Phi Beta Cons

Joseph Schumpeter on the Effects of College

Today’s Wall Street Journal features a selection from Schumpeter’s 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. I think it would be accurate to say that he anticipated Occupy Wall Street by almost 70 years:

The man who has gone through a college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in, say, professional work. His failure to do so may be due either to lack of natural ability — perfectly compatible with passing academic tests — or to inadequate teaching; and both cases will . . . occur more frequently as ever larger numbers are drafted into higher education and as the required amount of teaching increases irrespective of how many teachers and scholars nature chooses to turn out.

The results of neglecting this and of acting on the theory that schools, colleges and universities are just a matter of money, are too obvious to insist upon. Cases in which among a dozen applicants for a job, all formally qualified, there is not one who can fill it satisfactorily, are known to everyone who has anything to do with appointments. . . . All those who are unemployed or unsatisfactorily employed or unemployable drift into the vocations in which standards are least definite or in which aptitudes and acquirements of a different order count. They swell the host of intellectuals in the strict sense of the term whose numbers hence increase disproportionately. They enter it in a thoroughly discontented frame of mind. Discontent breeds resentment. And it often rationalizes itself into that social criticism which as we have seen before is in any case the intellectual spectator’s typical attitude toward men, classes and institutions especially in a rationalist and utilitarian civilization.

Well, here we have numbers; a well-defined group situation of proletarian hue; and a group interest shaping a group attitude that will much more realistically account for hostility to the capitalist order than could the theory — itself a rationalization in the psychological sense — according to which the intellectual’s righteous indignation about the wrongs of capitalism simply represents the logical inference from outrageous facts. . . . Moreover our theory also accounts for the fact that this hostility increases, instead of diminishing, with every achievement of capitalist evolution.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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