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Career opportunities

[ 143 ] December 28, 2015 |


Erik writes:

The growth fields all require higher education but the economy leaves absolutely no future for those who simply aren’t suited for higher education. This is something that virtually no one involved in education or employment policy wants to deal with or even admit. Yet anyone with working class relatives knows that some are simply not suited for higher education under any circumstances for a variety of reasons. This has to be taken seriously for social stability.

I would add that significant numbers of middle and upper class people are also not suited for higher education, but because college education in America is a crucial class marker and social sorting device, the higher a family is in the SES hierarchy, the more vigorously this will be denied (at least in regard to its own children), and the more aggressively checkbooks will be deployed to keep that denial intact.

Erik is pointing to a huge social problem, which is made all the more difficult by a consensus, broadly shared across the ideological spectrum, that more education is the solution to an almost unlimited number of economic and social problems. For obvious reasons, those peddling these cures — which as he says is almost everybody in and around the world of education and employment policy — are not eager to consider that a large percentage of the population is not going to be helped by ever-more elaborate treatments along these lines.

Some statistics:

(1) The number of students in American higher education has increased 244% in the last 50 years, which is about four times faster than the growth of the populace as a whole.

(2) Median weekly earnings of full-time workers with a BA or more have barely budged over the last 35 years, rising from $1150 per week in 1979 to about $1225 per week in 2014 (2014$).

(3) Over that same time frame, tuition has quadrupled at public four-year institutions and tripled at their private counterparts, in constant dollars.

(4) Higher education in America is more heavily subsidized today than it was 35 years ago, on a per student, constant dollar basis.

(5) The enormous increase in money flowing into higher ed, in the form of radically higher tuition combined with somewhat higher per student subsidization, has taken place at the same time that average faculty compensation has fallen by a lot. (At the top end of the education hierarchy endowments have also exploded, at rates that would have made Andrew Carnegie blush).

(6) Less than one third of American adults 25 years or older have a four-year college degree (or more).

(7) While the wages of the college-educated have on average remained flat over the past generation, those of the large majority of Americans who don’t have a college degree have fallen considerably.

Some observations:

*Even as recently as the 1980s, the vast majority of the cost of going to college, for the vast majority of students who attended public institutions, was opportunity cost. This is increasingly no longer the case. Average public tuition is now nearly what average private tuition was 35 years ago, while private college costs have reached levels that would have been considered completely incredible a generation ago.

*Remarkably, enrollment in private higher ed has grown much faster than public school enrollment. The former has doubled over the past 30 years, which is twice the rate of growth in public higher ed enrollment (much of this growth has been driven by the for-profit sector, which barely existed 30 years ago).

*The growth in the “college premium” (the correlation between more education and higher earnings) has been almost exclusively a product of the decline in earnings for people with less than a four-year degree, rather than in any growth in earnings among the college-educated.

*To the extent that higher earnings for people with more education represents credentialism, which is to say the distribution of positional goods, then addressing economic inequality by sending more people to college is considerably worse than useless, especially given the spiraling costs of acquiring those credentials.

*Anyone who argues that the key to “economic opportunity,” aka a decent job, is to have a college degree is in effect arguing that it’s OK for a large majority of Americans not to have a decent job.


Comments (143)

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  1. Cervantes says:

    Well, there isn’t exactly no future for anybody without a college degree. For the foreseeable future we’re going to need plumbers, carpenters, dental hygienists, medical assistants, auto technicians, HVAC technicians, EMTs, and plenty of other workers who aren’t going to get rich but can make an acceptable living. However, obviously there aren’t enough of those jobs to go around and most of the do require some aptitude that isn’t necessarily universal either. The answer has to be something like the New Deal work programs that did actual good stuff, from tunnels to art works, giving people some dignity as well as a living. But the only way to accomplish that is to tax the rich, and they don’t seem interested in the idea.

    • gertrudesays says:

      Bingo, for most of this. Still, one problem is making an ‘acceptable’ living–and how one defines “acceptable” and what impact geographic location has on it. Just for starters.

      • ThrottleJockey says:

        HVAC techs do pretty well as far as “middle class” goes–$30K median income is solidly middle income, just about the median US income actually. Figure a 2 person household at $60K, that ain’t bad. Not rich by any stretch, certainly middle income.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          $30,000 is a bad income for a full time job. Ridiculously low. Maybe if you are living in Alabama it’s OK, but probably not. Especially if you have even one child.

        • Brett says:

          $30K is way too low for middle-class, unless you have a second income. You need to earn at least $40K/year before I’d argue you’ve reached middle-class income, and that’s not including health care expenses.

    • Murc says:

      For the foreseeable future we’re going to need plumbers, carpenters, dental hygienists, medical assistants, auto technicians, HVAC technicians, EMTs, and plenty of other workers who aren’t going to get rich but can make an acceptable living.

      I’m going to potentially go out on a limb here and say that most of those jobs require a level of education to preform well that I would absolutely consider equivalent to earning a Bachelor’s degree.

      I’m less than 100% on that; it ignores the “traditional” expectation that a college education give you not just technical job skills but a thorough grounding in the liberal arts. But given that we as a society increasingly expect colleges to provide a better life in the form of teaching people technical job skills, I’m comfortable making the analogy that in terms of education, a master electrician or a skilled mechanic or an EMT is equivalent to someone holding a Bachelors.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Also, I know a reasonable number of EMTs. Because we live in a crab-bucket-ethics world, every time there is a drive for fast food workers to make 15 bucks an hour, every one of them, without exception, makes a comment about how they don’t make that.

        • CrunchyFrog says:

          One of my kids has been looking at EMT/Paramedic as a career, at least as a start, because she loves the medical field but isn’t sure she wants to do all the college needed for the higher up careers. EMT has a surprisingly short training period required. Paramedic, OTOH, requires starting as an EMT and another year + of training. EMTs seem to be by-the-hour, with the average under $15 nationally. Paramedics don’t average much more ($31k, nationally), but are salaried with real benefits.

          • Malaclypse says:

            Being salaried at 31K/year works out to 14.90/hour, assuming that the salary is not a way to avoid overtime pay, which, let’s face it, it almost certainly is.

          • Ronan says:

            I was considering it a number of years ago before the ass fell out of the economy (at least to the extent that Id begun getting the basics and looking into training routes) Im kind of glad I didnt get to go through with it, as I dont know how much it would have suited me in the l/t. IIRC it was quite well paid in Ireland at the time (though we were extra rich then, and the health service got quite a lot of investment and had relatively strong unions) 50-60k euro a year or so ? (that’s going by memory and I think that was after being a fully qualified paramedic with x years experience) That would, again afaicr, have translated into maybe 80-90k US dollars at that time(i should look this up)

      • Karen24 says:

        In Texas, it takes six years of “experience in the trade” and passing a six-hour math test to become a master electrician; four years of experience plus math test to become a journeyman. Technical school can sub for some part of this and almost always does. This is not a career for those unsuited to higher education. Dental hygeinists, plumbers, barbers, cosmetologists all require at least some formal schooling. Paramedics need a BA or the equivalent.

        Seriously, there are no careers with my future that don’t require almost a degree that have any future.

        • Ronan says:

          This was always the case though, wasnt it? Trades and the likes were always skilled jobs and so relatively restricted. The jobs of the upwardly mobile working class/ and middle middle class.
          I agree with you that training in to these careers is the same as getting a third level education, and so have the same issues with learning curves attached for those ‘unsuited to higher education.’ (which was a point i was going to make earlier)

          • guthrie says:

            But the other point is not exactly that learning such a trade is more like doing a degree, but that the trade nowadays does actually demand more paper learning and the like than it used to, which then disadvantages people who can’t read well or whatever.

          • Karen24 says:

            That’s exactly the point. The kinds of jobs that allow a person to make a decent living and don’t require a college degree are still areas that require mastery of some serious skills. Electricians and A/C techs need math and reading; anything medical obviously requires both as well. The kinds of people who really can’t manage the mental gymnastics of a college degree aren’t going to fare very well in a career where misreading a chart means a patient dies or a house burns down.

            One could argue about requiring formal education to be a barber, but the reason barbering pays at all well is because we restrict entry into the business. Apprentice programs have serious problems as much as classroom training does. (A master who dislikes one of her apprentices can ruin a career before it starts, for one thing. Imagine how much fun it would be for a black barber apprentice to be assigned to an old conservative white guy master, just for starters.)

            This is not an easy issue to address at all, but it is an important one.

            • Lee Rudolph says:

              One could argue about requiring formal education to be a barber, but the reason barbering pays at all well is because we restrict entry into the business.

              Pssst. Don’t anyone tell Matt Yglesias!

              • Barry_D says:

                Too late. From his early wet-behind-his-Hahvahd-ears writings, I’m sure that Professor Greg ‘Bush’s Economic Mastermind’ Mankiw spent 99% of lecture time on the evils of barber licensing.

        • Cervantes says:

          EMTs are not paramedics and don’t need as much training.

      • Cervantes says:

        Much less than 4 years. Two years, or apprenticeship.

    • cpinva says:

      “For the foreseeable future we’re going to need plumbers, carpenters, dental hygienists, medical assistants, auto technicians, HVAC technicians, EMTs, and plenty of other workers who aren’t going to get rich but can make an acceptable living.”

      almost all of which require that you be licensed (or certified) by the state you work in. this usually involves some formal (classroom) and on the job training, before you’re even qualified to take whatever test(s) you need to pass, to get those licenses/certificates. about the only jobs that don’t require additional training/education, after high school, are considered unskilled labor, most of which pay minimum wage, with no benefits to speak of.

      and yes, there is a finite demand, even for skilled, blue collar type jobs. like law school, demand doesn’t increase automatically, to take up the supply available.

  2. Gareth says:

    Yeah, it’s a tough problem. The first stage to solving it is for everyone to accept that general intelligence is a real trait, with significant effects on career potential. And also that it’s mainly determined by genetics, and can’t be significantly improved by education. We’ve got Paul Campos, Erik Loomis, Steve Sailer, and me agreeing to this, which is a good start.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Poe’s Law remains harsh, but fair.

    • Linnaeus says:

      We’ve got Paul Campos, Erik Loomis, Steve Sailer, and me agreeing to this, which is a good start.

      Neither Paul nor Erik made the claim that you say they did.

      • Gareth says:

        Oh, my mistake. My apologies to Paul and Erik. So what exactly makes some people permanently unsuited to higher education?

        • Malaclypse says:

          Why don’t you tell us more about your claims regarding genetics? Bonus points if your reading comprehension on that matter is as sorrowfully bad as in your first comment.

        • Honoré De Ballsack says:

          So what exactly makes some people permanently unsuited to higher education?

          What makes some people unsuited for higher education? A wide variety of factors–ranging from “the environment in which they were raised” to “their personal temperament” and possibly also including “their genetic makeup”–which are, for all intents and purposes, impossible to quantitatively measure?

          Just FYI, Gareth: have you ever worked as an educator in any capacity? If so, what?

          • Gareth says:

            “Personal temperament” is either genetics or environment, so that’s redundant. If it’s environment, great. We just have to change the environment and everything Erik was warning about goes away. Granted this would go beyond traditional education.

            I’ve done a bit of tutoring, but not enough to get any personal insight into this. I tend to follow my high school teacher mother’s opinion. She’s the most liberal person you’d ever meet, even by New Zealand standards. In the US, she’d basically be a Communist. But she’s still quite clear that there are people permanently unsuited to even high-level secondary education, let alone college.

            • Ronan says:

              Well, even theoretically it’s not either or, but possibly both.
              I dont neccesarily agree with both of these, mainly because I dont have the skills to decipher how accurate they are,but theyre quite interesting



              • LFC says:

                Maybe someone has addressed this elsewhere in the thread, but the category “unsuited to higher education” seems too broad and undifferentiated to be doing much useful work here, b/c as the discussion has suggested there are a huge # of different ways to get education beyond high school. Lumping everything from a liberal arts degree to a business degree (which is what a lot of undergrad majors are in the US, iirc) to engineering to focused vocational training to a music or acting conservatory etc etc into one big category “higher education,” and then asserting that some substantial # of people are “not suited” for *any* of these options seems, well, contestable. In terms of policy, there shd be more emphasis on apprenticeships and vocational training for those who want that route and the prestige accorded that route shd be increased — just for one suggestion. That said, I agree w the OP that “more education” is definitely not the solution to all social problems.

                • Ronan says:

                  Well at its most reductive it can just mean lacking a “temperament” for learning, whether a general interest , or the capacity to concentrate and learn. I agree that it might not go very far when you take into consideration all the other similar non higher education based avenues for learning (trades, apprenticeships, on the job training etc), but then again perhaps it does, when you factor in all of those areas that require similar personal qualities, perhaps there is a selection effect that people with certain “personal qualities” do better.

                • Hogan says:

                  I think what Erik and Paul mean by it is “formal education leading to (at least) a bachelor’s degree,” since that’s what Lumina and all the other people insisting “everyone should go to college!” mean by it. The fact that there are other postsecondary educational tracks helps, although that sector too is being infected by for-profits who are milking the federal student loan guarantee and giving shit back.

                  And I think “unsuited” might also mean “unsuited to the standard socio-economic environment of a full-time university,” which is not necessarily in any way a defect.

                • This. There are a lot of ways people can be unsuited to the kind of education offered in the 4-year B.A. and all kinds of them do just fine in even pretty complex vocational programs. My Greater Boston nephew who decided he wasn’t college material and managed to get into a pipefitting apprenticeship worked his intellectual ass off, to his family’s astonishment, I know that’s just an anecdote.

                  The real issue is the difficulty in making it through a two-year or four-year vocational program when you have to hold a job or two with terrible pay and pay tuition to do it. In a properly constituted apprentice program as in Germany, tuition is free, you’re spending maybe one day a week in classes, and making real money from the 19- or 20-year-old standpoint, and there’s some integration between what you do in classes and what you do in the workplace, nobody’s doing phlebotomy classes and flipping burgers on the same day. It really works.

                • DrDick says:

                  Yastreblyansky –

                  Indeed. My son never liked school much, though he scored quite high on all the tests, and dropped out of college his freshman year. He went to work for a call center specializing in computer tech support and gained a lot of background in computers. He then bounced back and forth between several similar jobs and is now a junior exec at a small software company.

            • DrDick says:

              It may surprise you to learn that humans are characterized by a very high degree of cerebral plasticity, much more so than any other mammal. We also know that there a wide array of environmental factors which impair cognitive development, most of which are routinely associated with poverty and being discriminated against.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          I don’t think it’s a question of “permanently” unsuited, but of “unsuited at 18.”

          Maybe some of those HVAC technicians will want to go back for an engineering degree when they’re 35.

          • Karen24 says:

            Ding Ding Ding We have a winner!!!

            One thing we could do to help social mobility would be to me tuition free for students of non-traditional ages.

          • David W. says:

            For some that is indeed the case, but for most it isn’t. FWIW, one of the good things about trade unions is providing continuing education for their members.

          • Barry_D says:

            “Maybe some of those HVAC technicians will want to go back for an engineering degree when they’re 35.”

            Probably not – that would mean completing a BS in their late 30’s, with a family (hopefully).

            And then they’d find out that the job market for a 40-year old with a brand-new engineering degree is probably right on up there with the job market for a 40-year old with a brand-new JD.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              I’m thinking that someone who has an HVAC career already and goes back for a degree is building on it somehow, not changing careers.

              I’m probably being all pie in the sky here.

              • dr. fancypants says:

                When my brother graduated high school, he was definitely not cut out for college yet. He muddled his way through community college (as a mediocre student) and then went on to work construction for a number of years. A pretty nasty injury on the job convinced him that construction was not a good long-term prospect.

                So in his late 20s he went back to college (at the same time I was starting college), kicked ass at a community college for two years, and transferred into an ivy league engineering program. Graduating as a 30-something, he landed a great job as an engineer at a major American auto manufacturer.

        • Amanda in the South Bay says:

          I bet dollars to doughnuts Gareth is a fan of @Clarkhat or Mencius Moldbug.

      • Lee Rudolph says:

        Steve Sailer, however, contains multitudes, and might have Bizzaro World Paul and Erik somewhere up his sleeves!

        • LeeEsq says:

          One of the few sensible things that I saw Steve Sailer write, although surrounded by a whole lot of rightist nonsense, was how that China might want to adopt the American/Japanese corporate model for their professional sports rather than the European club model because a lot of non-mainstream, right and left, political groups originated in European sports fandom.

        • Amanda in the South Bay says:

          I notice that Sailer constantly reads and posts on Slate Star Codex. I have a feeling he’s looking for a Holy Grail of pseudo-scientific/statistical thinking that will prove certain people are genetically inferior.

          • LeeEsq says:

            There are lots of people I recognize on Slate Star Codex from the dying days of usenet. A lot of rec.arts.scifi.misc sees to have moved there along with some people from an alternative history usenet group. The ideological range at Slate Star Codex is really wide. You have mainstream liberals, libertarians, far rightists, anarcho-capitalist, and some far leftists.

          • Matt McIrvin says:

            For a little while Sailer got some kind of guest-blogger status on Talking Points Memo. It was a complete disaster, much like Larry “whitey tape” Johnson’s time there.

            I just keep remembering the periods when he camped out in the completely unmoderated comment sections of Matthew Yglesias’s blog and worked all day at twisting every single discussion, no matter what it was, onto the subject of how black people were ruining everything because of their inherent inferiority.

      • Amanda in the South Bay says:

        Well, it is some epic de railing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen JOP go on a Ghana tangent like this.

        • Gareth says:

          Why some people are unsuited to higher education and what, if anything, can be done about that is an important question raised by the post, surely.

          • dr. fancypants says:

            With some people it’s just a matter of timing (see my post above regarding my brother). It’s pretty silly that there’s this expectation that everyone should be ready for college at age 18.

            Hell, I did pretty well in college (and grad school!), but I could have been so much more successful at it with the skills I only really picked up in my 30s (mostly regarding how to focus and to work hard at something).

          • Matt McIrvin says:

            Personally, I think the reason education is no good as a panacea for economic inequality isn’t that some people are inherently unsuited to it. It’s that education does little or nothing to increase the supply of decent jobs, but, rather, gives people with educational credentials a leg up in a zero-sum competition for them. You’ll find it considerably easier to get a good job if you’re highly educated, but if everyone’s highly educated, the bar will just rise.

    • gertrudesays says:

      I think your “first stage” is … a little too easily corrupted.

      Not to mention the issue of the person who’s more than sufficiently intelligent but would prefer work that doesn’t require an education.

      Not to mention the problem of the person who gets an education but can find no reasonable–or related–employment once she graduates and returns home.

      Which raises another very American phenomenon: the idea that you necessarily abandon your home region in pursuit of education and career. Leads to a lot of other kinds of social ills.

    • Nobdy says:

      This is just silly. First of all getting through college is more about showing up and meeting deadlines than being smart, secondly whether or not you can teach ‘intelligence’ (which is really more office work skills than actual smarts; what percentage of college grads are in jobs that require creative or nonstandard thinking? 10? 20?) the demand issue would still be there. We only need sony paper pushers, just like we only need so many guys on production lines. Automation is coming for knowledge workers too.

      • slothrop says:

        Excellent response. We need fewer and fewer workers to produce ever more goods and services. And evil geniuses at MIT are perfecting essay-grading software.

        Technology, like youtube, also makes it possible to supply tacit knowledge exchange, increasing DIY solutions, disintermediating lots of blue-collar workers. And if you are willing to set aside Borjas’s execrable politics, undocumented blue-collar workers hurt wages at the lower end.

        We need unions, and we need social justice in the form of regular helicopter money for the reserve army of permanently idle labor (including out-of-work adjuncts replaced by mercilessly helpful robot graders).

      • xq says:

        We only need sony paper pushers, just like we only need so many guys on production lines

        I think the idea expressed here is wrong. Demand isn’t constant over time. When food became cheaper demand for manufactured goods rose, along with demand for the labor to make those manufactured goods; as manufacturing became cheaper demand for services rose. Until machines can do everything better than people, automation in one industry increases demand for labor in remaining labor-intensive industries. The problem is that workers can’t transition readily between industries–and some workers are perhaps not suited for any of the new industries.

      • ThrottleJockey says:

        First of all getting through college is more about showing up and meeting deadlines than being smart,

        Only someone very, or at my undergrad insanely, smart would say this. For the top 1% in intelligence, yes passing a physics final in which there are no numbers and only letters is *simply* a matter of showing for the final on time.

        secondly whether or not you can teach ‘intelligence’ (which is really more office work skills than actual smarts; what percentage of college grads are in jobs that require creative or nonstandard thinking? 10? 20?)

        You may not be able to permanently increase your your intellectual capacity but you can certainly *learn* new facts and new analytical techniques.

        the demand issue would still be there.

        Over the long term demand for jobs is neither static nor finite. Positions for assembly line workers may decline while positions for cops may increase.

        While education, alone, is not a panacea to flat or declining working class wages, it is certainly true that, at minimum, an individual working class person will not see any income gains without a college or vo-tec education.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          It is basically impossible to fail a college history course if you turn everything in.

          • SamChevre says:

            I frequently suspect that this, and not the content, is the most important difference between humanities and STEM. It’s very possible to flatly fail in most math and programming classes (I suspect the same is true in the sciences, but I have firsthand experience in math and programming.)

            • dr. fancypants says:

              Some of my most unpleasant memories as a math professor involve failing people who really did bust their asses and do all the work, but who simply weren’t prepared for college math.

              • Lee Rudolph says:


                Mind you, memories of people who really blew everything off and didn’t do all (or any) of the work can be equally unpleasant.

                • Ronan says:

                  Do you think there’s an inate ability for something like maths (or even, for maths). From my own experience I would say that with enough work there’s a certain level I could learn to, but it’s not (relative to the possibilities) very high. Part of this might be laziness on my part , but I don’t think I’ve a natural take for the subject. Is this just because the house I grew up in and school I went to perhaps didn’t stress it that much, or is there something, do u think, approaching a plausible biological explanation ?

                • sonamib says:

                  FWIW my pet theory re:math skills is that some people are just more willing to put up with the utter helplessness and confusion one naturally gets when learning new mathematics. Hell, I always muddled through for a few months, solving a few problems by myself, requiring the TA’s help for most of them. And then that feeling that I didn’t know what the fuck was going on would gradually go away. And no matter how many math classes I’d already taken, it didn’t get any easier. Understanding a new subject always required a few months of grueling work.

                  But that’s just my personal experience, I might be projecting.

                • SamChevre says:

                  My experience as a middling math student, and as a father of multiple children, would be that there is something that looks like innate math ability.

                  I was never unable, after working at it for awhile, to do math and make some sense of it. There were people in my classes for whom even the weird stuff made some sort of sense the first time they saw it. And I studied some with a kid who (as a high schooler) placed fairly high in the Putnam competition. There was a definite, visible difference–and I went from 8th grade to college-level math and got good grades as a math minor.

                  Similarly with my children; the “oh, this makes sense” for math is clearly higher for the second-oldest than the oldest, and it isn’t tied to memory or attentiveness (the older would be higher on those).

                • dr. fancypants says:

                  I think just about anyone who doesn’t have some sort of learning disability can pick up basic arithmetic, though not all at the same pace. But to be good at actual math (everything from algebra/geometry onward), it really helps to be comfortable with–and even enjoy–abstraction.

                  It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s an innate personality trait. But I bristle at the idea that such a trait is somehow indicative of “intelligence”.

                • Ronan says:

                  Thanks for the answers all.
                  sonamib – yeah, there might be a bit of me seeing ‘hard work’ and imagining ‘innate ability’ (although I do think Im accurate enough on my limitations in the subject.which isnt to say Im innumerate, just that there was always going to be a hill that couldnt be scaled)
                  I do wish Id done it for longer after secondary (high) school, although I plan to make a serious attempt at learning the practicalities (rather than just the theory) of statistics at some stage in the new year. (which afaict means brushing up on my algebra)

                • Matt McIrvin says:

                  I believe that, while there may be some innate ability involved in mastering mathematics, the tendency to attribute success to it in American culture is outrageously exaggerated.

                  There have also been multiple surveys indicating that this belief is strongly correlated with male dominance in technical fields. When people believe that math skill is something you’re born with, they also usually believe that whatever it is, girls don’t have it. That alone makes me suspicious of such explanations.

          • DrDick says:

            I cannot say the same for anthropology classes and I routinely flunk a fair number every semester.

    • Ronan says:

      Even if there is a genetic determinant for “career potential”, whether this is “general intelligence” or some ability to dedicate yourself to a career training etc, studies I’ve seem making explicitly biological based arguments assume that environmental factors are unimportant (for the sake of measuring the genetic effect , they don’t claim that environmental factors are actually unimportant in reality) The relative importance of genes and environment in predicting “career success ” at the moment, afaik (particularly in the US, less so in some European countries) is that environment is judged more important. I agree that, in theory, if we had conclusive definitive evidence of innate abilities which predicted economic outcomes and were mostly resistant to policy changes, that should encourage us towards egalitarianism and redistribution rather than meritocracy and equality of opportunity. Whether that happens in practice another matter.

      • Gareth says:

        But according to Paul and Erik, “environment” doesn’t include K-12 education. Maybe not preschool either.

        • Malaclypse says:

          But according to Paul and Erik, “environment” doesn’t include K-12 education.

          [Citation needed]

          • joe from Lowell says:

            I really can’t figure that one out, either. I can’t even tell which argument of Erik’s this misrepresents.

            • Nobdy says:

              I think the argument is that if someone has the aptitude for college then the ‘environment’ of 12 years of schooling will leave them prepared.

              The idea that all k-12 educations are created equal and/or that you can isolate one portion of environment like that is so stupid as to render it incomprehensible.

            • Barry_D says:

              “I really can’t figure that one out, either. I can’t even tell which argument of Erik’s this misrepresents.”

              It’s a standard Bell Curvist crap – ‘not even wrong’ is an A in their world.

        • Ronan says:

          Not neccesarily, particularly in respects of Erik. I think PC comes closer to making a “genetic” type argument, but he also points out explicitly environmental factors (ie people’s wealth helping them to sidestep lack of academic suitability )

          Edit: of course neither of them need a genetic determinant to make the argument they’re making

          • xq says:

            What I think behavior genetics adds here is that if you say some people are ill-suited for higher education, that opens you to the response that we should be intervening earlier (and many people do make that response.) But no, that probably won’t work. There is simply no alternative to direct redistribution of wealth if you desire a relatively equal society. There is no “equality of opportunity” solution possible here.

        • DrDick says:

          I see you failed reading comprehension. We have had this discussion before and the school system routinely fails poor and minority children. Indeed, they are part of the environment which makes them unsuited for (or uninterested in )college.

          • Gareth says:

            If that’s true, it’s amazingly good news. Because it’s a problem with the school system that we can fix, not an inherent part of human nature. We don’t have to deal with significant numbers of people who can’t be productive in the modern world. With the right remedial education we can even help the people we failed the first time around. I have to point out that Erik Loomis strongly disagrees with you.

            • Lee Rudolph says:

              Because it’s a problem with the school system that we can fix, not an inherent part of human nature. We don’t have to deal with significant numbers of people who can’t be productive in the modern world.

              What’s (apparently) inherent in human nature is that significant numbers of people are always going to be incredibly mean assholes. And fixing problems with systems including, but far more diverse than, the school system cannot be fixed in a social ecology where some of those assholes can wield the enormous power they do here and now.

            • DrDick says:

              With the right remedial education we can even help the people we failed the first time around.

              Assumes facts not in evidence. Importantly, part of cerebral plasticity means that adverse childhood experiences can and do rewire the brain, which is then difficult to impossible to undo later in life.

    • LeeEsq says:

      Even if the above might be true, there are some rabbit holes we don’t want to go down because the results would be worse. We have plenty of evidence that the results of governments deciding that some people or groups are not “genetically generally intelligent” are not good under any circumstances.

    • DrDick says:

      Firstly, intelligence is not a unitary trait and it is clearly heavily influenced by environmental factors. If you do not think being an auto mechanic or a carpenter takes intelligence, you have never tried either. The answer to part of this problem is to follow the German system of providing a post-secondary trades track which trains and provides apprenticeships for young people.

    • Pseudonym says:

      I’m not sure whether general intelligence is a real trait, but you’ve convinced me that lack of intelligence is.

    • Barry_D says:

      Start with ‘Steve Sailer and I agree….’, and we can save more time by not reading on.

  3. c u n d gulag says:

    Maybe what we need is a new World War?
    Another one, where when we win, we’ll again be one of the few nation’s and economies left standing.
    So, vote Republican!

    On a more serious note, imo, the only solutions are to build new, and repair old, infrastucture.
    We lag behind other industrialized nations (is that still an apt comparison?) in many areas, most obviously, as regards to high-speed rail and mass transportation.
    Our existing infrastructure, is in horrible shape – at best.

    And then, keep building, rebuilding, and upgrading.

    This, of course, would require massive tax revenues. Particularly coming from increased taxes on the rich, and corporations – which would be the primary benefificiaries of all of the new and repaired infrastructure.

    I know.
    We have a better chance of waking up one morning, and finding that magical elves and their teams of unicorns had done everything for us – FOR FREE!!!

    • Nobdy says:

      What’re you, some kind of East Coast liberal who hates bridge collapses and broken levees?

      Let me tell you that private heliports are in great shape in this country. Who cares about the rest of it?

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Guilty, on point one.

        As for the heliports, can’t we find a way to use all of those drones people got for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/whatever, to disrupt the take-offs and landings of the rich and powerful?

        I’m just kidding, in case anyone from the FAA, DHS, or some other agency, is reading this!

        I am.
        I mean it.
        Kidding, I mean.

    • Barry_D says:

      “Maybe what we need is a new World War?
      Another one, where when we win, we’ll again be one of the few nation’s and economies left standing.
      So, vote Republican!”

      No, the GOP’s policy is to *lose* wars, loot *our* country, and blame it on the Democrats.

  4. David W. says:

    Ironically, here are jobs that need filling that don’t require a college degree:

    Iowa Construction Industry Fights Labor Shortage

    • Nobdy says:

      How does it pay?

      “Labor shortage” is often code for “we can’t find certified experienced welders willing to work for $9 an hour.”

      • David W. says:

        According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average construction job in Des Moines, Iowa paid ~$44K/year in 2013.

        These are the 100 highest-paying jobs in Des Moines, Iowa

        • Barry_D says:

          “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average construction job in Des Moines, Iowa paid ~$44K/year in 2013.”

          And those are the ones which need to be filled?

        • Randy says:

          The problem with the BLS figures for average wages is that they are the average for everyone working in the trade. I seriously doubt that an entry-level construction job is paying anything like $44K per year.

          I see that the BLS listings for all “Construction Trades Workers” in the US includes boilermakers, who earn a mean annual wage of $60K, and laborers, who average around $35K. If you are a mere “helper” in the construction industry, the average salaries are some $20K less than the average.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        You’re right that is often is code for that, but it’s much less likely to be so in the construction industry. The way real estate development is so boom-ey and bust-ey, a local construction sector can easily find itself genuinely short of help, even when they’re offering good pay.

        • Nobdy says:

          Ok. But that boom and bust nature also makes it a risky occupation to get into (beyond the physical risks.) A $44k job looks much less attractive if it requires frequent periods of unemployment.

          • David W. says:

            It does, but at least you don’t have tens of thousands in tuition debt to pay off that you can never get out of.

            • postmodulator says:

              There are white collar fields that are boom and bust. Some IT sectors, a lot of marketing stuff. I know programmers and graphic designers that have to budget for the assumption that they will work eighteen months then be out of work for six.

          • Pseudonym says:

            It’s not just cyclical, it’s also very regional. Frequent unemployment plus frequent relocation.

            • Jackov says:

              There is some mobility in building, heavy equipment, welding trades even without relocation. In the East, numerous companies specialize in providing construction/installation services at low bids by hiring a bunch of guys from their low wage area for jobs in cities/areas with demand. The workers live out of cheap motels for 9-10 months a year and then are generally laid off and return “home” for the winter.

      • Barry_D says:

        “Labor shortage” is often code for “we can’t find certified experienced welders willing to work for $9 an hour.”

        In my experience, it always has been, in any and all articles which actually go into the situation (as the linked one decidedly did not).

        I would add that I’m not surprised that we’re seeing construction shortages, since we are sorta coming out of a world finncial crash. There are likely a vast number of people who were employed in that industry in ’08 who didn’t work a day in it since then.

  5. Crusty says:

    Thought I’d share an anecdote that may or may not be relevant. A few years ago, I knew a family where the father was a very successful physician- the type who had a medical practice but was also aggressive on the business end of it- multiple offices with other doctors working for him, elective procedures, etc. Naturally, he occupied a high status in the community. He had a son who just was not academically inclined. He was not good at college. Yet, he was pushed, repeatedly, to get a four year degree. He had trouble- bounced from school to school, took semesters off, that kind of thing. The thing was though, the guy wasn’t lazy or lacking in skills- he was very good at among other things, fixing cars and building stuff. He would have been great as the owner of or at least a worker in an auto body shop. But within his social circle, it was necessary that he spend six years or so wrestling with a four year college program. The funny thing was, with all the money that the parents spent on tuition, they could have just staked him in a body shop, and he’d be doing great. But it was not to be. I don’t know what became of him, but the whole thing was unfortunate.

  6. M. Bouffant says:

    Seven or eight billion humanoids are a drug on the market, but I’m encouraged by the stupidity & savagery of your species; soon you’ll have killed enough of each other (or the planet) that there’ll be plenty of jobs for the few survivors.

  7. Tracy Lightcap says:

    You can add everybody’s favorite “we have to boost this!” educational category – STEM – to the list. Over half of all the STEM jobs in the country don’t require a college degree of any kind. There’s some creep of 2 year degrees, true, but most STEM employers still take anyone who can monitor a lab process; not that hard a job.

    And, while it is probably true that there are many young people out there who don’t want to go to college and might not benefit from it in terms of “economic opportunity”, that is not the only reason to send a kid to college. Nor are the sorting effects mentioned above. Higher education is useful in itself personally and is a great spur for political activity. We need more politically active people who have their heads on straight these days.

  8. Mike in DC says:

    I don’t think the legal industry is an outlier so much as a leading indicator of where things are going. That is, I don’t think even graduate and professional programs will be a good return on investment, going forward, except for less than half of those who enroll in such programs. Either not enough jobs, or that the jobs have flatlining or declining salaries(such as the faculty positions Prof. Campos mentions).
    In recent history, grad school and professional school were touted as the primary means for the middle and working class to “move up” socioeconomically speaking. So the fact that this is turning out to no longer be the case has significance for this country.

    • sharonT says:

      I’ve seen “credentialism” hit the wall in my office. A guy who is a coordinator, that’s our office speak for secretary, earned a Masters in Public Administration with an eye on either moving up, or using it during his annual review to push for a salary increase. He was told by HR that it was certainly a good thing to have, but the coordinator position/track was a terminal position, I.e, it wasn’t a track to management and there was a set salary band for coordinators and a masters degree wouldn’t change the salary range.

      • twbb says:

        Universities have also started creating sexy masters programs that are attracting a lot of students who are under the impression that a masters in Marine Mammal Behavior or Ecological Management is an easy way to break into those kinds of jobs, rather than as just a really fancy wall decoration.

  9. AMK says:

    This has to be taken seriously for social stability.

    If our elites were even capable of being serious about social stability, we would have had universal healthcare, living wages, etc. years ago. I was going to say “European welfare state,” but then I realized that a sizable percentage of European elites seem to support the system out of a genuine sense of solidarity with their fellow citizens, apart from pragmatic concerns and recognizing the long-term benefits.

    A more realistic model for our corporate class to aspire to is probably something like the Gulf States. The masters of their universe are medievalists two or three generations removed from sharing latrines with camels. They can’t produce anything not gushing out of the ground, and Western morality is as distant from them as the Star Wars universe is from us. Yet out of sheer self-preservation, they’ve understood for a long time that oligarchy requires sacrificing a palace or two upfront to keep peasant living standards at a level that preserves social stability.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      The masters of their universe are medievalists two or three generations removed from sharing latrines with camels.

      It’s highly unfair to the people of the Medieval period to compare them to the Gulf States. Not to mention the Gulf States and their current customs are very strongly products of the 20th century.

      Not to mention that your phrasing here is actually pretty racist.

  10. CSI says:

    If everyone did get a college degree, there wouldn’t be enough prestigious white collar jobs (which is what people go to college for) to go around! Surely this is logic? That even applies if everyone got STEM degrees. In fact even now I think some STEM employment markets are starting to suffer oversupply.

    And some people have bought up the issue of population growth. Of course capitalism reflexively cries out for more consumers. However when people see the cost of living go up and employment prospects go down they behave very rationally by restricting their fertility. This is a good thing as it seems to be a mechanism which (hopefully) will avoid some kind of Malthusian catastrophe.

    • ArchTeryx says:

      There isn’t any “starting” about it. Bioscience and medical research has a thousand candidates for every open job. Grants for new bioresearch scientists are now impossible to get. I’m on my third year of unemployment as a bioscience researcher, with a STEM Ph.D., because I don’t know enough of the right people.

  11. Peterr says:

    (1) The number of students in American higher education has increased 244% in the last 50 years, which is about four times faster than the growth of the populace as a whole.

    Citing this growth in students as a problem ignores the great changes in college education over the last fifty years when it comes to gender. Much of this is specifically attributable to the dramatic increase in the percentage of women attending college. Per the NCES, in 1967 only 19.2% of women attended college (compared with 33.1% of men); in 2012 the figure for women rose to 44.5% (men rose to 37.6%).

    So while there may be a number of folks at the margins who might not have been suited for college in the growth numbers you cite, the larger factor BY FAR in the growth of attendance is the social changes around gender and gender expectations. The door to post-secondary education in fields other than nursing and elementary education was kicked wide open since the 60s, and women have taken increasing advantage of that fact.

  12. steeleweed says:

    Seems to me all this discussion about “education” is really talking about creating useful cogs for the Corporate Machine.

    There is a difference between Training and Education.

    That’s why so many specialties which require intense training end up with something akin to Idiot Savants, such as experts with some skill (like pediatric brain surgery) who are ignorant of everything else. (There’s a reason MDs are a favored target of financial scammers).

    I recall a time when the companies hired intelligent liberal arts majors instead of ignorant MBAs. When I joined IBM in ’63, they just wanted a BA or BS, figuring 4 years of study indicated some stability and intelligence and they knew they’d have to train us to do the work.

    As a hiring manager, I looked for integrity, intelligence and enthusiasm. Everything else could be learned on the job. I hired people with Bachelor’s degrees, Associate degrees and High School diplomas. Some were IT experts and some neophytes but 2 years later you’d have been hard pressed to identify their level of formal education, based on their IT abilities.

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