College: Who needs it?

Most people don’t. Let me get this out of the way: there are many jobs that can only be done professionally after many years of careful supervised study. If you are going or went to college to do one of those types of jobs, this post isn’t about you.

This post is about me — and other people doing things that just don’t benefit from a college education.

I fully realize this is non-conformist thinking. Most people will dismiss what I’m saying as crackpot stuff. But let me tell you what I think is truly crazy: going into debt before you even get your life started. With college debt for even the most simple of degrees starting at $30,000, one has to ask who’s crazy — the people assuming that debt for the sake of a college degree or the people who decide to skip the debt and go to work?

First, some foundation: College is really expensive and people pay for it for a long, long time. It sounds obvious, but people don’t seem to really understand it, so read it, and let it sink in. Is it any wonder that our nation is getting deeper and deeper into debt? People are starting their life in the hole. One salient paragraph from the article linked above:

A 22-year old student graduating this year who consolidates their $40,000 loan at 6.125 percent will need to pay $243 a month…until they’re 52. By that time, they will have paid $47,494 in interest alone.

So, is this necessary? Rarely.

Let’s dispense right now with that myth that says College = More Money. Wrong. College may be necessary for certain, specific lines of work, but College does not cause increased earning over a lifetime although it correlates with it. (Sad aside: I bet half of the college graduates from last year couldn’t explain to you what the difference between causation and correlation actually is. Those are the same people who think big profits equal big profit margins and vote for candidates who promise to take on Big Oil. But I digress.)

Check this out: Five reasons to skip college. An excerpt:

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that what really matters is how smart you are, not where–or even if–you went to school. According to a number of studies, small differences in SAT scores, which you take before going to college, correlate with measurably higher incomes. And, according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the lifetime income of high-school dropouts is directly associated with their scores on a battery of intelligence tests.

Those correlations contradict the notion of a causal relationship between college degrees and increased earnings over a lifetime.

Let’s get on to another simple fact: College doesn’t teach you all that much. Another excerpt from the above linked article:

For, in truth, most professions–journalism, software engineering, sales, and trading stocks to name but a few–depend far more on “on-the-job” education than on classroom learning. Until relatively recently, lawyers, architects and pharmacists learned their trade through apprenticeship, not through higher education.

Let’s take software engineering, a subject I happen to know a bit about. I can say with absolute, unequivocal certainty that there is nothing about computer science college can teach you that you can not learn on your own. I know this because I: 1. Spent the summer between my last year of high school and first year of college learning all sorts of computer science-y things on my own, and 2. Spent the first year of my time in college bored out of my mind in my computer science classes. Every now and then I would wake from my stupor to help a fellow pupil or correct an error on the dry erase board.

What’s the difference between a computer programmer with a college degree and a computer programmer without one? The guy without the degree has a four year head-start on the guy with the degree.

But there’s more — colleges don’t even teach real programming skill in the first place. (Seriously — as a programmer, I find the notion of someone holding a computer science degree who has never used pointers a complete absurdity.)

My first undeniable truism of college:

Going to college to “learn” is like taking a one month vacation to Mexico for a taco. And putting it all on a credit card. With no job. Fact 1: Tacos taste better in Southern California. Fact 2: Tacos in Mexico may or may not be made out of what you expect a taco to be made out of. Fact 3: Any idiot can fly to Mexico for a taco: it takes a smart person to realize that money is better spent eating at an upscale Mexican restaurant in Southern California. Fact 4: Taking vacations when you don’t have a job or money just isn’t wise.

A big lie our culture has embraced is the notion that learning only occurs in institutions. We are all collectively taking a vacation from a job we don’t even have just to fly to a foreign country to eat a taco.

Lost? Okay: the guy who stays in his own country to eat a taco and has a job is the guy who reads books to learn instead of mortgaging his future for a college eduction with the same goal.

Going to college because one “loves to learn” is just crazy. I love to learn. I can spend $100 on books and learn more than a college student does in an entire semester — unless you count all that nonsense about “socialization” where one “socializes” with tons of other people who know just as little as they do about the real world and spend weekends chugging beer to prove it (or, if they’re a little more mentally developed, maybe they chug lattes). What’s more, I can actually live my life while I read the book. You know, like working. I suppose the guy who reads books does miss out on the “Psych 101″ factor — that college thing were one semester of Psychology (even when you are majoring in computer science) suddenly makes the college student an expert in human behavior. I guess there are trade-offs.

Here’s my second truism of college: If you go to college and yet don’t know exactly how it will benefit you in your specific career, you are wasting time and money. Here’s a little-realized fact: College will still be there in another couple of years. If you haven’t decided what you need to learn yet, you should not be spending your money (or your parents’ money) — especially not debt — on college. So don’t go to college without a plan. If you can’t make a plan, then go do something real for a while first. (Hint: going to college is as far from real life as you can get.) This country is full of opportunity, and you don’t need to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to explore your options. And if you butt up against someone who says you’re nothing without a college degree — forget ’em. Move on. Make your own life.

Here’s a third truism: People who go into debt for tens of thousands of dollars and come out of college with a degree they will never use are not running on all thrusters. There exists no rational, justifiable reason to spend so much money on something that is not going to directly enhance your life in a tangible way.

You think saying most people don’t need college is crazy? I say going to college and only coming out with a piece of paper, warm and fuzzy feelings about “learning,” and over $30,000 in debt and no job is crazy.

The fact is, education has become a multi-headed monster our culture worships. Money and time is burned on the altar of institutionalized education, when real life — character, honesty, tenacity, hard work, and independence — is only learned through experience.

If you’re a college grad (and kudos to you for reading this far!), don’t be insulted. Take stock of your accomplishments in life. I think you’ll find that the gains you’ve achieved in your life are not due to time you spent in college, but what you did with your life. And if you haven’t got their yet? Don’t worry — it’s only four years.

PS: Before anyone says “what about heart surgeons,” please read the first sentence of this post before embarrassing yourself.

Of Populsim, Envy, and Identity

The debate last night showed Edwards and Huckabee getting ready to try to win the presidency on typical class-warfare, envy politics. Edwards is the worst, but he’s only being honest about his goals where his Democrat counterparts are being quiet. But Huckabee isn’t much better. Both are running on the notion that the middle class is being oppressed and that the government needs to “balance” the economy and classes. Central to both of their campaigns is the tenet that the “rich are getting richer” while the poor and middle class pay the price.

However good that is for votes, it’s not reality. As George Will points out:

Economist Stephen Rose, defining the middle class as households with annual incomes between $30,000 and $100,000, says a smaller percentage of Americans are in that category than in 1979 — because the percentage of Americans earning more than $100,000 has doubled from 12 to 24, while the percentage earning less than $30,000 is unchanged. “So,” Rose says, “the entire ‘decline’ of the middle class came from people moving up the income ladder.” Even as housing values declined in 2007, the net worth of households increased.

What I think both of these candidates have in common is the recognition that acknowledging prosperity for the country hurts them as politicians. After all, when you’re doing well and know it, who needs a politician to pick someone else’s pocket on your behalf?

Huckabee’s envy, populist politics is more insidious than Edwards’, though.  Whereas Edwards is simply a Marxist and easily identified as such, Huckabee is counting on his identity as a conservative Christian to really ratchet things up for his populist message. Huckabee is running on the platform that he should be the one to reform the federal government in order to facilitate “Christian Duty.”

Bruce Walker writes:

…as a Christian, Huckabee can be a witness to Christian behavior; he can exhort others to themselves become a witness to Christian behavior; but he cannot demand the enslavement of others to do those things which, as a Christian, he feels that he should do. The term “enslavement,” of course, is relative. Americans are comparatively free. But everything that Huckabee feels government should do requires a loss of freedom for every American. Moreover, Huckabee is not just asking for the greater enslavement of Christian Americans, but he is asking for the greater enslavement of all Americans. This is most un-Christian. Does my verdict sound extreme? Substitute “Rome” for “America” and substitute “publican” for “tax dollars.” […] Despite the ways in which Roman power could be used to improve the world, Christ never looked to Rome to bring paradise or earth or even to be the agent of doing good in this world.

Both Huckabee and Edwards share the same basic philosophy of government: use it to make everyone do what you think they should be doing.  Or to at least make everyone pay for those things.

What was really missing in last night’s debates, both Republican and Democrat, was a sense of individuality and freedom as the underpinning of what made our country great. The closest anyone came was Fred Thompson, but the fact is, I just don’t think many people are interested in hearing about personal responsibility (because that is what freedom means).

Americans Spend 6.6 Billion Hours on Taxes

Americans Spend 6.6 Billion Hours on Taxes

Income taxes are really, really bad. And I don’t mean that they are bad because they are expensive, I mean they are bad because they hurt the nation.

This is one example: the tax code is so convoluted that it takes hours and hours of people’s lives just to comply with them — and if you consider the millions of hours corporations have to spend complying, it’s worse.

The income tax will never be made reasonable, however. It doesn’t matter how really, really bad income taxes are for the economy and the nation. They are just too useful a tool for politicians. As long as a ‘deduction’ system is in place, politicians can pander to special groups with promises of deductions, and continue to ‘soak the rich’ to get more votes from people in lower tax brackets.

The nation did fine for over a century with no federal income tax. The truth is, as this country was intended to function, income taxes are totally unnecessary. But since the entitlement mentality will never be purged from society now, as it is far too ingrained (welfare, social security, Medicare, etc), at the very least the progressive income tax should be replaced with either a flat-rate income tax or a national sales tax. But both systems would eliminate or significantly impede the ability of our politicians to take money from your pocket and give it to someone else.

So it will never happen.

Reporters can’t read

On Google news today, you can find hundreds of stories by eager reporters, all beside themselves going bonkers for a new report that supposedly proves that the Bush tax cuts are increasing the tax burden on the middle class. Of course, this is great for the Kerry campaign and their Marxist class-warfare rhetoric. We will hear no end to how Bush is robbing the poor to give to the rich.

Well, these reporters can’t read. In their excitement over finding something to give to their liberal buddies in the democratic party, they’ve basically ignored the parts of the report that don’t suit their “workers of the world unite” agenda. Alas, Bush is not going to come to your middle-class home, steal your child’s piggy bank, and give it to Bill Gates.

In fact, the report shows that in 2005, the top 20% of income earners will have their share of the tax burden increased, not lowered, under the Bush tax cuts. These reporters, zealous for the cause of getting Hitl…, uh, Bush, out of office, are trying to spin a report so that they can make headlines saying that despite everyone in the country paying less in taxes, Bush really, sneakily, actually raised taxes on the middle class.

And the most ridiculous aspect of this journalistic spasm of joy is that they are complaining that the top 20% of wage earners “only” pay 64% of the tax burden! That’s less than a quarter of tax payers shouldering almost two-thirds of the Federal Government’s gluttony.

But what’s so revolting about this is the fact that politicians can actually get elected running on a platform of soaking the “rich.” Instead of a country where people aspire to generate wealth, people now envy and resent it, voting for men who promise to remove more wealth from the economy and have the government spend it instead of the wage earners.