The Corner

Re: The Credentialed Society

I agree with you, Michael. Americans currently have over a trillion dollars’ worth of college debt. They’ve managed to spend half an entire G7 economy (Britain’s or France’s) not on debt in general but merely on one bizarrely fetishized niche market of debt. For what? Passing a leisurely half-decade toying with a mélange of pseudo-disciplines is a very expensive way to acquire a piece of paper assuring U.S. businesses you’re safe for white-collar employment.

The “education” system is one of the biggest structural deformities in America today. It leads to later workforce participation and later family formation, both of which factor into our existentially catastrophic entitlement liabilities. And yet Obama wants every American child to go to college. What sort of “education” do you think they’ll be getting once that happens? And what value do you think that sheepskin will hold in the wider world?

The justification for this absurd prolongation of adolescence is that it opens up opportunities for the disadvantaged. But credential-fetishization has the opposite effect. Remember Ronald Reagan, alumnus of Eureka College, Illinois? Since then, for the first time in its history, America has lived under continuous rule by Ivy League — Yale (Bush I), Yale Law (Clinton), Harvard Business (Bush II), Harvard Law (Obama). In 2009, over a quarter of Obama’s political appointees had ties to Harvard; over 90 percent had “advanced degrees.” How’s that working out for you? In my soon to be imminently forthcomingly imminent book, I point out that once upon a time America was the land where guys without degrees (Truman) or only 18 months of formal education (Lincoln) or no schooling at all (Zachary Taylor) could become president. Credentialization is shrinking what was America’s advantage — a far greater social mobility than Europe. We’re decaying into a society where 40 percent of the population do minimal-skill service jobs and the rest run up a trillion dollars of debt in order to avoid that fate, and ne’er the twain shall meet, except for perfunctory social pleasantries in the drive-thru lane.

We’re looking at education upside down: We should be telescoping it, not extending it.

Full disclosure: I am myself an “uneducated former disc-jockey,” in the words of (drumroll, please) Johann Hari. 

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.


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