Friday, March 14, 2014

Recommended Reading - Worthless by Aaron Clarey

It's not often that you find a book on an important subject that is written with a light-hearted, breezy, funny prose that keeps you turning the pages and laughing, while your hind brain is continually saying hmmmmm.

Worthless is just such a book.

I got a copy because #2 Son is looking at College, and I want him to pick a field where he can make a living. Because I'm his Dad, it's not clear how much he'll want to listen. A second opinion seemed called for, and the book's opening sentence set the tone:
You are lucky. And the reason you are lucky is because somebody cares enough about you and your future to have given you this book.

The title is somewhat a misnomer, as the book covers both the worthless pursuits and the worthwhile ones. Both the ones where you will end up working for tips and the ones where you make twice the median national salary.

More importantly, it uses simple, dispassionate logic to show why. Clarey's examples are all accessible and unarguable; for example, his chapter on supply and demand and the mismatch between what you want to buy tomorrow (gas, iPads, flat screen TVs) and most College majors (Education, Sociology, Finance) is pretty much the last word on why we import so much from China while PhDs work as baristas.

Clarey is quick to point out that he is not being judgmental about these majors. Rather, he is just pointing out what your Admissions Officer and your Advisor won't: how much money you can expect to make when you get out with your degree.  He points out that a University is a business, with typical business goals:
Plus, as you'll find out, there are a lot of professors, teachers assistants, administrators, college deans and other people whose paychecks depend on getting students to spend tuition dollars on their particular programs or departments.  In other words, nobody is going to be forthright and honest with you and say,

"Oh god no! Don't spend your tuition dollars here! You'll never make any money.  Go next door to the engineering department. They'll be able to help."

But I will be, and we'll start with liberal arts programs.
That's the opening to the chapter on what NOT to study.  Now as a recipient of a B.A. in History from Ole State U, I can testify that he is entirely correct here.  That's why I also have a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, which opened doors precisely in the way that he said it would, and in precisely the ways that he said that the History degree wouldn't.  And I was in School in the early '80s - it's much more expensive now, so this book is more important that it would have been then.

But the recommendations in this book continually delight the intellect.  Rather than major in Chinese at a cost of $4500 a semester, why not go to China?  You can live cheap ("go native") for quite a while on $4500.  There are a lot of ways to get an education.

It's nice (but not required) to read this at your local pub. I spend a most enjoyable evening here with Clarey - better known around these parts as Captain Capitalism - who is every much as clear minded and witty in real life as in this book. Funny, too. The humor will keep people turning pages as his point continually gets hammered home:
This is an important decision for you. This will effect your whole life. Don't screw it up.

Quite frankly, that's a message that anyone you care about needs to hear. The one gentle criticism I might add is that Clarey doesn't go far enough sometimes.  Some degrees are not worthless, they're actually less than worthless - they make it harder for degree holders to get a job than if they had no degree at all.  In other words, after the time and expense of getting the degree, it adds negative value to the career trajectory.  The "grievance" studies (Women's Studies, Minority Studies, etc) are a red flag to many potential employers that this person is a professionally trained troublemaker, with a well honed skill for searching out problems where they likely don't exist and creating a disruptive work environment.  Other than government agencies and groups like the SPLC, it's hard to see who would want to hire this skill set.

If you have a friend or relative thinking about going to College (or who are thinking of going themselves), run do not walk to get them a copy of this book.  They may or may not take its advice, but it's a sure bet that nobody is giving them this advice at all right now.


Old NFO said...

Gotta get this for the grandson... :-)

Unknown said...

My oft-repeated advice for anyone with European parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent:
Check if that country your family hails from has citizenship through descent, and if the child qualifies. If so, get the kid the passport.
Anyone with any EU passport must be treated equally in any EU country for university admission and costs, and that means that in the countries where the tuition subsidy is 95% or higher, you will qualify for a 95% (+) discount on tuition.
And the Baltics and Scandinavia in particular tend to do all of their business and technical degrees with all instruction in English.

Jeremy Brock said...

I'm basically a trade-school monkey with no meaningful exposure to brick & mortar Universities, but the impression I get is:

-- Business
-- Engineering

-- Pre-Law
-- Pre-Med

Useless or worse:
-- Everything else

Graybeard said...

Linking back to this from my place.

Goober said...



Useful: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Not AS useful: General Business (this degree has become less useful over the years as generic degrees are becoming less and less sought after - employers want specificity).

Useless: Pretty much everything else, unless you get "win the lottery" lucky.

Goober said...

For instance, my degree is in COnstruction Management.

This means that I was heavily trained in mathematics and structural engineering (to the point to where I'm actually good to try for my engineering stamp if I ever wanted to, after apprenticing for a certain period of time under a practicing engineer).

Also, big time into mechanical physics (rimpull and drawbar calculations were the devil) and mechanics in general, as well as a huge dose of accounting and business management, all leading to highly specialized degree that has served me quite well for 12 years now.

Leaving with my degree, I can run a CNC Mill and metal lathe to machine tolerances, weld, design and engineer semi-complex structures, understand accounting, and business management, among other things.

If you leave with a degree and someone asks what you can do with it, and that something is not tangible, as in "it allows me to produce X or accomplish Y" then it's probably "worthless."




Those are all noble things, but if you need to get higher education in order to be an artist, you're probably doing it wrong, you know? There aren't any paying jobs for those things.

Many students that I know, when asked "what job are you going to get with that degree" shrug and say they don't know, but the degree is what they love, and so they're chasing their dream or some other such slobbery bullshit.

A career is not a hobby.