The Corner

Yale, Jail, or a Lunch Pail?

My “College is for suckers” post drew several emails from readers, all along the same lines. This one was the most eloquent.

Mr. Derbyshire:

Speaking as a nearly 36 year old lawyer, and having spent the years between 1979 and 2000 attending school (non-stop, mind you), I think I have the answer to why we do it: peer pressure, lack of imagination, and the assumption that hard work is for suckers.

As graduation from college in 1997 approached, I suddenly discovered that I had no earthly idea what I would do after the graduation ceremony. I wasn’t trained to do much of anything, and what I did know (world political history, a/k/a political “science”) was of little use to the world outside of the UCSB political science department. Having floated through 5 years of college, my grades weren’t going to get me into a decent grad school, and there was no way I was going to work for Enterprise Rent-a-Car (highly educated people don’t do that, you know), so law school it was.

Three-years and six-months later the first student loan bill came due, and I was making less than 1/4 of what my step-brother was making after having attended an Ag School (Cal Poly). I was too scared to look at what an Enterprise Rent-a-Car franchise manager was making at the time (I would have been about 66 percent there had I chosen that route), so I gritted my teeth, and moved forward, looking forward to the next 40 years of my life working for insurance companies (they don’t tell you in law school that you work for insurance companies in one form or another), helping them avoid paying money on risks they were stupid enough to insure.

The collectivist mindset was just beginning to take root when I was in elementary school, but I escaped the clutches of modern ed before things got too bad. Having read what I’ve read, I can only imagine that today’s schools are pumping out kids even more unimaginative than I was, utterly incapable of understanding that one has to make one’s way in life, and that the American dream isn’t just about having stuff and making money (you could do that in the Soviet Union if you played the game well enough), it’s about taking care of yourself, proving your worth to others, and convincing them to give you money with no middle-man getting in the way and decreasing your profit.

Had I had any imagination or any serious work ethic at the time, I would’ve skipped college and law school, and concentrated on building a business based on my passions of the day. Hindsight, 20/20, and all that jazz.


Now of course, if you are a high-IQ achiever with a natural gift for doctoring, lawyering, engineering, scholarship, business management, or any other line of work that needs years of intensive study, you will maximize your life prospects by putting yourself through college.

For the other 80 percent of us, the benefits of college are debatable. This point is very cogently argued in Charles Murray’s latest book. Chapter 3 has the title “Too Many People Are Going To College.” I’m sure that is true. It is, however, an unwelcome truth to upholders of our state ideology — roughly speaking, that there is no such thing as “high IQ” or “natural gift,” and that that anybody can be good at anything if they will only consume sufficient education. Yes we can! Why am I not surprised that the most strenuous and vigilant enforcer of this ideology is our great bloated education industry?

On a not entirely unrelated theme, I was astonished to read in America’s Newspaper of Record this morning that the pilot and co-pilot in the Continental Connections Flight 3407 crash were paid salaries of, respectively, $55,000 and $16,000. That’s all it pays, being an airline pilot? The blogger Your Lying Eyes is similarly dumbfounded:

With this insulting pay and having to sleep on couches in airport lounges, it sounds more like a job “Americans just won’t do.”

Outside elite-level lawyering, politics, finance, and showbiz, is anybody actually making a decent living any more?


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