July 2, 2012

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Death By Degrees. “Over the last thirty years, the university has replaced the labor union as the most important institution, after the corporation, in American political and economic life. As union jobs have disappeared, participation in the labor force, the political system, and cultural affairs is increasingly regulated by professional guilds that require their members to spend the best years of life paying exorbitant tolls and kissing patrician rings. Whatever modest benefits accreditation offers in signaling attainment of skills, as a ranking mechanism it’s zero-sum: the result is to enrich the accreditors and to discredit those who lack equivalent credentials. . . . Of course, one man’s burden is another man’s opportunity. Student debt in the United States now exceeds $1 trillion. Like cigarette duties or state lotteries, debt-financed accreditation functions as a tax on the poor. But whereas sin taxes at least subsidize social spending, the ‘graduation tax’ is doubly regressive, transferring funds from the young and poor to the old and affluent. The accreditors do well, and the creditors do even better. Student-loan asset-backed securities are far safer than their more famous cousins in the mortgage market: the government guarantees most of the liability, and, crucially, student loans cannot be erased by declaring bankruptcy. . . . One sort of false consciousness may be involved when a low-income person votes Republican out of mistrust for the credentialed establishment; another occurs when the credentialed establishment denies its own existence. An article in the New Yorker last year demonstrated what might be called the class unconsciousness of the credentialed. There Jeffrey Toobin, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, profiled the villainous Clarence and Virginia Thomas. Clarence Thomas was born in an impoverished Gullah-speaking community on Georgia’s Atlantic coast, attended Holy Cross and Yale Law School, and eventually became the second African American to sit on the Supreme Court. Thomas’s hatred for the Ivy League is legendary; he felt mistreated at Yale and has claimed that he suffered in the job market because firms assumed he was the beneficiary of affirmative action. Thomas likes to rail against ‘élites,’ a term Toobin smirkingly quarantines in quotation marks, as if the concept to which it referred were a chimera and not a plain reality.”

Obviously written by some sort of radical anti-intellectual type.

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