The power of degrees to draw salaries wanes as more people obtain degrees: this is one viable lesson that they still teach in economics, though many PhDs seem to have missed it (or to think that creative mathematics can make it disappear, more or less the same way astrology used to correct character flaws).

What matters more than “education” is the right kind of education (i.e. training in a viable, sustainable method of living). Given our current circumstances, this sort of education is really unpopular: it does not put money or influence or raw power into the hands of established interests (who consequently found few institutions to teach it, endow few scholarships or professorships to facilitate it, and use whatever political and social clout they possess generally to mock and undermine it). The right kind of education requires a student able to imagine living a life unlike that of his parents (or the rich people of his parents’ generation, whose mores he is constantly bombarded with as desirable insofar as they make him easier for established interests to manipulate–via debts, social obligations, and desire for “nice things” made in a sweatshop somewhere). It requires radical freedom of thought–not the kind of regimented bean-counting that stops short of articulating any idea remotely threatening to established interests (who understandably position themselves as pillars of social and political and economic stability, even as history reveals that they are built upon sand that is shifting as we speak).

Real education involves living, not just thinking. It cannot come from a classroom, not even when that classroom has been outfitted with all the best technology that a committee of experts can imagine and acquire. Real education teaches us how to adapt and survive along an entire lifetime–and beyond. (One utility of studying history is that it reminds you of a time when people didn’t think in terms of single generations, let alone market and election cycles measured in terms of a few months or years.) Real education does not teach us how to get and maintain jobs in a narrow market defined by scarcity and fragility. It teaches us how to maximize independence rather than servility. It costs a lot in terms of effort, and little in terms of cash (the reverse of many degrees offered by modern universities). It incentivizes process over completion, independence over employment, integrity over profit, and virtuous failure over depraved success.

This diatribe appeared originally on my personal blog.  –JGM