Monday, December 28, 2015

Varsity Drag

Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns & Money...

...makes a hell of a frighteningly good point:
"...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."
Five years or so ago I wrote up a little post about one of the mortally wounded in this losing battle;
"This is the Debatable Land, the very distant fringes of the warm, sunlit uplands of education that you see in the television specials and that politicians and educators tell you is the hope of the future. This isn't Manifest Destiny, the broad horizon and limitless opportunity that the land speculators of pedagogy are selling you; this is the dark hinterlands of learning, the Mountain Meadows of education, where ignorant armies of harassed, poorly prepared, overcharged students scramble to learn by night from equally harassed, poorly paid instructors. This is the recruit depot for a beaten army, where with my jaded sergeant's eye I can pick out the walking dead from the likely survivors. This one, she wears her body bag around her head like a shawl, her puzzled eyes already glazed with the dim awareness of danger and failure around her.

She's not going to make it."
Campos points up the most damning statistic for those who want to cling to the Pollyannaish belief that enough "education" will solve the problems of capital flight and the enforced decay of the middle-class-wage jobs; that pay for college graduates has remained virtually unchanged over damn near 40 years. If a "college education" was the solution to the problem of corporate flight and the deliberate selection of capital over labor then you'd expect that that value would have risen steadily over time, as have prices, costs, and profits.

They have not.

This is not some sort of "inevitable" outcome, some sort of natural progression in the market economic cycle.

It is, instead, what happens when you choose to let the people who own businesses - including education business - do things that are in their short- (and medium-, or even long-term) interest but which are not in the interest of the society as a whole.

The implications of this slow-motion disaster seem obvious. An increasingly desperate citizenry is faced with an increasingly unpayable cost to try and grab and hold on to an increasingly unprofitable and decreasing number of jobs. This citizenry can be reliably counted on to be easily panicked by, and to be easy prey to, the least scrupulous, most vicious demagogue that promises whatever pie-in-the-sky the poor bastards think can save them and their children.

Are you scared? I'm scared.

Fuck, the whole idea is as scary as a secondhand plumber's pickup truck full of ISIS headcutters armed with nuclear machetes and hordes of venomous snakes carrying Ebola.

Why the hell CNN isn't all over this I...oh, wait.
We are so, so, so, so, so, SO fucked.


Ael said...

You know, at a deep level, this is the same topic as the one below.

How do we get a significant portion of our society to collectively think through the problems it faces and make policy choices that improve the welfare of the bulk of society (and not some elite minority).

Education (although not necessarily a college education) is clearly a key aspect of the solution, if there is one.

We've had this conversation a hundred times before and bemoaned our inevitable failure.

But now, I am not so disheartened. In Canada, we have rolled back some of the reactionary politics (both in my province and nationally). It remains to be seen how far things will go.

It is less clear in the USA, but it seems clear from the Berne and the Donald that times are changin. The direction of change, alas, is not as clear.

There may yet be hope.

Pluto said...

Chief and Ael have said nearly everything that needs to be said. All I can add is that, given the fact that this is the US, there will be blood on the streets before this is over. We are too wedded to the concept of an individual's right to defend his stupid thinking with violence for it not to happen.

On the positive side, as Ael notes, Bernie and the Donald are both showing that the climate for change (positive or negative) is growing. In the Donald's case, it is growing rapidly. Barring some amazing gaffe or quirk of fate, he IS going to be the Republican nominee. I also think he is going to be lucky to carry 30% of the vote in the general election.

But the important thing is that real change, not just a change of names and faces, is becoming more and more inevitable. I suspect this will boil up like the civil rights movement, at first being met with water cannon and dogs, and eventually leading to multiple million man (and woman) marches on Washington. The big question is how long our militarized police will resist. It could be a LONG time.

FDChief said...

My concern is that the disparity between the poles represented by Sanders and Trump.

In a sane world Sanders' mild liberalism (in contrast to the corporatist centerism of Clinton) would be completely unremarkable and treated as such. The man is basically saying nothing more "radical" than what was the standard economics and politics of he New Deal, a ridiculously moderate response to the excesses of the predictable "panic" of the then-Gilded Age economy of the U.S.

Instead he's being routinely castigated by the political press as a foaming-mouthed commie that wants to have your kids lined up in class every morning pledging fealty to Lenin.

Meanwhile Trump - who really is (at best) a Huey Long-style demagogue whose entire "platform" consists of gibberish and impossible nonsense - is treated as a legitimate candidate and his uruk-hai as legitimate citizens rather than moronic CHUDs who would, if given the license, wreck the social contract and dance antic hay on the ruins...

What I fear is that we're seeing the results of the forty-year period of "free market" and "the government is the problem" propaganda. There's no counterbalancing force on the Left to try and pull the public back that direction. In the Thirties you had the unions, a genuinely "liberal" working-class (at least towards socialist ideas for WHITE people...), the scary bad examples of Italy and Russia, a remnant of the noblesse among elites like the Rockefellers willing to make common cause with the proles.

In the Civil Rights era you had northern liberals willing to make common cause with black activists and the general attitude in the media that segregation and discrimination were simply wrong and the willingness to report them as such. You had none of the FOX and hate radio echo chambers - in fact, those were largely the product of the success of civil rights and the social safety net being extended to the blacks and browns!

Today my fear is that the damage that will be done by this sort of social divide will, instead of being the progenitor of a sort of FDResque extension of citizenship to all and a quashing of the oligarchs, be the mire from which spawns a sort of Trumpesque Man on Horseback who will promise to Make America Great Again by going even further towards open oligarchy and "restoring order" through force and fear.

It works, goddamn it. That's the problem. It's loathsome and regrettable, but it works.

Leon said...

Ael, I'll note that even Canada has undergone some degree inflation. 20yrs ago a degree wasn't necessary for a white-collar corporate job (e.g. sales). After I got laid off I found pretty much every corporate sales/account management job requires a B.A. There's no reason for it, but I guess it helps winnow the field. The downside is it forces people to go after a degree they may not want and potentially put themselves thousands of dollars in debt.

Ael said...


You are absolutely correct. There has been degree inflation in Canada. Jobs are tight and with the internet it is easier to distribute job postings and responses. Thus more people apply to any particular job and as a result, managers get more applications.

Inevitably, somewhat arbitrary filters kick in and, to a harried hiring manager, filtering by a degree is an obvious step.

As for my kids, I insisted that they have some form of post secondary education (not necessarily a degree). Luckily, we have the financial capacity to ensure they take the extra years of schooling. A person really needs some form of "ticket" to get them past the filters in life.

I favor "free" post secondary school for all, because it really does disadvantage those who can not afford it. (When I went to university, I paid for everything from my summers in the military. Today's kids have no hope of paying off their schooling via a summer job.

FDChief said...

Here's something to think about.

I went to undergraduate school at a very spendy Eastern U.S. liberal arts school; tuition (plus room and board) were probably something in the neighborhood of $8,000-$10,000/year, or about $40K over the four year degree.

My parents took out a second mortgage on their house (I think...) and had to set up some tax-deferred savings plans to pay for that.

I looked at the tuition for that same school last year. Put together, the cost of a four year degree at that school now comes in at nearly a quarter of a fucking million dollars.

That's ridiculous. That's moronic. I can tell you for a flat-out fact; the geology professors there aren't six times smarter than they were in 19-fucking-80. That's completely fucking crazed.

I went back to grad school in the early 90's. I paid for everything myself, between my income and a series of GI Bill/USAR stipends. I looked at the tuition now; it's nearly TEN times what I paid less than fifteen years ago.

That's nonsense, and to make things worse the expensive nonsense only gets you to where a high-school graduate ended up thirty or forty years ago.