The New York Times bemoans the “broken bargain” with college graduates, following up on President Obama’s commencement address to students at Rutgers, who are already starting out at the deficit of being in New Jersey:
In his recent commencement address at Rutgers University, President Obama focused on the noneconomic reasons for going to college. The skills gained in college, he said, are tools to help “make the right choices — away from fear and division and paralysis, and toward cooperation and innovation and hope.”
No, no mention of his imploring the kids not to be such fragile teacups. That’s not the broken promise. This is:
It was an important reminder, well suited to the times and the occasion. But it also came across as if the economic benefits of college were a given. In fact, the familiar assumption — graduate from college and prosperity will follow — has been disproved in this century. College-educated workers have not seen meaningful pay raises, and public policy has failed to address the stagnation.
See what they did there? As I’ve argued for quite some time, the “American dream” doesn’t work. Everybody can’t get a corner office. But the Times take a hard left, blaming “public policy” for the problem. Because, you know, public policy is the answer to everything.
The problem is that the economy does not produce enough jobs that require college degrees. Private-sector white-collar jobs can increasingly be moved offshore and automated, while public-sector jobs that require degrees, notably teaching, have been decimated by deep layoffs and feeble hiring. Business investment and consumer spending have suffered in the busts of recent decades, and government spending has not picked up the slack, leading to chronic shortfalls in demand for goods, services and employees. One sign of the downshift is that much of the recent job growth has been in lower-paying occupations. Worse, there is little evidence of a turnaround. In the past five years, postings for jobs that do not require a college degree have steadily outpaced postings for those that do.
Much as I hate to be that guy who has to tell the Times the bad news, somebody has to. The jobs are gone, replaced with computers. There is no economy based on teaching kids to be teachers. Society has to produce stuff, occasionally, and that means people have to actually work. When society just doesn’t need a bunch of philosophy, history or, dare I say it, gender studies majors, these young people are going to be living in mommy’s basement or begging for the chance to work at Dairy Queen.
Jobs aren’t a mystery, guys. Jobs don’t happen because of public policy. They happen because some business can make money and hires people to work. Yes, business. Ugh, I know, evil. But that’s where jobs come from.
That said, technology has eliminated the need for a lot of jobs, particularly the ones that used to be performed by low level college graduates who sat in meetings doing pretty much nothing productive. The more public policy tries to fix the problem, the more intractable the problem becomes. Unless you think the government should give a well-paying, white collar job to every snot-nosed kid, maybe crafting the national list of hurtful words, there is nothing public policy can do other than make it worse.
And if you do (because this idea isn’t too crazy for you guys to actually take it seriously) think the government should give every college grad a job, remember that somebody has to pay taxes to pay for it. Who do you think that would be? Yup, those same people. Do the math.
What hasn’t made it onto your radar is that our mindless faith in American Exceptionalism might not save us this time. The college gravy train has ground to a halt, and it’s time to stop promising kids that a B in deviant gender studies guarantees them a life of fulfillment and a cool car. The reason the bargain is broken is that it was a bad deal. Stop telling kids to take it.