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University Education Skeptic, 2014

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[Nov 23, 2014] Student Debt By Major What Not To Study To Avoid A Lifetime Of Debt Slavery

As being a waiter after graduation is now a real possibility, the issue of debt should be treated much more carefully then before. "How about all of the above and the student has to write a business plan and prove the studies are going to be able to afford the loan before they take off on a losing proposition."
Nov 22, 2014 | Zero Hedge
Want to escape a lifetime of debt servitude? Then some of the fields one may want to avoid include drama, music, religion, anthropology, philosophy, psychology and education.

As recently reported by the Project On Student Debt, 7 in 10 seniors who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2013 had student loans, with an average debt load of $28,400 per borrower. This represents a two percent increase from the average debt of 2012 public and nonprofit graduates. It is also a new record high.

Those curious about the geographic breakdown of the student debt burden by state, can do so at the following interactive map:

*** removed ***

It goes without saying that while student debt is bad, record student debt - which at the Federal level amounts to over $1.2 trillion and rising exponentially - is worse.

In fact, as shown previously, the unprecedented debt burden on the Millennial generation has been used to explain why the largest generational cohort in US history is unable to carry the weight of the economy on its shoulders, why the Millennials are perhaps the most financially disenfranchised generation, and why the labor force participation rate has collapsed in the past five years, as older workers rush back into the work force (thanks to ZIRP crushing the value of their savings) while young Americans chose to remain in university (where they can take remedial high school classes among other things) and out of the labor force in hopes of holding out a better job market (for the 6th year in a row).

However, since all college educations are most certainly not created equal, one outstanding item has been the debt breakdown by field of study, or major.

This is where the latest project and research paper from the Hamilton Project, which comes in handy. It examined earnings for approximately 80 different majors and as the NYT summarizes, allows people to look up typical debt burdens by major, over the first decade after college – which is when people tend to repay their loans.


Other countries don't do it this way. Study a foreign language in high school, participate in a foreign exchange program, and go to college overseas. It's cheaper than going to school in the U.S., and you have the advantage of being in a better labor market when you graduate.

Other nations consider an educated citizenry to be a public good. (But they have testing and do not admit everyone to college.)


I took history and philosophy in university-University of Toronto-30 years ago knowing I was not going to make any money out of these studies.

Instead of a good job, I got something much, much better: understanding. I don't care if t cost me ten times as much now -- I would do it again.

'The unexamined life is not worth living'


Maybe if students were liberally educated (traditional definition) they would not succumb to the rapacious capitalistic value system presented in our current financialized world.

Maybe liberally educated citizens would demand a more egalitarian society with a far greater percentage of citizens enjoying a secure life.

Merely trying to save themselves in our current environment by furthering financialization simply perpetuates the status quo.



I graduated 2003 with a nursing degree.

Now 11 years later I still owe ~29k. Indeed, my pay rate has gone up.

But.........nobody will hire me because of that. Why pay $30/hour when you can get a new grad at $23/hour?

Shortage of RN's...again bullshit. Try glut.

I opted for ten years of low payment and then the rest at a higher payment. So this month my student loan payment triples. And now, after ten years of experience, and highly qualified, the most I can get is a part-time job. The full-time jobs go to the new grads.

Oh, and soon there will be a new flood of H1-B nurses (I am betting) who will work for $18/hour.

I've never missed a single payment, but for crying out loud, the idea that after so many years your earnings will rise is just bullshit. If this is not the case as an RN it's not the case for most degree except certain engineering degrees.


I suspected the glut would happen with the push, back in the 90's/00's for nurses. Remember, the imminent shortage of nurses that we faced?

I chose my major by reading the Los Angeles Times and counting how many help wanted ad categories there were.

A Lunatic

Most kids go to college because they have been brainwashed and terrorized into believing they will be faced with a lifetime of toil and poverty should they choose not to. Most of them don't have a clue what they want to do/be, have zero job/life/financial experience and believe the same tired old "You can be anything you want" American Dream bullshit that is fast approaching complete irrelevance in today's world of limited opportunity.

Also, when people, especially inexperienced adolescents, are spending easily borrowed money, the choices they make are drastically different than if they had to spend their own.....


"You can be anything you want" American Dream bullshit...

There was a time when I was growing up as a young piglet, they told me that "anyone can be President of the United States".

Then I saw the last two prez elections!


- Ned


In the end, your still fighting to find a good paying job

Layoff / Closing List:


wrong wrong wrong...these little asshats goto "college" to avoid working secondly because the retarded fail of an education system makes every fucking nobody ( no child left behind ...everyones a star...everyone wins FUCKING BULLSHIT losers are always gonna be losers ) a college attendee....

Bottom line is party party party spend spend spend flounder thru an inadequate ed system (school then college) then end up stocking shelves at Wal-Mart and bitching.

Even far worse are the flunkies who become teachers taught by inept fascist assholes and then pass the same or even worse on to another generation of the hapless mindless dolts running through the ed system today and it all just keeps going round and round and round ....


Add Marine Biology. Thanks to Jacques Cousteau TV specials we probably have one wanna be Marine biologist for each whale.


wee-weed up

Add Marine Biology. Thanks to Jacques Cousteau TV specials we probably have one wanna be Marine biologist for each whale.

Yep, ditto astronomy and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The number of available astronomy jobs is almost nil.

Creepy A. Cracker

Try astrology instead?

wee-weed up


Yep, with the increasing numbers of dumb sheeple...

In the last 6 years, that will definitely be a growing field.


Astrologer and economist are the same thing, the astrologer doesn't get to go to the big banker parties though.....


We are forgetting the college books scam also. One class = $500 in useless textbooks

Creepy A. Cracker

Get the government out and have banks loan based on standard lending rules: the potential to be repaid. Degrees in women's studies will receive ZERO loans (thank God! The nut-job teachers will have to get real jobs again as cashiers at book stores. Or, more likely they will get government jobs.).

Degrees in engineering, physics, computer science, nursing, et al, will receive loans. Government schools will not be able to continue to build monuments to themselves because they won't be able to fleece all of the students who receive tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars of student loans (that they won't be able to pay back). It's a win all around. Colleges prices drop, college teachers no longer get to teach 6 hours per week for a 40 hour per week salary, and tuition drops because there isn't "free" government money to pay for it.


the government made 5 billion more than Exxon from student loans and they jacked up the interest rates this year.....


Student debt may be the next bubble to burst. But the re-inflated real estate and consumer credit bubbles are just as ready and set to pop...


Get the govt out of the student loan biz? Yeah, I agree.

Let the capitalists sort it out? You may want to look around at some of the other courses available out in the real world. Hand over a thousand bucks and a year of night school, still can't get a job with those quals.

Couple of grand and four weeks schooling, still useless in the field. Old hands lament the lack of experience by the young hands - no shit! That's why we spent our own time and money to get the quals - to learn the shit that we can't learn elsewhere.

Ain't got the quals? Can't get the job. Can't get the job? Can't pay for the quals. So how does the "free market" handle this?

Pick a price that the poor people "can afford". Cut costs - i.e. water down the course, reduce the most expensive parts of the courses - i.e. more paperwork, less equipment. Oh, but hang on, what about the profit motive? The faster you teach your students and with the least amount of equipment, the less costs you have and the greater profit you make.

Profit motive directly translates to shitty qualifications. Don't worry, the bad schools will go broke and the problem will sort itself out. Yeah, sure. Still waiting for the "free markets" to sort themselves out. All we have to do is wait for another MurderDeathKill and we'll know where the murderer is.

Don't worry, I learnt my lesson. No new quals for me without a guaranteed job at the other end. In fact, if what I need to learn can really make that much profit, then there must be a boss out there that is willing to pay me to get those qualifications out of future profits. No profit in study? Then there must be no profit in the job.

Re "must be a boss out there ...": Goodness me, doesn't that sound arrogant? Maybe I can replace that phrase with "must be a customer out there...". Point being, students need to find a customer FIRST, then worry about the study they need to do to service that customer!!! This is standard business school thought translated into the business of study: "Don't start a plant mowing business. No-one will pay you to mow their plants. Start a lawn mowing business. People will pay you to mow their lawns."

Oh, but hang on. People aren't going to pay for your four years worth of study to be an accountant just so you can do their taxes for them for a couple of days per year. You're going to have to find lots of customers before you can justify doing your accounting degree. Some engineering customers only want to hire you for 18 months and then the job is done. Looks like you have to find an extra few customers to justify your engineering degree.

Perhaps we need to think a little harder.


Ain't got the quals? Can't get the job. Can't get the job? Can't pay for the quals.

Sadly you lack the soft skills to figure out this puzzle, because obviously many people solved it.


+++. Very true.

Funny thing is, I was once 200th (out of over 300) physically standing in a line waiting for one of twelve jobs that I didn't want and I got one of those jobs. Stayed there five years before I "managed to escape" to a better job. Another time I have achieved 99% in an entrance exam to a job that I did want, shocked boss told me NO-ONE had ever scored that high in the test before (no need to get a head-swell, probably plenty of "smart" people simply never applied for that line of work), but no, I was still somehow "unsuitable" for that particular job.

As a youth, I spent all my free time studying. I knew what I wanted and I went for it. I think all that hard-core study caused me to end up with no people skills which causes me to find it hard to get work in the real world. Victim of my own "success" / "Excess"?

Whoever would have thought I'd need more people skills in order to further develop my technical skills? Bit of a bummer, really.


I agree, but we need two things, not one:

1. Get government out of student loan business

2. Student loans are dischargable in bankruptcy.

That will fix student loans. Without the discharge, plenty of scummy lenders will write loans to women's studies students to have a lifetime income stream -- sure, they might cap the loan amounts without the government backup, but you know unless there's a threat of complete loss of the income stream, they'll do the same shit they are now, just writ smaller.


Nah, the 3.9 to 4.1 GPA nerds in high school going into engineering will have zero problems getting loans. The B students majoring in business administration will probably get a few bucks thrown their way. The C students applying to party schools and majoring in anthropology, now... they're fucked.


As well they should be.


They won't be fucked (the C student), they will benefit since they won't have $30k in loans while working at Starbucks. They can work at Starbucks straight away from high school.


How about all of the above and the student has to write a business plan and prove the studies are going to be able to afford the loan before they take off on a losing proposition.

fleur de lis

When higher education knowingly creates millions of debt slaves by offering subjects that they know the market will not support they should be made to reimburse the students if they cannot find work after a certain period of time. Or they should be in the job placement business. They know very well which subjects yield livelihoods and which are dead ends.

The schools have to bear some of the burden. At this point they are putting society as a whole at risk by warping natural human development, preventing young graduates from working toward a new life and starting their own families. The students and parents should know the odds and then make an informed decision. It is not for teenagers to be sent to school to keep teachers employed at any cost.


I'm really surprised there hasn't been a class action lawsuit directed toward colleges for false advertising. If I sell a product and say it does x, y, z and delivers on none of those claims, I can be sued into oblivion. Why are the colleges exempt, while they destroy and entire generations financial future?


In fact, a motivated high school grad who goes to a trade school and learns steel welding, AC and refrigeration, plumbing, mechanics, etc., can often earn a better paycheck than a college grad

That was true in the 1990s and 2000s. However, nowadays the mechanics, HVAC, plumbers I know get paid like $10 to $12 an hour now. The market is so saturated now, and with new home construction going down, and people holding off on remodeling projects, there isn't a whole lot of work out there. If you can get work, you'll be in the $25,000 a year range. Good luck getting a home mortgage at these monthly rates on that salary.

If you are a millenial kid looking into the trades... don't. It's glory days came and went, and good luck competing against more experienced workers, who themselves are struggling to get work.

I'll get downvotes from know-it-alls from their white collared cubicles, but I get this info from blue-collared folks I know personally. The trades aren't what they used to be pre-housing bubble.


-All the trades are saturated mature labour markets that pay $25,000 a year.

-Nursing is a saturated mature labour market that pays $25,000 a year.

-All the engineers come from India and are paid $25,000 a year vs $60,000.

All of the fall backs, the industries to go into have been over supplied.

You are describing a country with no good jobs remaining.

I have claimed for years that the USA is a nation where everyone earns 22k to 28k and a few coastal cities skew the mean figures higher by a factor of 2x.

A ''good job'' is now a full time position with 2-weeks paid vacation that covers health insurance and pays $30,000 a year. That would not be a problem if the year were 1978...


A "Good" job now is a government job. That includes these many businesses that have popped up, and do 99.9% of their work with government.

The people and families I know, the most well off, stable and not concerned about the economy, are on the government payroll.

I know a husband and wife, both FBI, each making close to $200,000.00 a year! She's in a Benz. He's got a Vette. McMansion. Top shelf camper, with marble tops. And excited they are both about to retire soon. And the pension bucks kick in. It must be sweet. And yes, I'm envious and pissed these two turds are compensated like this on tax bucks.


Spot on 9th.

The UK is exacttly the same, and there is a very simple (though different) explanation.

Skilled plasterers, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, carpenters etc used to be on £15-£20/hour.

An influx of two million eastern European migrants prepared to work for half that rate (and living 4 to a room) killed off any chance of school leavers considering a trade as a viable future (in addition to fucking over existing homegrown craftsmen, that is).


Exactly what the Mexicans and Central American immigrants have done to our skilled trades.

When it started, they worked so cheap, it destroyed whole trades. Completely changed them from a trade a Native born man could use to raise a family to OUR standards, to you can't compete.

So many went out of business's, or moved on. Now, the Hispanics are the only ones left, and the pricing is not so cheap anymore. The big savings is most are underground , and the savings is with taxes and compliance.

A U.S. Born citizen, born and raised here, cannot compete with someone who never saw a toilet. Or a microwave. Our poverty is a life of relative luxury to them. We are off shored right on our own turf.


In my junior level tax accounting class the prof told the class in the first week that the instruction should not be considered as prep for a job. He said go up the street to the h&r block to learn how to do tax for a living. He didn't actually say it, but the implication was that we were taking a tough personal tax class for personal enrichment. That's one of the best ways the educators have of avoiding the responsibility of turning out productive graduates.

Your time at the university is for personal enrichment; even if you are studying tax accounting!


We have a private college close by. My buddy worked there just before the school year started, a couple of months ago.
The job HAD to be done in 30-40 days. Major renovation. Holes in roof to slide steel beams in. Then patched and matched exposed wood roof/ ceiling. A million $ of work. ..........
All slated to get ripped out in the spring for a major expansion.

These fuckers are making the government look thrifty .

fleur de lis's picture

All this work has to be paid for. You have to ask where does the money come from, and how much is there that they can spend with such wild abandon. Follow the money.


I tried to go to college back in the 70's when the Calif System was fully free. Couldn't afford the books or the gas money.

Busted my ass for fifteen years. THEN hunkered down and went to school. I think I did it right. I already knew enough from life to call bullshit on most of the crap offered and had the balls to argue with instructors.

My learned experience was that jobs were, at best, temporary. You bust your ass until a company goes broke. You bust your ass and do so well that your boss takes over what you built and fires you. You get fired for attending the birth of a child. You write software that saves $3.5 million in costs and are thanked and let go. You save a multi-billion account and are suddenly the poster child for 'How to succeed in business without really trying' and write software that is so efficient (for the time) that union benefit funds defer to you in reporting and collection...then let go when the fund goes self administered because you lacked a college degree.

So, yeah, you do face a lifetime of toil and poverty unless you have some sort of college or vocational training. What we're missing in the equation is VOCATIONAL training. Some aren't cut out to be accountants or womyn study types. They're better at welding, auto repair, furniture makers...and that training is poorly supported.


Most kids would be better off joining the Mob or working on Wall Street.

I think working for the Mob would be more honest and socially responsible.


The current higher educational system is broken. It doesn't teach; it indocrinates.

Higher education has been "indoctrinating" since its inception. I don't know why you are implying it is something only current. As for saying "it doesn't teach, it indoctrinates", that is like saying something didn't happen, it occurred. It's like what is your point?

You might want to look into the history of universities and its relation and eventual separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Look up the original definition of "doctor" in Webster's Dictionary. What we think of doctor is actually its 2nd definition.

I read your posts, and think you mean well, but I find you using terms that you don't quite understand the etymology and the definition for, and it is like nails on a chalk board.

I'll let the other posters critique your use of the word "conservative".

Carry On.


I know why. They didn't close...they smelled the tempting odors wafting from the Free Fed Money gravy train and morphed into colleges. And surprise, surprise, the tuition quadrupled.

There is what used to be a technical/vocational school not too far from me that is now a university. Still teaches the same stuff, such as auto mechanics, HVAC, plumbing, baking, etc., but now the students also have to complete such bullshit classes as technical writing (like, where's an auto mechanic going to use that in his daily routine?) to earn a degree instead of certification. Another school near me used to be an art school and is now an art university, with such courses as math for art majors. When the whole edifice comes crashing down, I bet these places morph back into vocational and technical schools in a heartbeat.

Radical Marijuana

Given any reasonably grounded view of the future, the best personal alternative is to endeavour to enjoy life by going to school for as long as possible on student loans, taking whatever one likes to take, regardless of whether that is practical.

Any person with a functioning intuitive view of the future should expect that to be totally screwed up, while there is nothing they could realistically do to prevent that happening. Therefore, for anyone who enjoys being some sort of intellectual, and learning for its own sake, student loans are a way to enjoy a higher quality of life: a high brow way to "eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die." ... Go to school on borrowed money for as long as possible, while not worrying about the future, since the future is going to be totally screwed up, no matter whatever one might try to do about that!

There is no way to prepare for civilization collapsing into crazy chaos, as well as no way to be prepared to maybe take advantage of revolutionary opportunities that may then arise. Meanwhile, there is nothing else to actually do by participating inside of the established systems which would not actually amount to assisting things to get even worse, faster ... At least an individual enjoying their life by studying something that they like to study is only minimally making things deteriorate ... which is probably the only thing that they could actually do inside of a society that is already terminally sick and insane, while becoming more so at an exponential rate ...

Captain Obvious.

Apprenticeships are a contract between employer and employee. The employer gets cheap labour but has to educate the apprentice.

Employers have become deadbeats. They want the cheap labour but the employee has to educate himself.

Anyway, who remembers being a teenage boy? All prick and ribs, with frontal cortex in the process of metamorphasis. How the hell do we expect life changing rational descions from such a creature?

It is far better to acknowledge that humans take an awefully long time to mature and let the silly young men wonder around aimlessly until they are through the stage.

Perhaps we might be able to get them to tidy up their rooms. Nah, Forget it. Silly me.


I think Google wanted a copy of my transcript, when I applied at the end of college. So did Aerojet, and a couple of other companies. Fuck that, I'm not giving you my transcript.That is one extreme. On the other, you have what you describe: you go through this whole ordel called college, likely to come out with a bundle of debt, and when you get your job, no one gives a shit about college details except to pay lip service in an interview. It didn't matter.

[Nov 21, 2014] Harvard Business School's Bizarre Rich Kids Problem

Harvard, especially HBS, in not a university, "Harvard is an employment agency."..."What's shocking is how strangely sentimental they get about education, because it appears far too many people do really believe that tripe about it being a meritocracy. Education has nothing to do with that, it's all about preserving class structure and passing on advantages and privileges to one's offspring. This is also a big part of why people will put up with getting gouged on tuition endlessly. It's barely about knowledge at all. It's about getting into the club, stamping your resume with the right institution, meeting the people who can connect you with most of the power and money in the US and rest of the world. "
Sep 12, 2014 | naked capitalism
But what appears to have changed since I attended HBS (1979 to 1981) is that the school has been targeting the children of wealthy families, presumably to cultivate them as future donors (why grow students to become rich people later? Just give rich people greater preference now!). The tipoff is this comment from management guru Tom Peters in a follow-up article in the Times:

To help bring the school's culture back down to earth, Thomas J. Peters, a co-author of "In Search of Excellence" who has spoken at the Harvard Business School and has been a frequent critic of business education, suggested that the school apply a simple admissions rule: anyone from an ultraprivileged background needs to have done something of significant social value to be admitted.

"If you're 27 years old and you've been given a lot of money, that's plenty of time to have done something," he said, adding that he and many of his friends at Stanford Business School in the 1970s were veterans. "Why can't that be in the admissions criteria flat out?"

This section suggests that HBS has abandoned what was the single most important question in its application (and the essays were weighed heavily in the admissions process): "Describe your three most important accomplishments and explain why you view them as such." Another important admission criterion was the reference letters (I can't recall whether two or three were required), and it was pretty much impossible to get admitted if you didn't have at least one from a boss type who knew your work well.

I have no idea how the admission process has been changed to serve the school's fundraising aims, but clearly, that's what happened. And the reason for the fixation with trying to run with the rich kids is that it appears to have become a parallel employment track (or at least some of the students rationalize it as such). If you become good buddies with these heirs, maybe they'll bring you into the family business. Or if you go into wealth or asset management or want to start a venture, you'll have a leg up in getting them to invest in your company's products or your fledgling enterprise.

The other reason having ultra-rich kids is that they don't have to worry about performance. Do you think any professor would fail the child of a heavyweight monied family unless he asked for it (say by bad behavior or by not participating in class, which in my day was 40% of your grade)? So even someone who was not intimidated by the habits of the uberrich in their midst could be rankled if some of those students weren't as serious about the classroom experience as those less well off, who, gasp, really do need to get jobs (in my day, with one noteworthy exception, the heirs of wealthy families went to some length not to stand out and felt responsible to learn what the school had to offer since they expected to run or play lead roles in their family empires).

So the part that is suspect here isn't that this is happening, but that the Harvard Business School administrators pretend that they are shocked that there is gambling in Casablanca:

Asked in an interview about Section X, Nitin Nohria, the school's dean, sounded crestfallen because he had hoped the group had disappeared. "I thought it had pretty much been on its fingernail edges," he said.

One has to question the dean's sincerity or his understanding of organizational design, which is something business schools teach. Either way, his lack of understanding of how the student body operates, particularly after the school has engaged in a large-scale, unusual social experiment, does not reflect well on him and his colleagues.

s spade, September 12, 2013

GW Bush went there. Does that tell you anything?

HBS has been living on its reputation for about thirty years, during which time business has abandoned even the pretense of serving social goals. What is left is not worth agonizing about. Meritocracy was always mostly myth; these days it is nothing but myth.

Yves Smith, September 12, 2013

I came across a video clip of GW when he was in a debate as a candidate for Texas governor. He was able to make unscripted, cogent arguments, and use complex sentence structures and multi-syallble words correctly. It was a stunning contrast with Bush as Prez.

It made the claim that he wasn't stupid when he went to HBS more credible. Bush looks to have seriously pickled his brain with all his years of alcohol abuse.

I don't know why HBS has gone to such lengths to curry rich donors. The school never needed money. It always shown a good profit on its program. Why does HBS need a $2 billion endowment? That's ridiculous. It doesn't do real research and can't possibly give out that much in financial aid. This is clearly about enriching the administrators.

ScottS, September 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Regarding Dubya, I've heard that when he ran for governor he was practically run out on a rail for being the "egghead from Harvard" and a Connecticut Yankee.

If true, it seems he internalized that particular lesson.

Aside from all the awful things he did, I feel like he's a bit of a sad, pitiful, tragic figure. All he wanted was to be president of baseball, but they wouldn't take him. He had to settle for president of the US.

But to your point - I don't imagine HBS needs the money as a resource to do things with. I imagine the culture is rotten and the kind of people there now are the kind who think money is just a way of keeping score. Hence the large "endowment."

ScottS, September 12, 2013

Sorry, not governor - Texas's 19th congressional district, 1978.

Hance Defeats Bush

"Kent Hance served in the Texas State Senate from 1973 to 1978, when he ran successfully as a Democrat for the 19th Congressional District. The seat had been held for a generation by popular Democrat George H. Mahon, long-time chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Hance's opponent in the general election was a young Republican businessman from Midland, George W. Bush. The 19th had long been one of the more conservative areas of Texas, and this conservative trend should have favored Bush. However, Hance portrayed Bush as "not a real Texan" because of his privileged upbringing and Yale education. Hance won by six points–the only time Bush was ever defeated in an election.

Hance later said in an interview that after that election, Bush vowed that "he wasn't going to be out-Christianed or out-good-old-boyed again," and developed the folksy image that eventually carried him to the White House. Hance was reelected two times."

So, Dubya isn't that stupid.

capitalistic, September 12, 2013

Not sure why this HBS article is surprising. I didn't attend HBS but I attended a nearby private business school and witnessed the same excess, preferential treatment and apathy. It's part of life actually: Remember, Mitt Romney was given the fast track due to his lineage.

Yves Smith, September 12, 2013

I think you are missing the issue. You might need to read the article to get a better flavor, if you haven't yet.

When I was at HBS, there were rich kids. Pretty much everyone ignored them except as objects of curiousity. We didn't see them as all that different. And if they had gone off on expensive ski trips together, no one would have cared.

The anxiety about the socializing suggests that HBS is now perceived to be much more about networking than it used to be. That's actually sort of misguided, since a lot of evidence suggests that people who have a lot of weak ties do better than people who have fewer strong ties (in terms of job searches, for instance). So you don't need to go pal around with these folks to get the bennies. A casual acquaintance will probably be just as useful (maybe even more so. For instance, I wouldn't want to invest my money with a former drinking buddy. I'd worry the relationship would cloud my judgment and make it hard to fire them if they screwed up).

Jim Haygood, September 12, 2013 a

'HBS is now perceived to be much more about networking than it used to be.'

It's ALL about networking in politics. Look at the long run of Ivy League presidential governance since 1988.

Was G. W. Bush at HBS to learn about business management? He made his first millions via a minority share in a Texas Rangers sports franchise that he had nothing to do with managing, other than supplying political favors.

This is the American system!

DavidS, September 12, 2013

Business school is 100% about the social side.

No one cares what you learn while you're enrolled or after you graduate as soon as you receive your piece of paper with the luxury brand name on it.

The network is everything.

The most striking thing about the follow-up NYT article was how none of the students were willing to go on record to speak against the wealthy students.

Mammon is America's only god now. We'll hardly hear a peep from the 99.9% as the extremely wealthy complete their friendly takeover of society.

Yves Smith, September 12, 2013

No, that isn't correct.

The HBS network never did me an iota of good. "Networking" is completely overrated. It's a bunch of people selling and no one buying. And exposure to many of the people in my section and class often made me LESS, not more, inclined to work with or engage them. Prolonged interaction allows you to see someone's warts. The people I know who did network a lot (as in were deeply involved in campus activities that exposed them to a lot of people) weren't more successful in career terms than the nerds who kept their noses to the grindstone so they could land a good summer job the first year which would then position them to get hired by a well-respected employer.

Put it another way: Jamie Dimon is considered to be a standout HBS success. I know people in his class (the year behind mine) and he was considered to be a flaming asshole back then. I've not heard anything to suggest he "networked" or that he or his classmates regard that has having an iota to do with how he did.

Harvard is an employment agency. What did me good was that my credentials got me into Goldman and later McKinsey. Those brand names on my resume (and the McKinsey network) did me good. Harvard, not at all save the credential.

Jim in SC, September 13, 2013 at 8:37 am

I think Yves is right about networking being overrated. I think the nerds did just as well in their careers as the big networkers at my business school (Columbia) too. It's interesting that she thinks that internships would have been viewed as bs in her time at HBS. I started in Columbia's January session twenty years ago, and didn't get an internship, despite a lot of effort. Competition was huge. Now I think the January session is billed as for entrepreneurs and people who are going to be re-entering family businesses(as I eventually did). I think there is a recognition that the jobs just aren't there. It's not like the class of '68, who had six or eight offers for every graduate.

That said, I think the people who spent all their time looking for internships and jobs and barely went to class missed out. Maybe they were smart enough to get the grades, but not smart enough to understand the significance of the material, because I absolutely learned a ton at Columbia; my classmates were brilliant, and my professors fantastic. My business school experience could not have been better. I was coming from a background of philosophy, literature, and history of science. Studying economics, accounting, etcetera, was all completely new. It was necessary knowledge, and I think it is a wonderful preparation for entrepreneurship.

Roquentin, September 12, 2013

I read the NY Times article and it all sounded like "This just in: water is wet and ice is cold." You mean there's class stratification at HBS? Next you're going to tell me that there are criminals in prison.

What's shocking is how strangely sentimental they get about education, because it appears far too many people do really believe that tripe about it being a meritocracy. Education has nothing to do with that, it's all about preserving class structure and passing on advantages and privileges to one's offspring. This is also a big part of why people will put up with getting gouged on tuition endlessly. It's barely about knowledge at all. It's about getting into the club, stamping your resume with the right institution, meeting the people who can connect you with most of the power and money in the US and rest of the world.

I should also probably admit that since I spent my entire upbringing in public schools and went to a large, land-grant state university talk like this really gets under my skin.

petridish, September 12, 2013

Absolutely, "water is wet."

Yves says,

"The other reason having ultra-rich kids is that they don't have to worry about performance. Do you think any professor would fail the child of a heavyweight monied family unless he asked for it"

... ... ...

Yves Smith, September 12, 2013

HBS has a forced grading curve and a certain % (about 7%) is guaranteed to be expelled or quit in anticipation of that.

Moreover, the plum employers hire only people who got honors the first year (top 20% of class). So believe it or not, academic performance does matter, particularly if you want to get hired by a consulting firm or on the investment banking side of Wall Street, and at most PE funds (not as sure re hedge funds, I think they'd want people with trading acumen, which means I can't see why they'd recruit much from HBS. But there are always exceptions).

McKinsey and Goldman in my day hired only from the top 10% of the HBS class (as in both would talk to the second year profs to find out who in the first year honors crowd were the standouts, since people would already have gotten and accepted offers by the time the school had determined who would be a Baker Scholar, which is the top 5% of the class).

The hiring top academic performers is (or at least was) part of the branding of big ticket service providers. They'd walk into big corporate clients with the client knowing EVEN IF IT HAD B-SCHOOL GRADS that its staffers were the ones who couldn't get hired by Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Bain, etc.

allcoppedout, September 12, 2013

Sociology takes a very different tack on this – a good summary is Jane Marceau's work –

She develops Parkin's notion of techniques of exclusion used to keep the best education and work for the already affluent. When I worked at INSEAD (France's HBS) it was more or less impossible to find any students who were not networked through a royal route of prep schools, the right universities or grandes ecoles. There was much less privilege at Lille Polytechnique, probably better teaching and student performance …

Teaching in business schools is mostly junk and massively biased to managerialism/financialisation. Standard books on organisational behaviour, business economics, business ethics, HRM, strategy, research methods, marketing, finance and planning cover a tiny portion of real world issues and are all standardly acritical – as bad as neo-classical economics as all there is to say on that subject. Entry qualifications can usually be crammed.

There is some business education using critical perspectives, typically Critical Theory or what we now see as Hudson, Black, Kelton, Keen heterodox offerings and even deconstructive approaches to organisation behaviour and design.

The massive 'professionalisation' of management has developed as a fashion industry – a classic paper is

My own view is we have generally been shafted by business school teaching-indoctrination and find it hard to escape the sunk costs involved in working hard to pass tests set. On the gender issues I'm inclined to think we should look harder at how we exclude decent people not conned by our medieval work ethic through workplaces not fit for family or democratic values. Thanks to the 'success' of business schools, America has more poor than the whole population of Spain. The rise of business education correlates rather well with manufacturing decline and the finance curse.

In the middle of this spectacular failure, students are far more likely to be taught by academics rather than former practitioners and to seek 'prestige' degrees in a world with less social mobility than ever. Around the world you find something very similar to the 7% of British kids sent to private schools and their massive over-representation in our best universities and professional training. I did my graduate school about the same time as Yves and didn't notice a rich brat problem either. Going back to my old university to teach the following year I was amazed by the 35% of private school kids and the total absence of the old 'university of the people' ethos.

steve, September 12, 2013

This same thing went on at Ivy league medical schools also. The rich kids went to Aruba on breaks. Like you, I didnt care that much as i was married and working full time (just for the first two years before clinical, then just part-time).

What did hurt was that test dates were changed to accommodate the parties and trip dates of the rich kids, making it difficult on us who were working and had arranged our schedules with the scheduled test dates in mind. I actually had one professor apologize to me for this.

Yes, the rich kids got into the good residencies also. Just the way the world works. The surprising thing is that so many people are surprised when these kinds of stories come out.

Massinissa, September 12, 2013

The REAL takeaway from this article is how SUCCESSFUL the meritocracy propaganda has been.

When Toto pulls away the curtains, people are blindsided and the way they thought the world worked turns out to be a cruel fiction. "If America is NOT a meritocracy, then golly gee willikers, what have I been TAUGHT all my life?!"

It would be nice if more people woke up from this silly fantasy, but for the most part pulling away the curtains only induces denial.

vlade, September 12, 2013

Modern BS are, to a nontrivial extent, marketing themselves as places where you can network and they even teach networking. Bringing in rich kids helps networking (but ideally you incentivise them not only to network with whom they know already… ) – or at least helps to sell networking (when they do end up talking only to their old pals).

It's more and more not what you know, but who you know. There's also the old saw (how true, I don't know) that 80% of higer level jobs are might be advertised, but will end up being filled by a friend of a friend.

Banger, September 12, 2013

The reason why HBS may show a preference for rich kids may be a little ore complex than you think. We have seen, in the past few decades a stunning growth in wealthy and very wealthy families. These families can afford enormous advantages in going to the best schools, hiring excellent tutors who use more sophisticated techniques based on social-science research whereas the public school system has cut back on enrichment programs and has, in many ways, ignored learning theory in creating classes.

Frankly, and no offense to you Yves, whether HBS turns out to be a finishing school for hereditary aristocrats or to enable middle-class students to become more expert operatives for the oligarchs is utterly irrelevant to me since the policies taught at biz graduate schools are often destructive to civilized life, in my view. I've worked with the high flyers and the spreadsheet jokeys and have never been that impressed. Just look at the results.

susan the other, September 12, 2013

Always have a hard time stereotyping subgroups. I've got no problem stereotyping the entire system. It sucks. One thing has always annoyed me beyond ever being polite about it – it is the glossed over fact that the system, for all of its affirmative little actions, avoids women, poor people and minorities and this avoidance is still bred in the bone. it is just one more form of extraction. The system has a life of its own. Remember, "the purpose of the system is to perpetuate the system."

Banger, September 12, 2013

It is central to understand that one of the central truths about the study of systems is that systems seek to perpetuate themselves unless they are populated by human beings who have some sense of being part of a larger system.

Neal Deesit, September 12, 2013

One of his former professors at HBS recalls the Shrub :

"[George W. Bush] didn't stand out as the most promising student, but…he made it sure we understood how well he was connected," Tsurumi said. "He wasn't bashful about how he was being pushed upward by Dad's connections."

Lune, September 13, 2013

If you define a "network" as a way to gain advantage by excluding qualified people who are outside of the network, then it's quite ironic that people who go to HBS so they can develop such a network are taken aback that there are actually networks out there that exclude *them*. Not a single student quoted in that article railed against the idea of an old-boys' network; they're merely upset that they're not part of the most exclusive one. Pardon me while I get out the world's smallest violin.

I wonder if this movement towards emphasizing alumni networks is at all related with the movement away from training MBAs in actually running businesses and towards meta-industries like finance and consulting. It sounds archaic now, but plenty of folks with dirty shirtsleeves would go to business school and then go back to their industrial corporations to run factories or engineering shops. Now this seems so rare that they actually create special programs just for it (implying that a general MBA doesn't actually serve to, you know, administer a business…)

P.S. In my University days, it was widely believed that the smartest kids went into the PhD programs (especially science), the next smartest kids went to law and medical schools, the "average" kids got jobs right out of college, and the dumbest, loudest, most obnoxious frat boys ended up in B-school. And it killed the rest of us knowing that they would end up as our bosses one day.

[Nov 19, 2014] University of Southern Maine Becomes "Administration of Southern Maine" as Students Protest Faculty Firings by Yves Smith

November 18, 2014 | naked capitalism
Posted on

Earlier this year, it looked as if the University of Southern Maine might become one of the rare places where students and faculty would be able to hold the line against the yet more looting by the bureaucratic classes. The woes besetting the USM are a microcosm of how higher education expenses are escalating as a result of administration feather-bedding and vanity projects. When those prove to be too costly, it's the faculty and students that bear the brunt of the expense-shedding. As Lambert wrote in March:

Like so many other institutions in this, our neoliberal land of opportunity, universities have become infested with rent extracting parasites. Were I to say "We call those parasites administrators," that would be wrong; surely there are administrators who are caring, competent, necessary, and neither over-paid nor corrupt [1]. That said, university administrators are not, by definition, central to any university's mission: Teaching and research, performed by professors, are. Therefore, it seems odd, or not, that we don't look to the university administrative layer for budget savings first. But that's what we're doing. We're feeding the tapeworm instead of freeing the host from infestation. The protests against budget cuts at the University of Southern Maine (USM, in Portland, ME) provide an excellent case study.

First, I'll look at the protests themselves. Next, I'll look at the flavor of "mallification" the USM administration proposes in answer to the (putative) budget crisis. Finally, I'll examine whether the cuts, the budget crisis, and the restructuring are characterized by good faith. Spoiler alert: No….

The particular flavor of mallification proposed for UMS is described in the weekly alternative Portland Phoenix (which interestingly seems to have survived the demise of the Boston Phoenix). Here's their description of the USM "funding crisis":

The public discrepancy over how UMS allocates its funding has been ongoing. Ron Mosley, a business and law professor at the University of Maine Machias, told the Bangor Daily News in March of 2012 that "almost $54 million was being invested in new capital projects" that year, even as AFUM and the Board of Trustees were engaged in an 18-month standoff over a new labor contract agreement.

... ... ...

The American Association of University Professors warned about the dangers of budget cuts that focus on teaching, that they can produce a downward spiral as a school becomes less attractive to faculty and students. From the provost of Arizona State:

Because administrators do not like to talk publicly about the negative effects of budget cuts, many people outside the university do not realize how much damage these cuts are causing. While it is important for legislators and governors-and the public at large-to understand these negative effects, advertising the effects hurts our ability to recruit faculty members and students and depresses morale. We know, however, that when we increase class size, rely more heavily on contingent faculty, and cut staff, we are indeed interfering with the quality of education we provide to students.

... ... ...

So you may be wondering that without faculty, staff or students, what will these administrators be administering? Why, themselves, of course! They will still need to create mission statements, strategic directives, task force initiatives and the like.

Finally, failed campus administrators can continue to be mothballed at the system level with sinecures, drawing the same salary they had drawn in their previous positions. While not financially sound, this custom does have the advantage of comporting with past practice.

So, what should Maine students do without a public university system to prepare them to be critically thinking members ready to participate in a vibrant democracy?

Let's take a cue from page 12 of the Republican Party of Texas platform from 2012: "We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that … have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

And what should they do without a public university system to provide them with a broad education that can lead to a promising career?

Well, in the immortal words of former USM President Theodora Kalikow: "McDonald's is not always bad."


'Yes Minister' covered this topic some time ago.


In Boston where I live universities are undertaking massive new capital improvement projects left and right. Schools are buying very expensive downtown real estate and constructing fabulous new buildings. And not only elite schools like Harvard and MIT. Colleges such as Emerson and Berklee are doing the same. My understanding is that much of this is being financed with long-term bonds. I don't see how this makes much sense.


It does not make long term sustainability sense, but it is trendy and fits the narrative of a recovering economy and the continuation of globalization and endless growth. I have never met a university administrator who did not think that his/her institution had a competitive advantage surpassing all other places of higher learning. It's very much like that movie "Field of Dreams". Just build it and they will come.


Ha! That Field of Dreams line came to my mind too. Where is the money going to come from to repay the loans? This smacks of a bubble but I don't know enough to understand. Let's posit that these projects are probable boondoggles: then who is lending the money and why? Is this connected to fed policies? At a time when the Middle Class is collapsing, colleges and universities - at least partly dependent upon tuition payments from said Middle Class - are flush and spending like drunken sailors on shore leave. Something seems amiss and, though I am no economist, my recent experience is that when something doesn't make sense it usually won't last and will likely end badly.


There's that famous Brecht poem which has the line "Perhaps the parliament should dissolve the people and elect another" which applies to so many other situations. As in, sarcastically, perhaps the administration should dissolve the university, rather than the other way around. Higher education as we know it in the US is dying. A university education was already something of a raw deal when I finished up in 2006, and that was at a state school. Things are worse now, and I can't imagine younger generations viewing the higher education system as much more than a gatekeeper or a scam. I remember how hard it was for me, with all the advantages I'd been given in life, getting out just in front of the recession, and shudder to think how bad young people are getting the shaft right now. It seems like we are quickly approaching the day when college will be strictly a rent extraction scheme, and you'll be damn lucky to get a little education out of the deal along the way.


What hospitals share in common with colleges and universities is that most of them are non-for-profits and of those, many are academic in nature. This may explain why this same sort of "looting by the bureaucratic classes" is also taking place in the hospital industry. Hospital administration are cutting from clinical areas and using that money to feather their own nest with higher salaries and bigger bonuses. Then when they do upgrades to their hospitals, most of the expensive renovation jobs are done in the administrative offices and conference rooms, leaving the clinical areas with the cheap renovation jobs. Hospital administrators do this because they see clinical areas, including all of the employees that work there, doctors and nurses alike, as a huge cost center while seeing themselves as the great moneymakers for hospitals.

Apparently hospital administrators don't understand that they are very much part of the unnecessary and burdensome overhead costs which are making healthcare in the US a lot more expensive than it oughta be. How in the world can they possibly see themselves are the great moneymakers for hospitals when the services they provide aren't even billable to the insurance companies. Nor do patients choose a hospital based how competent the administrators are. No, they choose a hospital based on how competent the doctors and nurse are. Period. Hospital administrators are delusional if they believe otherwise!

Since hospital administrators aren't willing to cut themselves, we have to look above to boards of directors to do the cutting. But this won't be done if they are in cahoots with the hospital administrators, which they probably are. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I doubt it, hospital boards of directors are also members of the bureaucracy . That means they too are doing the looting alongside their fellow bureaucrats in hospital administrations.

Keep in mind, over 50% of hospital revenues come from Medicare and Medicaid. So not only does Medicare/Medicaid have the means but they also have the motive to cut hospital administrative costs. All Medicare/Medicaid has to do is cut reimbursements to hospitals who can't keep administrative costs under control. But I doubt that this will happen either because, once again, top Medicare/Medicaid officials are also part of the bureaucracy as well. They too are doing the looting alongside their fellow bureaucrats in hospital administrations.

That leaves our elected officials at both the state and federal level to cut hospital administrative costs. They can do this not by framing it as healthcare reform, or even as insurance reform, but as administrative reform. As I see it, this is our best chance of getting hospital administrative costs under control. It would also help if our elected officials would put the brakes on hospital consolidations and put an end to rent-seeking "facility fees" that hospitals and hospital-based clinics are shamelessly tacking onto medical bills.

[Nov 03, 2014] Protesting Youth in the Age of Neoliberal Cruelty by Henry A. Giroux

Jul 8, 2014 |

The Rise of Disposable Youth

What is particularly distinctive about the current historical conjuncture is the way in which young people, particularly low-income and poor minority youth across the globe, have been increasingly denied any place in an already weakened social order and the degree to which they are no longer seen as central to how a number of countries across the globe define their future. The plight of youth as disposable populations is evident in the fact that millions of them in countries such as England, Greece, and the United States have been unemployed and denied long term benefits.

The unemployment rate for young people in many countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece hovers between 40 and 50 per cent. To make matters worse, those with college degrees either cannot find work or are working at low-skill jobs that pay paltry wages. In the United States, young adjunct faculty constitute one of the fastest growing populations on food stamps. Suffering under huge debts, a jobs crisis, state violence, a growing surveillance state, and the prospect that they would inherit a standard of living far below that enjoyed by their parents, many young people have exhibited a rage that seems to deepen their resignation, despair, and withdrawal from the political arena.

This is the first generation, as sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues, in which the "plight of the outcast may stretch to embrace a whole generation." (Bauman 2012a; 2012b; 2012c)

He rightly insists that today's youth have been "cast in a condition of liminal drift, with no way of knowing whether it is transitory or permanent" (Bauman 2004:76). Youth no longer occupy the hope of a privileged place that was offered to previous generations. They now inhabit a neoliberal notion of temporality marked by a loss of faith in progress along with the emergence of apocalyptic narratives in which the future appears indeterminate, bleak, and insecure. Heightened expectations and progressive visions pale and are smashed next to the normalization of market-driven government policies that wipe out pensions, eliminate quality health care, raise college tuition, and produce a harsh world of joblessness, while giving millions to banks and the military.

Students, in particular, found themselves in a world in which unrealized aspirations have been replaced by dashed hopes and a world of onerous debt (Fraser 2013; On the history of debt, see Graeber 2012).

[Nov 01, 2014] There's got to be a better way to prepare for class by Corey Robin

October 14, 2014 | Crooked Timber

There's got to be a better way to prep for class.

First I read the assigned text, taking notes while I'm reading either in the back of the book or, when space runs out, in a little pocket notebook that I carry.

Then I read through those notes, highlighting specific passages or commentary that might be relevant for lecture and discussion.

Then I re-type some (hopefully more coherent) version of those highlighted notes in a Word file, organizing them in some kind of thematic fashion or outline. (Sometimes I divide that step up into two: first, I retype all the highlighted notes in a Word file; then I organize those notes into outline form in a new Word file.)

Once I have some basic sense of the themes I'll be talking about and the passages I want to focus on, I prepare my lecture (whether it's a grad seminar or an undergrad class, I always do some interwoven combination of lecture and discussion).

All the while I'm trying to do some secondary reading to help me figure out what the hell is going on in or around the text. There's got to be a better way to prep for class.

Db 10.14.14 at 11:47 am

This is very old school, but has helped me. I take a lot of brief notes on note cards. You may, for example, want to refer back to what other critics have said about a book, or link themes see across several books you assign. The note cards allow you to do this, and to collect a rich body of work to reference. I still review my readings, but I have more ways I can take the information.

rea 10.14.14 at 6:08 pm

After sitting down at the table, he removed his watch and adjusted it upon its band so that its face would be always within a quick glimpse. Nothing says Committed Teacher like immediately prepping for departure.

I rather strongly disagree. Students have other classes, not to mention jobs, child care responsibilities, etc. Except in extraordinary circumstances, your classes should begin and end on schedule, and you very definitely should have one eye on the clock as your class time comes to an end. The teacher whose students are routinely 15 minutes late for their next class (I had one of those, a celebrated scholar and a disastrous teacher) is seriously dysfunctional.

engels 10.15.14 at 12:58 am

"People have now-a-days got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do so much as reading the books from which the lectures are taken. I know n

experiments are to be shewn. You may teach chemistry by lectures:– You might teach the making of shoes by lectures!"
Boswell: Life of Johnson

jonnybutter 10.15.14 at 1:19 am

I don't think most lecturers, surely not good ones, simply talk at the students, and they surely don't do it for 75 minutes straight.

I had a teacher at the same school I mentioned above who did lecture for 75+ minutes, without break, and he was spellbinding. He 100% lectured every single class period (2x/week) and usually went over a little. No discussion and very very few questions. I took every course he offered just because it was him; and his classes were always full.

On the other hand, I had a prof in grad school (many years later) who also lectured about 99% of the time (2.5 hours – with break) and it was excruciatingly bad – by far the worst class I ever took with anyone, and that's including all the Gen Ed crap. Now *there* was someone who 'didn't see instruction as a complex skill that it is important to practice and refine.'

He was department chair and supposedly a 'researcher' (his excuse for being the shittiest teacher in the world), but we know what he really was: the dullest of cynical jackasses whose one skill was knowing whose admin. ass to kiss, how, and when. He barely tried to hide his contempt for the students and even for the material he was teaching.

On the third hand, I had another prof – a good one – who used discussion groups here and there (I think just to give himself a break, honestly). In his case it worked well, I think, because he was so demanding, intellectually. No one tried the loudmouth bs routine because they were *scared* to.

I find it easier to start with the thing the students are supposed to learn and work backwards. What is the one big thing they need to get from reading the book?

Can't that approach be limiting, at least potentially? I guess it depends on the discipline (and what level the course is), but I can imagine having difficulty in being 100% sure about what the 'one big thing' is.

Anon 10.15.14 at 2:47 pm

Main Street Muse 10.15.14 at 1:50 am

"This sounds wonderful."

It is when it works, but I don't hold to it. On days where lectures are going great and everyone's really engaged (asking lots of questions, raising critical arguments, etc.), I'll sometimes let lectures go longer. On days where the lectures aren't clickingly, we'll devote most the time to discussion. I find that it depends on class mood, and a lot of that depends on purely external things: the weather, the news, their schedules in other classes…

"What do you do with the quiet students who don't speak up? Do you call on people or just pick those who raise their hands?"

This is going to sound so wild and crazy: I allow them to choose not to speak up.

I was a student who never participated in class. I did it because my way of paying attention required focused, sustained concentration, and reflection and reformulation, that was always broken or lost when I joined the conversation. I spent class jotting down ideas, revising them as I listened to lecture and discussion, often following my ideas in those notes places far from the class discussion. I liked that I could follow my thoughts wherever they took me, even if it was in a direction not relevant to the Main Idea I was supposed to take away, or in a direction the rest of the class didn't like.

But I also liked that I could, when my thoughts were in tune with the Main Ideas and the class discussion, concentrate entirely on each of the other students' thoughts with more distance from them than they had, I actually escaped my own point of view better by listening to others not speaking, and I developed a superb ability for listening, reading, and interpreting that I benefit from to this day. I've almost had to stop attending conferences, because every question session, I can see exactly what all parties mean to say, and exactly how every single party is speaking past the other. But it's a skill I wouldn't give up for the world, and I got it by not participating.

In the end, I think we impose a narrow, universal model of learning and thinking (and teaching!) on everyone to our detriment. Most students will benefit from discussion and it should be encouraged and enabled, but many will benefit from learning in their own way, and so it should not be enforced. This allows students would would benefit to opt out, but they have the right to, and the rights of the good students who benefit from learning in their own way overrides the interests of the bad students who refuse out of laziness.

In practice, when a good mix of lecture and discussion works well, the majority of students will participate. The readings-skippers also participate, but more fruitfully, since they are responding to the lectures, not simply BSing.

And, in practice, I find that many of the non-participators have chosen well: they perform superbly on the exams and papers, with more careful, charitable, and thoughtful interpretations of readings and arguments than the other, more vocal students.

Another thing I've found quite interesting is that these non-participators become my repeat students, and with each class, they start participating more and more, purely on their own with no pressure. By the time they're majors and graduating, they're my most active in class discussion and, best of all–they make our discussion so thoughtful and on topic, that the loudmouths give up.

harry b 10.16.14 at 2:45 am

Anon's phrase captures the dilemma of cold calling, really. I agree, some students probably are better left to themselves, but they are few and far between. And its also worth mentioning that its not just good for the students who are reluctant to speak up, but also for the talkers, who need to learn how to listen to other people, and learn that people who are sitting, quietly, often have very interesting things to say. Still it is a delicate business. I teach a freshman seminar (in the fall) once every 2-3 years - almost all the students are women (so far, of 81 students in 4 classes, 7 have been men) and I think at that stage part of my job is to get them all used to talking, and all used to listening.

Hi Alan! I always have notes, and often use them but, certainly, the best periods are when either they sit untouched or when I glance at them I irritatedly look away because things are flowing and they would break the flow.

[Oct 26, 2014] The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations by Christopher Lasch
Brandon Nelson - See all my reviews

In another chapter Lasch takes a look at education and what he considers the "new illiteracy." He believes that the majority of men and women in America lack basic common sense and critical thinking skills, and the school system is doing little to correct the problem. Lasch makes the claim that "people increasingly find themselves unable to use language with ease and precision, to recall the basic facts of their country's history, to make logical deductions, to understand any but the most rudimentary written texts, or even to grasp their constitutional rights." (130) In Lasch's view, this "new illiteracy" has created a society of incompetent students whom are incapable of making rational, intelligent decisions without first consulting their textbooks, notes or a so-called expert.

Lasch states that "the happy hooker stands in place of Horatio Alger as the prototype of personal success." (53) By saying this, Christopher Lasch implies that the classic "rags to riches" story of a hardworking individual has been replaced by the story of a person content with selling themselves to the highest bidder, never really putting in the hard work required to succeed in life.

It is Lasch's view that the "happy hooker" reflects the mindset of many Americans today. He makes a great argument for this viewpoint when discussing the fact that any successful individual in our society must be instantly recognizable and constantly in the public spotlight or else they are doomed to dissolve into obscurity. He believes "politics have become a form of spectacle," feeling that the political process is now more about popularity than policy. (60)

The winning candidate in many elections today is not necessarily the best man for the job, rather he or she impressed enough people and ultimately made their name a household item.

[Oct 23, 2014] Henry Giroux on the Rise of Neoliberalism

A very important article. Should be read in full. Large quote below does not cover all the content of the article.
Oct 19, 2014 :

And having mentioned public education just now, a big issue in Greece, as well as in many other countries today, is the increasing privatization of education, and certainly this is something that has been promoted heavily during the crisis in many of these countries. How have neoliberalism and casino capitalism impacted the quality of education and also access to education?

That's a terrific question. Regarding the quality, it's dumbed-down education to the point where it literally behaves in a way that's hard to fathom or understand.

Education has become a site of policies that devalue learning, collapse education into training, or they are viewed as potential sites for neoliberal modes of governance and in some cases to be privatized. The radical and critical imagination is under assault in most neoliberal societies because it poses a threat as does the idea that the mission of education should have something to do with creating critically thoughtful, engaged young people who have a sense of their own agency and integrity and possibility to really believe they can make a difference in the world. Neoliberals believe that the curriculum should be organized around testing, creating passive students, and enforcing a pedagogy of repression. Most importantly, the attack on communal relationships is also an attack on democratic values and the public spaces that nourish them. These spaces are dangerous because they harbor the possibility of speaking the unspeakable, uttering critical thoughts, producing dissent, and creating critically engaged citizens.

"What is at stake here is the notion that thinking is dangerous."

What is at stake here is the notion that thinking is dangerous. It's a policy that suggests that education is not about creating critically informed young people. It's really about training for the workplace. It tends to promote a kind of political and ideological conformity; it's a depoliticizing process - and it's also oppressive, because it removes from education any sense of vision that suggests that education is really about constructing a future that doesn't repeat the worst dimensions of the present, that can see beyond the horizons of the alleged practical and possible. I think in that sense, this emphasis on rote memorization, this emphasis on testing, this emphasis on discipline...many of these schools are being turned into military academies, many high schools, particularly in Chicago.

I think that what neoliberal reforms do is ignore all those basic problems that matter through which schools have to be understood in order to be reformed in the interest of creating critically engaged citizens. This suggests that any attempt at reforming schools has to be connected to the wider struggles over racism, inequality, poverty, militarization and the rise of the punishing state. Kids can't learn if they're hungry. Kids can't learn if they find themselves in schools where there are no resources. Kids can't learn in classes that have 40 students in them. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. And I think that what you really need to figure out is that the right-wing knows this. This is not just a kind of willful ignorance. Schools are not being defunded because the state and federal governments don't have the money. They are being defunded because the right-wing wants them to fail. The funds are available, but they are being redirected into the military-industrial complex, into policies that lower taxes for the rich, and into the exorbitant salaries of the financial elite. This is a very systemic policy to make sure that if education is going to matter, it's going to matter for the elite. It's not going to matter for everybody else, in the sense of offering the best possible resources and capabilities that it can offer.

So would you go as far as saying that education, and particularly higher education today, actually reinforce neoliberal doctrine inside the classroom?

I don't think there's any question about this. You can pick up the paper every day and read the idiocy that comes out of the mouths of these administrators, whether you're talking about Texas or Arizona or Florida. The university is being corporatized in a way that we've never seen before. And we know what that means; we know what the conditions are that are producing this. What is particularly disturbing is how alleged reforms such as the Common Core standards, which decontextualize teaching and learning by claiming that the larger conditions that place all kinds of constraints on pubic schools, teaching, and how students learn do not matter. This is a very privatizing and commerce driven form of education that depoliticizes as it decontextualizes the most important aspects of schooling and pedagogy. How can we talk about learning without talking about the machinery of inequality that drives how schools are financed, the right-wing policies that are implementing the fundamentalist modes of learning such as creationism, or the deskilling of teachers by suggesting that their only role is to teach to the test? This is truly a pedagogy of repression and ironically is being championed not just conservatives, the billionaires club, but also some progressives.

At one level you have right-wing governors who view themselves as the servants of corporate rich, and are all too willing to view all social relations in strictly commercial terms. This dastardly political world view is reinforced by democrats who should be viewed not simply as another branch of the business party, but as members of the deceitful club, which might be called "Republicans lite." What both parties share is a love affair with a capitalist society structured in massive inequalities in wealth and power, a strong believe in military expansion abroad, the intensification of militarization at home, and the ruthless ongoing shift in power from the working and middle classes to the 1 percent. We see glimpses of their shared ideology in their mutual embrace of military hardware such as the F-35 strike fighter jet, which will not fly in the rain, and costs about $200 million apiece. Politicians today are mostly groupies of the rich and powerful who are all too willing to dish out billions for the warfare state but very little to provide every young person in the United States with a quality education and decent way of life. As Imara Jones has pointed out, the $4.4 trillion already spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could finance a free college education for every person in America for the next ten years.

"It's not that we don't have the money for education, it's how we appropriate those funds."

I mean, the military budget is bloated; it's the largest in the world; you can combine the next 15 military budgets: they don't add up to the cost of America's military budget. So you have this misappropriation of money. It's not that we don't have the money for education, it's how we appropriate those funds. We don't appropriate them in the interest of young people. We don't appropriate them in the interest of education. We don't use our wealth to create a single-payer health system, or provide food for the needy. And so, as education is being defunded, what happens is that you have these business models now being incorporated at the university which calls, for instance, administrators "CEOs." And by the way, as you know, they're the largest-rising group in education in the United States. Administrators now outnumber faculty, and they're draining huge amounts of resources away from students.

Secondly, of course, faculty have lost power. Thirdly, they're abolishing unions, dissent is being cracked down on in ways that are abominable and reminders of the McCarthy period. You have faculty who basically are being defined by the degree to which they can write grants. Subjects that don't lend themselves immediately to training are going to cost more for students in states like Texas. Texas went so far as to claim that it would lower tuition for those faculties and courses that lent themselves directly to business interests. Can you imagine? While raising the tuition for courses in the humanities and the liberal arts which these right-wing governors claim contribute nothing to the economy. And of course students, on the other hand, are now seen as consumers or restless children who need to be entertained. They're not seen as important investments in the future, and particularly for a democratic future. They're just seen as slots, and that's why there's a big push in the universities for foreign students, because they're a cash cow. I think the university is in crisis, and it's in a terrible crisis over what's going on in terms of its inability to really take advantage of a mission that in the '50s and '60s, for all of its contradictions and all of its problems, at least had a sense that college was more than simply a job training opportunity or that the university was more than an adjunct of the military-industrial complex.

Henry, building on what you said about the university being in crisis, how has this shift that has taken place impacted education specifically in the liberal arts and the humanities, and how has it impacted the job market for academics? There are many in Greece, for instance, who view an academic career overseas as a "way out" of the crisis in their country.

I think two things have happened. I think that the liberal arts and the humanities are being defined as useless. They don't correlate well with the notion of the university as a factory. They don't correlate well with the university as a place that really is less interested in teaching kids how to think critically than it is about teaching them how to be semi-skilled workers. And it doesn't work well with the governing structure in the university that, in some fundamental ways, says "hey look, power is basically in the hands of CEOs; it's a business culture; we'll tell you what to do."

"The liberal arts and the humanities ... don't correlate well with the notion of the university as a factory."

While it is true that democratic visions and matters of critique and engaged analysis are not simply invested in humanities and the liberal arts, what is true is that the liberal arts and the humanities have a long history of supporting those ideals. Those ideals are not prized or in favor at this moment in higher education, except for the elite schools. Politicians from Arnie Duncan, the Secretary of Education, to a number of state politicians, education officials, and popular pundits scorn these ideals because they get in the way; they create problems for administrators who don't want critical faculty, who don't want students learning how to think, who want to build on the educational struggles that went on in the 1960s. Not only did you have students demanding all kinds of things, from more inclusive courses, eliminating racism, making schools more democratic, but they opened up schools - and this relates to your second question - these student struggles opened up schools in ways that allowed for the education of a variety of subordinate groups who were excluded from education - those others from the working class, low and middle income students, immigrants, poor minorities, and so it goes. See for instance, the brilliant work by Chris Newfield on this issue. This utterly petrified the right. The fact that blacks, minorities of race and color, and immigrants could become educated was a terrifying assumption for many right-wingers, to say the least.

"You opened up schools in ways that allowed for the education of a variety of subordinate groups who were excluded from education - those others from the working class, low and middle income students, immigrants, poor minorities, and so it goes.... This utterly petrified the right."

I think what we see now, and you have to connect the dots here...remember, you have a Republican Party in the United States that is doing everything it can to violate the Voting Rights Act. It's trying to limit, as much as possible, the ability of Black people to vote. Think about how that correlates so easily with making sure that tuitions are sky high in the schools, a policy that enables the evisceration from higher education of working-class people, poor minorities, people who are considered disposable, people who basically would never be able to afford college, unless they had adequate funds, adequate grants, adequate scholarships.

This is really not just about a predatory economic system trying to redistribute wealth from students to administrators to the military-industrial complex or the financial elite. It's also basically about a systemic policy of exclusion. So yes, I think there are questions of opportunity - as tuitions get raised to unbelievable heights, you have endless range of students who can't get in because the tuition is too high, or you have students who will be saddled with debt for the rest of their lives in a way so that they would never even imagine going into public service, because it doesn't provide the salaries that the private market does. I think when you begin to put these dots together, you begin to see how crucial education is to the neoliberal project.

People in Greece oftentimes have this perception that the international media operates on a very objective and credible do you see the media's role, however, in reinforcing this system of neoliberalism and casino capitalism?

I think it's silly, it borders on being silly if not utterly naive to assume that the media is somehow removed from questions of power. In the United States, the statistics are very clear. You have six major companies that control the media. The media is in the hands of corporate power. Whether we're talking about Fox News or any of these other right-wing groups, the Murdochs that control the media...where do you see left-wing analysis included in the mainsream media? Almost never. But if you look at the new media, if you look at alternative media, like the radio station I'm on right now, there are new spaces that are opening up and that's very encouraging, because it speaks to and encourages further cracks in the system that both limit the ability of the system, in light of these new technologies, to be able to wage the type of control that they have in the past, but also provide a space for more critical voices.

So in spite of that concentrated economic power in the media, which is far from objective and unbiased - the mainstream media for the most part is entirely tuned into reproducing a society that upholds massive class inequities, racist policies, an attack on women's reproductive rights, and holds hostage the future of young people at any cost, and whether that means further policies designed to destroy both a free press and country like Greece, or Spain, or Portugal, or Chile, or Argentina, they have no trouble with that; they don't think twice about it. These people are basically ideological lackeys. They're in the service of the financial elite, and that's what they do, they do their job. But to claim that they're objective, that makes no sense to me.

From a political point of view, we've seen a rising tide of authoritarianism and official far-right parties making electoral gains in recent years in numerous countries On the other hand, we've perhaps seen a failure of the left to respond to this new political climate. How would you characterize the response of the global left to this trend that we have been discussing?

I think there are three things missing from the left that need to be addressed. I think we need to be careful in assuming that the left has failed, as much as the left is learning as quickly as it possibly can about what it needs to do in light of policies that it's used in the past that don't basically work anymore, particularly when it comes to developing policies in a world in which power has become globalized. And I think the three things are this: first, I believe that the left has to become an international left. Power is now separated from politics, meaning that power is global and politics is local, so that local politics really has very little power; states really have very little power over corporate sovereignty anymore. They can't control it; it has an allegiance to no one; it floats above national boundaries. So we have to begin to think about ways to create movements, laws, policies that actually deal with this kind of global network of power. That's the first thing.

"States really have very little power over corporate sovereignty anymore. They can't control it; it has an allegiance to no one; it floats above national boundaries."

Secondly, I think the left has to take the question of education seriously. Education is not marginal to politics; it's central to politics! If we can't create the formative culture globally that allows people to understand that their interests are being trampled on, that they live in a political system that has been constructed by human beings and can be overturned by human beings, but also, a political, economic, and social system that has nothing to do with their needs, that basically exploits their needs, then people will not be moved to think critically and act collectively.

Thirdly, it seems to me that the left has got to get beyond demonstrations. I mean, it's got to come up with an international vision of what it wants to do, one that is flexible, so that it can work in associations with a variety of groups. For this to happen, it needs a comprehensive vision that brings various groups together so that it can develop an organization that basically is going to have some clout, and in some cases that means it can be involved in local elections, and in some cases it can develop third parties, and in some cases it can work with NGOs. But it's got to take the question of power seriously. Power is not just a one-shot deal. It doesn't mean you demonstrate in the street with 200,000 people and then you walk away. It's got to become more systemic. We need more than what my friend Stanley Aronowitz calls "signpost politics," the politics of banners. Mass demonstrations for climate change, for instance, are encouraging because the draw attention to a crucial threat to the planet and that's a pedagogical moment, but we have to go far beyond that. We need to create ideologically, politically, educationally, international organizations that can begin to bring their weight to bear on this global politics that now controls basically state politics and nations all across the world. This means moving from education to confrontation; it means moving from critique to action; it means moving from recognizing a crisis to the practice of freedom, one driven by sustainable organizations, self-sustaining resources, and the collective will to act.

'Thoughts on High-Priced Textbooks'

College textbook publishing became a racket since at least 1990, and it is pretty dirty racket with willing accomplishes in form of so called professors like Greg Mankiw. For instance, you can find a used 5th edition Mankiw introductory to Microeconomics for under $4.00, while a new 7th edition costs over $200.

Tim Taylor on why textbooks cost so much:

Thoughts on High-Priced Textbooks: High textbook prices are a pebble in the shoe of many college students. Sure, it's not the biggest financial issue they face, But it's a real and nagging annoyance that for hinders performance for many students. ...
David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein at National Public Radio took up this question recently on one of their "Planet Money" podcasts. ... For economists, a highlight is that they converse with Greg Mankiw, author of what is currently the best-selling introductory economics textbook, which as they point out is selling for $286 on Amazon. Maybe this is a good place to point out that I am not a neutral observer in this argument: The third edition of my own Principles of Economics textbook is available through Textbook Media. The pricing varies from $25 for online access to the book, up through $60 for both a paper copy (soft-cover, black and white) and online access.

Several explanations for high textbook prices are on offer. The standard arguments are that textbook companies are marketing selling to professors, not to students, and professors are not necessarily very sensitive to textbook prices. (Indeed, one can argue that before the rapid rise in textbook prices in the last couple of decades, it made sense for professors not to focus too much on textbook prices.) Competition in the textbook market is limited, and the big publishers load up their books with features that might appeal to professors: multi-colored hardcover books, with DVDs and online access, together with test banks that allow professors to give quizzes and tests that can be machine-graded. At many colleges and universities, the intro econ class is taught in a large lecture format, which can include hundreds or even several thousand students, as well as a flock of teaching assistants, so some form of computerized grading and feedback is almost a necessity. Some of the marketing by textbook companies involves paying professors for reviewing chapters--of course in the hope that such reviewers will adopt the book.

The NPR show casts much of this dynamic as a "principal-agent problem," the name for a situation in which one person (the "principal") wants another person (the "agent") to act on their behalf, but lacks the ability to observe or evaluate the actions of the agent in a complete way. Principal-agent analysis is often used, for example, to think about the problem of a manager motivating employees. But it can also be used to consider the issue of students (the "principals") wanting the professor (the "agent") to choose the book that will best suit the needs of the students, with all factors of price and quality duly taken into account. The NPR reporters quote one expert saying that the profit margin for high school textbooks is 5-10%, because those books decisions are made by school districts and states that negotiate hard. However, profit margins on college textbooks--where the textbook choice is often made by a professor who may not even know the price that students will pay--are more like 20%.

The NPR report suggests this principal-agent framework to Greg Mankiw, author of the top-selling $286 economic textbook. Mankiw points out that principal-agent problems are in no way nefarious, but come up in many contexts. For example, when you get an operation, you rely on the doctor to make choices that involve costs; when you get your car fixed, you rely on a mechanic to make choices that involve costs; when you are having home repairs done, you rely on a repair person or a contractor to make choices that involve costs. Mankiw argues that professors, acting as the agents of students, have legitimate reason to be concerned about tradeoffs of time and money. As he notes, a high quality book is more important "than saving them a few dollars"--and he suggests that saving $30 isn't worth it for a low-quality book.

But of course, in the real world there are more choices than a high-quality $286 book and a low-quality $256 book. The PIRG student surveys suggest that up to two-thirds of students are avoiding buying textbooks at all, even though they fear it will hurt their grade, or are shifting to other classes with lower textbook costs. If a student is working 10 hours a week at a part-time job, making $8/hour after taxes, then the difference between $286 book and a $60 book is 28.25 hours--nearly three weeks of part-time work. I am unaware of any evidence in which students were randomly assigned different textbooks but otherwise taught and evaluated in the same way, and kept time diaries, which would show that higher-priced books save time or improve academic performance. It is by no means obvious that a lower-cost book (yes, like my own) works less well for students than a higher-cost book from a big publisher. Some would put that point more strongly.

A final dynamic that may be contributing to higher-prices textbooks is a sort of vicious circle related to the textbook resale market. The NPR report says that when selling a textbook over a three-year edition, a typical pattern was that sales fell by half after the first year and again by half after the second year, as students who had bought the first edition resold the book to later students. Of course, this dynamic also means that many students who bought the book new are not really paying full-price, but instead paying the original price minus the resale price. The argument is that as textbooks have increased in price, the resale market has become ever-more active, so that sales of a textbook in later years have dwindled much more quickly. Textbook companies react to this process by charging more for the new textbook, which of course only spurs more activity in the resale market.

A big question for the future of textbooks is how and in what ways they migrate to electronic forms. On one side, the hope is that electronic textbooks will offer expanded functionality, as well as being cheaper. But this future is not foreordained. At least at present, my sense is that the functionality of reading and taking notes in online textbooks hasn't yet caught up to the ease of reading on paper. Technology and better screens may well shift this balance over time. But even setting aside questions of reading for long periods of time on screen, or taking notes on screen, at present it remains harder to skip around in a computerized text between what you are currently reading and the earlier text that you need to be checking, as well as skipping to various graphs, tables, and definitions. To say it more simply, in a number of subjects it may still be harder to study an on-line text than to study a paper text.

Moreover, as textbook manufacturers shift to an on-line world, they will bring with them their full bag of tricks for getting paid. The Senack report notes:

Today's marketplace offers more digital textbook options to the student consumer than ever. "Etextbooks" are digitized texts that students read on a laptop or tablet. Similar to PDF documents, e-textbooks enable students to annotate, highlight and search. The cost may be 40-50 percent of the print retail price, and access expires after 180 days. Publishers have introduced e-textbooks for nearly all their traditional textbook offerings. In addition, the emergence of the ereader like the Kindle and iPad, as well as the emergence of many e-textbook rental programs, all seemed to indicate that the e-textbook will alter the college textbook landscape for the better.

However, despite this shift, users of e-textbooks are subject to expiration dates, on-line codes that only work once, page printing limits, and other tactics that only serve to restrict use and increase cost.

Unfortunately for students, the publishing companies' venture into e-textbooks is a continuation of the practices they use to monopolize the print market.


My understanding is that there are cases where the professor requires the textbook he wrote and for which he receives royalties...

In such cases, the publisher and the professor's interests align against the student, who pays through the teeth.


good article but i have a real problem with introductory texts on economics

they are completely biased, mostly towards supply side of the debate

meaning, of course, they are wrong

if they just contained that which is undeniably true then ok, or if they presented it as this school of thought says this and that school of thought says the other, ok,

The Raven:

A general rule of thumb: half the selling price of a book is spent before the first impression is made on paper. Speaking as a very small publisher, I think the main problem is that the texts are expensive to produce.

They take a lot of editorial and design effort, so the fixed costs of textbook production are high, the production costs are often high, and textbook bestsellers are not common, so they don't usually make it up on volume.

Now, one could, for standard freshman and sophomore texts, aim at lower costs and higher volumes, but that's not academic publishing, and nothing is going to help with upper-level texts; the market is just not that big.

pgl -> to The Raven...

Excellent! With a high elasticity of demand, the increase in quantity beats the drop in price. Unless the marginal cost of printing books is higher than I suspect it is, Mankiw's publisher is not a profit maximizing monopolist. I'm telling you the best economics is right here and we don't charge $286!

The Raven -> to pgl...


You'd have to market a book *hard* to get that increase in demand, though. It's not a student-by-student sale decision; the professors have to be marketed. The other thing about publishing economics that people outside the industry don't realize: most books don't make much money, so publishers rely on the good-sellers and the best-sellers for much of their profits. If you've got something you're pretty sure is going to be in demand, *you mark it up,* because in William Golding's immortal phrase, "Nobody knows anything."

Over the past 25 or so years, the consolidation of publishing has put the money types more and more in control of the business. And the money types always want to only market best sellers. This is sort of like Germany saying that everyone should make money exporting. "That trick never works."

Now, if anyone wanted to bring the price of an Econ 101 book down, one could do a no-frills book, small, soft-covered, and strictly monochrome, or perhaps an ebook. (But watch out-only some ebook readers support mathematics well.) It might cost $50 or so (I'm guessing-I'm not a textbook publisher.) It would not look impressive, and this might make a problem for marketing, but students could still learn from it. And-who knows?-it might even sell.


The issue is that textbook publishers release new editions every couple of years. For many subjects, including economics, this is absurd. Sciences don't change that quickly.

For instance, you can find a used 5th edition Mankiw introductory to Microeconomics for under $4.00, while a new 7th edition costs over $200.

Has principles of microeconomics changed that much over the course of 6 years? No, but textbook companies make a few changes on the margin and charge you hundreds of dollars for a new edition. Many times, professors require online access codes to supplement their lecture. Therefore, the student is forced into the newer edition, in which often there is no substantial differences or major improvements in presenting the material.

When you have that sort of market power, it is easy to achieve economic rents.

pgl -> to T.J....

"Sciences don't change that quickly". One would hope those freshwater books changed after their utter failures to predict the most recent recession. But they likely haven't.

cm -> to T.J....

There are errata, and some content that the author has in mind doesn't make it into the first edition, or not at the intended quality/depth. Most people who have never published something substantial have no idea how much work it is to get non-fiction scientific/technical stuff publication ready. Not only on the author's part but also editing and proofreading/giving feedback at a collegial level. (Not meaning to knock down fiction, that's a different set of challenges.)

Bill Ellis:

Two Ideas I would like to see combined. A period of Universal public service that earns a free higher and or tech education. Something like the GI bill for all.

I think making universal public service a right of passage could help us be a more unified society. If we have kids from inner city Detroit, rural West Virginia, suburban San Francisco and the oil fields of Oklahoma working side by side it would open their eyes to each other in ways that are never experienced by most American kids who are living in communities of institutional self-segregation.

Having said that.. free education is a no brainer no matter what.
To cover everyone's tuition it would only cost us about forty billion more than the feds already spend on higher ed. That's a rounding error in terms of our total budget.

We subsidize big oil and gas to the tune of about 50 billion a year.

The maddening thing is that the national debate is not even close to taking Free Ed seriously. Instead Liz Warren is portrayed some kind of wild eyed radical for proposing a modest cut in interest rates on student loans and some narrow way to get some forgiveness of debt.

John Cummings:

It is part of the educational industrial complex(which include vouchers and government backed private school industrial complex)

Educational industrial complex
Military industrial complex
Medical industrial complex
Prison industrial complex

Fred C. Dobbs:

(Evidently, 'It's Economics 101'.)

Higher education: Why textbooks cost so much via @TheEconomist - Aug 16th 2014

Students can learn a lot about economics when they buy Greg Mankiw's "Principles of Economics"-even if they don't read it. Like many popular textbooks, it is horribly expensive: $292.17 on Amazon. Indeed, the nominal price of textbooks has risen more than fifteenfold since 1970, three times the rate of inflation (see chart, at link).

Like doctors prescribing drugs, professors assigning textbooks do not pay for the products themselves, so they have little incentive to pick cheap ones. Some assign books they have written themselves. The 20m post-secondary students in America often have little choice in the matter. Small wonder textbooks generate megabucks.

But hope is not lost for poor scholars. Foreign editions are easy to find online and often cheaper-sometimes by over 90%. Publishers can be litigious about this, but in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have the right to buy and resell copyrighted material obtained legally. Many university bookstores now let students rent books and return them. Publishers have begun to offer digital textbooks, which are cheaper but can't be resold. And if all else fails, there is always the library.

Related: How Your Textbook Dollars Are Divvied Up via @usnews - Aug 28, 2012

Fred C. Dobbs -> to Fred C. Dobbs...

(A bunch of experts discuss the matter.)

Room for Debate: The Real Cost of College Textbooks - July 2010

(Including a couple of economists!)

Fred C. Dobbs -> to Fred C. Dobbs...

How to Cut Your Textbook Costs in Half -- or More-Kiplinger - August 2014

(By renting e-books, donchaknow.)

(Turns out Mankiw's Econ textbook, which
currently costs $289 in hardcover from
Amazon, can be rented in Kindle format
for a mere $173 - for 180 days.)

(Hardcover rental is $70, however.)

Fred C. Dobbs -> to Fred C. Dobbs...

(Wait a second. The Federales fixed
this problem back in 2008...)

Advocates say a new set of federal provisions, aimed at driving down the cost of college textbooks, should help students this fall. On July 1, (2010) these rules took effect:

Publishers must give professors detailed information about textbook prices, revision histories and a list of alternate formats.

Publishers have to sell materials typically bundled with textbooks -- such as CDs, DVDs and workbooks -- separately so students don't have to buy them.

Colleges have to include in-course schedules with required textbooks for each class, including the book's price and International Standard Book Number, an identifying tool.

The protections, included in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, are an attempt to lessen student debt, said U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., on Wednesday.

"The cost of education is of concern not only to students and families but to the nation," Durbin said, explaining why the government got involved in textbook prices. "Students are emerging with more and more debt."

Charles Peterson:

A $289 econ text is only marked up 20% ???

I'm not sure how to account for this, but I believe a full account of markup should include royalties if they have become outrageous economic rent.

Jim Harrison:

Textbooks have been outrageously expensive for a long time, though some of the prices quoted in this article were astonishing to me and I used to be in the business. Nothing much has changed. The complaints and the defenses sound very familiar. Even in the 70s and 80s, publishers groused about how the used trade hurt their sales and the suggestion was repeatedly made that one way around the trap was to produce much cheaper texts and make up the difference on volume. Unfortunately, the numbers never add up for that business plan since the major textbook publishers have huge sunk costs in the big sales forces needed to support the current model. Anyhow, good cheap books have long been available for many big undergrad courses if profs want to assign them and don't mind producing their own tests and other teaching aids. A handful of profs do just that and were already doing it thirty years ago, but they are a distinct minority.

About the revision racket: the funny thing is that old editions of textbooks are often better than more recent editions. Market research makes good books worse in much the same way that it eventually screws up software by the relentless addition of bells and whistles. I'm a technical writer these days and keep copies of several old classics at hand when I need to brush up: Feynman's lectures on physics; the first edition of Freeman, Pisani, and Purves on Statistics; the 2nd edition of Linus Pauling's Intro Chem text; Goldstein on Thermo; and a real museum piece, Sylvaner Thomas' Calculus Made Easy. Many of these books have been reprinted by Dover and are available for peanuts.

To be fair, the high price for textbooks makes more sense in some fields than in others. The three or four year revision cycle is absurd for math books since the math remains the same decade after decade, but texts in areas like molecular biology really do have to be revised frequently and substantively, a very labor-intensive task. Which is why I give a pass to the Biology editors and the folks who struggle to update the Intermediate Accounting books with the latest FASB standards.

cm -> to Jim Harrison...

Can you elaborate on the revision "paradox"? Surely not only in very new fields, the state of the art progresses, or textbook authors see a need or opportunity to include new material (I suspect somebody setting out to write a comprehensive text has more ideas what to write about than can be finished at the required quality in the required time, for the first edition).

How would the subsequent editions be worse, if the new content is driven by the author and not by external marketing considerations, unless the new material is at the expense of older material (e.g. #pages limit)?

From my very limited experience, authors who are not in it for making a profit, and who write for a small market (selling up to a few thousand copies per year is a small market) run into substantial overhead costs for editing, marketing (i.e. making the existence of the book known to the target audience), and distribution, and basically have to do the work for free. Some, and perhaps most, certainly academic, publishers have "charity" programs where they publish small editions where they at best break even or even cross-subsidize them out of "full rate" publications. Then people complain about excessive prices for the latter.

Leading Edge Boomer:

Jeebus, $286 for a textbook, from an author who is often wrong lately? I co-authored a graduate computer science text (low volume = higher cost) that retailed in the low two digits.

cm -> to Leading Edge Boomer...

I will not comment on the author's merit or lack thereof, but $286 is really in "WTF" territory, for any textbook.

cm -> to Leading Edge Boomer...

I once contributed to a book, and the authors/editors decided to collectively waive their royalties to hit an affordable price (and I suspect it was still a charity deal on the part of the largely academic publisher). But I got my free copy.

Jim Harrison:

At least for big market textbooks, the motive for revisions is generally financial and that's as true for the authors as the publishers. In fact, the authors are often the ones who push for new editions as their royalty checks steadily diminish. In cases where it's the authors who are reluctant to revise for whatever reason, publishers often sweeten the deal with advances, grants, or other goodies.

I don't mean to be completely cynical. Authors and editors certainly try to produce a better product when they put out new editions, and it very often happens that the second edition is better than the first. Especially in later cycles, however, the changes are usually pretty cosmetic. The editor in charge of the project solicits advice from users and potential users and comes up with a list of "improvements" in a process not entirely different than what happens when various interests in Washington get their pet provisions put in a bill. If you think that professor X is likely to adopt the text if you go along with his ideas and plug his contributions in the acknowledgements, the idea is very likely to be irresistible.

The sales force also weighs in. They want feature they can tout; but since real improvements are hard to come by, that usually means more and more pedagogy: boxes, pictures, computer programs, and umpteen forms of emphasis. Let me assure you it takes desperate ingenuity to come up with something new to add to an Intermediate Algebra textbook. "Now with a new way to factor trinomials" isn't exactly a memorable pitch. Meanwhile, after three or four editions, the author, who presumably would be the best source of serious innovation for a new edition, is generally bored to death with the project.

As I said above, there are textbooks that really do need perpetually revision for substantive reasons; but in most fields what Freshmen and Sophomores need to learn has been known for a long time. My remarks on revisions also don't apply very well to upper level texts in smaller markets, in part because students tend to hang on to serious books in their majors so the companies have less incentive to beat the used book market with new editions.


From what I remember of my university days (in the long distant past), we didn't have text books (that was for school kids). We had lectures and lists of reading materials (that if we were lucky we could find in the library and photocopy relvant sections). I did have a copy of Samualson (relatively cheap). But the emphasis was on a reading a variety of sources. What has changed, and why?


P.S. Not have text books would have the advantage of ensuring that the students attended lectures and stayed awake during them.


No mention of the cost for this textbook...


My own biggest peeve concerns calculus textbooks, especially introductory calculus textbooks. The material hasn't changed in at least 60 years, if not longer. If it weren't for the current ridiculously long copyright terms people could just use old ones.

The last time I took the subject our professor went to some lengths to let us use the previous edition, which was available used. The only real change in the next edition was in the problems. That is, if a student was assigned "problem 8 in section xxx" having the most recent edition was the only way to know what the problem was.

I don't see any redeeming value in this.


My son took an intro geology course a few years ago. The textbook price at the school bookstore was about $125. He purchased the gray market (legal) "international edition" - word for word, page for page the same, but with a different picture on the cover - over the internet for about $50.

It's my understanding that this sort of price-differential is common. Mankiw's book appears to be available in the "international edition" for $60 (soft cover).

Please don't tell me that publishers and authors are not making money when they sell their books for US$50 or 60 in Australia.

Is the Master's Degree an Expensive Anachronism by Kevin Carey The Washington Monthly By Kevin Carey

I am not so sure. University provide an environment and time to learn. Too big compression of this time is counter-productive. Also quality of pears is an important learning factor, especially for programmers. I participated in several week long bootcamps and have a mixed feeling. If they are devotes to a narrow subject that you need to learn asap (like corporation software or OS courses) they are OK and better then campus study. In other areas they are extremely week as they do not create a real fundament of your knowledge. They teach specific application or OS and teach well. But that's it. And in any case in such cases it is better to go to a specific company courses like IBM courses then to some educational company.

For legions of new college graduates struggling to find good jobs in a weak labor market, "boot camps" are a faster and cheaper alternative to traditional grad school.

... ... ..

The differences don't stop there. GA uses a business and learning model that departs radically from established colleges and universities. Instead of enrolling in the expensive one- and two-year master's degrees that are increasingly becoming the norm for people trying to find a foothold in the job market, students at General Assembly's twelve campuses in America, Europe, Australia, and Asia take intense, eight- to twelve-week programs in high-demand fields like computer programming and designing the user experience for high-traffic commercial websites.

The goal isn't to teach them everything they need to know to be great in a job. The goal is to teach them just enough to start a career. Because when it comes to learning and work, the most important thing is work itself.

To enroll, students go through a job interview-like process designed to gauge their commitment to the $9,500 course.* Many for-profit colleges will accept virtually anyone who can sign their name on federal student loan documents.

The worst for-profits simply pass students through, imparting virtually no useful skills. GA doesn't take federal aid. The first page of its application says, "In addition to the 9am-5pm class time, you will spend 10+ hours a week building your portfolio and honing your skill set outside of class. Do you anticipate any barriers that would prevent you from devoting this time to the program?"

... ... ...

The differences don't stop there. GA uses a business and learning model that departs radically from established colleges and universities. Instead of enrolling in the expensive one- and two-year master's degrees that are increasingly becoming the norm for people trying to find a foothold in the job market, students at General Assembly's twelve campuses in America, Europe, Australia, and Asia take intense, eight- to twelve-week programs in high-demand fields like computer programming and designing the user experience for high-traffic commercial websites. The goal isn't to teach them everything they need to know to be great in a job. The goal is to teach them just enough to start a career. Because when it comes to learning and work, the most important thing is work itself.

To enroll, students go through a job interview-like process designed to gauge their commitment to the $9,500 course.* Many for-profit colleges will accept virtually anyone who can sign their name on federal student loan documents. The worst for-profits simply pass students through, imparting virtually no useful skills. GA doesn't take federal aid. The first page of its application says, "In addition to the 9am-5pm class time, you will spend 10+ hours a week building your portfolio and honing your skill set outside of class. Do you anticipate any barriers that would prevent you from devoting this time to the program?"

... ... ...

Yet there are reasons to question how much all those new business majors actually learned. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's 2010 book Academically Adrift tracked how much students learned in college. Those who majored in traditional subjects such as the social sciences, humanities, science, and math learned the most. Those who majored in business and communications learned the least. The study controlled for students' demographics and previous academic history. The difference seemed to lie with intensity-students in the traditional majors were asked to work harder and longer, and learned more as a result.

... ... ...

The resulting "no skills, no job; no job, no skills" dilemma for students only grew worse after the 2008 financial calamity. Every year, hundreds of thousands of undergraduates emerge from garden-variety colleges and universities lacking the selective admissions policies that send signals of cognitive ability and elite acculturation to the job market. In past recessions, college grads eventually found their way into the good parts of the labor market, albeit with some permanent scars to their long-term earnings potential. But this was the worst recession in living memory, and for many it came with new and unwanted baggage: debt. As late as the 1990s, most undergraduates finished college debt free. Now, nearly 70 percent leave owing close to $30,000 per year. For a substantial minority, the numbers are much worse.

... ... ...

Universities see master's degree programs as largely unregulated cash cows that help shore up their bottom line. Selective institutions monetize their brand names by offering expensive one-year "professional" or "executive" master's degrees with lax admissions criteria that don't have to be publicly disclosed. Enrolled students can defer paying off their undergraduate loans. This amounts to doubling down on the risky proposition that, armed only with academic credentials, they can break into the job market with enough success to pay even bigger loans back. Rising loan default rates suggest that many of them have been wrong.

Normally, organizations that under-serve and overcharge their customers are vulnerable to competition. But colleges are special-heavily subsidized by the government and protected by regulations that make it difficult for people with unorthodox business models to enter the market. So it's a mark of how bad the problem has become that a growing number of people are doing it anyway.

... ... ...

Some boot camps offer a full refund if students don't get a job paying a certain salary in six months; others charge no tuition and instead take a percentage of their graduate's first-year salary.

[Oct 12, 2014] Why Are Harvard Grads Still Flocking to Wall Street by Amy J. Binder

New career path for bright students: Elite university and then graveyard for the talent but with extremly good, addictive remuneration ;-)
The Washington Monthly
... ... ...

So what happened? The explanation starts with changes in how Wall Street firms and management consulting firms go about filling their ranks. Starting in the 1980s, these firms adopted a recruitment strategy that targeted undergraduate students at a handful of elite colleges in a way that other profitable, fast-growing industries-like the energy, health care, and high-tech sectors-did not.

This wasn't so much because banks and consulting firms had a greater demand for young brainpower. Rather, these other industries managed to find the talent they needed-to, say, devise new medicines or software or oil exploration techniques-from the broad array of American colleges and universities. While happy to hire Ivy Leaguers, they didn't inordinately seek them out. Wall Street and the consulting firms, by contrast, developed business models that relied on the appearance of brainpower in order to win clients. This put a premium on recruiting from a handful of universities with the highest worldwide brand equity. Top students from Purdue or UCLA might be just as good, or even better, at putting together spreadsheets. But being able to boast that you have a team of kids from Harvard is important when you are trying to sell high-cost consulting and financial services of uncertain value.

To get to those kids, the nation's top banks and consulting firms began by competing with each other to become "platinum" members of the career services programs run by the most elite schools. Winners of this pay-for-play competition get the best tables at campus career fairs, access to students' email in-boxes, entrée to the most impressive banquet rooms for holding information sessions and receptions, bundled delivery of applicants' résumés, and space and scheduled times to hold one-on-one interviews, among other goods and services known as "recruitment."

Marketing is heavy. Firms seek to make themselves the inevitable choice of students through slick video presentations, excellent food (more than one interviewee mentioned this perk), and a show of raw human talent. Investment banks and consulting firms do not send human resources personnel to work the room; they send teams of professionals to woo the young crowd, including recent graduates of the very schools where recruitment is taking place-an effective strategy for making the jobs relatable.

Most freshmen remain reasonably insulated from recruiters, but once students come back to school as sophomores they find it impossible not to notice their older peers' "stampede to start applying" for jobs on Wall Street, as Nathan, a Harvard alum, put it. Whether observing seniors going through recruitment for the two-year analyst jobs post-graduation, or juniors going through recruitment for coveted summer internships (which with luck and hard work can be converted to an offer for an analyst position the following year), younger students take notice.

Nathan, who successfully landed a junior internship and then a job at a top investment bank, told us how these presentations simultaneously warmed him up for these jobs and also wore him down. "At Harvard," he said, "you always want to seize every opportunity you can," which is why he went to the sessions offered by the firms and gathered the "glossy pamphlets," where everything "sounds so amazing."

... ... ...

Why are so many Harvard and Stanford students vulnerable to getting caught up in such competitions? Most are well aware that they are competing for a narrow band of jobs, and that however boring and purposeless those jobs may be, immediate prestige will go to the winners of this highly structured competition.

To say that this creates cognitive dissonance or, at the very least, ambivalence for many students is putting things mildly. They both accept and abhor that being recruited by Wall Street or certain consulting firms has become a measure of how smart and talented they are. Much of this ambivalence comes from the tension between, on the one hand, wanting an ideal job that would take advantage of their individual interests and passions and, on the other, landing a position that accelerates their careers and fits well within the prestige system as it has come to exist on campus.

... ... ...

Of the 31 percent of graduating Harvard seniors going into finance and consulting, only 6.39 percent say that they expect to remain in those sectors (0.68 percent of those going into consulting jobs and 5.71 percent of those heading to financial services

This mismatch between action and aspiration underscores how influential campus recruiters for Wall Street and consulting firms have become. Highly competitive, status-conscious students go to these firms because of the structured pathway that leads straight to them, even as they rationalize that they are on their way to some more noble end.

... ... ...

But the first step is for these elite schools to recognize that their students are flocking to Wall Street and consulting firms less by choice than because of a rigged recruiting game that the schools themselves have helped to create.

Amy J. Binder is a professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, where she studies higher education, politics, organizations, and culture. Her most recent books, Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives (coauthored with Kate Wood) was published by Princeton University Press in 2013.

[Oct 09, 2014] Want To Score High On The SAT? Pick Rich Parents

Oct 08, 2014 |

While money (reportedly) can't buy love, it appears, according to The WSJ, that it can buy brains. On average, based on calculations from FairTest, students in 2014 in every income bracket outscored students in a lower bracket on every section of the test.

Rather stunningly, students from the wealthiest families outscored those from the poorest by just shy of 400 points.

As WSJ's Josh Zumbrun so poetically notes, perhaps SAT should more appropriately stand for Student Affluence Test.

[Oct 08, 2014] 18 Sobering Facts About The Unprecedented Student Loan Debt Crisis In The US

Oct 08, 2014 | Zero Hedge

The student loan debt bubble in America is spiraling out of control, and it is financially crippling an entire generation of young Americans. At this point, the grand total of student loan debt in the United States has reached a staggering 1.2 trillion dollars, and an all-time record high 40 million Americans are currently paying off student loan debts. Just when our young people should be planning on buying homes and starting families, they find themselves financially paralyzed by oppressive levels of debt.

What makes all of this even worse is that only some of our college graduates are able to get the "good jobs" that we promised them.

[Oct 08, 2014] IMF warns period of ultra-low interest rates poses fresh financial crisis threat

Quote: "Now there is another "sure bet" for banks: student loans. Here's the deal: US law prevents student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy! Those loans may go into default, but they can't be escaped from. If they do go into default, the borrower's ability to get a car loan or a house loan goes to nil. Although talking heads in the media keep talking about the housing market comeback, student loan debt is going to hurt those prospects, for a couple of reasons. "
The Guardian

Blader, 08 October 2014 7:28pm

The US has a problem it has been ducking for years. One the one hand, real wages have been stagnant or dropping for many years (except for those at the top), yet the US economy depends heavily on consumer spending (69% of GDP according to the World Bank). Therein lies the problem: how do you keep consumer spending high while also reducing wages? First, offshore as much manufacturing as possible. This lowers product prices and eliminates the better-paying factory jobs at the same time, thus lowering wages. That's not enough though, to drive constant consumer spending. Here's the solution: sell everyone a house, thereby driving the housing market up. The paper value increases then serve a dual function: they form the basis for taking "equity" out by refinancing and higher real estate values result in higher property taxes, thus bringing in more revenue for towns and cities. Equity-out refinancing provides cash for consumer spending: everything from cars, appliances, clothes, to college tuition or vacations. Or even in speculative investing in the markets! As long as the housing market was going up, up, up this seemed to work just fine. I watched Jamie Dimon, head of JP Morgan, tell a Congressional committee that he "just never imagined the housing market would ever go down." But it did. The whole thing was a house of cards, a sort of Ponzi scheme that required ever larger numbers of homebuyers in order to stay afloat, and that in turn led to the more creative mortgage products: variable rate, interest only, liar loans, etc. And all of these were made possible because the secondary mortgage market (created conceptually by the big investment banks) led to very few banks holding mortgages. The notes and their accompanying mortgages were sold at a discount to bigger banks that then securitized them. This made it very easy for the institutions financing the actual real estate purchases to look the other way when it came to lending to unqualified borrowers, or taking advantage of inexperienced borrowers to sell them a mortgage product for which they qualified but which had a strong potential to fail. And of course in the end, the big banks learned nothing, because they were "too big to be allowed to fail" and likely because they have a practice of hiring their former regulators at peachy salaries (so how tough will those regulators be?)

The key to the whole thing was the idea that the US housing market had been "a sure bet" historically. Now there is another "sure bet" for banks: student loans. Here's the deal: US law prevents student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy! Those loans may go into default, but they can't be escaped from. If they do go into default, the borrower's ability to get a car loan or a house loan goes to nil. Although talking heads in the media keep talking about the housing market comeback, student loan debt is going to hurt those prospects, for a couple of reasons.

First, if recent grads (who would ordinarily be expected to begin focusing on buying a house) have large student loan debt to service, they will not have the cash to make mortgage payments. Second, mortgage lenders always want to have the "senior" debt. That way, if the bank has to foreclose on the borrower, the bank gets paid first. But if there's student loan debt, it could end up being "senior" to the mortgage bank's loan and if the borrower defaults on both then the student loan bank (for want of a better term) will get paid first from the proceeds of the foreclosure sale, meaning the mortgage lender may not recoup enough to cover what it's owed.

In the US college tuition costs have been skyrocketing - all out of proportion to other increasing costs. This suggests that there is a very large supply of "easy" money being made available for student loans, which in turn allows universities to increase their prices. We are now beginning to see cases where "for profit" colleges are springing up, and colleges in general are becoming more like processing plants rather than educational institutions. Along with this there is the longstanding belief that everyone should go to college. This sound familiar? Everyone should own a house - everyone should go to college. Same song, different key. And if you want to go to college, you most likely will have to take out loans. The ability to pay back those loans is predicated on an expectation that the graduate will be able to find employment with wages sufficient to service the loan. But that in turn is dependent on the labor market, and there are no guarantees (despite what education lenders say) that a graduate will in fact secure employment that pays enough to both service the loan and live independently.

It is getting dark. The chickens are headed home to roost. Maybe not today. But soon.

[Sep 10, 2014] John Oliver: Student Debt

September 9, 2014

John Oliver discusses student debt, which is a growing problem, as well as for-profit colleges, who proved to extremely inventive in finding ways to increase it making students "debt-slaves".

From comments to John Oliver Student Debt The Big Picture

Low Budget Dave, September 10, 2014 at 8:01 am

Actually, the law changed a few years ago to make it harder to discharge student loan debt through bankruptcy. Even when people list their student loan debt as one of the primary causes of their insolvency, their debt is only discharged about 40% of the time. (

This is because student-loan-industrial-complex worked many hard hours (and bribed many politicians) making sure that student loan debt was some of the hardest debt to discharge.

I am not saying it should be easier, but maybe we should at least give students the same subsidized rates that we give banks. (

4MYGRANDKIDS, September 10, 2014 at 7:03 am

Much more about this needs to be done to get out the word. Allowing "private industry" to milk the federal government by political parties is unconscionable. Tell everyone you know.

[Aug 17, 2014] Engineers are the lifeblood of a country – and the UK doesn't have enough by James Dyson

August 16, 2014 |, | Jump to comments (857)

The number of people taking science and maths A-levels is up for the fifth year running. Good, because I need some engineers. Rather a lot, in fact.

Unfazed by complex data and comfortable with technical theory and practice, engineers are a rarefied breed of problem-solvers. Or at least they are here in Britain. In the next six years, nearly 3m engineering jobs will be unfilled. With a shortage of supply, and growing demand, we certainly can't afford for the brightest minds to be snared by the City's big bucks.

Today, Dyson has a shortfall of 100 engineers. Next year we begin our £300m expansion, creating thousands of research and development roles in Wiltshire. I like our laboratories to be busy, creative hives buzzing with brain power – rather like a school. I don't like clinical white-coated silence. And so we need more "brains". Dyson needs them. Britain needs them. Otherwise we will lose out to China and India – countries that revere engineers – when it comes to developing, patenting and exporting new technology.

Twelve years ago, Dyson stopped assembling vacuums in the UK. One major reason was a failure to secure planning permission for a second factory adjacent to our existing one. Ironically, the factory we mothballed is now the R&D space we are outgrowing. The ironies continue: our new laboratories will rise on the very spot of our never-built second factory.

The closure of our assembly lines was painful, but it meant focusing on developing technology here in the UK. For example, our ultra-high-speed digital motors are conceived and engineered here. We've been developing them now for more than 15 years. They use new technology which makes them much smaller and more efficient – a revolution in motor design. I can say that, because I'm not clever enough to invent a motor. But I am lucky enough to work with people who are.

Every six seconds one of these motors rolls off the line. Actually it's more of a very accurate placing, and it's all totally automated, in Singapore – close to the lines that make the Airblade hand-dryers and cordless vacuums they are to propel, and close to Singapore's rapidly growing engineering talent pool.

Somewhere in that tale is a warning. Britain fell out of love with manufacturing, and emerging economies picked up the tools we'd downed. If the encouraging renaissance of science and engineering in schools is a dead cat bounce, we will fall out of love with invention too.

When you crunch the numbers, just 4% of this year's A-levels were in physics – an essential subject for most engineering courses. A problem. But the problems start even earlier. Research by the Royal Academy of Engineering shows that only half of 16-year-olds in England pass both GCSE maths and at least two sciences, meaning half of our young people are disadvantaged if they wish to pursue engineering.

Yes, science is perceived as hard. But a bigger problem is that young people don't know what a career in science or engineering offers. An engineer is not a man in greasy overalls or a harebrained oddball (though I have a soft spot for the latter). They are technologists, developing ideas to shape our future. That's why my foundation works with young people from primary school age to dispel the myths and help them discover what a career in engineering is like.

Science and design and technology in schools must highlight the excitement of developing ideas and experimenting with new materials – carbon fibre, not just cardboard. Learning by doing, failing in the process, and trying again. The classroom must equip young people with the skills to bring these ideas to life, and most importantly the enthusiasm to embark on further study.

We have seen exactly this. For the past two years we have been working with five schools in Bath encouraging students as young as 13 to discover the world of engineering – high-tech equipment working alongside an industry-relevant curriculum. Uptake in design and technology has increased by 200%, and crucially more girls are taking it up too.

I want the biggest discoveries of the future to take place on our soil. We must build on the reputation of our world-class universities. That starts by feeding in the best young people from our schools. If we get it right we will fill our pipeline with highly skilled inventors, develop patentable technology and export it around the world.

RobCNW6 -> Menger , 16 August 2014 3:53pm
I spy a rubbish, straw man neo-liberal argument.

No other country in the world thinks everything can be left purely to the free market and we can let industry sink and swim. All the successful countries have industrial policies.

Thankfully, with Vince Cable (no, don't laugh, this is true) we actually have the first industrial strategy in the UK in decades. Maybe it will work. After all, Labour didn't bother trying, did they? They were too busy lecturing the Germans on how "sclerotic" their manufacturing-based economy was.

patrick111, 16 August 2014 11:07am

Working in City of London is more paying, attractive and respectable than to be an Engineer in Britain. Surely the brightest would go for financial services.

bluejay2011 -> patrick111, 16 August 2014 11:29am

Surely there's an element of satisfaction that could lure "the brightest" back to engineering: being involved in a creative process that changes technology and the the way humans interact with the world.

In the city you may make some temporary money to spend on things others have made, but as an engineer you can (occasionally) change human destiny.

RedLaup -> patrick111, 16 August 2014 11:38am

You do not need to be "bright" to work in the city, let's nail that myth!!!

Billyandbenny, 16 August 2014 11:13am

Well, what do you expect? We allowed the unions to be destroyed, which allowed corporations to offshore most of our industrial production - and our engineering skills. Yes, we need more engineers but there will be no point in training more unless we take concrete steps to reinstate domestic production capacity.

This is a political 'hot potato' - donations - and the tragic irony of it is that the very people who cheered on the decimation of our working class now say that, rather than train our own engineers, we should import them as and when needed. It's all quite treasonous.

bailliegillies -> niko91, 16 August 2014 11:54am

In most cases it was not a matter of the production being placed offshore. It was more a matter that the UK industries could not produce goods as well and as cheaply as other countries.

Yet Germany doesn't have a problem, their goods are expensive and they pay their workers four times as much as British workers get. So no it's not simply about producing goods cheaper and quicker, there's something else at play and it's about profit as there is more money to be made manufacturing the goods in China and Korea than there is in the UK.

mugclass -> Billyandbenny, 16 August 2014 2:15pm

You are contradicting what Dyson is saying. He is stating that his company in the UK does not have a sufficient pool of young engineers, whereas you are saying there's no point training them without jobs available. I work in a manufacturing industry and we are on a continual hunt for young people with potential for engineering, but we also need university graduate engineers - of which there's a massive shortage - civil engineers, mechanical, bio mechanical etc. we've just taken on a 26 year old graduate Mechanical Engineer from Madrid, having failed to find a UK candidate.

He, on the other hand, couldn't find a well paid post in Spain so came to the UK. Remember there's a massive difference between an 'engineer' who mends your washing machine, and a professionally qualified graduate.

ID7776906 -> niko91, 16 August 2014 3:19pm

Yes between that and industrial spying and just improving upon the British and American inventions already in existence. Paying your work force in bags of rice and adding a few basic electric improvements for vanity it was simple for foreign nations to produce manufactured goods more cheaply and ship across the world. Who invented the steam engine ?Who invented the internal combustion engine,Who discovered vulcanized rubber and plastic and injection molding machines?

Michael Faraday and his development of the electric motor?The 1830`s steam carriages that pioneered automobiles? The triple expansion steam engine? I have yet to see any substantial earth shaking development from the Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans and Tesas and the Korean car firms, it`s all been simple convenient basic tuning of what has already been established by the West, and they took over the market without research and development costs and paying their workers a pittance starvation wages.

NomadEngineer -> bailliegillies, 16 August 2014 6:14pm

German 'workers' earn about the same as UK workers if you are referring to production line workers and technicians.

But Germany values its engineers, and their pay is excellent. A 'Diploma Engineer' has a higher status than lawyers, medics, financiers. That is the reason Germany's manufacturing is so successful.

This problem in the UK is two generations old. As a graduate engineer I worked in Germany around 1970, and could not believe how valued and supported I was, my productivity was three times that in the UK. I had beens seconded by my UK company, but found out I could earn twice my UK salary if I shifted employers.

For personal reasons I returned to the UK, but wish I could have stayed in Germany. It also explains why such a large percentage of scientists and engineers, graduating from our good universities, quit the UK, many for good.

It's better now, but the general public still can't differentiate between a highly qualified engineer and a mechanic.

Putting it briefly, an engineer uses maths where an accounant uses arithmetic, an engineer uses logic where a lawyer uses precedent, and I won't comment on the guesswork that financiers use.

I have since spent a good part of my life working outside the UK, though unlike many of my university compatriots, I have not quit the UK entirely.

bodrules -> theindyisbetter, 16 August 2014 7:29pm

The rot in R&D started waaay before the 80's - look at the machine tool industry (where Germany makes big bucks), that was effectively killed off by the early 70's in the UK - thanks to poor R&D (which UK companies are still poor at) plus they lacked investment into modern capital equipment etc

Just one example, then there's the advent of the petro-pound in the early 90's, the all round R&D debacle, poor industrial relations, poor levels of investment in training, UK consumers being willing to purchase cheap foreign imports, our very open markets, short term rent seeking and profit boosting etc all combine to make today.

thedavegray watersdeep, 16 August 2014 9:16pm

Wrong. Some German companies pay a 13th pay packet but certainly not all of them.

Tax is and the cost of living are higher in Germany too.

Happytravelling Billyandbenny, 16 August 2014 11:38pm

You're obviously not an engineer and you're talking rubbish.

Mismanagement and Destructive employee-employer relations led to the decline in UK mass manufacturing. And that was in part due to unions as well as poor management. You obviously don't remember red Robbo?

But small scale, high end manufacturing is very healthy in the UK.

The reality is, for high volume, low margin manufacturing to be viable in a high wage economy, high productivity and efficiency is essential.

watersdeep thedavegray, 17 August 2014 2:40pm

Wrong. Some German companies pay a 13th pay packet but certainly not all of them.

Tax is and the cost of living are higher in Germany too.

No, tax was about the same (i.e. no lower in the UK, even though the standard of living is lower). Housing is the major outgoing, Germans have a system where they save for a house. but most Germans rent (and the rental market is strictly controlled), and although not all companies may be paying a 13th month salary, most do.

We also received between 2,000 - 3,500€ in bonus once a year shared in the company, which was family run, and a small number of free shares at Christmas time. Now show me the UK company that does the same.

MohammedS chalkandcheese, 16 August 2014 11:53am

I don't think this is world wide. For instance many developing world universities have excellent engineering programmes and the likes of the USA strives to attract and retain engineers as it understands the importance of the sector. Here in the UK we live in a service sector reliant economy and production and design has taken not only a back seat but a space under the spare wheel! Until we have significant shifts in the way we think about our economy we will never attract or retain good engineers. And so fall behind everyone else year upon year.

bailliegillies chalkandcheese, 16 August 2014 12:01pm

No it isn't worldwide, very much a UK problem. When I left the oil industry they were throwing money at the few engineers and experienced people around and bringing in people from abroad. On one of my last contracts I had some from Australia who I had to instruct on the systems. Go take a look at what they're paying engineers offshore now compared to what they paid when I was working. Even taking into account inflation the rates for offshore have risen exponentially.

zeke2u MohammedS, 17 August 2014 11:44am

I think you'll find that the UK is more like the US than differs from it. The US economy is also highly financialised. This statistic says a lot: in Japan, engineers outnumber lawyers 10 to 1. In the US, there's 10 lawyers for every engineer. The steel industry in Japan was financed by US banks in the '60's, while the US was still in a monopoly position. GM, which employs ~300,000 people worldwide, use to employ that many in Detroit alone. The attack against industry in the US was motivated by the same reasons in both countries: that's where union concentration was the highest.

Williamlarge , 16 August 2014 11:32am
James Dyson is a right wing Tory. He off shores employment because it makes him more money not because he has an inherent love for English workers (which is the real reason why we lose out to India and China. Not because they have thousands of engineers, but their labour is cheap). He's always going on and on about engineers every time A level results come out, but you can't force someone to be one can you? I always find it strange how these right wing business men love the idea of social engineering when it comes to their own business, but shout 'socialism' if when there is a whiff of egalitarian politics.
exiledlondoner , 16 August 2014 11:32am

The closure of our assembly lines was painful, but it meant focusing on developing technology here in the UK. For example, our ultra-high-speed digital motors are conceived and engineered here.

"Conceived and engineered here" means "built somewhere else". For all his bollocks about 'pain', James Dyson moved production abroad because it was cheaper - assembly lines do not need hoards of engineering and physics graduates to work on them.

Meanwhile, his rival vacuum cleaner maker, Numatic, continue to make their excellent products in the UK (no gadgets, no gizmos - just really good machines), and actually do contribute to the UK economy, instead of just wrapping themselves in a far-eastern made union jack, and pretending to....

Has anyone seen a builder using a Dyson? In my experience, they all use Numatic 'Henry' machines....

spatterfest -> exiledlondoner, 16 August 2014 11:52am


Dyson's much trumpeted adoration of British engineers is largely garbage.

He likes British engineers in the areas where he can't find cheaper engineers elsewhere.

exiledlondoner theindyisbetter , 16 August 2014 12:23pm

I'm not sure why Dyson gets so much stick in the Guardian comments section.

Because he likes to present himself as something he's not - a patriot who cares about British manufacturing. In reality he's just another corporate suit making more profits by taking advantage of the low-wage, unregulated labour markets in Asia.

As far as I can tell it seems that Dyson employs roughly twice the number of people in the UK than Numatic do, and on better wages presumably (since according a Guardian report a few years ago the majority of Numatic employees are on a basic shop floor wage).

Dyson is a much bigger company - that's to be expected. The difference is that Dyson talks about British manufacturing, while Numatic actually make things here....

I know it does you no good if you were a factory shop floor worker, but as far as I can see Dyson now employs more people in the UK than they did when the factory was here - just doing different things.

He may have finally got back to the employment levels he reached before he sacked his workers and exported their jobs, but this is a south east Asian success story - not a British one. Most of Dyson's employees and his profits are not here.

Dyson are hardly the only company to do this, so why the animosity?

Other foreign companies don't lecture me about how the UK should be run, and how much they care for all the people here they've made redundant to increase their profits.

Dyson is to all intents and purposes a foreign company. James Dyson should lecture the Malaysians and the people of Singapore - not us.

NotForTurning jusi , 16 August 2014 2:48pm

"Engineers are the lifeblood of a country"

Typical case of tunnel vision.

A teacher would say the same of teachers. A politician of politicians. A banker of bankers. But a nurse wouldn't. Really, this is just silly stuff and is the product of a narrowed mind.

And the irony is that in consideration of the heavy, expensive, cumbersome, fragile vaccuum cleaners, he should really be saying that marketing men

RedLaup, 16 August 2014 11:37am

Students perception of engineering is a very valid point. Engineering needs to sell itself! Too many students are bowled over by hyped up media, finance and law careers. Glamorous films and tv series are not set in engineering environments. The whole engineering community needs to get together and present a coordinated PR and educational campaign. I would love my son to go into engineering.

OffensiveUnsuitable RedLaup, 16 August 2014 3:04pm

Too many children are put off maths & science subjects by the curriculums and the way they are taught. Make them more accessible for those who cannot see the point. When I was in graduate school, we had an eminent professor of structural engineering, Mario Salvadori who, twice a week, used to teach teenagers in Harlem an evening class in statics and strengths of structures. He used props: for instance, he had a long piece of foam rubber that he used to demonstrate tension & compression in simply supported beams vs fixed beams and cantilevered beams - oh, and he taught it using no mathematics, because so many people are intimidated by maths.

Maurice Walshe RedLaup, 16 August 2014 4:52pm

As the drifters said its "money honey"

BeastNeedsMoreTorque RedLaup, 16 August 2014 8:20pm

There's a lot of Physics PhD's working in finance.

The astronomical wages in finance have sucked in brains from many fields.

There are and will be consequences from that.

This article is very poor. It trots out the old cliches about why there are shortages of engineers. Yet never mentions the wages of the finance sector as a factor.

WilliamAshbless -> RedLaup, 17 August 2014 9:32am

Glamorous films and tv series are not set in engineering environments.

Who makes these tv series? Arts graduates of course.
Do Arts graduates think engineering glamorous? Clearly not.
But this is, no doubt, the same the world over. Yet Germany and Switzerland they have high wage economies with significant exports and a positive balance of trade. How come? It's not as if their media are engineering propagandists. Likewise the UK, Switzerland has a big finance sector.

I, personally, put it down to the culture of the elites. The elites decide pay grades; and they pay themselves most. UK elite culture goes back decades; if not centuries. How many engineers are MPs? 1, 2, 0? Every single member of the Chinese politburo are engineering PhDs.

WilliamAshbless RedLaup , 17 August 2014 10:39am
Have a look at the Guardian's news front page today:

Interview with Liv Tyler: actress
Interview with Sofie Gråbøl: actress
Interview with Kim Dotcom: hardly an engineer
Interview with Mo Farah: sportsman
Interview with Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike: actors
Interview with Jackie Chan: actor
Tribute to Lauren Bacall: actress

These are the people we want to read about - engineering is, indeed, not glamorous and no amount of propaganda is going to get Guardian journalists to change that. Yet these glamorised people are, by and large, actors. Guardian writers aren't glamorizing lawyers, bankers, dentists, accountants and salespeople. There's quite a lot of media portrayal of police; especially detectives but I don't necessarily see that as glamorizing crime fighting. Accountancy must be just about the most unglamourous job going. Does that explain the status of accounts in the UK w.r.t. engineers? No.

WilliamAshbless WilliamAshbless , 17 August 2014 10:41am

Does that explain the status of accountants in the UK w.r.t. engineers? No.

Arhhh. When will we get an edit button on CiF? It need only last 4 minutes.
PeterS378 , 16 August 2014 11:37am

Engineers are the lifeblood of a country – and the UK doesn't have enough

Engineering degrees are demanding, and at the end, pay relatively poorly, even at graduate level, let alone after a few years:

Average graduate starting salary, by sector:

Investment Banking £45,000
Law £38,000
Oil and Energy £32,500
Media £32,000
Consulting £31,500
Dentistry £31,000
Banking and Finance £30,000
IT and Telecommunications £30,000
Armed Forces £29,500
Medicine £29,000
Accounting and Professional Services £28,000
Chemical and Pharmaceutical £27,500
Engineering and Industrial £26,500
Retail £24,000
Public Sector £23,000

If you want more engineers, pay them more


16 August 2014 11:41am

An engineer is not a man in greasy overalls or a harebrained oddball

Problem is that our political leaders believe just the opposite - and why wouldn't they? Davo's a jumped up PR man and Milbo's a political policy wonk. Ultimate irony though is that the person who destroyed manufacturing in the country was actually a qualified Chemist!

No chance of Engineers being as respected and valued as much here as they are in Germany until we get someone in government who is one. Government advisors on Science & Technology have been completely anonymous - can you even name one?? - and if you can, tell us one thing that

Freeport PacoFleyas

16 August 2014 11:55am

No chance of Engineers being as respected and valued as much here as they are in Germany until we get someone in government who is one.

You mean Dennis Healey, Major in the Royal Engineers and in charge of the landings at Anzio. He realised that wasting time and money keeping dead engineering companies going was a total non-starter, even before Thatcher. The left hated him for telling them the reality.

theindyisbetter PacoFleyas, 16 August 2014 11:59am

the person who destroyed manufacturing in the country was actually a qualified Chemist

Blaming Thatch for everything again. If you actually look at the facts, Brown/Blair were much worse.

Never mind Thatcherism. As McFadden confessed, the former Labour government "came late to the game". Only after the financial collapse did it remember there were still these buildings called factories with owners and workers who deserved to be helped and encouraged. Under Blair and Brown, manufacturing jobs shrank from 4.1m to 2.6m, and manufacturing's share of GDP from 18% to 13%.

ID1298062 , 16 August 2014 1:11pm

In Germany, engineers are respected as much as doctor's and lawyers, it's not the same in the UK. I met a German business graduate and told him I had an engineering degree, he said he wasn't smart enough to be an engineer. Here, business graduates are put on a pedestal above engineers, which puts engineers off. Bean counters are rewarded a lot more than those that produce tangible products.

semyorka, 16 August 2014 1:19pm

I have to say that a part of this is the English maths A level structure. In most countries your maths final year is 1\6th of what you need to learn in England it is 1/3rd or 2/3rds. Too many people are put off maths by it being a difficult subject that you have to immerse yourself in at high school level.

This runs contrary to the mantra from certain universities that we are not educating our school leavers to be good enough for their undergrad maths courses.

But to turn high school maths into little more than a preparatory system for the most elite maths specialists means we are putting off the huge number of mid level grads who have decent maths skills but will not need to be competing for Fields Medals.

pretendname, 16 August 2014 1:25pm

The UK has plenty of engineers. It's just that they end up having to go into other careers because being an Engineer doesn't pay enough.

Corozin, 16 August 2014 1:30pm

I am frankly getting quick sick of reading articles by Dyson bemoning the lack of engineering talent in the UK.

This is, after all, the man who shafted a vast proportion of his workforce only a few years ago when he moved his factory production offshore. The way he bangs the patriotic drum makes me puke.

1789wasAgoodYear, 16 August 2014 1:30pm

How can you say this? Everyone is an engineer these days. We've got Sanitation Engineers, Domestic Engineers, etc..

The problem is many Engineers of the variety you're speaking of have had their jobs and pay downgraded by everyone being an engineer.

ian barton, 16 August 2014 1:38pm

I am an ex toolmaker who had to do a six year apprenticeship, got fed up of getting dirty everyday and of other people who look down on you because you get your hands dirty,

I now work in IT, I get paid more but I still get emails asking if I want a toolmaker contract for about £10 an hour, why? I can stack shelves for this and have no responsibility, and go home at night no thinking what might happen the the cnc machine that I have progrmmed. This counrty was built on manufacturing like Germany,look where Germany is now,they still manufacture and make profit.

all we have are low paid unskilled jobs or highly skilled jobs the uk company's wan't
people for but won't pay to train these youg people incase they leave for more money,why not have a transfer fee like football,if someone whant's to leave for anther company fine but the must pay a fee to the company who paid to train them.

slapmatt ian barton, 16 August 2014 3:02pm

Germany GDP by sector
Agriculture: 0.8%,
Manufacturing: 28%,
services: 71.2%

UK GDP by sector
Agriculture: 0.7%
Manufacturing: 21.5%
Services: 77.8%

Hardly a massive difference between the contributions made by manufacturing in Germany and the UK, despite all the myths.

felixzacat, 16 August 2014 1:42pm

As a software engineer you can build automatic trading software, which will mean city traders will lose their jobs. I think that's a good thing :)

JBigglesworth, 16 August 2014 1:44pm

James, as a Tory fanboy, how do you think Gove and his party and their media cronies' persistent denigration of vocational education in favour of such vital subjects as Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew (EBacc subjects that "count"!) promote the development of engineers?

If only so many entry-level engineering jobs hadn't been farmed out to India and China....James, are you listening??

What we need is proper vocational education that is considered as "enabling" as academic subjects, proper career pathways and respect for engineers with appropriate salary levels and an industrial base that means that the few engineers we have don't have to move to India, China and Korea to earn a living.

But that will require putting a brake on off-shoring (I'm sure it truly was the permissive planning regime and absolutely not the ability to make enormous margins that encouraged you to move!), investment in State schools, and the kind of long term plan that costs serious money; all of which are anathema to the Tory-loving, short-termist, quick-buck spivvery that dominates this country. You never know, you might get fewer Chinese copyright infringements then too James!

heringgull, 16 August 2014 1:50pm

BROKER 98 000
LAWYER 71 000

Physicist 49 000
ELECTR. Enginer 43 000
Engineer 40 000 ----- from this is mones 1/2013

any question why there is a shortage of technical experts or researchers ?

epidavros heringgull, 16 August 2014 1:56pm

I left semiconductor physics research because it was woefully paid and had dreadful job security. We do almost none of it now in the UK, and having invented the programmable computer have absolutely no leading companies in the field.

jgharston epidavros, 16 August 2014 3:34pm


[Jun 15, 2014] Gates urges Stanford grads not to focus on profit alone - Computerworld by Martyn Williams

June 15, 2014 |

Gates urges Stanford grads not to focus on profit alone. If innovation is only market-driven, inventions may leave the world even more divided, he said

Bill and Melinda Gates told graduating students at Stanford University on Sunday that innovation for profit alone will not solve the most pressing problems facing the planet.

Delivering the university's first joint commencement address, the two spoke of their admiration for Stanford and the "flexibility of mind" and "openness to change" it creates. But they urged students to take on problems like poverty and disease and not be driven by profit alone.

It was a good time to remind the university's roughly 5,000 graduating students of their potential to bring about change. Many will leave Stanford to join start-ups or form their own companies, and this is the time they are formulating plans for what they hope to achieve.

"There are so many remarkable things going on here at this campus, but if Melinda and I had to put into one word what we love most about Stanford, it's the optimism," said Bill Gates. "There's an infectious feeling here that innovation can solve almost every problem."

Bill Gates was one such optimist in the mid-90s when Microsoft was donating computers to help bridge the digital divide. But while the project found a measure of success in the U.S., a trip to South Africa taught him a lot.

"My visit to Soweto became an early lesson in how naive I was," Gates said of his visit to a community center there that had received computers.

"It became clear to me, very quickly, that this was not the United States. The people there lived in corrugated tin shacks with no electricity, no water, no toilets. Most people didn't wear shoes. They walked barefoot along the streets, except there were no streets, just ruts in the mud."

There was no electric power at the community center so an extension cord ran 200 feet from a diesel generator to power the PCs.

"Looking at this setup, I knew the minute the reporters left, the generator would [be put] to a more urgent task. And the people at the community center would worry about problems that couldn't be solved by a personal computer," he said.

So now, despite having amassed a fortune from the PC industry, much of Bill and Melinda Gates' work involves not smartphones and software, or bringing isolated villages online, but the less glamorous work of developing vaccines for HIV, polio, and malaria and the ways people can lift themselves out of poverty.

Ask people if the world will get better in future and many reply that it will not, Bill Gates said.

"The pessimists are wrong, in my view. But they are not crazy. If innovation is purely market driven, and we don't focus on the big inequities, then we could have amazing advances in inventions that leave the world even more divided," he said.

"If our optimism doesn't address the problems that affect so many of our fellow human beings, then our optimism needs more empathy. If empathy channels our optimism, we will [address] the poverty and the disease and the poor schools."

The problems the graduates choose to focus on will determine whether the world gets better, he said.

"If your world is wide, you can create the future we all want. If your world is narrow, you may create the future the pessimists fear," Gates said.

"As I started learning in Soweto, if we are going to make our optimism matter to everyone and empower people everywhere, we need to see the lives of those most in need. If we have optimism without empathy, it doesn't matter how much we master the secrets of science. We are not really solving problems," he said. "We are just working on puzzles."

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is

[May 12, 2014] Prufrock May 8, 2014

The State of the American University:

It has been awhile since I've done one of these, but there have been a number of interesting articles on higher education in America this past week that are worth rounding up.

Ross Douthat: College is "the Great Unequalizer" Noah Millman: "sounds like [a] massive market failure"

College, sexual anarchy, and sex crimes: "The lifting of in loco parentis rules on college campuses was done in the name of liberating students - adults - from the watchful and even invasive eye of campus authorities. It has led to a condition of sexual anarchy in which young women especially seem to be vulnerable ("compounded by a culture of binge drinking"), according to the New York Times article. But one must speak of their safety, not vulnerability. As a consequence of that liberation, campuses are now being required by the federal government to be more aggressive in investigating and bringing forward for prosecution those who have been accused of various forms of sexual assault. Having gotten out of the business of overseeing and seeking to guide the behaviors of young people, universities are now being required by the government to investigate and potentially punish offenders after incidents have occurred."

Saving higher education from "middle-class tyranny"?

David Brooks on the changing attitudes of freshman: "Human nature hasn't changed much. The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes."

Elite college graduates and happiness:

Advice to Millennials from a Gen X professor: "You need to put away your smart phones, spend some time alone, and maybe get cynical once in a blue moon."

[Apr 23, 2014] 460,000 people with college degrees are working in minimum wage jobs by Kathleen Geier

According to the report, there are 260,000 worker's with bachelor's degrees and 200,000 workers with associate's degrees who are making the minimum wage.
April 06, 2014 | The Washington Monthly

One common refrain we hear from a lot of conservatives, and some centrists, too, is that the reason many Americans aren't getting ahead in this economy is that they're "unskilled" and undereducated. If only they went to college - that would do the trick! Sending more people to college has been recommended as the main policy fix for inequality by everyone from the National Review's Marcus Winters to center/left economists like Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz.

While making college more affordable is a great idea, there are good reasons to be extremely skeptical about the notion that an undereducated workforce is to blame for soaring economic inequality. Evidence that is supportive of that skepticism can be found in the Bureau of Labor Statistics report released last month, Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers, 2013.

According to the report, there are 260,000 worker's with bachelor's degrees and 200,000 workers with associate's degrees who are making the minimum wage. As a reminder, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and the minimum wage for tipped workers is a shockingly low $2.13 an hour. In some cities and states, the minimum wage is higher, but the BLS report defines only those making $7.25 an hour or less as "minimum wage workers."

Some other fun facts about the minimum wage: the U.S. has the third lowest minimum wage of any OECD country, the value of the minimum wage has declined dramatically since its peak in 1968, and about half of the increase in inequality in the bottom half of the income distribution is due to the decline in the minimum wage.

Something has gone terribly wrong here.

[Apr 23, 2014] Hungry students, how common ?

Apr 19, 2014 |

Gud (78635) points to this story in the Washington Post about students having having trouble with paying for both food and school.

"I recall a number of these experiences from my time as grad student. I remember choosing between eating, living in bad neighborhoods, putting gas in the car, etc. Me and my fellow students still refer to ourselves as the 'starving grad students.' Today we laugh about these experiences because we all got good jobs that lifted us out of poverty, but not everyone is that fortunate. I wonder how many students are having hard time concentrating on their studies due to worrying where the next meal comes from.

In the article I found the attitude of collage admins to the idea of meal plan point sharing, telling as how little they care about anything else but soak students & parents for fees and pester them later on with requests for donations.

Last year I did the college tour for my first child, after reading the article, some of the comments I heard on that tour started making more sense. Like 'During exams you go to the dining hall in the morning, eat and study all day for one swipe' or 'One student is doing study on what happens when you live only on Ramen noodles!'

How common is 'food insecurity in college or high school'? What tricks can you share with current students?"


You don't hear about the failures

...because no one wants to tell you about those, of course not - who wants to admit they didn't make it after all of those hardships?

I took an education in Animation, very VERY expensive, cost me a HUGE fortune (which I took up a loan for, and worked in a computer store to pay off), did I end up working for Disney? No. Despite winning TWO FILM AWARDS - I still didn't get a job with Pixar or the likes, why? Did I suck? No - I just didn't have the right connections, and I didn't even understand how important it is to have the right connections, and NOT to piss off the wrong people.

I spent the next 10 years paying of my study debts, I'm finally free. But I don't regret anything, if I didn't do it - I'd spend the rest of my life wondering how things would have turned out if I did it, if I really just took the plunge and went for it. Well - I did...and it didn't turn out as I expect it.

But you know what? Everything you learn in life - you'll eventually get some use out of, I use my former education to work in advertising, using my animation skills in a technical sense, earning my living that way. Nothing is ever 100% black & white.


I'm curious what you are doing now then? If I had the skills, I'd try to use Blender (or whatever) and start my own studio if I couldn't get hired by the big boys/girls. Connections would still be a problem though for distribution, but now you know that and could alleviate it.


I currently use Blender, I'm also a 3Dstudio max user. Right now, I am a 3D graphics artist in a small town. Between jobs, I work as a teacher, it's a small town, I have my own house here...that's why I don't work in the big cities. It's my own choice.


re: degrees (Score:4, Informative)

The funny thing is, I'm hearing the exact opposite complaint coming from some of the people with many years of actual work experience in their fields. They're saying that recently, the college grads with a B.S. or Masters in the field are getting hired over those with real experience.

I don't know? Personally, I suspect the REAL issue is just a high unemployment rate overall. We're all stuck in a "buyer's market" when it comes to those doing the hiring, so expectations and requirements are very high, and opportunity to get hired is low. No matter where you're at on the education and/or skills ladder, it's difficult to get hired right now. So people begin tossing out accusations, trying to explain why they can't get jobs.

I've worked in I.T. for over 25 years myself, and yet I don't have a degree. (I'm one of those people with "some college", meaning a few classes shy of an Associates' degree.) I've *definitely* encountered my share of jobs I was passed over for because someone really considered the degree of prime importance. Yet I don't think my track record for employment is really any worse than my counterparts who did have the 4 year degrees. Yeah, some of them earned $20K - $50K/yr. more than I did, especially during the dot-com boom era.... but in the long-haul?

A lot of them lost those high-paying jobs when budget cuts or corporate mergers came around and they had to accept less to get back into the ranks of the employed. Others just got burnt out on I.T. completely and changed careers.

Meanwhile, I don't have all the college debt they had to pay off, and since my salary has been relatively steady for the last decade or more, I didn't get so caught up in the thing of moving to a more expensive area, buying a large house, etc. -- only to have to give it all up when times got rough.

There's a key difference though between the "old guys" like myself and people trying to get a start in I.T. today. I think most of us who lived and breathed computers in the 80's really got into it when it was still a hobbyist's world. Corporate America wasn't even really looking at home computers as more than a passing fad, or something to just "keep an eye on, in case it eventually became useful".

When you bought a computer ,you got a 200-300 page manual you had to read, cover to cover, to learn how to make it work. You might have shared knowledge with a few friends you made who owned the same machine, or joined some computer club in town. But all in all, you had to be really motivated to learn it, hands-on. Otherwise, why even waste time with it?

My college courses in anything resembling I.T. were largely a joke. Either I knew way more than the professors did, or the courses went in depth on something I didn't know much about because truthfully, it DIDN'T MATTER in the grand scheme of I.T.

These days, I think colleges have figured out much more about what people actually need to know to be successful in I.T. -- and you actually *can* take classes and learn really useful material. At the same time, I see a lot of younger people who seem to be just as "into computers" as I was growing up, but they focus on much different things; social media, web sites, mobile device apps, and MMORPGs that can really suck up a LOT of one's time. It's all pretty cool and entertaining stuff -- but won't translate that well to a career doing network or systems administration, working as a PC support specialist, or systems analyst.


Here's a trick: Don't live in the U.S.

Sure, the 'best' schools are there, but who cares if you're walking the edge of malnutrition in order to pay for class, gas, and books? Emigrate to an actual civilized country instead of a pretend one.

Well considering that..
... 80% of you in the US are competing over 5% of the money in the economy, you guys have no idea how unequal your society has become and you keep voting for more of getting screwed. [] [] []

not poor

If someone still owns a car and has a place to live they are not poor. I have know students so poor that they are homeless.


Re:not poor

I could not afford a car until I had been working for a year after grad school. While in school I had a 3rd floor walk-up and a 10-speed bike. My Hungarian landlady taught me how to make Chicken Paprikash. Buying whole chickens, fresh vegetables, rice and flour in bulk is cheaper than prepared foods (except I still bought macaroni and cheese, of course).

I worked as a dishwasher, graded exams, repaired equipment in the EE lab, ran statisical analysis for researchers, whatever I could get. It's not hard to get by if you can live simply and are willing to work.

The city where I went to school, Pittsburgh, has great parks and museums and the best football team in the world.


Definitely didn't starve during gradschool

I recently graduated from gradschool in computer engineering. I had a $30k per year stipend on top of my tuition remission (18 credits per year totaling $25k ). Lived in a 1200 sq. ft. 2 bed/2 bath apartment for 5 years. If you're starving during grad school you're probably in the humanities or doing it wrong.

experience with graduate TAs and RAs. A close grad student friend worked out that his stipend was so low that he (and all other similarly paid grad students int he department) qualified for food stamps. He jokingly told one of the other grad students when he was within earshot of a professor, and got called into a meet


Grad school is voluntary... (Score:5, Insightful)

...if you don't have the means and/or resources necessary to live comfortably during that period AND you're not willing to make the sacrifices necessary otherwise - then don't go.

Seriously, wtf is up with people thinking that they should get everything they want all the time?


Never forget where you came from (Score:3, Interesting)

I finished my CS PhD about 10 years ago at a top-20 US university. My first year I was not paid, but after I hooked onto an advisor later, I received an RA or TA position for $23k/year, and in my last few years, I received a fellowship for about $40k/year.

That first year was horrible. I recall eating spaghetti and ketchup, and I distinctly remember having to ask one of my rich friends for a $500 loan just to pay my rent one month. That was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life, and it really shaped my financial planning. Now, 10 years later, although I'm making well over $150k/year, I keep my expenses very low like I'm still a grad student, and I always have at least 6 months' expenses in short-term accounts.

Bryan Ischo

Re: Never forget where you came from

Ah spaghetti and ketchup. Nice combo.

Some of my favorites from my college days were:

- A boiled potato with a slice of American cheese
- A cup of white rice with a handful of peanuts

I was hungry much of the time the last couple of years in college, but mostly that was from stupidity (losing money for dumb reasons) and hubris (refusing to accept any assistance from my parents).

In Pittsburgh (I went to CMU) there used to be a grocery store that would sell expired food ("Groceries Plus More II" was its name). That was a godsend. You'd never know what you'd get each time you went since their stock was determined by whatever expired goods they could procure that week, but whatever you ended up with was usually for pennies on the dollar. Who cares if a can of spaghetti sauce expired two weeks ago, if it is only a quarter, I'll take it.

Nobody actually starves in college or grad school, and going hungry and living on the cheap is one of the charms of that time of life. So enjoy it.


And it's also unnecessary

I don't know about other states, but in Virginia you can go to community college and then get a guaranteed transfer to a 4 year state university if you have at least a 3.0 upon graduation. If you live near Virginia and your state schools are subpar, then all you have to do is move to the town where you want to start, declare residency and apply after one year to the community college to get in state tuition. Want to go out of state and find it a burden to pay $25k/year instead of deferred gratification of one year for less than $5k-$7k/year?

Only got yourself to blame. It's not fair, but I doubt most of the world's poor would cry a single tear for you due to your inability to wait one year to save $15-$20k/year.


Get creative

I subsisted on Ramen and chicken pot pies because they were cheap (4/1$ for Ramen, 2/1$ for chicken pot pies). Even the cheapest dollar meal at the local fast food didn't have as many calories. But, no, I didn't worry about food all that much.

First thing is to learn to cook. It's generally cheaper to buy family portions and make your own than to buy individual meals. For example, a bag of rice is $10, but can act as bulk in many meals such as fried rice, chicken & rice, steamed rice with butter & onions.. Yeah, doesn't sound too appetizing, but it can be. Fried rice, for example, is easy to make. For about 20$ worth of ingredients, you can have 10 meals. Just need rice, an egg or two, onions, salami/pepperoni, etc.. You can buy a pack of miso for around $4. Add firm tofu ($3) or chicken chunks ($4) and dried seaweed ($3) and you can make soup for 10 people. Buying a bulk pack of 50 tacos will set you back around $10; add a couple pounds of beef (10$), lettuce (2$), cheese ($5), etc., and you can feed 10 people for $50 or so.

Next, use coupons and shop of two-for-one days. You can easily save 50% of your bill just by using coupons and shopping on the right days. Avoid individual meal items such as can soda and even White Castle burgers.

You can also show up at friends/relatives around dinner time but use that only as a last resort unless you're really tight with them. Make friends with someone who works at a pizza shop.


I'm not worried about poor students

right now. But wages have been in decline for 30 years. A little mis management is one thing (Mitt Rhomney was famously so broke at one point he had to sell the stocks his dad gave him to make ends meet :P ), but we're getting to the point where it's impossible to "work your way through college".

For one thing, when we say "Wages Adjusted for Inflation" we mean inflation as a whole, but the cost of food and shelter (what college kids spend most of their money on, jokes about Ramen & Natty Lite aside) have gone up much faster than inflation.

The sort of job you can hold while in College is gonna pay $8-$15 an hour depending on where you live. I know ppl at that income level working part time because the economy sucks and they made mistakes. They're not making it, and somehow I doubt the added expense/stress of school would help them, especially after they graduate with $150k in loans...

If you're one of those super humans that doesn't need sleep and can go to class and the work 8 hours then spend 8 hours doing homework you might make it. Everyone else will just drop out.

The consoles tell you this when you apply, and a lot of the big majors (Math, CS, MIS, Medical) won't take you if you're working full time.

What sucks is we're so much more productive, you'd think we'd be working less. But why the hell would we give anything to anyone if they didn't "work" for it?


Re:I'm not worried about poor students

Getting to the point? We're there. We passed that threshold a while ago. We're already on our way of getting to the point where you cannot recover your college fees during the rest of your working years.


Re:I'm not worried about poor students

Getting to the point? We're there. We passed that threshold a while ago.

Correct. However, what many fail to realize is that in the 70's we didn't need to pay the educational extortion racket for permission to get work. The computing explosion was exploited to force the majority of the populace to seek degrees, but elementary school kids now have mastery of required technologies. The tools are more high-tech but the interface is even simpler than ever, certainly things that could be learned in on-the-job training.

The folks bitching about not being able to afford degrees are fools just now feeling the effects of an education bubble about to burst. []

The tech that created the education bubble has brought advances that made degrees obsolete. []

You can always tell a bubble by the final pump and dump of ramped up attempts to cash in on overly optimistic valuation. [] You are now aware that degree mills exist...

The requirement for college accreditation has always been a method for discrimination against the poor who would otherwise self-educate. More stringent degree requirements are a means by which corporations can drive down wages and get more government approved H1B visas and outsourcing. In reality, requiring employees to have a final exams is foolish since it doesn't actually prove they know anything at all -- That's why your boss is likely a moron.

Entrance exams would instead suffice to prove applicants had the required knowledge and skills, without requiring they be saddled with debts by the educational gatekeepers of employment -- It doesn't matter how you learned what you know. Promoting to management from within makes cost cutting improvements in ability to predict and not make unrealistic expectations upon the workers, it also gives upward mobility to aging experienced workers instead of considering them dead at 40 (family raising age).

We're already on our way of getting to the point where you cannot recover your college fees during the rest of your working years.

Negative, debt levels have long since passed that point, and owing a debt to the careers you enter has always been unacceptable in the first place. College as anything more than elective learning college is just shifting around the Company Store by leveraging "intellectual property."

We need college degrees less now that in the 70's. ::POP::


Re:I'm not worried about poor students

I am a teacher at a public university in Mexico. I know many of my students work (and, of course, many don't) to get enough income to live (maybe because their parents cannot support them, maybe even because they support their family).

What I completely fail to understand is how on Earth can a 22-year-old graduate –as you say– with US$150K in loans. That is just insane. And sick.

In my country, as in most of Latin America, and (as far as I understand) in Europe, all of the best universities are State-run, and tuition is either free or really low - Of course, there are private universities, with first-world scolarships. They have some selling points, but with very few exceptions, they are basically little but diploma mills, and next to no research at all is done in them (just teaching).

Anyway, I cannot understand how the USA cannot have a decent public university system. I know there are *some*, as part of my family have graduated from them. But just the idea of being in such a deep debt as a freshly graduated student... Makes me sick.


Re:I'm not worried about poor students

I am a natural born US citizen of Colombian heritage. My first degree was a double major of Information Systems/General Business and a minor in Philosophy. I got it in the US, at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana in 1992. My tuition, meal ticket, apartment, insurance, and spending money was 4,000 us a semester. 1500 hundred was covered by grants, and the rest was me waiting tables and bartending. My second degree was in economics in Colombia at a private university. 2000 was the year and my tuition was about 1200 USD a semester. Just for tuition. I worked for the university in the computer science department and was a sub ESL teacher, and so my tuition was waived. I also had a wild hair and studied law for a bit a public university but al fin no me llamo la atencion. I have worked in Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico. The company I worked for specialized in letting computer science majors do their internships and then hired the best of the best. In the US students tend to work while in school. In Latin America some do, but the majority do not. It is almost a insult to suggest to a Latin American student that they have an after school job. Not too mention the 18-20 year old grown men not being able to cook, wash clothes, and basically take care of themselves without being under their mothers skirts.

Sure some of the best unis in Latin America, are state run. In Colombia only the best of the best get into them.

In the US many people can go to a community college, then to a public uni etc. But people like to get grants, loans, stay in school forever, live beyond their means, and accumulate debt. It is not the school systems fault but the individual students. You can go to an inexpensive school, work full or part time, or you can ride the government teat and run up huge loans. No one signs the papers but you.


Re:I'm not worried about poor students (Score:4, Interesting)
by (26339) <> on Sunday April 20, 2014 @12:04AM (#46797985) Homepage

The people complaining in the media about 150k debt for 4 years of school are either lying, actually had post-graduate education, or made extremely poor and lazy decisions (and I count going to a $$$ private university as a poor decision if you have zero financial aid).

Its not even easy to get 150k in loans. You can't get that much from federal loans...and private lenders aren't so favorable to slacker kids who can't even bother to earn a single dollar all 4 years.

That's also a very striking fact. Practically all of the people I know that work on postgraduate studies in the best universities in the country not only do it without paying tuition, but getting a scolarship (around US$1000-1500 a month, roughly the salary they would get as professionals). The logic is, postgraduate studies do require you to focus full-time on them, and not giving them that attention will lead to failure. The whole society will benefit from masters and doctors, so the whole society pays for them. Of course, academic requisites for permanence are high.

If the society and government do not value having skilled professionals, sick schemes where graduate students have to spend their evenings serving at restaurants, and can devote much less to their studies. That's a losing recipe. And of course, that leads to longer terms because of failed subjects, which means increased debt.


Home economics

Potatoes are 10 cents a pound here.

"Learning to live poor" is the most education that people get in college. They have money... they just don't know how to manage it properly.

Yep, pretty much this. Students should learn to get by the same way adults do. Make a damn budget and stick to it (granted, this is getting rare among adults too). But do that math and get creative stretching your bucks.

Found a handful of dependable roommates and rented rickety 100-year old houses with them, which were a lot cheaper than apartments and university housing. We took turns cooking for everyone. We ate well. We'd do a grocery run once a week and shop carefully... fresh or frozen meat that was under $3/lb., lots of pasta, rice, veggies, etc.. Drank tap water, mixed with that frozen juice from concentrate when we wanted something fancier. I pretty much stuck to ~$40 a week for groceries (in 2000 money), and maybe augmented that once or twice a week with trips to one of those heaping Chinese "any two or three" stir fry takeout places for $3-$5 per meal. Plus, I would volunteer to staff the ASME coffee shop in the morning while doing homework, which was good for a bagel or two per sitting. And of course stake out the extracurricular activities that had free pizza.

The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World's Richest
The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada - substantially behind in 2000 - now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

The numbers, based on surveys conducted over the past 35 years, offer some of the most detailed publicly available comparisons for different income groups in different countries over time. They suggest that most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality.

Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several - including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden - is much smaller than it was a decade ago.

In European countries hit hardest by recent financial crises, such as Greece and Portugal, incomes have of course fallen sharply in recent years.

The income data were compiled by LIS, a group that maintains the Luxembourg Income Study Database. The numbers were analyzed by researchers at LIS and by The Upshot, a New York Times website covering policy and politics, and reviewed by outside academic economists.

The struggles of the poor in the United States are even starker than those of the middle class. A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

LIS counts after-tax cash income from salaries, interest and stock dividends, among other sources, as well as direct government benefits such as tax credits.

[Feb 22, 2014] Substitute teacher taped spouting BIZARRE conspiracy theories in high school physics class

Everything is recorded those day, my friends... It's might be illegal in some states to record private conversations, but probably not anything that you said to class...

Initially, the student who recorded it on a cell phone set up the camera to show basically just the classroom ceiling.

As the clip begins, Glicker can be heard calmly discussing people who "worked for the ISI, which is Pakistan's intelligence service."

It becomes clear that the substitute teacher is discussing the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"The ISI is funded indirectly by the CIA so, whether they knew it or not, they were funding the terrorists," he explains. Then: "One of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, he was not a Muslim extremist because, (a) He'd been living here for years. He had an American girlfriend. He was supposedly addicted to cocaine."

Glicker argues that Atta was "not a Muslim extremist" because "if you're a Muslim fundamentalist, you know, you would stick to, you know, the laws of Islam."

Next, a confused student asks why the September 11 terrorists killed themselves?

"That's where it gets weird," the physics sub cheerfully responds. "That's where I think it's somewhere along the lines of something like MKUltra where they're, like, brainwashing these people."

The teacher does not specify who "they" is. However, he immediately goes on to claim that the CIA was responsible for the Jonestown Massacre, when 909 people drank poison on the orders of cult leader Jim Jones. He suggests that the incident was "probably just an offshoot of the MKUltra program."

At about the 1:50 mark, the videographer tilts the camera slightly and shows Glicker writing on a whiteboard what the sub believes are "the most easy-to-prove" conspiracy theories.

The substitute teacher lists MKUltra and "Operation Gladio," which he describes by saying: "most world governments, pretty much, they want to start a war so they would use a false-flag terrorist attack."

At roughly that point, as Glicker turns his back to the class, students can clearly be heard snickering in disbelief about the bizarre arguments they are witnessing.

Glicker then explains how Franklin Roosevelt and other top U.S. officials let Pearl Harbor happen as an excuse to enter World War II.

As he wraps Iran-Contra Affair - and more cocaine - into his vast conspiracy theory, the videographer becomes bold enough to film Glicker directly. The teacher is shown with black hair and a beard. He is wearing a long necklace.

The last 15 seconds or so is Glicker's (relatively reasonable) portrayal of the ATF gunwalking scandal-often called in popular parlance "Operation Fast and Furious."

Two students in the class later spoke about what they saw.

"It is inappropriate for him to indoctrinate students without facts or logical discussion, especially in a physics class," said the student who surreptitiously recorded the rant.

"Personally I feel that all opinions and perspectives should be valued, and yet there is an appropriate time and place for them," the videographer added. "This was certainly not one of them."

Another student who was also in the classroom to witness the screed observed that the conspiracy-crazed sub has continued as a substitute teacher at the high school

"The sub continues to fully participate in Grosse Pointe North," the student said. "For example he not only taught soon after the incident but he also appeared in the student newspaper."

The reference is to a puff piece in Grosse Pointe North's student newspaper dated Jan. 31, 2013 which speaks flatteringly about four recurrent substitute teachers at the school.

"Substitute teacher Jason Glicker is rarely seen without one of his iconic necklaces on," the article explains. "Glicker's jewelry choice stemmed from a hobby of his, which is going to music festivals."

In the part where Glicker describes himself, he notes that he is an avid fan of the alternative metal band Tool. He also gives a window into his unique teaching style.

"I like it when kids are engaged and they're actually interested if I have something to say, they seem like they want to hear it. I will definitely tell them," Glicker tells the student newspaper.

[Jan 14, 2014] Ilya Regularly Expresses -- interview with Dr. Ilya Zakharevich

Sept 1, 2000 |

I see you received your Ph.D from Moscow State. Political ideology aside, do you think the Russian education system is more effective than that of the US? What element is most lacking in US higher education today?

IZ: The short answers: you cannot put ideology aside; elementary education.

Now the longer ones. It is extremely difficult to compare the systems. And the results would depend on how deep you are ready to dig. First, consider the purely subjective feelings. (Especially important since "objective" comparisons produce almost pure garbage.) Yes, it feels like the Russian system gives much better results than the U.S. one. On the other hand, look at top level achievers. Obviously, the "stars" in the U.S. were not less starry than the "stars" in the SU.

One of the reasons for a possibly skewed perception is an unbelievable concentration of resources in Russia. Let's look: scratching the surface, SU was significantly larger than US, it is enough to mention 10 (or 11?) time zones. It was a big surprise for me when after several months in US I understood that my feelings about the size were exactly the opposite to the "objective" sizes. Digging into these feelings brought the following conjecture: subjectively SU was a disk with the radius circa 25 miles.

Why? Imagine that 80% of everything good was in Moscow. Out of the rest, 15% were in Leningrad and Kiev. (I'm still subjective!) Well, there is some distance between Moscow and Leningrad, but given sleeper trains, it mostly disappears. This was squeezing resources into a very tight knot. The critical mass requires high mass and high density simultaneously, both were present. The synergetic effects were omnipresent.

Imagine a prevalent migration of talents to metropolises with a negligible back-current. Imagine that top students go not to 25 different universities, but to one, and stay there (the math department in the Moscow University is 5..10 times larger than the largest math departments in the USA). What does this lead to? If you are a good student, then the proportion of good students around you would be much higher.

This skews perceptions, but there is also a giant "objective" boost due to increased interaction between "stars" (and "starlets"). US students in general are much more ready to work hard, but their achievements in the domain of their immediate speciality are only as good as those for Russian students, and not spectacularly better. Typically their knowledge outside this narrow region wishes a lot of improvement.

Additionally, for the most of the beneficial factors, one would not want to copy them. Why "stars" remain in Moscow? Because there was no way to go abroad. What choices there were for a bright kid? Very few. Learn, learn, and learn. What choices there were for philanthropy? Very few. Teach, teach, and teach. Just consider the payroll differential, which was at most 2x--4x. So even if elementary education was relatively low-paying, the enthusiasts would not be stopped by this: the difference was not that striking.

Consider also differences in the spending pattern. It was not absolutely ridiculous to spend 10% or 15% of your income on books. Books being cheap, you could allow yourselves to buy all the decent books in your wide speciality, and several related specialities, not even mentioning what is called "literature" in US. Clearly, there is no way to graft this to the US situation.

Now a theory one of my friends favors, take it at least as a parable: The humanitarian aspect of the elementary education in the U.S. is based on tolerance, basically, all the ideas are considered created equal. Pluralism, respect for opinions of other persons, the ability to look at the problem from different sides and so on. So far so good. Now: math is based on exactly the opposite premise: some arguments are correct, some are wrong. People can tell them apart.

This creates a conflict. Correspondingly, all non-mechanical aspects of math, which is the ultimate device to transfer knowledge in a reproducible way, and to build new knowledge, are censored out (not necessarily consciously). Now kids come to university: "Proof? Eh?" Bad? Would you like to sacrifice the widespread tolerance to improve math?

So my point is: a lot of ground for success of the Russian education system was hardwired into the ideological situation. However, it might be that the situation already bootstrapped itself into a self-supporting state of a widespread readiness to get fascination from a play of mind, even if this play requires some nontrivial mental tension. Maybe this readiness can survive the "return to the normal ideology."

Suppose that all you need is such a readiness in a sufficient number of teachers, and this would create enough interested pupils to form the next generation of such teachers. How to bootstrap such a situation in U.S.? There may be some US-specific answers which I would not be able to even imagine. Something crazy like a philanthropist buying an hour a week on MTV, with MTV specialists who know how to speak to kids-of-today collaborating with science enthusiasts and some cold minds (so that it would not degenerate into another kindergarten like Sesame Street).

Myself, I favor something less focused on the situation of today. Say, there are teacher's conventions anyway. Why not organize math/physics/chemistry/biology/linguistics problem-solving competition there? It would be quite low-budget. Here I mean "cool" problems, as on international Olympiads (but of course, slightly simpler). It should not be hard to find volunteers to design the problems, the Bay Area already has a Russian-style math Olympiad running.

Continued at University Education Skeptic, 2013

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