Skip to main content

No, college doesn't guarantee you a good job. But that's missing the point of Occupy Wall Street.

Many of the protesters I have met are understandably ruffled that they are unemployed, and they often finish their remonstrations with a non-sequitur, delivered as if it were a knockout blow: “And I went to college!” Well, one might ask, “So what?” 

I first noticed this “college = good life” fallacy back in England. A close friend of mine was looking for a job straight out of college, and remained unemployed for six months while he searched for what he described as a “graduate job.” Outside of those careers that rely on specific skills and expertise — doctors, veterinarians, and so forth — I have never been sure quite what this term means. My friend has a degree in modern history. Congratulations! But there is no obvious career path for this qualification. Why should it lend itself more to working in, say, finance than to working in a 7-Eleven? Compare this attitude to that exhibited by another friend of mine — a recently naturalized American citizen. After her parents escaped from the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s and fled to the United States, her engineer father worked as a garbageman for five years until he found a job which tallied more closely with his abilities. At no point did he complain. Was it a waste of talent? Undoubtedly. Did he have a right to a “post-graduate job”? No. That’s just not how free economies work. 

Charles Cooke, who wrote this bit for NRO, is right. He's also missing the point, to some extent. The point being: That median incomes have stagnated and dropped in recent decades; that financiers and bankers—who presumably have MBAs that make them exquisitely qualified to do the work they do—have managed to live high on the hog at taxpayer expense while touting the virtues of the market for everybody else; that unemployment persists above 9 percent, and when you count people who are underemployed or who have simply given up looking for work, that number really doubles.

There's not enough jobs, and those jobs aren't paying very well. It's easy to mock the guy with the modern history degree. But there hasn't been an outcry in recent years—except in certain, seasonal agricultural fields that are usually served by immigrant labor—that there are plenty of jobs for taking if only people had the right qualifications. There are something like four or five job-seekers for every available job in the United States. Would the dynamic be different if there weren't so many liberal arts majors out there? I've seen no evidence for that.

Comments

namefromthepast said…
Does anybody owe anyone else a job?

MBA's...have managed to live high on the hog at taxpayer expense...

I once again sympathize with your frustration but feel you're misdirecting your creative energy towards the bankers, etc, instead of the source of the problem.

I'm staying at this because I think you will make one hell of a great conservative when you come 'round.
namefromthepast said…
Does anybody owe anyone else a job?

MBA's...have managed to live high on the hog at taxpayer expense...

I once again sympathize with your frustration but feel you're misdirecting your creative energy towards the bankers, etc, instead of the source of the problem.

I'm staying at this because I think you will make one hell of a great conservative when you come 'round.
Allen said…
I have a few concerns as a society as we move forward.

First is that higher education has become a highly profitable business, but the education programs are out of touch with real world jobs.

It reminds me of this post:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2011/04/27/20-most-useless-degrees.html

90,000 people graduate each year with Fashion degrees, same number for music and theater degrees. It's not that these pursuits aren't worthwhile, but they cannot be the basis of a real world job. People with fashion, music, and theater skills will make it with or without these degrees. It's all a big scam, and these kids are being misled by an institution that just wants their dollars.

How do you train people to actually create value at their new job? Or become the next innovator? Certainly many of the degrees colleges offer now do more harm than good. Load up the students or parents with debt, churn them, and burn them.

The other major concern is that middle class jobs are undergoing a rapid technological shift that will be impossible to defend from. I know personally many people who are designing software, or implementing programs, that reduce the number of physical workers that it takes to accomplish any given task.

Look at Amazon and ebooks for example. You are reducing the number of jobs for the people that print the books (and cut the trees to make the paper, or creat the ink), the people that ship the books, the people that stack the books, the truck drivers who deliver the books, the people in the store that keep them organized, and the person at the register that rings up the sale. Does that make owning a Kindle wrong? I don't think so, but there is a radical shift on those that own the distribution channels and rights to the intellectual property that will have a financial advantage that will be harder and harder to overcome as a competitive barrier to entry.

Could it be that we are moving towards a two tier economy? Creators/innovators/MBA/Phd, and then everybody else? At what point does the entire economy collapse at that point?

Additionally, much intellectual work, such as engineering, law, design, architecture, and many other professions can now be done over a wire on the Internet. There is nothing preventing an engineering firm in India from having clients all over the world. This requires a rebalancing of labor rates for skilled professions unlike anything the world has ever seen before. It also means that firms can establish economies of scale here, say becoming the online Walmart of preparing divorce paperwork, and can displace thousands of local lawyers that cannot compete at the same rate in their own towns.

Putting this all together makes for an unprepared labor force with little true skills to bring to the table, coupled with the commoditization of even some of our most skilled jobs, combined with highly unbalanced labor rates that make other countries much more attractive places to do business.

Right now the 1% control 12% if I remember correctly. By the end of my lifetime I expect them to control much more than that.

Popular posts from this blog

Yoga

I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Interesting:
Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…