigma stuff myself because I joined our Quality group last year and had no previous exposure. I guess I assume sometimes this is more common than it really is.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                ho ho ho

                you’re learning ISO and Lean Six Sigma there was nobody else with the free time to do it. They’d have hired fresh-outs to fill those slots but nobody learns management-fad stuff in school. In fact, there’s an entire industry out there dedicated to flipping through Powerpoints and then telling a room full of people “well done, you’re trained now”.

                But the government says that the prime contractor has to ensure certification all the way down, and the primes do that by enforcing certification on their suppliers, and the shit rolls downhill, so if you want to bid on any of that work ever then you need to be certified.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Six Sigma was actually built as an in-house (Motorola) training program. I have a friend who was at Motorola at the time and participated in the development of the program (the first thing she tells just about anyone is, “I’m a Six Sigma black belt”). What’s more, the management programs built off of Six Sigma have been built to train both the Six Sigma people and entire workforces in house.

                Interestingly, most of the people whom I’ve known over the years who’ve done Six Sigma training had almost no statistical background, so they were learning basic statistics in house as well.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:


                If they’re looking for more such people to staff up that facility, could you let it be known where a person could inquire into those positions?Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


                Drop me an email and I’ll get you some info.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Actually, I’m having a hard time thinking of any STEM careers that “require” a degree. All the ones I know have non-degree paths (Engineering has EIT/FE & PE; CS & IT still have large pools of basement grown talent; etc.). The non-degree paths usually involve much more OJT & self directed learning, as well as more ladder climbing, but the paths are there.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Indeed. Most of the interviews I have done for law jobs have all been very specifically about law questions and procedures. Nothing like “What is your greatest weakness?” A lot of questions like “How would you get the names of potential class members considering recent changes in the case law and what it is says in Business and Professions section 17200….”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        “IQ tests rarely measure what people think they measure, they’re not unbiased and rarely culturally neutral, and to be even vaguely accurate you need to give the right test under controlled circumstances — and the test needs to be given by someone trained.”

        Yes, and no. There are relatively unbiased IQ tests out there, and they don’t need to be given by people who are trained. I think I might have mentioned the concept of “polling the internet” before? These run on cellphones (for obvious reasons. most people don’t own a computer) — and you obviously don’t tell the person that they’re taking an IQ test.Report

  6. Avatar veronica d says:

    So I post over on SCC from time to time. They’re a smart bunch, but also quite over-impressed with their narrow, privileged, “white dude” kind of smarts.

    Not that they’re all literally white dudes. But there is this suburban-to-college-to-nice-tech-job track that a lot of those people are on, and one gets the sense that they don’t deviate from that much and don’t see much that wasn’t put there by people trying to entice people like them.

    What I’m saying — which is not so nice, but I think kinda true — that regarding life, they’re dilettantes. And they have no clue that they are dilettantes and they have just so much adorable knowledge from reading stuff written by other people just like them

    And it’s all kinda half precious and half nauseating.

    It takes a special kind of idiocy to learn a few superficial facts about a situation, with nothing resembling the knowledge that an experienced person has, and then wrap it up with a “I thought this up in ten minutes” brain fart — wrapped in the language of game theory and statistics, but you’ll find little real math nor any reason to think they’ve modeled anything right nor any sense that they’re really open to empirical testing.

    Nor does one sense that they have any idea how to put themselves in anyone else’s shoes — not really, not in a deep way.

    Anyway, so naturally I fit in there. 🙂 These are my people.

    I’m just older, and I’ve been around long enough to see my beliefs completely fail a few times, and to also see them succeed — the latter no doubt quite by chance.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      FWIW, @veronica-d I find you sometimes cantankerous and sometimes strident but I like those things about you. I enjoy that you challenge prevailing wisdom and consensus, and I’ve learned quite a bit about issues affecting trans people from you.

      So, if those folks at Star Codex send a vibe that you’re not “in the club,” know that’s not the case here. Even should we disagree about something.Report

      • Avatar veronica d says:

        @burt-likko — I don’t understand what you are asking.

        Or actually, I think you misunderstood me. When I said, “I fit in there,” I wasn’t being ironic. I’m a weird borderline-autistic nerd girl. I really do fit in there.

        Although I’m a bit older than many in that crowd, and I think I’ve experienced much they have not. In fact, I think many of them are where I was twenty years ago — which is perhaps presumptuous on my part, but probably true.

        You know, the perfect confidence of the young, smart, and clueless.

        Yep. Me.

        Well, me twenty years ago. (And maybe ten years ago also. So fine.)

        So anyway, I don’t often post there, for a variety of reasons, mostly cuz the author has kind of (by accident) positioned himself as an anti-social-justice icon. Which is not a good look on him. In any case, the community on the blog has suffered.

        On the other hand, the author once write this:

        It’s kinda long and it doesn’t start to tie into gender stuff until halfway through. But still.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      If someone can’t give you a detailed argument of how and why the weak oppress the strong, they don’t have much grasp of game theory in the first place.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One thing that I think is worth mentioning is that the elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools on the wrong side of the tracks tend to be a lot worse than the ones on the right side of the tracks.

    Jumping, leaping, STAMPEDING to “we need to give everyone a college education” over “maybe we could fix grade school?” is a good way to set people from the wrong side of the tracks for (yet another?) failure in the guise of trying to make sure that they can have the same opportunities that people who went to college had.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Well federal/national level initiatives to improve school are pretty popular right now. I keep hearing about this Common Core thing which seems like a hot topic.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Do you think that Common Core will result in the schools on the wrong side of the tracks becoming better schools?

        Why? By what mechanism?Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          lol…I think common core will be most successful at making people scream their fool heads off about the evilll gov conspiracy. Reform of local schools in inherently difficult at the Fed level. It is mostly a local and state gov issue. Feds can do things Head Start and offer grants and research. Feds can much more easily make college more affordable or free then change 18 cajillion individual school districts.

          I don’t have a strong opinion on CC. Although it does drive one of my crazy conservative cousins wacky so that is a plus.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Oh, well, if the goal is to heighten the contradictions in the Culture War, awesome.

            I never liked the kids on that side of the tracks anyway.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Impressive non-sequitur. Good work.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, if we’re not going to talk about the mechanisms by which this will improve schools (because, I fear, there isn’t one), isn’t that worth shouting your fool head over?

                Personally, I think that choosing to mock people for opposing Common Core rather than saying something like “yeah, this will use a lot of resources, including money, the limited time of teachers, the limited time of students, and the seemingly endless time of administrators to do something that won’t help anything” be a better example of a non sequitur, were I looking to argue against someone else by yelling out the names of fallacies.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                ummm yeah. Saul’s post was on universal access to college/ post HS ed and some stuff about a SSC comments thread. So jumping to grade/HS ed and how that is to fix seems like a jump.

                I’m fine with mocking the people freaking out over CC. I’m fine with the good criticisms of it though.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So jumping to grade/HS ed and how that is to fix seems like a jump.

                I didn’t see it as jumping to grade/HS as much as going back to it.

                A college education assumes a high school education. A high school education assumes a middle school one. A middle school one assumes an elementary education.

                I’m questioning assumptions here, Greg.

                The edifice that Saul is trying to build on the fourth floor of his dream building has some rotten foundations.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Okay fine. Doesn’t seem all that close to me. I don’t think it addresses what would be the case for making college/trade school/ post HS free for anybody who wants it. That is where Bernie is leading and what i think Saul thinks is good. That is the direct point.

                Some kids who went to poor grade/HS will still want or need post secondary ed. Whether they can get that is a valid issue. In fact its even more important for the kids from crappy schools since they didn’t have the advantage of a good HS. But almost every kid will need some post secondary ed to get jobs or a career. So it is valid question how to pay for that.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            Common Core does seem to get a lot of opposition from liberals as well. A lot of my friends with school-age kids on the East Coast are part of the opt-out of testing movement. They really dislike the constant testing, don’t see it as a good education, and think it is making their kids miserable.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              @saul-degraw I’m not a huge fan of all the testing that seems to be done now. Testing serves a purpose and can be useful, but it seems like there is to much.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Common Core isn’t federal. It’s a state-level initiative done by a…collection of states.

            The biggest impact the Feds have on K-12 education is special needs mandates they never coughed up the money for, which is a giant hassle but is not really about curriculum.

            Seriously, Common Core has nothing to do with the federal government. At all. It’s not ‘federal’ in any sense. It’s 30+ states deciding that since the Feds aren’t GOING to set a national curriculum, they’ll do it on their own. Fans of State’s Rights should love common core.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Very true Morat which was sort of my point. CC gets trashed as an evviilllll fed oppression by some when it isn’t, you know, even frickin a fed gov thing. The fed level is not really where you can do big changes to grade/HS level ed.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor says:

          >>Why? By what mechanism?

          Is the CC anything more than a heavily funded and rigorously tested curriculum and standards? So the mechanism is that schools on the wrong side of the tracks now get the kind of heavily funded and rigorously tested curriculum and standards that only schools on the right side of the tracks could previously afford. Or am I missing something?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            My experience with the Common Core is from the outside. My sister and her husband are educators (I’ve mentioned before that my sister is the first grade teacher requested by helicopter parents who are planning on Harvard for their precious ones) and with a friend who is a librarian at a school where parents aspire to having children who graduate and they have two very different experiences of the Common Core.

            My sister and bro-in-law see it as a little bit of tweaking with a lot more testing than they used to do and my librarian friend sees it as a magnificently inconvenient process that isn’t helping the kids and takes away from the time spent to teach them because so much more time is spent in test prep and testing.

            I don’t know how representative they are of the wider culture, of course.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor says:

              Gotcha, I think I misinterpreted your question as being “I don’t know what the mechanism is” as opposed to “I don’t know if the mechanism works”.Report

  8. Avatar Chris says:

    Now I know why I woke up this morning with a headache.Report

  9. Avatar LWA says:

    “The commentariat at Slate Star Codex imply to varying degrees that they believe that people of African and Latino ancestry are always going to perform less well on intelligence tests. I was startled by the fact that no one brought up anything about adverse effects from Slavery, Jim Crow, and Structural and Systematic Racism.”

    And I would be startled to see how people who invariably chant “Everyone is an individual” so quickly resort to racial or gender essentialism. Except I stopped being startled a while back.Report

  10. Avatar North says:

    Is universal university education a huge opportunity cost? I’d hazard to say yes. Forgive me for being cynical on this note but if you drop the direct cost of attending university down to zero or near zero you are probably not like the results. If the cost is that low then who on earth would elect not to go? If we want to turn university into a sort of new set of grades to high school I’d think making it free to go is the way to go. Europe is a good example, for instance. They ration university attendance there too, it’s not universal. It’s rationed by test achievement mostly. If you wanna go to university but your school scores aren’t good well tough luck to you.

    But whenever people talk about universal free university/post secondary education I can just hear the argument a decade or so down the line. “Employers only consider people with masters degrees or better, the only way to fix this problem is free post university advanced degree assistance.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I see your points and I largely agree with them. The essay was largely about talking about valid questions (When and how did employers demand university degrees? How can we turn this around?) and invalid responses from SSC libertarians saying “Employers demanded college degrees because stupid liberals won’t let employers do IQ testing.” There is a strong assumption among STEM people especially STEM libertarians that they will always come up on top with IQ testing.

      Also why can Europe have subsidized university education and we can’t. I think the American solution will just end up being more like the old days when college was for the rich and no one else. Europe might not have as many people go to university but they are much better at making sure non-wealthy people can go.*

      *They will even raise fights when places like Oxford and Cambridge are not being representative of the nation as a whole.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Well for one thing the US is much bigger than any given European country and enormously less homogeneous. It’s a pretty tough sell outside of one’s own social cluster. Europe’s Muslim immigrants aren’t having an easy time attending university even in the more progressive parts of Europe.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          How comfortable are we telling people thru can’t go to college (any college) because of how they scored on a test or the grades they made in K-12 while those who did well go for free? We don’t even have a consensus broad merit-based scholarships, with opposition on both right and left (for different reasons).Report

          • Avatar North says:

            I’m not. My point is that when one points at Europe and says “they help people get free post high school education much more than we do” that assertion comes with some enormous caveats.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      There are several correlated but also independent problems here. Its pretty obvious that if greater percentage of the population has college degrees than the economic value of a college degree decreases. During the 19th century, when college degrees were rather rare in the New World and Old World, you really had to be big screw up or face some really bad luck not to get good economic value out of a college degree. As college degrees became more common, they became less of a guaranteer of success. If fewer people went to college than the college degree would regain more economic value.

      A lot of employers do require a college degree for jobs that strictly don’t need it for a variety of reasons. There isn’t much evidence that this is going to change if we reduce the number of college degree holders. Unless we can find a way to go back to the days where you didn’t need a college degree to get good paying or at least relatively good paying jobs than more people are going to seek a college degree.Report

  11. Avatar North says:

    Looking at your overall post, though, I would note that I don’t know if libertarianism is very solid as a free standing functional ideology. I’m not a libertarian myself but I have found that libertarianism makes a really good tool as a criticism for policies and other ideas; a kind of useful null hypothesis; something to act as a tonic against the “something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done” line of thinking.Report

  12. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    The problem with “not everybody needs to go to college”, at least in the short term (as in the next 2-3 generations is that means in reality, “less poor and working class people go to college,” because god damn it if Lilah and Marcus are going to let thousands of dollars in private Catholic school or good property taxes in their upper middle class suburb go to waste so Austin can go become an electrical engineer.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I largely agree with your sentiment but I think you meant electrician and not electrical engineer. Also Parochial school is usually fairly affordable (except maybe a few fancy ones). There seem to be a lot of working-class parents who send their kids to Catholic school and don’t expect those kids to go unto university.

      Otherwise this is my concern as well.Report

  13. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Is Libertarianism fantasy politics?

    Let me take this question from the front page. I don’t know about politics, but Libertarianism in the US started to become fantasy economics in the later parts of the 1800s when the free high-quality land ran out [1]. Jefferson lost; the high-minded independent yeoman farmer had to either inherit land or incur substantial debt (promise a share of the future production) to acquire land from the previous owners. Mechanization of agriculture, consolidation of ownership, and the necessity for urbanization was the nail in that particular coffin — dense urban areas became uninhabitable by the standards of the time without regulation of people’s actions that affected others. By contemporary standards of “livability”, urban and suburban regulation has to be quite heavy. I am often heard to say that if Texas succeeds in its apparent dream for its population to grow to match California’s, its regulatory regime will be considerably harsher than California’s is currently.

    [1] That is, land suitable for small family farming (or other small-scale resource extraction) from which the government could/would evict the prior inhabitants.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      I’ve mentioned this before here at the OT, but about 15 years ago now (hell, I can’t remember to be honest) I used to read a couple-three libertarian sites pretty regularly and on all of them, and one in particular, the consensus was that environmental issues constituted an intractable problem for libertarianism given the (sacrosanct!) emphasis on private property rights. As it so happens, tho, the problem was easily resolved by identifying pollution and whatnot as an externality which gummint could regulate or tax. Problem solved! So much for sacrosanct principles!

      And that’s not a knock on libertarianism, actually. Just an effort to show the theory’s flexibility, I suppose.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        If argued genuinely, I’d say that position demonstrates a willingness to recognize and compensate for weaknesses in the philosophy.

        Saying, ‘Hey, this is a downside to our principal which can be largely corrected for by carving out a principled exception to our general principle.’

        I bet @tod-kelly would say this is the counter to ideology being the enemy.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          I don’t know what Tod would say, but it struck me as more of a “libertarianism cannot fail, it can only be failed” sorta thing. I mean, at the time, at those sites, libertarianism was constructed on this grand edifice of axiomatic apriorism (or something), with all the accompanying epicyclic escape routes which various potential inconsistencies introduced, so when they gave up on a rigid conception of property rights they basically came up with a whole new theory, one which – as Michael mentions – constituted a concession to real world facts and pragmatics. So I wrote that comment in support of Michael’s view. I mean, 15 years ago [add: more than 15, now that I think about it] a guy wrote a paper claiming that a minimal welfare state was entailed by libertarianism, and libertarians rejected it pretty strenuously. Now they accept the welfare state…

          And just to make it clear, I don’t have a problem with a bunch of white guys (heh, I kid!) trying to justify libertopia on purely a priori grounds (I’m looking at you Michael Huemer). I also think a lot of self-identified libertarians make important contributions to how we all should – and certainly how I do – think about things. I just agree with Michael that libertarian economics is a fantasy. I also think libertarian politics – beyond the platitude that more freedom is better than less – is also sorta a fantasy. But I’ve said all this before, yeah? Say something once, why say it again?Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          @kazzy I think it would actually fall more under the “Judicious Over Consistent” thing I write about, and thus I heartily approve.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      There’s another part to this tail that’s oft forgotten or glossed — the federal government sold that land, and used the profits to fund infrastructure projects (transportation project, mostly). Almost all of the nostalgia for pre-income tax days or tax-free America forget this salient fact.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Early on they may have sold it, or granted it to states who then sold it. There are arguments both ways as to whether the price reflected anything near the actual value of the land. The Homestead Acts went beyond that so that a person merely had to file a claim, and then do minimal improvements, to acquire ownership. For the railroads, the requirements were even easier. Once the available land was Great Plains or previously unclaimed Mountain West lands sans minerals or water rights, Congress doubled and then redoubled the land that could be claimed and it still wasn’t enough for a family to make a living on.

        It’s really hard to make an argument that the revenues from the sale of land went to infrastructure improvements in those states. In a more contemporary example… I pay state taxes in Colorado for the continuing effort to contain the environmental damage done by uranium mining on federal land, under ridiculously lax federal regulation, after a quite-profitable company chartered in a different state was allowed to declare bankruptcy and not pay for the mess it created. To go off on one of my usual tangents — the western states have all “taken one for the team” on US nuclear policy. Time for NJ and Florida and Ohio to step up.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          I’m talking earlier — John Quincy Adams did it to do road-building projects when others argued that this was outside the realm of the Federal Government, and there was no way to finance such activities. The practice continued up to (and through) the Civil War; and I think it ended sometime in the late 1800’s as a method as a method of financing government in lieu of levying taxes.Report

  14. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    “Drum wrties: “Hardcore libertarianism is a fantasy. It’s a fantasy where the strongest and most self-reliant folks end up at the top of the heap, and a fair number of men share the fantasy that they are these folks. They believe they’ve been held back by rules and regulations designed to help the weak, and in a libertarian culture their talents would be obvious and they’d naturally rise to positions of power and influence.”

    Kevin Drum thinks this fantasy is wrong as do I.”

    Empathy, Saul. You need to learn to cultivate empathy.

    The first problem with this statement is that it paints with an overly broad — not to mention uncharitable — brush. Drum lives in MJ-land, and so all he ever reads is what other political hacks say libertarians believe. *You* should know better, because there have been libertarians on this sight explaining their beliefs since forever, and they never, ever use that argument.

    The second problem with this statement is that, if you want to paint with a brush overly broad, uncharitable, and inaccurate save for a but fraction of followers — or if you feel comfortable doing an armchair pop psychoanalysis based on your own political leanings — you can do this exact same thing with any political philosophy. As in, “liberals are just white people who suffer from white guilt because they know they hide racists feelings, and non-white people who just want the government to give them free stuff.”Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      You are probably right that I am not being very charitable to libertarianism. I admit to being defensive because I have tried being charitable to libertarianism and conservatism in the past but rarely seen that same charitableness extended back to liberals especially when it comes to safety net matters which are very important to me.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        Being defensive implies you’ve been attacked… or at least perceive yourself as being attacked. Who do you think is attacking you/liberalism?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          I think Saul confuses “attacking his beliefs” with “attacking him as a person”, myself. Which makes the defensiveness even weirder.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            But I’m not even seeing his beliefs attacked. Challenged, maybe. Alternatives proposed, sure. But just because someone implies they think you’re wrong doesn’t mean we need another long post telling everyone else why they’re wrong. Especially when many of those folks lack the opportunity to quickly write a counter post.

            But now I’m going to get myself in trouble…Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              @kazzy Actually, in this case I think @saul-degraw does have his beliefs attacked by libertarians and conservatives alike, all the time.

              Not as much here (though certainly here) as other places, but I think it’s pretty common to read/hear/see “liberalism” and “liberals” get blamed for every human sin and negative event ever by a pretty sizable chunk of the media that self-identifies and libertarian and conservative.

              The example I gave to mirror Saul and Drum’s view of libertarians back on liberals is actually pretty common on talk radio.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Oh horse pucky Saul. Perhaps a certain someone jumps on your ass for safety net concerns, but most of the libertarians on this site just push back on you because you get a wee bit (well, maybe more than a wee bit) pie-eyed with regard to what can be reasonably & affordably done with safety nets.

        Kind of just like you push back when libertarians gets a little too loose with the glorious power of markets.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:


      Do you actually believe you know what Kevin Drum doesn’t read?Report

  15. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Remember kids, even when a government agent points to his exclusive use of deadly force as someone tries to make a phone call about the traffic traffic regulations he’s violating, Libertarians are the worse people in the world.


    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      you see what you kids don’t understand is that even though the Governor of Delaware is against climate change, like any good Democrat is (unlike those stupid people in the other party), he’s allowed to drive his SUV wherever he wants and leave it idling in the exact place set aside for the small folk that got with the program on climate change. Because we need the government, and as a government official he knows what’s best for all of us. It’s not of matter of him having his, so forget you, it’s just that he’s in charge and we don’t really need to worry about government being a problem when the oil companies are so terribad.Report

  16. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I’m finding this all a bit convoluted to jump into without a lot of research. I sort of started with the post comparing the tulip mania (sort of the classic economic bubble) to the artificially inflated market for university degrees and saying that the answer to that is not government subsidies. But, now, I need to read their very long comment thread and this very long comment thread and Kevin Drum’s post to weigh in? Can I just start by saying that I think the tulip mania comparison is cute but oversimplifies things to the point that it’s somewhat useless?Report