Philosophers and Welders and Politicians (updated)

Philosophers and Welders and Politicians (updated)


Oh my.

In last night’s Republican primary debate, Florida Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio criticized U.S. higher education for being “outdated.”  It is too expensive, he said, and too hard to access. Additionally, “it doesn’t teach 21st century skills.” Like welding.

I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.

I guess Senator Rubio thinks it is time to stigmatize philosophy. Bad move, Senator.

Do welders make more money than philosophers? As it turns out, on average, no. Inside Higher Ed reports that “the median annual income for postsecondary philosophy and religion instructors is $63,630, while the median for welders and related fields is $37,420.” These figures are now all over the internet. It may be that Rubio just inadvertently boosted the public image of studying philosophy.

Vox has a helpful infographic with related figures:

philosophy welder vox infographic

American Philosophical Association Executive Director Amy Ferrer is quoted in IHE saying:

Rubio’s refrain about the value of philosophy is unfortunate — and misinformed. Philosophy teaches many of the skills most valued in today’s economy: critical thinking, analysis, effective written and verbal communication, problem solving, and more. And philosophy majors’ success is borne out in both data — which show that philosophy majors consistently outperform nearly all other majors on graduate entrance exams such as the GRE and LSAT, and that philosophy ties with mathematics for the highest percentage increase from starting to midcareer salary.

Do we need more welders and less philosophers? This is less clear. Are things going unwelded that should be welded? Those in the know, please comment. As for whether we need fewer philosophers—the quality of the reasoning in political debates suggests that perhaps that more are needed.

Rubio did not comment on whether we need more or less politicians.

Here’s the clip:

Rubio was not the only candidate to mention philosophers in the debate. Texas Senator Ted Cruz said the Federal Reserve system is run by a “series of philosopher kings.” Apparently this is not a good thing. It should be run instead, of course, by a series of welders.

And Ohio governor John Kasich said that “philosophy does not work when you run something.” I believe by “something” he meant “a political campaign.” Too true, Governor.

Philosophers: the new hot political topic.

(image: detail of “Welder at Night” by Einballim Wasser)

welder thinker detail

Don’t forget the Value of Philosophy pages.


UPDATE: from Ethicist for Hire:

GOP-vs.-Philosophy


UPDATE 2: Some commentary elsewhere:

  • Avery Kolers (Louisville) at Salon: Don’t suppose that “social worth of a profession tracks the market price it commands in the current economy.”
  • Samir Chopra (CUNY) at SamirChopra.com: “Many years ago, I taught the inaugural edition of my Philosophy of Welding seminar…”
  • John Corvino (Wayne State) at the Detroit Free Press: “Senators make more money than sanitation workers, but we definitely need more sanitation workers than senators.”
  • Rory Kraft (York College) at the York Daily Record:  “What we need are those who both can do the real tangible things that everyday society uses to function and think critically about what direction we want our future society to move into.”
  • Farai Chideya at FiveThirtyEight: “The fortunes of philosophers — or at least philosophy majors — are a mixed bag, ranging from college teaching adjuncts who can barely pay their rent to tech entrepreneurs.”
  • Gracy Omstead at The American Conservative: “Ultimately, the best sort of education is one that does not just make you a better worker, but rather, the sort makes you a better, fuller human being.”
  • 11 “insanely successful” philosophy majors.

UPDATE 3: Daily Nous is proud to present the first three volumes in its new collection, Philosophers On Welding:

Mind and Weld  Rawls - Acetylene of Justice  Parfit - On What Melts


UPDATE: See this subsequent post.

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sin nombre
sin nombre
5 years ago

We do need more welders and other skills that can be learned at vocational institutes and to be fair to Rubio (and I really don’t like Rubio or this line of argumenatation), I think his point is that we stigmatize working-class jobs and privilege going to college. Not everyone should have to go to a university to make a good living in the US and given that a significant part of the Republican base is working class whites with little or no college experience the shots that he, Ted Cruz and John Kasich took at philosophers plays well. That’s unfortunate that they took cheap shots for a point that I think is (a) not at all controversial and (b) could be part of a policy that emphasizes manufacturing in the US.

Oh yes, proof that we need welding. Well, just google “welding jobs shortage” and you’ll get articles from Bloomberg and Business Insider, but also this little gem I remember listening to a few months back from NPR: http://www.npr.org/2015/09/07/437589596/amid-a-shortage-of-welders-some-prisons-offer-trainingReport

felonius screwtape
felonius screwtape
5 years ago

while I agree we need more welders and ironworkers and people with all sorts of vocational skills, because they build our bridges and fix our plumbing and install heating and in general maintain our national infrastructure which is in desperate dangerous decrepitude–a situation you failed to address–it’s notable that the anti-union, anti-government, anti-stimulus policies of the party whose nomination you seek have helped to destroy the middle class and the livelihood of vocational workers like welders, which is why in point of fact they make less than philosophers. But we do not need “fewer” philosophers; quite the contrary, we need more. We need more philosophers involved in education–another situation you failed to address–right alongside with (and as) educators in primary schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities in order to cultivate in our youth their capacities to think critically and for themselves rather than respond robotically to standardized tests, and in general to lift from them the veil of ignorance that the anti-science, anti-education, anti-intellectualist theocratic ideology of the GOP has imposed for the last forty years. We need more philosophers who are actively socially and politically engaged, questioning justice and the various institutions that sustain democracy, defending human rights, and obliging people to reflect on what it means to have a good character, be a good citizen, be good to others, and live a good life. Philosophy Matters. And that’s why we need more philosophers *and* more welders, because we’ve got problems, all of which were ignored for what turns out to be a failed divisive applause line, even though it’s trending at the moment. What we need “less” of, Marco Rubio, is you.Report

Chris
5 years ago

Two comments:
1) The comment wasn’t primarily about extolling vocational occupations. Its main purpose was to undermine the humanities. This is part of a systematic attempt among Republicans to weaken the humanities in higher education which parallels their attempts to weaken labor unions (see Scott Walker).
2) I think it is pretty gross to assess the value of one’s profession in terms of how big your salary is. Rubio was wrong, of course. Philosophy majors make more than welders (perhaps he could have asked Fiorina, a philosophy major, how much she makes). But the larger point is that this is the wrong way to view the value of what one chooses to do with one’s life.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

I don’t approve of Republicans taking cheap shots at philosophy, but it is sad that many Democrats are still insisting that everyone needs a four year degree. Not everyone will benefit from studying philosophy, and acknowledging that is compatible with recognizing philosophy’s great value.

It is classist and elitist to assume that everyone ought to pursue a four year degree. Yet this is still the Democratic party line and, not surprisingly, the default position of most academics. It is pretty rich for philosophers to run around insisting that philosophy is for everyone. People from lower socioeconomic groups are the ones who ultimately pay the price for this lofty rhetoric.

While there is occasional wringing of the hands about the sorry state of philosophy adjuncts, I see few philosophers publicly standing against the crushing debt that many undergraduates are taking on in order to pay to attend tuition dependent colleges that promise them a stable middle class life. Many of these students would have been better off seeking vocational education.Report

Armand Milieu
Armand Milieu
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

“It is classist and elitist to assume that everyone ought to pursue a four year degree.”

Do you say this just because, in the U.S., college education is private and requires loans?

Had it been free, your opinion would be different. You would argue that, in a free education system, it is everybody’s duty to get a proper education. Even though “proper” doesn’t necessarily mean “philosophy”.

What I am trying to say is that it appears elitist to demand of people to become graduate in a society in which college education is super-expensive.

However, it is not elitist, but democratic, to demand of people to get an education in order to live happier lives, get higher wages, and, generally speaking, become more self-aware citizens.

Of course, this idea (i.e. the idea you have to rely on other peoples and institutions in order to pursue happiness) may clash with the ideology of the American dream and the liberal Utopia according to which “you shouldn’t need an education to be happy and live a happy life”.

However, far from this liberal utopian scenario, most of us *do* need an education in order to become self-sufficient, self-aware, critical thinkers, and not easy prey of propaganda.

I argue VET should not be stigmatized, but I also argue it shouldn’t be thought of as an alternative to college education. Your system is crippled because of this false dichotomy, that is, the either-or: either you get a college degree or you get VET.

So, let’s recap:
– When college education is expensive, it may be elitist to demand of everybody to get a degree
– Yet, I think we all agree college education (humanities included) should not be denied to anybody. In a fair democracy, education is accessed by right of citizenship and not by right of wallet.
– Education — and especially college education, I am afraid — is a crucial requirement for people to make informed choices in our world. The ability to think critically and manage information (as taught by philosophy, science, etc.) is not just vital: it is the cornerstone of democracy.
– Moreover, if we keep opposing VET and College Education as two things that cannot go together (either-or), we will never overcome the crumbling of political debate into fallacious and easy-to-grasp dichotomies such as the one made by Rubio.Report

Ben
Ben
5 years ago

Well…duh.Report

Julinna
Julinna
5 years ago

Hey Rubio, this is what we call a false dichotomy: no need to choose, it’s good to have both philosophers AND welders, philosophy classes AND welding classes. In fact, a single person can do both – there’s a long tradition of combining philosophical reflection with craftsmanship! Anyone in vocational school would benefit from philosophical reflection on the meaning of life, the value of one’s labor, and political systems that exploit forms of labor. Come on, dude. Philosophical ideas change the world and people’s lives. Take a philosophy class!Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
5 years ago

Rubio’s disparaging remarks about Philosophy is a sign of how far we are from a public understanding of the significance of the issues Philosophers confront. Philosophy is the academic home of secular thought about ethics, about the appropriate role of government, and so much more. Of course, many non-philosophers think about such topics very well. And some philosophers think about such issues poorly. But studying a significant swath of human thought on these topics throughout the ages, learning from past mistakes, and building on excellent proposals others have made, is the most sensible path to progress on such vital issues. Admittedly specializing in a narrow topic also comes with its own risks. It is possible to become hung up on esoteric minutia. But such risks should not convince us that we can best make progress on such vital issues by ignoring the progress and pitfalls of past generations. Training people as Philosophers is the best hope we have to make real and lasting progress on such issues. And those trained in Philosophy are those best suited to teach the youth what has been learned on these topics up till now. Philosophers need to do a better job of demonstrating to the public that will listen that our efforts have, and continue to, bear fruit. But that a politician can score political points by disparaging Philosophy highlights the lack of public appreciation of the vital questions that Philosophers are at the forefront of addressing.Report

anon
anon
5 years ago

I completely agree with Rubio that blue collar jobs like welding are undervalued in our culture, and that this is a real problem for a number of reasons. But it seems very odd to say that a major cause of this is that too many people are going into the *humanities.* People who are opting to get a 4 year degree instead of vocational training aren’t majoring in philosophy. They’re majoring in business, accounting, etc. If he’d said ‘we need more welders and less actuaries’ his comment would have been more to the point (though still just as grammatically incorrect).Report

Dan Demetriou
Dan Demetriou
5 years ago

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.” –John AdamsReport

Lydia Patton
Lydia Patton
5 years ago

Is it the VOX image that’s making the rounds? If so, how lovely that Isotype is being used to refute Rubio, and Otto Neurath was on the team that developed Isotype. That said, I agree with some of the comments above: why let Rubio’s remarks dictate the terms of this discussion? Neurath himself likely would have had as much sympathy with welders as with philosophers, and so he might have developed a different graph that illustrated, for instance, the contributions made by those in each occupation. Or the number of welders vs. philosophers who are injured or killed each year while doing their jobs. I wonder what Rubio’s record is on supporting safety regulations and unionization.Report

M.G. Piety
5 years ago

I don’t know about welders, but it would appear we need more grammarians. That should be “fewer welders,” not “less welders.” And I feel compelled to point out that there is nothing particularly new about welding, unless I miss my guess, that is a skill that goes back to the IRON AGE!Report

Bob Kirkman
Reply to  M.G. Piety
5 years ago

Indeed. I was going to say: more grammarians, fewer demagogues.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

If you ask the average voter what philosophers contribute to society, they couldn’t tell you. I think that this reflects our failure to speak to the public about philosophy.Report

Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Even conservatives recognize the stupidity of Rubio’s comment: http://weeklystandard.com/blogs/marco-rubio-bad-guidance-counselor_1062283.html#.VkM39UGBq9o.mailto

I think we should have more vocational training, and we should teach philosophy to the students in those programs. What better way to spend a long day of welding than to think about human nature, ethics, science, and religion?Report

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

I don’t know that I’d get too excited about the conservative response to Rubio’s comment. The following is from a Fox News article on the debate (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/11/11/six-takeways-from-great-milwaukee-gop-debate.html?intcmp=hpbt2):
“Rubio. The Florida senator had the best line of the night: “Welders make more money than philosophers.” He argued for raising wages through growth. ‎ He sounded a little wonkish, but had no gaffes.”Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

This coming from a guy who literally gets paid to yap all morning long.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

“What better way to spend a long day of welding than to think about human nature, ethics, science, and religion?”

That has certainly been my father’s experience, first as an electrical technician with an associates degree, then as an instructor of electrical technology, and now as an electrical engineer, small business owner, and member and officer in a number of civic and professional organizations. He gets to live his philosophy dreams vicariously through me while my (equally reflective and even smarter) sibling works with him in his chosen field.Report

felonius screwtape
felonius screwtape
5 years ago

let’s not lose our heads about this. we need to keep calm and solder on.Report

David
David
5 years ago

Shouldn’t we find it interesting that Marco Rubio attended law school, and, at the very same time, fails to realize that, without some conception of morality, understanding ‘law’ would be impossible, that ‘law’ necessarily demands the import of moral language and consideration? Going further, if Rubio’s ejaculation(s) were an attack on the humanities (perhaps soft-sciences, too?), explanations regarding the creation and/or modification of policies, edicts, statutes, and so on would be grossly misinformed and distorted, perhaps entirely incoherent. Rubio’s law degree would be of a weird kind, indeed.

Me thinks either one of two explanations might obtain: (1) Rubio missed that lecture(s), or (2) Judges, attorneys, moral philosophers, political philosophers, experimental philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists, after expensive and sophisticated research, have been coincidentally or mysteriously chiming in about hard-going moral, biological, political, and legal topics which just happen to interrelate pretty damn well, but are still, nevertheless, distinctly unrelated and unimportant; therefore, more welding needs to be done.Report

Kate Norlock
Kate Norlock
5 years ago

This is Rubio’s standard response to questions about raising the minimum wage. Instead of writing about how important our concerns are, philosophers might want to write about how important the minimum wage is. Rubio offered everyone a red herring. No need to make a meal out of it.Report

Prisonrodeo
Prisonrodeo
5 years ago

Bloggers at the Daily Bead (a welding-related blog) could not be reached for comment. BECAUSE THEY WERE TOO BUSY WELDING THINGS.Report

John Connolly
John Connolly
5 years ago

One thing we surely need more of is . . . proper grammar. The word “less” goes with mass terms, such as “water,” “sunlight,” “happiness,” etc. What Sen. Rubio presumably meant was that we need more welders and FEWER philosophers.
On a more serious note, it is almost always a winner among Republicans to criticize higher education (all those “left-wing pointy-headed intellectuals”). So perhaps we philosophers can take some consolation that Sen. Rubio picked us out to represent the academy. Perhaps our enrollments will rise as a result (more rather than FEWER students)!Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
5 years ago

I dived into the comments hoping only to indulge myself in feelings of superiority over presidential candidates, and thanks to Lydia Patton all of a sudden I find myself learning something. Disconcerting.

On the point of grammar: Rubio’s usage of ‘less’ is informal, not incorrect. For evidence, see the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, pretty nearly any dictionary, or any of a number of Language Log postings, most usefully this one. I mean, much as I hate to side with Marco Rubio…

Hm, just in case my anchor tag isn’t permitted, here’s the link:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003775.htmlReport

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

I’m not condoning Rubio’s logic, but I question these figures. The mean annual wage for philosophy & religion instructors is reported as $71,350, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This amount was obtained by multiplying the annual hourly mean wage by a “year-round, full-time hours figure of 2,080.”
Most philosophy instructors are adjuncts (approximately 70%), and they don’t work year-round, full-time hours. The average adjunct earns $2,500/course and works a 5/5 course load, amounting to $25,000/year – less than the average salary of a welder. NPR reports that the average adduct makes between $20,000 and $25,000/year (cited below).
In other words, the median salary reported for philosophy professors doesn’t reflect the reality of the profession. The median is obtained using a flawed calculus, and it doesn’t reflect the AVERAGE, because it’s likely skewed by the wage discrepancy between tenured faculty and adjuncts, which is massive.
So while emphasizing that I don’t endorse Rubio’s exact argument, I do think that if you’re going to gamble on welding or philosophy instructorship (with a view to earning as much as possible): choose welding.

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/22/224946206/adjunct-professor-dies-destitute-then-sparks-debateReport

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

Edit:
In other words, the mean salary reported for philosophy professors doesn’t reflect the reality of the profession. The mean is obtained using a flawed calculus, and it doesn’t reflect the median wage because it’s likely skewed by the wage discrepancy between tenured faculty and adjuncts, which is massive.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

Anon at 2:36:
It’s a little less clear that that, since the same technical notes also say: “The responding establishments are instructed to report the hourly rate for part-time workers, and to report annual rates for occupations that are typically paid at an annual rate but do not work 2,080 hours per year, such as teachers, pilots, and flight attendants.”
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_tec.htm

But (a) it doesn’t say anything about reporting hours for part-time workers, and (b) it doesn’t say whether the “annual rate” for teachers is the actual annual rate or the full-time equivalent annual rate.

Does anyone know whether this survey is concerned with actual income or full-time equivalent income?Report

John Schwenkler
5 years ago

Suppose it’s true that philosophy majors (or philosophy instructors, or whatever) make more money than welders. What of it? Rubio’s aim was to discredit the value of humanistic study, and *that*, as we all know, isn’t measured in dollars and cents. To challenge Rubio primarily on these terms is already to concede too much.

Moreover, even assuming that philosophers make more money than welders, surely this has a lot to do with the fact that philosophy majors are usually very smart and very privileged — predominantly white, male, second generation or later to attend college; by contrast 8.8% of welders are black and 22.4% Hispanic — and often have to take on a great deal of debt in order to complete their course of study. So there’s no easy way to make an apples-to-apples comparison, and I wouldn’t be surprised if welders do pretty well when the most important factors (race, economic background, parents’ educational attainment) are controlled for. Philosophers at US universities shouldn’t have our heads in the sand about the economic realities facing our graduates.

Is philosophy worthwhile? Yes. Should there be more of it in our schools and universities? Yes. Is Marco Rubio an idiot for denying this? Yes, yes, yes. BUT if you make this argument in a way that rests on the premises that studying philosophy = majoring in philosophy at a four-year university and then finding a comfortable white-collar career while welding = a life of drudgery and low wages, then sorry, you lose, at least when the audience isn’t made up of your highly educated, mostly liberal peers.

PS. I have mostly been ignoring Rubio-related commentary here and elsewhere, so sorry if this has all been said by others (including others above). And sorry also if I come across as a bit grumpy. I am.Report

Corey
Corey
5 years ago

A leg of my desk at work has a loose welding joint. I could use a welder.
There aren’t any welders in the office. I don’t know any welders outside of the office. My company isn’t willing to purchase a new desk or hire a welder.
I suppose I’m left to my critical thinking skills to find interesting ways to fix my desk and ruminate about the meaning(lessness) of it all.Report

James
5 years ago

Rubio was remarking on what educational programs should be given additional funding. The “philosophers” under discussion are philosophy majors, and the “welders” welding students.

Your post doesn’t give any data on how philosophy majors fare, it just reports the average salary for the very small portion of philosophy majors who actually become philosophers.

Something from the source you quoted about philosophy majors and how they fare on standardized tests (the financial payoff? great, more education and so more debt). Also, the jump between starting salaries and mid-career salaries, in an environment where everybody knows the real challenge for young people is actually getting a good job, not jumping to an even better one.

Getting a degree in philosophy turned out to be one of the biggest financial mistakes I ever made. Hiring managers count it (versus a baseline bachelor’s degree) against applicants just as they do with most degrees outside of STEM nowadays, thanks to republicans like Rubio who have actively prevented the economy from recovering to the point where critical thinkers’ skills would be demanded.

Rubio is touching a very live and long-lived anti-intellectual nerve running through the Republican Party that is rightly suspicious of “eggheads” who contribute nothing meaningful. Studying philosophy might make the student clever, but it impedes his ability to contribute in the form of applying specialized skills in a job setting. Studying philosophy is for most (probably more than most) a real waste of an investment in higher education, completely unsuited to the task of helping the student thrive in the ongoing structural depression of the American economy.Report

Jason
5 years ago

I’m not really sure this is a fair comparison.

First up the figures don’t take into account a number of fairly important data points.

1. I doesn’t count everybody with a philosophy qualification who hasn’t been able to use it to find work. They should factor in at $0 each. Do that with the welders too but I doubt the percentage is as high.
2. It also ignores how long it takes to get a qualification to get the welding job versus how long it takes to get the qualifications to get the philosopher job.
3. It ignores the cost too. Care to compare the investment required financially to get the two jobs versus average salary?

You are engaging in the same sort of shallow grandstanding that Rubio is.

He would have been better picking on actively harmful majors like the various grievance studies degrees instead.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Jason
5 years ago

What is a “grievance studies degree”?Report

Jason
Reply to  sin nombre
5 years ago

A catch all term for those particularly useless collection of degrees offered around the place that consist less of learning and more of ideological indoctrination and encouraging a victim mindset.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Jason
5 years ago

Right, still curious what in particular you have in mind? It sounds like this could be dismissive of those studies that focus on marginalized groups.Report

Leon
Leon
Reply to  Jason
5 years ago

First they already have data on how philosophy majors do. They do incredibly well, financially, on average. If you don’t care about majors but only care about philosophy PhDs, and want to count in the ones who do not work in academia: that is like trying to track what people trained as a beautician do if they leave that field and then associate them with beauticians. These people have other jobs. You would have to ignore their current job and instead track one type of previous training for this be at all meaningful. And would it?
It takes a long time to be a welder. They take college classes and than have a long apprenticeship, working as journeyman.
But none of this matters if you are taking Rubio to be saying anything useful, and he is not. If we had more welders they would be paid even less. Who then needs more welders? Not welders.
Your comment reads like you have a some hostility towards the field of philosophy but don’t know any welders.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
5 years ago

Seriously, folks, why does it matter who makes a better salary? What a weird metric to use in order to determine whether studying something is worthwhile.

Public school teachers are paid crapola when compared to what plastic surgeons are paid. Does that mean the state should encourage more people to become plastic surgeons and fewer to become public school teachers?

So, let’s not even accept the odious premise of his empty rhetorical jibe.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  Matthew Smith
5 years ago

I imagine many people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds care a great deal about the likely career prospects of various courses of study. Acually, scratch that; I don’t need to use my imagination. I know that only the uber privileged could conclude that the career prospects (including projected salaries) are completely irrelevant to whether we, as a society, ought to encourage people to take on debt to finance their studies and what kind of programs (e.g., four year colleges or vocational training or apprenticeships, and so on) we should help finance through our tax dollars.

Is the value of a liberal arts education exhausted by the mid-career earnings of liberal arts graduates? Of course not. Are the mid-career earnings of various degree programs relevant to social policy? Of course they are.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

Professor Plum – I know it’s the internet and all, and that on the internet no one knows you’re a dog (although we do know you are procrastinating), but there is little good reason for you to read what I am saying in the way you are reading it.

There are a few things going on above.

First, you seem concerned about society encouraging people to take on vast amounts of debt. One can quite reasonably hold – as many Europeans do – that education needn’t require taking on vast amounts of debt. We can simultaneously insist that philosophy is as worthwhile as welding is to study AND insist that the state more or less fully fund higher education. (As an aside, it strikes me as bad policy to encourage people to take on mountains of debt to become welders! That people do not have to go into debt to study a vocation like welding is evidence either that we are undercharging for welding education or overcharging for humanities education.)

Second, there is the question of how to value different educational endeavors. The claim I make is that the salary that follows some educational endeavor is a poor way to determine the value of that endeavor. Many quite valuable activities may command a very low salary on the open market (e.g., gardening) while other very odious activities (e.g., hedge fund managing) command a vast salary. Spending one’s time learning how to garden is not millions of times worse than spending one’s time learning how to be a hedge fund manager. (FYI, Plum, hedge fund managers are notoriously bad at playing the market – you are far better just sticking your money in an index ETF or a mutual fund.) So, I object quite strongly to reasoning thus: Studying X will yield a greater salary than studying Y, therefore studying X is pro tanto better than studying Y. It is just poor reasoning all around.

Third, there is the question of allocation of state funds. Given a forced choice between funding X or Y, one might invent all sorts of metrics in order to make that choice. For example, should we fund highway repair or arts programs for children? Almost no one has gotten rich because they took an art program as a child, but lots of people make good salaries driving down highways! Let’s fund highways!

That’s a bad piece of reasoning. It is a bad piece of reasoning because we do not have to choose between only those two options.

Similarly, there is not a single, fixed sum of money – education money – that must be divvied up between different educational endeavors. There is not in fact a choice to be made between only funding the humanities and funding vocational training.

One might even coherently judge that within a broader, richer context, the values of the two are largely incommensurable. First, the two serve different purposes. Vocational training trains people to get a job. Humanities training is training largely for its own sake. That it has certain upshots with respect to salary and/or debt does not thereby make it commensurable to vocational training. Lots of things have commensurable effects, but that does not make the things themselves commensurable.

There is, of course, a final question. What sort of education do people need in this economy and how should the state provide that education? That is a much trickier question and not one sensibly reduced to false, forced choices between philosophy and welding.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  Matthew Smith
5 years ago

Hey Matt,
I’m just responding to your words…

First, I’m glad you mentioned Europe. But you left out some important differences: *not* all Europeans are encouraged to get a four year degree as they are in the US. Many European countries have robust apprentice programs, and young people are actually paid to learn a skill. Moreover, you don’t have the same number of tuition dependent colleges. In fact, Europe has very few liberal arts colleges at all. So, yes, it is a different system (well, many systems) and it is not a system that emphasizes liberal arts education as we do here.

Second, no one, not even Rubio, said that the value of some profession or course of study is determined by the projected earnings. You are hitting back at strawmen.

You are also arguing against a position no one holds with your third point. The substantive claim is that we should stop stigmatizing vocational education and divert funds to support it. Sadly, given the political realities here, there isn’t an endless supply of money that we can devote to education.

Many people on this thread are pretending that we don’t stigmatize vocational education, but through the little jokes that are made and strange assumptions, it is clear that the stigma is alive and well.

The US system of higher education is unique. We have historically focused on the four year college model because of worries about early tracking of young people. These are serious concerns, but we now see that in stigmatizing vocational education we are actually entrenching class differences rather than helping to break them down.Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

Hi there Plum –

Most comparable European countries have either higher or nearly the same rate of university education as does the US. Not sure where you are getting your figures.

Is someone arguing against proper funding for vocational training? What I said is, at worst, neutral on that question and would be more correctly interpreted as supportive of all sorts of different kinds of training.

Second, Rubio claimed that we need fewer philosophers. That suggests a value judgment, namely, that philosophers are not valuable enough for us to have more of them. What was the reason supporting this judgment? That philosophers make less than welders. So, you know, if it was a straw man it was one Rubio built (quickly, efficiently, and explicitly, I might add).

Rubio literally argued for more funds for welding and less for philosophy. Is that not almost perfect case of a forced choice (you must choose one or the other, but not both).

You are the one who is building the straw man by implying that I claim that there is an endless supply of money. I hardly claimed that. I claimed that there is not a single, fixed pot of money – education money -from which we must allocate all education funding. Rather, there is a lot of money (and new revenue streams, including cheap credit!) out there that can be used to fund all sorts of things. Why not shift funding from the military to education? Why not shift funding from tax breaks to education? Why not borrow money at historically low rates to increase education funds? And so on.

The political realities are what we make of them, Plum. Some states have historically funded education at a nice clip, although it’s fallen off in recent years. E.g., California did a fine job funding education for decades. Can’t it go back to the old model (and stop funding prison guards, e.g.?). Sure it can. It’s hardly a utopian policy (heck, the current CA governor’s father was a milquetoast governor who ensured well-funded funded state universities!).

The last point – about stigmatizing vocational ed – that seems very important. I’d much rather see a longer discussion about that. But, then again, nothing I’ve said here suggests otherwise!Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

This is a response to Matt’s 11:19 post (I can’t reply directly to it).

The World Bank has some figures about gross enrollments in tertiary education on its website. That latest figures are from 2006-2010:
US: 89% (down, due to the financial crisis, from the previous figure of 94%)
UK: 60%
France: 60%
Germany: 60%

So, yeah, many more young Americans are enrolling in tertiary educational programs than young people in Europe. I can’t immediately find data that is broken down into distinct kinds of tertiary educational programs, but if you can find data to support your assertion, I’d love to see it.

I’m glad that you think concerns about stigmatization of vocational education in this society is important. Sadly, it looks like most readers of the Daily Nous would rather amuse themselves with unselfconsciously classist jokes about welders and welding! I’m not surprised that Rebublican criticisms of the “out of touch academic elite” resonate with so many Americans.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

This is a fatuous response. Do “full time tenure-track philosophy professors” make more than welders? Sure. What does that have to do with philosophy majors? Almost nothing at all. I mean, I’m not sure if you’ve heard or not, but there is a major existential crisis in the humanities/philosophy job market. So, good luck getting that $70k/yr position.

Do people with a B.A. in philosophy make more than welders on average? Maybe, for now. But again, the real issue here is that fewer people should go to college and more people should enter vocational training. That was Rubio’s point, and it is correct.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
5 years ago

538 has a piece that looks at philosophy majors (not just full-time professors) and there the salary goes up for those who choose to study philosophy: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/philosophers-dont-get-much-respect-but-their-earnings-dont-suck/?ex_cid=538twitter

I should note that we have ignored Ted Cruz and John Kasich who used “philosophy” as some sort of slur last night and we probably should address that issue as well since it also plays into the anti-intellectual views against the humanities in general.Report

alex
alex
5 years ago

@Professor Plum

I find it a bit disturbing you would speak on behalf of us in a lower socioeconomic class, that all of us pay for the “lofty” rhetoric of a humanities education.

For most of us, the starting salary for a philosopher sounds pretty damn good, even as an adjunct.

And… believe it or not, not all of us are suited for vocations such as welding, plumbing, or construction. Believe it or not, some of us are pretty good at this “philosophy” business, in spite of whatever labor you believe my socioeconomic class is more suited for.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  alex
5 years ago

I literally have no idea what you are talking about.

I’m sure the salary of a professor of philosophy sounds good to lots of people. And where did I say anything about what career you, or anyone else, should pursue?

I object to the classism of those who encourage poor young people to sign their lives away by taking on staggering amounts of debt because a liberal arts degree is good for everyone and is a ticket to the middle class. This is false and odious. Civilized countries don’t screw over their young people in these ways.Report

alex
alex
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

Right, but you don’t even consider the fact that many underpriveleged would rather risk the massive debt in pursuit of doing what they want to do as a career.

You make it sound as though it’s harmful to encourage poor people to pursue their dreams unless it is practical. And that’s just wrong.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  alex
5 years ago

You have misunderstood my point. I never said, or suggested, that only or all those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds should be encouraged to pursue vocational education.

We should encourage and support people to pursue forms of education that suit their self-reported interests and needs.Report

Avi Z.
Avi Z.
5 years ago

A perverse thought crossed my mind. If it were true that the mid-career discrepancy between philosopher and welder (or other “practical” degrees such as accounting) salaries might be caused by the white, male, and other privileged status of Philosophy students, would that mean we should actually be discouraging non-privileged students from majoring in Philosophy? Should Philosophy faculty at non-elite institutions be steering women and minorities away from Philosophy and into fields where they won’t have to rely on a privileged social status to get good jobs? I’m sure many of us (me included) would like to see more non-privileged students in our Philosophy programs, but is it ethical to make them believe a Philosophy degree will serve them as well as it will serve someone with a privileged background?Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Avi Z.
5 years ago

I think the problem with this question is that attributes a single or at least overriding cause to midcareer economic success. It is probably the case that there are many varied reasons why philosophy majors succeed and some of that certainly is due to some of them coming from privileged groups but *hopefully* the skills one learns with their degree is doing some work too. But even if privilege is doing a significant amount of work disproportionate to what it should be doing, it entails that philosophy ought to be more inclusive if for no other reason the furthering of integration. So, a lot of people get jobs because of connections and some of those connections are formed during colleges because students are taking the same classes and form study groups, etc. So students from marginalized groups would then benefit by being in the same classes as those from more privileged backgrounds because they would now have a chance to make friends and connections that they might not otherwise make. Furthermore, I think we’re going to see more in ways of a trend to hire diverse faculty as student bodies become more diverse so there will *hopefully* be more opportunities for women and students of color to enter into academia and that should mitigate some of the power of privilege.Report

Cathy Legg
Cathy Legg
5 years ago

There are a lot of deep issues here and given our (Philosophers’) preferred professional self-description as the finest arguers I would hate to see us resort to self-serving defences of the four-year philosophy degree as it currently exists.
All of these issues are taken up in a searching and brilliant way in Matthew Crawford’s book “Shop Class as Soulcraft”. For anyone currently working full-time in the educational-industrial complex who wants their world view shaken up a bit about ‘white collar vs. blue collar”, in my view it’s a must-read. There’s an abridged version online here: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/shop-class-as-soulcraft. The author has a PhD in political philosophy from University of Chicago and now runs his own motorcycle repair shop.Report

Dale Miller
Reply to  Cathy Legg
5 years ago

I teach the Crawford article in my philosophy of work course and think highly of it. I’d strongly recommend it over the book, which came later and which doesn’t add much of value.Report

Alan White
Reply to  Cathy Legg
5 years ago

Cathy, your excellent Peirce scholarship is showing through (always great to hear your careful thought), and aligns well with the themes from sin nombre above about inclusiveness and the best goals of philosophy. I’d not known Crawford’s work until your post, and it resonated with me from my own socioeconomic and practical background. Thanks so much for this.Report

Hubert Broux
5 years ago

I also listened to Marco Rubio’s comments on FOX News….Interestingly and just a few minutes later Fox News interviewed Gray Scott, the well known futurist philosopher (grayscott.com) who is predicting that within the next 10 to 15 years all welders would be replaced by robots. Meanwhile we need more philosophers to analyse how the society will cope with the fast changing technologies which will result in less blue and white collar workers, longer life span….etcReport

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Hubert Broux
5 years ago

Yes, whatever will we do without philosophers to analyze automation technology’s effect on society.

Here’s a philosophical question for you: can an argument be so self-serving that it defeats itself?Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Hubert Broux
5 years ago

I mean, look, I probably don’t agree with Rubio on 90% or more of his platform, but this is exactly what he’s talking about. How many philosophers do we actually need to “analyse how the society will cope with the fast changing technologies”and so on? One? Two? Clearly this is an important topic that deserves attention from professional philosophers, but I can’t imagine we need more than a handful of people working on this. When we’re talking employment statistics, and the debt and opportunity costs necessary to get a B.A., that kind of job is simply irrelevant.Report

matthew smith
matthew smith
5 years ago

This is a response to Professor Plum on November 12, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Plum –

It’s just you and me now on this thread. Can you hear the drafty breeze gently whistling through the empty corridors of this webpage?

So, those World Bank figures – I checked them out. Turns out that they include all 2-year colleges, vocational training, etc. So, it’s actually not a good figure to cite. I recommend using the OECD data:

https://data.oecd.org/eduatt/population-with-tertiary-education.htm

The US is just a bit above the OECD average, but below many similar states, like the Australia, UK and Norway. Canada, by the way, has waaaaaaay higher tertiary education rates than does the US.

Anyway, it sounds like we agree on a lot of this stuff. So, you know: discourse wins!Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  matthew smith
5 years ago

Hi Matt,
I am nothing if not tenacious (and a procrastinator).

The OECD statistics you cite also include “vocational programmes leading to the labor markets” under tertiary education. I’m not sure, but I suspect that the differences between these numbers and the World Bank numbers can be explained by which age groups are being considered. The World Bank numbers show that a much higher percentage of American 18-23 year olds are enrolled in tertiary educational programs than in comparable European countries or Canada, but when you consider people aged 20-29, as the OECD data does, the rates are roughly equivalent. This would seem to support my point: in the US, many more young people enroll in tertiary educational programs immediately after completing high school (and eventually drop out).

But since you are in such an agreeable mood, a question: do you agree that those book covers at the top of this post (e.g., Mind and Weld) are only funny if one brings some rather classist assumptions to them? I can imagine similar jokes involving evaluations of women or African-Americans, and I suspect people would be Outraged. Yet the these jokes seem to raise no objections at all.Report

DC
DC
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

Rank classism is certainly tolerated to an amazing extent in the academic community, frequently phrased in terms of “it’s outrageous that [insert blue-collar, manual labor job here] make more than me.”Report