Before Obama got around to digging up his copy of last year's State of the Union address, crossing out a few lines, adding something about Iraq and Bin Laden, before heading out for another round of golf, David Brooks wrote a New York Times column urging Obama not to forget to mention the importance of promoting education for a free market economy. He titled it, Free-Market Socialism.
Obama has added the refrain has added to it a warning that if we don't spend more money on education that China will out-compete us. Given that China's biggest asset is cheap labor and our assets are factories that are too expensive to run, natural resources we can't touch and a massive over-educated and over-entitled class that was promised jobs and instead got student loans, it's hard to see how more of the same will fix the problem.
If our chief competitors in the economic arena were Russia, Japan or Sweden, pushing college degrees might make more sense. Or at least engineering degrees, but we're not losing a competition for college jobs, we're losing a competition for industries. American manufacturing hasn't gone down the tubes because we don't have enough college grads, it's gone down the tubes because it became too expensive and too difficult to be worth the effort.
New York, Minnesota and North Dakota have some of the highest degree rates in the country. New York has 8 percent unemployment. North Dakota has 3 percent unemployment. Because as it turns out degrees do not magically create jobs. They can only fit existing jobs. New York has a surplus of graduates. North Dakota seems to have just about enough though I suspect a sizable amount of that 3 percent are degree holders too.
To prop up his thesis, Brooks reaches for an Atlantic article that studies the case of a South Carolina woman who works on an assembly line, who had to drop out of school due to a pregnancy and is raising two children as a single mother making it difficult for her to continue her education. Instead she makes 13 dollars an hour in a unskilled job.
Brooks expects us to see this as a tragedy when quite a few college graduates would kill for a 13 dollar an hour job. The woman had planned to go to a four year college to become an animal control officer. The website for one South Carolina county advertises an animal control officer position at 15 dollars and 28 cents an hour.
Would Brooks' victim really be better off if she had gone into debt for a four year college program only to earn less than 2.50 more an hour? And would anyone really be better off with another government employee on the payroll instead of a productive worker?
The ability to get a decent paying work in the manufacturing sector is what really built a prosperous middle class in the United States. The decline of that middle class has been proportional to the growth industry in bureaucratic activists. Take the factory that is the topic of piece. Why is it located in South Carolina? Among other things, South Carolina is a right to work state and a business friendly state. Moving to South Carolina is a patriotic alternative to moving to China.
Rather than ask why there's a factory in South Carolina that's operating close to the economic redline as a family owned business competing with international conglomerates, the Atlantic and Brooks wonder how the workers can be moved into better paying jobs. As it turns out they can't be because there is no money for it. And there's no money for it because the cost of manufacturing is too high.
For decades the Democrats have offered the same technocratic prescription, more education for the high paying technology jobs of tomorrow. Never mind that our technology revolution was the brainchild of college dropouts and outsourced to Chinese factories. The high tech jobs of tomorrow are still in Shanghai and technology has made outsourcing much easier than ever. The technology revolutions of tomorrow will only do the same thing. Americans can take the lead in innovation, but unless those innovations are translated into viable manufacturing jobs than all the brilliant ideas coming out of Harvard and Yale grads will still end up being assembled in Chinese factory towns.
When Democratic presidents went around touting the college mantra did they seriously believe that we could replace every lost job with a college job without further raising the costs to employees and employers resulting in a continuing diminution of purchasing power? And did they really believe that those jobs wouldn't be able to be outsourced either? If Clinton could have feigned naivete back in the nineties, today when radiology, records and programming jobs are being organically outsourced at the establishment level it's more ridiculous than ever for Obama to make the same old college pitch.
We already have David Brook's "Free Market Socialism" which has done a fantastic job of attracting unskilled workers who take jobs at lower rates than American workers do. All those policies have done is attract illegal aliens who want the benefits and are willing to work at illegal per hour wages and without the rules and regulations. They haven't empowered Americans to work, all they have done is expanded the underclass by undermining working class jobs.
The higher education boondoggle has done an excellent job of shifting jobs from the private sector into the public sector through government or government subsidized jobs. The shift is as much cultural as it is economic, its mainspring is the perception that ordinary jobs are worthless and the truly meaningful jobs are their kinds of jobs. The culture extends to the kind of people that they seek to create. Out with the working middle class, in with the college graduate who has spent an extra four years being programmed by the more sophisticated model of their indoctrination machine and who will think more like them and live more like them, who will share their values and politics.
Mass education also devalues the actual education being received. Today's college students know less than yesterday's high school graduates. Today's high school graduates know less than a middle schooler from 50 years ago. And there is no way around that. Tossing everyone into the same system and expecting the same results leads to a lower quality system. The more education is universalized, the more it is simplified.
Making matters worse is technocratic standardization which insists that the only reason some students fail is inadequate teaching or funding, which leads to more money being tossed into the shredder and more national standards that expect teachers to accomplish the impossible. Either the results have to be faked or the standards have to be lowered. Usually a combination of both which leads to a nation where everyone has a degree and no one knows anything.
Russia, which still leads the world in degrees, mastered this version of universal education in the Soviet period, pumping out degrees for everyone, while still lagging behind the rest of the world in every area that mattered. Like so many other collective efforts, its mass production and central programming did not lead to success, it led to worthless results and purely statistical achievements.
Like the Soviet Union we can push to be the nation with the most degrees dispensed, which will be a costly statistical achievement because our educational system costs a good deal more than the Soviet one did. The USSR could afford to process students like cattle, but trying to duplicate this achievement with a college education that often costs as much as a house, will lead to a huge burden on the taxpayers and on the students.
Obama's response to this economic reality was equally predictable. Faced with high costs, socialists demand that the producers lower their prices. Obama demanded that universities bring tuition down, which if he is really serious about it they will do. At a price. The cost of higher education may be inflated, but it's not going to be reduced by cutting the non-essentials, it's going to be reduced by cutting the essentials, which means an education that will be increasingly worthless as the mass production model is used to drive costs down.
Will any of this help us beat China? About as well as the Soviet Union beat us with its degree mills. Our problems are not that we don't have enough education options, it's that we have a liberal elite with a disdain for traditional jobs and a conservative elite with a disdain for protecting American jobs. Combine the two elites together and you get the Free Market Socialism that Brooks is calling for. But there's no need to call for it, it's already here.
Between the socialists and the free traders, we're bleeding jobs and industries, we are overwhelmed by immigrants and the cost of subsidizing a post-American society on a post-American economy. And no amount of degrees is going to fix that as long as we have a surplus of ideologues talking about jobs, without considering the real world consequences of their policies.