30 March 2010

Arnold Kling on unskilled college grads, geeks vs suits, and the ruling class

Some interesting stuff:
EconLog | Arnold Kling | Friday's Rant

[In The Best and the Brightest] Halberstam describes Senator Joe McCarthy as a serial liar. Before the press could investigate one of his accusations, McCarthy would have made the issue moot by making an even more outrageous charge.

That is how our ruling class operates today. Don Boudreaux reminds us that when the stimulus was sold it was with a promise that 90 percent of the jobs created or saved would be in the private sector. Before anyone can focus on the outlandish claims made for the stimulus, we now have the outlandish claims made for the health bill. No doubt we are about to hear outlandish claims for the financial regulation bill and whatever new initiatives the ruling class wishes to impose on the country.
Kling goes on to lay out a preliminary sketch of his theory of the ruling class:
I've been thinking about the ruling class in terms of the following matrix, which sorts people by college attainment and skill level, giving sample occupations for each category.

not college educatedcollege educated
unskilledmanual laborerpublic school teacher*

* I am not saying that teachers are incompetent. What I would claim is that the preparation that they receive from taking education classes has little or no impact on their classroom effectiveness.
My theory of the ruling class is that it comes from the lower right quadrant. That is, people who are highly educated but lacking in useful skills. If you will, the suits are in the lower-right quadrant and the geeks are in the upper-right quadrant.
Going to have to mull this over. I feel connections between this effort and to the divide between the "literati" and "numerati," to C.P. Snow's "The Two Cultures" lecture,  to status-income disequilibrium, and to the habitual misuse of the word "elite."

Kling followed up a couple fo days later with "The Plight of the Unskilled College Grad:"
I am just beginning to explore the issue of sorting out the economic value of college at the margin, rather than on average. One aspect of this is to distinguish between college graduates with skills and college graduates without skills, with the further distinction between private sector and public sector employment. I suspect that the average salaries of college graduates are boosted by those of skilled college graduates (engineers) and public-sector-employed college graduates (teachers). I wonder what the average salary looks like in the private sector for the unskilled college graduates (communications majors, majors with the word "studies" in them, etc.).
I'd like to see the same data Kling is looking for. I've long been skeptical of the value of a college education to people who drift along in unrigorous fields of study.


  1. "I've long been skeptical of the value of a college education to people who drift along in unrigorous fields of study."

    I have to agree - which may be why I went into engineering in the first place. I have a really hard time discussing this with my friends, though (lots of them are philosophy/theology/classics/etc types). It pains me that people just assume that by taking four more years of school, they should automatically be rewarded with higher-paying jobs.

    It's not that I dislike a lot of the fields my frinds are in (I almost minored in humanities). Education is almost never a bad thing. It's that unless you plan to go into the professoriate or something, educations like that don't actually teach you much that will be useful in the working world. Certainly not enough to justify the exorbitant cost of the experience. And as such, they should be treated as a luxury good.

    To sum it up: Don't get into debt up to your eyeballs for a degree in French Lit and expect things to end well.

  2. I feel the same way. I've got no hard feelings for all my friends in the humanities, and I think I would have really enjoyed majoring in film or art. I respect studying all those things, and I think knowledge is a goal in and of itself, even if it isn't vocationally useful. Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto, and all that.

    I feel bad for all the kids who've grown up hearing the exhortations that college is the path to career success, when the reality is that college plus certain majors is the only thing that financially benefits people.