Exaggerated but useful March 23, 2012
By Book dallier
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
Here is what this book will tell you, in a nutshell:
--You should major in a STEM field, preferably in some type of engineering other than environmental. Clarey discusses and ranks the various engineering fields, but basically, any type of engineering except for environmental is OK. Also OK: degrees leading to jobs in the medical profession (although Biology and especially Kinesiology are discouraged); accounting, statistics, econometrics, and actuarial degrees (though Economics and Finance are discouraged); and computer-oriented degrees. Clarey says little about majors in theoretical sciences such as "pure" math or physics, but it is safe to assume he would discourage them for being not practical enough.
--Also OK is any training that will produce a precise and valued skill. Trade school and military routes are encouraged. The author is vehement that "the lowly plumber has more in common with the bio-engineer than does a doctorate in philosophy because the plumber, like the bio-engineer, produces something of value." Trade school is considered "a superior option to the humanities or liberal arts" because it leads to the acquisition of a skill that is in demand.
--The economics of supply and demand should exclusively dictate what one chooses to study. This is a major point of the book. The author gives the model of a medieval European village in which everyone is expected to pull his weight by providing a genuinely useful service to the community. In such a village, there is no room for "the professional activist, the social worker, the starving artist, the trophy wife, the socialite or the welfare bum." Everyone must contribute something that is in demand by the other villagers. By contrast, in modern American society, people increasingly choose educational paths that bear no resemblance to the products and services they actually want and need--everyone demands cars, gas, and gadgets, but fewer and fewer people are willing to study the fields needed to produce them. Instead of electrical and petroleum engineering, people major in "soft" subjects that do not enable them to create sought-after commodities. In the author's pithy words, "I have yet to see a student ask Santa for 'a lecture about women's studies.'"
--Education, particularly higher education, is something of a conspiracy. Its de facto role is to supply teaching and administrative jobs to the thousands of people with worthless degrees. The author points out that in America, the government spends much more on education than on Big Oil or the military, and argues that many self-serving people are after a piece of that money. Mostly, he thinks schoolteachers are disingenuous. He also asserts that "soft" degree programs are pushed because they turn a higher profit for universities than sciences programs. General education and core requirements--"prerequisites," as he calls them--are viewed as a massive waste of time and tuition money, because students can become well-rounded just from having friends and interests. In his view, liberal arts departments pass on useless knowledge at a high cost to students; their goal is to supply salaries to professors with degrees from the same departments. He calls this "The Circle of Why Bother."
--You should not major in Architecture, Political Science, Communications/Journalism, Marketing, Business, HR, or anything in the liberal arts or humanities for economic reasons, moral reasons, and because of the author's distaste for them. This distaste gets plenty of attention in the book. Just a sampling: "When you major in Finance, you must understand that you are majoring in something barely more moral or ethical than being a lawyer." "[Politicians] don't really care about the people, they just couldn't find real jobs." "[Minority-studies degrees] are particularly dirty and low degrees in that not only are they worthless, but they target minority groups as their victims. [...] There is no employable skill in merely having a trait you were born with." And finally, "Declaring a worthless major is simply shouting out to the world, 'I'm a parasite and have no intentions of working for a living. I want to do what I want to do and I want the rest of you to pay for it. I ultimately want to produce nothing society wants [...] I also want society to create some make-work job for me so my ego isn't bruised and I can make believe I'm a real-word-live [sic] adult too. And if you dare point out what I'm doing in the real world is nothing more than parasiting off of others, I'll cowardly hide myself behind some altruistic crusade and excuse of you of being a racist, a misogynist, or a hater of children."
Among his arguments are that everyone who achieved success in the arts or business did so without studying them formally, and that any subject that can be learned by reading books should be studied in a library for free. He actually includes this chart:
Degree: / Replacement: / Savings:
Foreign Languages / Language Software / $29,721
Philosophy / Read Socrates / $29,980
Women's Studies / Watch Daytime TV / $30,000
Journalism / Start a blog / $30,000
Radio/Broadcasting / Apply / $30,000
Political Science / Listen to talk radio / $30,000
Theater / Audition for a play / $30,000
Literature / Go to the library / $30,000
English / Speak English / $30,000
--Your life will be hell if you don't take the author's advice. Choosing a soft major will lead to poverty, health problems, and even divorce. Four years of studying something "rigorous" is a small price to pay to avoid a lifetime of misery.
The author makes some good points in this book. In particular, his economic argument is compelling. Supply and demand for careers is indeed an important consideration when it comes to choosing what to study, and it is true that far too few people are telling students this. Also, the author spends a bit of time urging students to make friends with math and arguing that anyone can excel at math if they put in the time and effort. This is excellent advice that is much-needed in our country. For these aspects alone, I consider this book a worthwhile read.
However, it was a mistake for Clarey to let his argument veer into issues of morality and taste. His frequent suggestions that certain fields/career choices are immoral and disgusting is quite off-putting. The book is full of scorn for "washed-out," "ponytailed," "unemployed" professors, for academic jargon, and for the perceived laziness and dishonesty of all who major in "worthless" fields. Not only that, but there is a lot in this book that is plainly misguided, and reveals how little Clarey knows about the fields he deplores. He frequently argues that high-level study of writing and English are useless because "if you are 18 years old and got accepted into an accredited college, then it's a pretty safe bet you're fluent enough in English." Unfortunately, Clarey's own not-great writing betrays that there is in fact a need for college English courses. His argument that having interests is a substitute for taking general education courses is especially unconvincing.
And although the strong point of this book is Clarey's sound application of basic economics, he does make some brash proclamations that do not seem grounded in rigor or realism. Among his exaggerations are that a "soft" degree leads not only to a potentially lower income, but to physical and emotional perdition: "Talk to anybody with stress related health problems or who is going through divorce and ask them if they'd trade it in for having to major in a tough subject for four years. I guarantee every one of them would opt to get their PhD in Computer Engineering." Economists tend to be good about not making such leaps of oversimplification, but Clarey apparently is not.
A final, but fundamental objection to Clarey's argument is that there is more to life and happiness than the production of wealth. Perhaps it is true that many people would be better off economically if they followed Clarey's advice. But if everyone did, ours would be a culture without historians, philosophers, theologians, artists, musicians, and writers. No one would take the personal economic risks necessary to follow the humanistic impulse that gives pride and meaning to our collective existence. Clarey does not acknowledge that the medieval village might in fact have been a lot worse for not having social workers or puppeteers. (And yes, someone needs to be a lawyer or a politician, too!) By suggesting that no one needs to study these things in order to do them, Clarey reveals how little he knows about the truly rigorous and worthwhile study that upholds many of these disciplines. It is in fact valuable for a musician to study music, and it is in fact valuable for an artist to study art. Nor is the serious study of art or music a joke. (The same can be said about philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and literature.)
While Clarey overlooks and overshoots a lot in this book, it is nonetheless a useful one. As far as pure employability goes, Clarey is mostly right about the degrees he praises and condemns. If only his broader argument were a little more modest and circumscribed, and a little better balanced by knowledge of other perspectives, this might be a truly good book.
Buy 'Worthless' - only $5 on Kindle!
Captain Capitalism: http://captaincapitalism.blogspot.ca/
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