Friday, May 02, 2008

Land's end

Hard times hit the European middle class. The New York Times describes the slow descent from giving up luxury vacations to wearing second-hand clothes forced on salaried workers by a relentless rise in prices combined with a stagnant income in Europe. The good times are gone. The $64,000 question is whether they will ever come back.

In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, the decline in purchasing power began in 2000, when employers started wresting wage concessions from unions, or simply shifting jobs to Eastern Europe and China.

Inflation-adjusted incomes rose from 1 percent to 2 percent in the late 1990s, but more than one million Germans lost full-time jobs during and after a recession in 2000 and 2001. Subsequently, workweeks got longer without extra pay, and from 2004 through 2007, inflation outpaced income increases for the average family.

For decades the country in which a worker was a good predictor of what he would earn. A job in the US or Europe would pay a real wage that was many times higher than a similar job in Africa. That was because there was a rough correspondence between the productivity of a Westerner over an African or Indian. There was an actual economic basis for the disparity. Today the gap in productivity is not nearly so great as it used to be. And the difference in real incomes has for some professions narrowed significantly. This would be cause for social activists all over the world to celebrate. Except that for most social activists in Europe at least, real incomes are threatening to fall with no floor in sight. The NYT article continues:

That simmering concern turned into anger last week in Britain. Striking teachers closed schools for the first time in two decades, protesting pay packages that did not keep pace with the soaring cost of living. Proposed raises were about 2.5 percent, while food has risen 7 percent and oil costs have surged 20 percent in Britain since this time last year. ...

German leaders are considering lower taxes. It may not be enough.

Frustrated unions are taking tougher stances in wage talks. Public sector employees, as well as workers in the steel and chemical industries, have recently won wage increases.

“The idea that ‘I will sacrifice to save my job’ is dying,” said Ralf Berchthold, a spokesman with Ver.di, the largest services union in Germany. “People are ready to fight now.”

Actually, lowering taxes might help more than the NYT will admit. And so will a reduction in regulation. And anything else that will help innovation. Knowledge will be the key fuel of economic growth in the coming decades. And Western schools which produce illiterate graduates while fostering in their products the expectation they will be employed as handsomely as their parents will churn out a bitter crop. Ironically the threat by public school teachers may actually help; if it leads to the demise of sham schools and incompetent teachers. In an increasingly globalized economy, only increasing productivity can create rising incomes. Geography's influence on income is coming to an end.

Freedom from mediocrity or penury. The stars or the mire. That's the challenge before the Western world.

The Left contributed almost nothing to the productive superiority of the 20th century Western world. What they succeeded in doing was winning for themselves the right to distribute the fruits of this competitive advantage. They even went so far as to distribute that largesse to millions of undocumented immigrants and in lavish aid packages where they employed themselves, naturally.

Michelle Obama, in an interview, revealed the core of the problem when she described educational investments that did not produce a return in pure economic terms. Some activities are viable only when transfer payments are available to support them. When there is less income to transfer, there is unremitting pressure to cut back on activities like gender studies and campaigns for the preservation of endangered newts. Mark Steyn plays the funny man to Hugh Hewitt's straight man listening to Michelle's words.

MO: Like many young people coming out of college, with their MA’s and BA’s and PhD’s and MPh’s coming out so mired in debt that they have to forego the careers of their dreams, see, because when you’re mired in debt, you can’t afford to be a teacher or a nurse or social worker, or a pastor of a Church, or to run a small non-profit organization, or to do research for a small community group, or to be a community organizer...

MS: (laughing)

MO: ... because the salaries that you’ll earn in those jobs won’t cover the cost of the degree that it took to get the job.

HH: We’ve got to stop, because I heard you laughing, Mark Steyn.

MS: (laughing) I know. I have never heard anything…I mean, if the premise is that too many people in America go to college and saddle themselves with gazillions of dollars in debt for no good reason, I would agree with that. But the idea that oh, my God, you know, I wanted to run this small non-profit, but I made the mistake of going to Harvard and Princeton, and I got hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, so I had to become a big corporate CEO, I had to found a multi-national company when all I really wanted to do was just be a nice, little grade school teacher, this is ridiculous.

Now that the productivity advantage is eroding the pickings are getting slimmer. And since the only thing the Left knows how to do is squeeze harder and harder the really interesting question is whether future economic survival will require a diminution of the "progressive" forces for any real progress to actually take place; or whether it will prove true that the future isn't big enough to hold both the Left and a loaf of bread.




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48 Comments:

Blogger hdgreene said...

I can't remember if it was posting here or while I was at the McDonald's having coffee, but I remember pointing out to someone (not just myself) that the Education Michelle is saying wasn't worth it cost a lot more than she was paying back. So. If it ain't worth it to her, ain't that strong evidence that the rest of society is getting rooked too?

5/02/2008 05:02:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

If Hillary can take oil company profits, can't the rest of us say, "We are going to take the Harvard endowment! And use it too fund preschools. We need to start woman studies at an earlier age. And mothers are a bad influence."

5/02/2008 05:06:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

So. If it ain't worth it to her, ain't that strong evidence that the rest of society is getting rooked too?

I suppose the solution would be to slash the salaries of professors and cut out their incessant travel to this city and that. Stick to Readin' Ritin' and Rithmatic. No more rubbing elbows with other shining stars of academia and talking about little Eichmanns.

5/02/2008 05:19:00 AM  
Blogger joe buz said...

Wretch, in your opinion was your Ivy League education worth what you paid?

5/02/2008 05:32:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

I just hope Barry or Hillary warn CalPERS in advance of another assault on big oil, so that Michelle's, er, THE NATIONS children, will not be adversely affected, given that the teacher's pension fund is heavily invested in commodity related futures.

CalPERS Investments
As the nation's largest public pension fund with assets totaling $241.7 billion as of February 29, 2008, CalPERS investments span domestic and international markets.

The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) provides retirement and health benefit services to 1.5 million members and more than 2,500 public employers.
As the nation's largest public pension fund with assets totaling $241.7 billion as of February 29, 2008, CalPERS investments span domestic and international markets.

Welcome to CalPERS On-Line
The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) provides retirement and health benefit services to 1.5 million members and more than 2,500 public employers.
---
Luckily, the adult population's funds are "invested" in the black hole of current accounts.

5/02/2008 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Don't miss this,
Krauthammer at his best:
The 'Race' Speech Revisited

Obama's Philadelphia oration was an exercise in contextualization. In one particularly egregious play on white guilt, Obama had the audacity to suggest that whites should be ashamed that they were ever surprised by Wright's remarks:
"The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning."

That was then.
On Tuesday, Obama declared that he himself was surprised at Wright's outrages.
But hadn't Obama told us that surprise about Wright is a result of white ignorance of black churches brought on by America's history of segregated services?
How then to explain Obama's own presumed ignorance?

Surely he too was not sitting in those segregated white churches on those fateful Sundays when he conveniently missed all of Wright's racist rants.

Obama's turning surprise about Wright into something to be counted against whites-- one of the more clever devices in that shameful, brilliantly executed, 5,000-word intellectual fraud in Philadelphia
-- now stands discredited by Obama's own admission of surprise.

But Obama's liberal acolytes are not daunted.
They were taken in by the first great statement on race:
the Annunciation, the Chosen One comes to heal us in Philly.

They now are taken in by the second:
the Renunciation.

Obama's newest attempt to save himself after Wright's latest poisonous performance is now declared the new final word on the subject.
Therefore, any future ads linking Obama and Wright are preemptively declared out of bounds, illegitimate, indeed "race-baiting" (a New York Times editorial, April 30).

On what grounds? This 20-year association with Wright calls into question everything about Obama: his truthfulness in his serially adjusted stories of what he knew and when he knew it; his judgment in choosing as his mentor, pastor and great friend a man he just now realizes is a purveyor of racial hatred; and the central premise of his campaign, that he is the bringer of a "new politics," rising above the old Washington ways of expediency. It's hard to think of an act more blatantly expedient than renouncing Wright when his show, once done from the press club instead of the pulpit, could no longer be "contextualized" as something whites could not understand and only Obama could explain in all its complexity.

Turns out the Wright show was not that complex after all. Everyone understands it now.
Even Obama.

5/02/2008 05:49:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Obama’s wife has also been quoted as saying that we need to make sure that people actually study things we need in college. Excuse me, but did I fall into an alternate universe? A Leftie saying people should learn useful skills? But of course, her plan is for people like HER to decide what people should study.

Back in 1993 there was a 20/20 piece on the plight of the new college graduates in the recession. The examples were hilarious.

One young lady had graduated with a degree in art history. She wanted to run an art museum, but the economy was so bad that she ended up working as a waitress.

Another girl graduated with a degree in French. But the economy was so bad that she ended up working as a nanny.

A young man had majored in international affairs. He wanted a job as a U.S. Senator. But the economy was so bad that he ended up working as a door-to-door salesman.

Then the real kicker. They asked the Secty of Labor, Robert Reich, if perhaps these kids should have taken some more useful courses. He responded that no, they should not bother to learn anything useful in college since whatever company that hired them would train them as it required.

5/02/2008 05:59:00 AM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Sure. It changed my life in more ways than one. First of all it gave me a degree of confidence that comes with knowing you can hack it. Harvard is so full of talent that surviving it convinces you that if you fail in subsequent life it will only be through lack of trying.

But the greatest thing it did for me was bring me to a place I had known only vicariously and find that in some way it was not a journey but a homecoming. That the bits and pieces you had hoarded in memory were echoes of a real place. And I still remember the day I went to the post office on Trapelo road, three months into the first fall term and looked up to see the flag fluttering against a blue sky, and for a moment thought I understood a little about America as she was and as she dreams to be.

And when I left it was forever to be an exile in some small way.

5/02/2008 06:00:00 AM  
Blogger herb said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/02/2008 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger herb said...

Wretchard, when will you write your book?

5/02/2008 06:35:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

rwe: He responded that no, they should not bother to learn anything useful in college since whatever company that hired them would train them as it required.

There's a grain of truth to that. College is how our society rations jobs, the same way money is our way to ration commodities. Authoring a dissertation on the Warring States period of Chinese history will not have direct application in corporate middle-level management, but it will have screened out those who cannot think analytically. If you are interested in an education that has direct application with your occupation, you become an apprentice and enter the trades.

5/02/2008 06:46:00 AM  
Blogger joe buz said...

Thanks for the response. I knew you would have some deep thoughts on the subject. I am glad that you didnt leave bitter....I recently read Kelly Kullberg's books "Finding God at Harvard" and "Finding God Beyond Harvard". I was encouraged to learn that the Holy Spirit is still at work in those places of "higher learning".

5/02/2008 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

". . .the really interesting question is whether future economic survival will require a diminution of the "progressive" forces for any real progress to actually take place; or whether it will prove true that the future isn't big enough to hold both the Left and a loaf of bread. . ."

Are you kidding Wretchard ? You think there's a question here? The Left project is about power: the dictatorship of the degreed, the connected and the anointed over the unwashed. The aristocracy of "merit" as revealed by degrees from the elite schools; by the holding of politically correct views; and by the mastery of rhetoric and puffing to forever demonize the unconnected as "fascist."

The future is the Left holding all the bread, and allocating it according to political criteria which it determines. We must all be segmented by race, class, gender, etc., so that we need the services of the overclass to keep the peace among us peasants. If the overclass beggars the rest of us in the process of reducing us to obedience, so much the better -- they don't have to pay us, and they can pay the Chinese, Indians, etc. for their imported goods.

5/02/2008 07:03:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

Teresita,
"Authoring a dissertation on the Warring States period of Chinese history will not have direct application in corporate middle-level management, but it will have screened out those who cannot think analytically."

I get your point, and it has some merit, but after all, it IS possible to learn how to think analytically, and have hard proof, AND learn more directly relevant content at the same time.

And FWIW, a more traditional liberal arts education did what you suggest (hone the ability to think ciritcally), but in these days of PC, po-mo gibberish, that connection is being destroyed.

BTW, "thinking critically" is not the most important thing for real world success -- or at least its necessary but not sufficient -- the larger, more important skill is problem solving ability.

Even where exercised in some of the technical fields where it can seem like drudgery at times (I know -- have engineering and computing backgrounds) it is a form of creativity. But creativity that has concrete results which are objectively right or wrong (or at least better/worse).

5/02/2008 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger Private 1 said...

Per Thomas Sowell's recent columns on the economics of college, available at http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell1.asp, an important factor in the increase in college costs in past decades (far greater than CPI) is that professors are teaching considerably fewer hours. The middle class gets socked with enormous expense so that professors can have the privilege of spending their time in research and writing, with only a few hours per week (if that) spent on teaching. Would tax-payers, if they understood what’s going on, agree to pay professors their current salaries on this basis, or would they want professors to spend their time teaching? If someone really wanted to help the middle class cope with college costs, how about a law mandating that all professors, in any college that receives federal funds, must spend at least 10 hours per week actually teaching classes? Can you imagine the outrage in academia if such a law were suggested? It’s easy to pontificate about how someone else (“the rich”) should be more selfless; academics are very good at that. But if someone suggested that academics, in their own lives, should be required to spend more time teaching, there’d be no end to the outcry.
Of course, the reduction in hours spent teaching isn’t the only factor driving up college costs. “Obviously”, per the law of supply & demand. the more that the government & others provide money in loans and grants to pay for college, the more the cost will go up. But it’s hard to argue, politically, with the idea that “everyone should have the opportunity to go to college.” It’s debatable whether that makes sense from an intellectual standpoint (what percentage of the population has the ability to benefit from higher education), but there’s a powerful moral argument that financial barriers shouldn’t prevent people from going to college. And if college is understood not as involving intellectual activity, i.e., as involving “job training” necessary for a higher-paying job, which is what many people see as the purpose of college, the moral argument is that much stronger.

5/02/2008 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...

I'll try to forgive Wretchard for having gone to Harvard.

;-)

Back in the early Jurassic, when I went to Yale (and studied something useful, molecular biology and physical chemistry) professors even in that distant era taught only an hour or two a week.

There's an Instapundit post today that points toward a possible reaon for escalating tuition costs:

"Across sectors of higher education, only a minority of spending by colleges supports direct instructional costs, according to a report being released today as part of an effort to reframe the debate over college costs."


It seems to me the best reason to go to college is to find a mate, and make some good friends.

But perhaps there are cheaper ways to accomplish those goals now.

Jamie Irons

5/02/2008 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger joe buz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/02/2008 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger herb said...

Worth in a college education depends on a host of factors. Not the least of which is the individual. Our host is a prime example. Guy goes from a 2.5 world country to Harvard comes out and more or less disappears, reappears by virtue of this internet thing and provides us with truly awesome and truly learned commentary on everything from COIN warfare (tactical and strategic) to Philippine history politics and culture with orthodox Christianity thrown in.
I, on the other hand, am a product of a land grant university in the South and the North Avenue Trade School (Georgia Tech to those outside the SEC). I dont know enough poetry to look it up. But my education didnt cost much.
My youngest is closer to Wretchard than I, being at Emory at great cost and learning literature and feminist film theory. But if at the end of the day he's as educated as W. I'll be ok with it.

5/02/2008 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger joe buz said...

I went to the Kudzu league(cheap schools in the south). Partied much more than I studied. One of my Geography profs. tried to recruit me for a public sector job, but I was having way too much fun to think about work. Dropped out and defaulted on my student loan. My girlfriend at the time convinced and helped me to buckle down and aggressively pay off the loan. Learned that I better marry that one and did!

5/02/2008 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Buckets said...

It's interesting to compare someone like Wretchard with Obama. Both Ivy League products, but not born into Ivy League culture, both with enormous intellect, and both using their talents and education to shape and analyze public discourse.

Obama desired personal power, though, and here the paths diverge. Wretchard, instead, has grown in influence as a result of respect for his ideas and analyses, not from any conscious desire or attempt on his part to gain power.

I respect your path alot more, Wretchard. And while I would buy your book, there's nothing wrong with a little mystery to keep your audience intrigued and amazed at the depth and breadth of your experience and knowledge.

5/02/2008 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

I had to unlearn almost everything I learned in college.

5/02/2008 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

newscaper,

I was writing along your lines and abandoned it.

These are the three big things I took away from college.

A love of classical music (baroque, romantic, etc too).

The recognition that problems worth solving are rarely solved by one's first attempt. In HS trig working trig identities proved easy for me, however, in college the math and physics problems that were my course of study were not so easy and often took not just multiple attempts to solve but involved scrapping approaches and coming up with new ones. It was a knock on my confidence until my advisor told me this is quite normal and to keep at it.

College and school is not so much about learning math, physics, geography, etc it is about learning how to learn.

I studied math & physics and did not go on to graduate studies (oh yeah, I also studied beer in that field I am a PhD) in those fields. I have not really utilized the learning I received in those classes. I taught math but that teaching never got much more complicated than 1+1. I am now an applications programmer working on developing/maintaining business systems.

Its funny, I have taken to reading this website, which characterizes Michelle Obama perfectly.

5/02/2008 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

"Sure. It changed my life in more ways than one. First of all it gave me a degree of confidence that comes with knowing you can hack it. Harvard is so full of talent that surviving it convinces you that if you fail in subsequent life it will only be through lack of trying."

Interesting. I have the exact same feelings about my Alma Mater, which is a smallish state university in Minnesota...except that it wasn't exactly packed with talent like Harvard. Still, most of the wheat gets separated from the chaff there by the end of the second year.

I was pretty immature when I hit the place and was bright and good at taking tests, so I was able to sail through most of it, but the value I took away from that place was incalculable to me personally.

It was there that I met the man I was going to be. I learned how to live, how to relate to others outside the context of my family or school, and how to fend for myself in getting a job, paying bills and so forth.

I still make my way back to that town once in awhile for various reasons, and I truly enjoy going back and walking the campus, speculating on how my life would be different if I had made different choices back then.

It was there that I also was introduced to outrageous wastes of money in government. I wrote an article for the school paper on the expenditure of over $100,000 for a stained-glass window in the book store, at a time when $20,000 would buy a full 4-year education for a student, including dorm costs. Sigh.

5/02/2008 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Jrod said...

"The Church attitude is that civilization, or "the system" or "society" or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man.

The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he'd abandoned, in what used to be called the "school of hard knocks." Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe as a mechanic. Actually his real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that's what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he'd found his level. But don't count on it.

In time...six months; five years, perhaps...a change could easily begin to take place. He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-to-day shopwork. His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college, would now become reawakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would like to design machinery himself. He'd think he could do a better job. He would try modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked because he didn't have the theoretical information. He would discover that when before he felt stupid because of his lack of interest in theoretical information, he'd now find a brand of theoretical information which he'd have a lot of respect for, namely, mechanical engineering.

So he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He'd no longer be a grade-motivated person. He'd be a knowledge-motivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He'd be a free man. He wouldn't need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if the instructors assigned him were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape them up by asking rude questions. He'd be there to learn something, would be paying to learn something and they'd better come up with it."

Chapter 16: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

5/02/2008 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger putnam said...

My father always said the the US university system was the most expensive baby sitting service in the world. I agree with him.

In Switzerland, only about 5% of the youth get into gymnasium and then into the free university system. The rest are supposed to get their training through work/apprenticeship related technical schools.

I think that the majority of youth benefit from this, partly because the trade schools have to stay on topic, and the students get job training while studying.

Some of these "other 95%" miss out on getting as broad an education, but these days in the US education system that means they miss out on all those PC electives like Gay and Lesbian studies, History of feminism, and impact of Global Warming. The 95% may also miss out on some liberal arts courses, but the curriculum has been vetted by people like Ayes, BO and MO of all non-PC relevance.

IMHO, the majority of students in the US would be far better served by trade schools and apprenticeships.

5/02/2008 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

As the old saw has it, "Education is what's left when you've forgotten everything else."

Training is not education; "success" is not a matter of income. As an honors graduate of Princeton, my net monthly income was $50 per month serving on a remote "sensor site" in the Aleutian Islands... some classmates earned 6-figures on Wall Street their first year.

"If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes" said he of Greater Macedon. Just so. Elderly now, completing a three-volume literary project, sterling educational, family, social connections have never benefited me at all-- because in Thoreau's sense, my paths branched elsewhere.

Married 26 years, with two Eagle Scouts and a beloved elder daughter holding a BS in Biochemistry, we'd make the point that Mde. Obama pulling down $300K as a "diversity coordinator" is a wretched sellout, a sheer political-payoff hack. Whence cometh Barack's $4-million? As Caesar said, "I'm not buying Games dear, I'm buying Rome cheap."
This grasping little materialist cannot conceive that in all but money, some are fabulously rich.

For all her fancy credentials, Mde. Obama is a clueless dolt, a money fetishist at others' expense. If accomplishment were currency, she'd be in the gutter with the rest of Chicago's grifting, grafting political machine.

5/02/2008 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger dla said...

In some ways the party is over. The party started with the Boomers in the 60's, but they didn't reproduce, so the party is dying.

There are a number of institutions in America that have to "wake up" to the fact that they part is over - education is just one of them.

Vouchers will adjust the K-12 process. I'm not sure what will bring higher ed into economic reality, but I know it's comming.

The Left, which has traditionaly represented the public piggies, is facing hard times as the supply of domestic-worker-generated tax revenue declines. What will they fill the trough with if they can't tax individual incomes? Well they will eventually have to lower the fill line.

My buying power has declined steadily from 2001 for a variety of good reasons and it will continue to decline for probably another decade.

The party is coming to an end.

5/02/2008 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

It's more than that W.

The Welfare State is only supportable with economic good times. They seem to be coming to an end.

In Europe, Natives and Muslims will fight over who gets what. Red Ken's defeat is part of that. In America, Welfare is going to be a hot-button topic since it will go to people who scream "God Damn America" or say, Health Insurance (seen probably accurately as insurance for Mexico).

This is a raw political fight over spoils that is going to be VERY ugly because the pie is shrinking not expanding. Hard times are creating a demand among people for lower taxes, and all spending to be spent on THEM not politically trendy groups.

5/02/2008 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

I was lucky I got through the UW system just before they started mandating sensitivity classes. The best such classes were being out and about and ineracting with lots of different people one on one, not listening to some PC tripe.

5/02/2008 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

I agree with Newscaper. It is possible to go to college, get a “liberal” education and still graduate with some usable skills. Engineering, pharmacy and some other medical majors, and probably computer science are far more than “tech” schools and the people who gain degrees in those fields are at least potentially more than mere technicians. People majoring in the “humanities” and fields such as business administration are far more dependant on learning the way the corporate bureaucracy wants things done and the latest administrative fads.

Mind you, I think we could do a far better job of educating engineers in the more practical aspects. It is ridiculous that a mechanical engineer can graduate and not know the first thing about nuts, bolts, screw threads, and the like. Engineers come out of college with more of a license to learn than actual know-how. I am not sure you can even teach real engineering, but I helped teach a course on practical engineering at the Univ of Okla and at least we gave those students some idea of the challenges they would face.

The fact is, I came out of college with a strong interest in learning and an almost complete disdain for “education.”

5/02/2008 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger putnam said...

RWE:

You said "Engineering, pharmacy and some other medical majors, and probably computer science are far more than “tech” schools and the people who gain degrees in those fields are at least potentially more than mere technicians."

I think that you are minimizing what technical school can offer, while ignoring the benefits of actually having held a job in the career you have chosen.

For example, some apprenticeships offer 3 days work, one day technical school, one day general education including electives. There are some high school graduates who are disciplined and focused enough to benefit from a full time education. I think the vast majority them would be far better served with an offically recognized qualification, some real life job experience, and some related technical education. Further education is always possible, all the way up to doctorates. Let's face it, a PHD in electrical engineering doesn't need extensive schooling in English literature or philosophy. Multiple years of job experience would be more relevant.

I guess the returns on educating ever larger proportions of graduates in liberal arts depends a lot on the civilization and the era. Or perhaps more prosperous civilizations and ages can afford a larger corps of the elite.

5/02/2008 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Foobarista said...

Software, where I've spent my career since 1987, has largely gone the "global labor market" route. The good news is that there's still good money to be made if you're skilled and have solid domain knowledge in addition to general technical skills. The bad news is that the days when you could learn a "commodity" skill and command big bux are long gone.

However, even there, Indian software salaries have risen to near first-world levels, to the point where it's now a serious question whether the inconvenience of offshoring is worth the cost savings - and it often isn't, especially since managing an offshore team is not easy and places a premium on intensive - and expensive - management.

5/02/2008 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger putnam said...

Foobarista,

I am also a long time IT guy. You say:

"The bad news is that the days when you could learn a "commodity" skill and command big bux are long gone."

The trick has always been to stay on the cusp or find a niche. There are still lots of well paying jobs for AS400 specialists, Cobol programmers, VAX-VMS gurus.

MO is bitter because not everyone who goes to harvard is able to pursue their fantasy of being a social worker, a school teacher, civil rights activist. Sometimes reality sucks.

5/02/2008 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

Wretchard, for some reason I thought you went to MIT. I spent a too short but fascinating time at Tufts in the 80's.

5/02/2008 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Arthur,

I cross enrolled at MIT and took courses at their business school, specifically with Myers and Fischer Black. I took Black's "Problems in Finance", which was interesting to say the least.

5/02/2008 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Oh jeez Black. He tormented me, from afar in time and space.

The Black-Scholes model still gives me cold sweats.

5/02/2008 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger RonF said...

I graduated from MIT in 1974 with a BS in Biology and followed it up at the Chicago Medical School with an MS in Biochemistry. So, of course, I now work as a Network Engineer. My kids both have or are getting Engineering degrees.

The thing about such degrees is that the degree of relativism is low. There IS a right answer. And there ARE wrong answers, lots of them. No degree of subjectivity or PC will mask a contaminated culture or a circuit that doesn't work or a bridge that fails. You have to know the right answer and you have to be able to detect and reject wrong answers. How that makes you feel is a ridiculous question in the first place, never mind that the answer is irrelevant.

Oh, and about professors and teaching:

My first course in Biology was 7.01 (I'm sure the course had some kind of name like "Introductory Biology", but names of such things are not used at the Institute, just their numbers). The text was "The Molecular Biology of the Gene", by Watson of Watson and Crick, discoverers of DNA's genetic role. While waiting for the first lecture to start, I looked at the frontspiece. "Dedicated to Salvadore E. Luria". Then I looked at the curricula for the course. The lecturer was Salvador E. Luria. Three hours a week, that course was lectured by an Institute Professor, holder of the Nobel Prize in Biology and someone that Watson looked up to. And if you didn't understand the material and the the TA couldn't help, you could get an office hour with him and he'd straighten you out. Personally.

If MIT makes Nobel Prize winners lecture introductory Freshman courses, why can't other schools make their professors teach?

5/02/2008 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger RonF said...

So I read the NYT article. Here are the problems of the European middle class:

They can't make enough money working a 35-hour week to support being able to buy their food at health food stores instead of supermarkets and spending weekends in Madrid. Well - boo frick'in hoo. I'll wager the problem is that companies can't make enough money paying part time employees full time salaries and they can't get the laws changed so they can reward productivity, so they move the work to locations where they can.

5/02/2008 09:50:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/02/2008 09:58:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Putnam, are you SERIOUS???? VAX-VMS???

Well, on reflection --- Of Course!

Just because a machine is old and slow doesn't mean it isn't useful. And conversely, just because a machine is new and fast...

When I was teaching at University of Cincinnati, there was a guy who worked with a twenty-year-old VAX machine. It had to be of the same generation as the one used in the Computer Science class I dropped after three sessions in 1969. He was the onliest human in the school who knew how to make it work, he'd managed to build his entire academic career around the research he did with it, and seemingly his work and reputation were sufficient to convince the university to continue paying an annual maintenance fee that I suddenly realize was more than my entire yearly contract...

Who's the real dumb-ass?

I don't think I want to post this.

5/02/2008 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger some said...

"Wretchard, when will you write your book?"

Aren't we reading it?

Anyway, the comments gloating re: the second half of the post are a bit misplaced. Harvard's endowment has sufficiently grown under the big investment boom that free undergraduate tuition is closer to "when" than "if".

Europe is Europe, but the truth of it here is that there's more than enough spare wealth in the US to subsidize the would-be mandarins of the left. It's the latter's plans that defy reality, for these would have us forget and abandon the very things that allow wealth, freedom, and left-mandarin dreams themselves to exist. Which, of course, is the lesson of Europe.

5/02/2008 11:58:00 PM  
Blogger putnam said...

Mad Fiddler,

Desdner bank still uses Oracle and VMS for its AML (Anti-Money Laundering) on VMS. Mettler Toledo runs their Swiss warehouse on Oracle on VMS. VMS is still being developed and supported, and you can buy new VMS machines. Sybase is still big in the banking world.

When my nephew was accepted to Oregon University in Eugene in 2006 I told him he would be brain-washed. He now says that he wants to major in Environmental Studies...

I am sure that Obama and Ayers would like every graduate coming out of a University in the US to have filled a core curricula of PC BS. I just don't understand why people want to spend good money to have their children brainwashed

5/03/2008 12:25:00 AM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

There is not enough spare wealth in either America or Europe to subsidize the mandarins of the Left or their various other schemes, particularly the Welfare state.

California's brutal budget fight is one good example. Dems and Reps after Pete Wilson (looking at you Arnold) expanded the state spending so that we have a huge government class, which is the only way middle class people for the most part can live in California. Meanwhile, there is no money at all to pay for most of it during down years. Up years it's OK, but based on stock market gains. It's very volatile.

Prop 13? That's what happens when tax squeezes get middle class people enraged. They want to enshrine tax cuts so pols can't touch it. Meanwhile, bad politicking has led to initiative after initiative to sequester spending: this much for education, this much for roads, etc.

The state is in fiscal melt-down, it will eventually get 70's NYC bad. Or worse. There just isn't any money to pay for it.

5/03/2008 12:40:00 AM  
Blogger Insight said...

The Black-Scholes model and its extensions with jump diffusions is plucked out of thermodynamics and is used to create the bizarre derivaties and "value at risk" that is at the heart of the developed world's credit disaster. The models are linear and gaussian while asset returns and foreign exchange rates are highly nonlinear and non gaussian. So much for economics "science".

5/03/2008 06:03:00 AM  
Blogger PharmaGuy said...

Marcus- I assume UW is the lovely campus on the shores of Lake Mendota.

Grad school at UW in Chemistry in the early 80s; didn't have to deal with all the PC crap that the university added, but my daughter had to endure it.

Not sure where the mech engineers mentioned went to school, but at my company freshly minted ChemEs are given tremendous responsibility- after we have determined that they know something.

Verizon still uses some COBOL applications, and like any smart business will get the most out of the assets they paid dearly for. Keeping these legacy systems up and running has provided long term gainful employment for several of my friends.

The resilence of the US economy continues to astound me, but as other economies grow and the US becomes a smaller percentage of a (hopefully)still growing pie our influence will weaken. When radiologist services can be outsourced to India- friend running MRIs in Cleveland was recently awaiting an interpretation at 2 am EDT- being a car mechanic or plumber seems like the best path to job security that isnt subject to oursourcing and the chase for the low cost provider. One can only hope- vainly I am afraid- that the recent scandal with Heperin from China- body count at 22 and rising- that it still comes down to you get what you pay for.
I think there will be a backlash against the redistibutionist policies of the left as high gas and food prices make the middle class feel "poorer".

Finally got some truth from the local paper in RI that the high fuel prices are to a large degree the result of increased demand not matched by supply. Hopefully informed electorate will trump pandering pols... One can dream...

5/03/2008 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger weswinger said...

Sorry to come late to this party. . .but, what happened to a liberal arts undergrad to satisfy the soul, learn the tradition and meet a mate? Thank you, Jamie.

Grad school is for technical training.

The value of your education is what you do with it, and is not only measured by material benefit. That said, a young person needs to have some basic economic background to determine how to finance their education. Paying your own way, as you go, is recommended for character improvement as well as economic soundness.

Michelle O. is a leftist-materialist whose conception of value is limited to gaining political power. I shudder at the Obama's or the Clinton's proximity to the levers of power.

5/06/2008 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger weswinger said...

And thank you insight.

There may be others left around here to remember the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund fiasco in 1998. One of the intellectual giants behind that debacle was the same Myron Scholes of Black-Scholes fame. His hubris and the fact that all he had done was crunch numbers, not trade, so he theorized that he could diversify away all portfolio risk. Highly risky assets in emerging markets (Russia) were "diversified" with other highly risky assets in different markets, and then leverage the whole megillah to the max.

Everyone in options markets use the model for evaluating option pricing, because it is simple and elegant, nobody sane uses it for portfolio stress-testing, because it oversimplifies value analysis.

So if a Nobel winning econ prof can screw up ($4.6 B losses in 4 months) that royally, what are we to make of his students? Oh yeah, Collateralized Mortgage Obligations!

So much education is just reading, but did Michelle or Myron "get it"?

Wanda:you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?
Otto: Apes don't read philosophy.
Wanda: Yes they do, Otto, they just don't understand it!

5/07/2008 01:44:00 AM  
Blogger weswinger said...

And thank you insight.

There may be others left around here to remember the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund fiasco in 1998. One of the intellectual giants behind that debacle was the same Myron Scholes of Black-Scholes fame. This academic had such hubris that he theorized that he could diversify away all portfolio risk. Highly risky assets in emerging markets (Russia) were "diversified" with other highly risky assets in different markets, and then they leveraged the whole megillah to the max. A very expensive lesson for the prof and his investors.

Everyone in options markets uses the model for evaluating option pricing, because it is simple and elegant, but nobody sane uses it for portfolio stress-testing, because it oversimplifies value analysis.

So if a Nobel winning econ prof can screw up ($4.6 B losses in 4 months) that royally, what are we to make of his students? Oh yeah, Collateralized Mortgage Obligations! History repeating itself? The economic pain caused by these bandwagon-riding elites is no farce.

So much education is just reading when you don't have to really think about it. But did Michelle or Myron or the CMO portfolio managers "get it"?

Wanda:you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?
Otto: Apes don't read philosophy.
Wanda: Yes they do, Otto, they just don't understand it!

5/07/2008 01:53:00 AM  

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