Further to my previous comment on the Occupy Wherever protests, E. C. Gach has a post up over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen:
It’s instructive to note the passive voice, because it’s pretty near obligatory. The promises Gach’s talking about are pretty abstract. He quotes Derek Thompson thus:
We’re living in an era of broken promises between institutions and people. A college degree is supposed to lead to a quality job. Instead, for this young mother, it leads to debt. A $800 billion stimulus is supposed to lead to a recovery. Instead, for the U.S., it leads to debt. An economy, built by business leaders and supported by Wall Street, is supposed create wealth that the middle class can touch. Instead, once again, it has produced a culture of debt. There is a pervasive sense that this is not how the social contract was supposed to work. Promises were broken. Somebody should pay.”
“Somebody should pay.” Well, maybe… but who made those promises? Shouldn’t that somebody be made to pay?
Who promised that a college degree — any college degree, apparently — would lead to a quality job? Maybe that’s the way it worked once upon a time, when a Bachelor’s degree (and subsequently its holder) was something really special. But we’ve spent the last three or four decades making sure that more and more people go to college, and while I don’t think that’s at all a bad goal to have it does tend to devalue the specialness signal sent by a Mk. 1 mod 0 Bachelor’s degree. The degrees themselves become more vocational: “I have a college degree, so I can do great things for you” is replaced by “I have a college degree in mechanical engineering, so I can do great things for your systems design department” — or “I have a summa cum laude degree in feminist poststructuralist philosophy from a top-flight university, so I can do great things for your graduate programme“.
Incidentally, this leads into the subject of debt as well. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to make it easy for prospective college students to get loans to pay for their degrees, and again I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad goal to have. But if you expand demand for a product or service, its suppliers can command higher prices. So college degrees get more expensive at the same time as they become less exclusive. D’oh!
Who do you blame for something like that? University administrators who want to boost enrollment? Social activists who see broader access to higher education as a tonic for inequality? Well-meaning parents who want their kids to be the first in the family to go to college? Teh ebil librulz? Thuh gummint? Far as I can tell, the problem isn’t that any one person or group sold my generation a bundle of goods: it’s that most of us are still fighting the last war.
No, strike that: it’s obviously Wall Street’s fault, because have you even seen that Michael Douglas movie?
(Curiously, as surveyed by David Maris for Forbes.com, the only corporations of which Occupy Wall Street protesters have anything like a favourable opinion are technology companies. I like my Macbook and all, but I rather suspect that tech companies are the least likely to hire random college grads and try to fit them in “somewhere”.)