The Promised Rose Garden Wilts

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.

22 thoughts on “The Promised Rose Garden Wilts

  1. Andrew Wiggin

    I’ll bet there’s going to be big growth in need for technicians to repair those fast food kiosks that are going to be replacing Wendy’s and Mcdonald’s cashiers. They’d be trade school jobs though, not college.

      1. Andrew Wiggin

        I think the techs will be making 30 or 40 of (today’s, Texas economy) dollars an hour, and that one little lady that runs the whole resturaunt other than the machines will be worth well above 15. High school first jobbers though, not so much.

        1. SHG Post author

          I have no clue what the techs will make, or how many will be needed, or how often the kiosks will break. I would not, however, spend too much of my time discussing this imaginary potential on the internets either. But that’s just me. There are too many real things to address to waste time engaging in baseless speculation.

  2. wilbur

    A great Joe South song.

    I was struck by those kids trying in vain to dance behind Lynn in the video. They look miserable.

  3. Mollyg

    I want to disagree with the tone of this. The job market is quite bad out there for new grads, and not just for people with “deviant gender studies”. I have a PhD in engineering and I am having problems finding enough jobs to apply to. The undergrads are having the same problem. My professors tell me that five or ten years ago I would be juggling multiple offers by the time I defend, and now, nothing.

    We did not create this problem, so please stop blaming us for it (society, not SHG). We are the ones who worked hard to get advanced degrees for jobs that are now scarce.

    1. SHG Post author

      Your anger is justified, but misplaced. One of the second tier “lies” is that there may be no jobs for philosophy majors, but there are tons of jobs for STEM grads. As you know, that’s bullshit too. But is there a “public policy” solution to the lack of a thriving economy, the absence of jobs? Will any of the Times’ “solutions” change the situation?

  4. B. McLeod

    Obama, like the ABA, seems dedicated to pushing the fantasy of debt-financed higher education as the golden ring. I theorize that the real intent is to cause a dramatic shift to the left by bringing the nation to a point where the bulk of its most educated citizens are debt-ridden and impoverished.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s a little too conspiracy-minded for my tastes. And I find it hard to imagine they could pull it off. On the other hand, that putting as many through college indoctrination as a form of political mind control? Well, maybe.

      1. B. McLeod

        I think I read something once suggesting that, if people see that a certain pattern of conduct is having a particular effect, and they then persist in that pattern of conduct, it may be said that they “intend” the effect. It is this line of reasoning that causes me to think the people pushing debt-financed education intend at least to create a large class of impoverished, educated youth. Perhaps they do not foresee or intend the political shift, but have some other motivation. It is merely one possible explanation.

  5. Mike

    Seems like we had this problem during the malaise of the Carter years. A lot of my contemporaries who had degrees couldn’t find jobs in their fields of study.

    The smart ones started working in the trades in the local area, being a resort destination, and we all know that people of means like comfortable second/third vacation homes.

    Let’s face it, they haven’t invented a robot yet that can walk a 4 inch wide wall twenty feet in the air with full regalia of tools and nails.

  6. mb

    Well, I’m a philosophy major, and I identify as a Dairy Queen employee, and now that I’ve finally got some traction out of this whole, “doing real work” thing, I’d really appreciate it if Obama and the Times and any other lefties, geezers and cucks would fuck off with their “public policy” while I still have time to save for retirement (note: only by not having a family can I claim to have time to save for retirement).

      1. mb

        Fogeys, old people, whoever keeps lumping me in with anyone they don’t like under the term, “millineals”.

          1. mb

            It did, but the reasons they claim to not like them are different from the reasons nobody likes me, so . . . fuck ’em.

            1. SHG Post author

              Whew. I thought you were just being an over;y-sensitive Millennial. I feel much better now.

              And now, I’m going to bring this love-fest to an end, because nobody else gives a shit.

      1. mb

        I don’t think I was talking to you, asshole. Let me explain: It’s funny when I do it, kinda funny when Scott does it, and . . . who the fuck are you?

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