This blog is about living the American Dream at the dawn of the new millennium! I am a nameless, mid-20s, bottom 150 Law School Graduate who finds himself marginally attached and awash in a sea of overeducated but underpaid, indentured peers who feel, and were, duped by the promise of a better life through debt and modern chemistry. Let's get to the point. The Law School Industrial Complex is a scam that has destroyed a generation out of greed. Vendettas were once legal and the pursuit of one was seen not only as moral, but necessary. This newly minted lawyer is going to continue the practice. DON'T GO TO LAW SCHOOL YOU MORONS! Ce qui suit est ce qui reste!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Higher Education = A Designer Purse

"Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability...No class of society, not even the most abjectly poor, forgoes all customary conspicuous consumption" ~ Thor Veblen - weirdo and early sociologist who had terrible personal hygiene...look it up moron

You know I've generally avoided the larger picture of the state of our economy, other than to note that it's really shitty and represents a fundamental shift in the way our society distributes wealth for the foreseeable future recovering.  For those of you under a rock, for the first time since its creation Standard and Poor's downgraded the country formerly known as the Pax Americana.  In my opinion, it's one of the clearer signs that the civilized rest of the world is starting to note that our country has gone batshit crazy in the past 10 years and it's really starting to affect our economy as much as our culture.  The super rich that have benefited from a skewed political system over the past thirty years will likely be unaffected as their wealth transcends national borders.  It's the common folk who are going to be hurting and hurting for a long time.

The one thing that everyone is good at in the mainstream press, and I would say Americans at large, is pointing out problems rather than providing solutions.  Whether it's the fact that almost half of the two-party system continues to believe their president is a negro foreigner & the other political party actually loses a fight to tax the wealthiest 1% of the population at the same proportion as everyone else thereby solving the deficit crisis is unbelievable...they nearly shut down the government as a whole from carping and now they're threatening not to raise the debt ceiling (if you honestly think shutting down a government is a good idea--I guess I don't really disagree with you except America isn't Belgium, we've got a lot more ignorance and firearms).

Even though every problem contains a solution, at least in mathematics, within social institutions that kind of self-reform never happens is almost unheard of in the span of human history.  *See any religious organization, political party, recreational club devoted to bowling etc.  It's always some radical element that infuses the prevailing order with its own philosophy, kind of like a virus, or overthrows it and mandates the "reform" they wanted.  I have yet to really see any kind of viral shift in higher education, especially law school, because it's far too profitable--and it's not a system you can just overthrow.  It kind of reminds me of slavery, yes the slaves could rebel, but in terms of eliminating the system entirely there is no way that slaves were ever in the position to do so (except in Haiti--so I guess in terms of population break down any law schools in Rhode Island should be wary).

The only reason why formalized slavery ended on a global scale was because of a combination of forces both internal and external to the system--namely abolitionists.  When abolitionists made heartfelt cries and attempts to end it on moral or logical grounds, they flat out failed.  It's complicated and involves changing some British maritime regulations and other geopolitical forces more than morality to explain how systemic slavery ended.  If you thought the Civil War did it, you're a moron, also fun fact there are more de facto slaves in today's world than at any point in history.  This fact doesn't include the lesser edu-dentured servants as I now call my generation...I should copyright that shit right there.   

So it's refreshing to see someone actually propose a solution to higher education that is remarkably simple.  Don't fucking go.

Peter Thiel, the billionaire hedge funder who co-founded PayPal wants to create an incentive program to create successful dropouts and never-wents.  He's calling it the “20 Under 20″ where he and his friends pick the "best" twenty kids they can find younger than 20 years and pay them $100,000 over two years to leave their college and start a company.  There have been other economists and financial advisers who have said it'd be better to take the $100K plus, or in the case of law students & many of my classmates over $250,000, in tuition and use it for something worthwhile.

Of course, Thiel's just the first person I've seen who is actually putting his money where his mouth is--even though the whole program is what he probably makes in a day. It also helps that he throws the rocks while wearing his Stanford cap & gown (the same argument made by a "insider" always has more validity to it than an "outsider" in average person at least).

For the full article, check it out here

However, just as interesting as the program is the logic and philosophy behind it.  Basically, he's the wealthiest scamblogger in the world.  Thiel is quoted as rightly saying, and possibly my favorite out of the whole interview:

“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

That pretty much sums up why the scamblogs are met with such derision.  Not only are we going after the over-padded bank accounts and salaries of the schmucks who run these schools as administrators, it's literally killing a cherished myth.  To attack the value of Higher Education is like attacking the American Dream...and for a lot of people that is all they really have to lie to themselves to keep going through with the daily grind.

Similarly, the idea that attending Harvard is all about learning? Yeah. No one pays a quarter of a million dollars just to read Chaucer. The implicit promise is that you work hard to get there, and then you are set for life.  It can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. “It’s what you’ve been told all your life, and it’s how schools rationalize a quarter of a million dollars in debt,” Thiel says.

It's pretty much the exact thing that I and most other scambloggers have been saying all along.  All you have to do to see that we are right is look at the numbers put out by some of my more meticulous compatriots.  Of course going to law school is a ridiculous gamble that makes no fiscal sense.  It's overpriced, there are too many lawyers, there aren't enough jobs.  But while Nando and others deliciously point out the idiocy of the arguments by the numbers, I focus generally on the opposite---the mythmaking and magical thinking behind the dream that higher ed provides. 

That's the more powerful thing.  To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, it's the power of the myth--the magical thinking--the raw often unconscious emotion behind the decisions made to voluntarily attend ivory towers of learning. 

But Thiel’s issues with education run even deeper. He thinks it’s fundamentally wrong for a society to pin people’s best hope for a better life on  something that is by definition exclusionary. “If Harvard were really the best education, if it makes that much of a difference, why not franchise it so more people can attend? Why not create 100 Harvard affiliates?” he says. “It’s something about the scarcity and the status. In education your value depends on other people failing. Whenever Darwinism is invoked it’s usually a justification for doing something mean. It’s a way to ignore that people are falling through the cracks, because you pretend that if they could just go to Harvard, they’d be fine. Maybe that’s not true.”

And that ripples down to other private colleges and universities. At an event two weeks ago, I met Geoffrey Canada, one of the stars of the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” He talked about a college he advises that argued they couldn’t possible cut their fees for the simple reason that people would deem them to be less-prestigious.

I was one of those people who tried to have a life outside of school, couldn't stand it when I was forced to sit in a class, and by the 3rd year of Law School spent most of my time playing online games while a professor did the bare minimum.  However, I come from a family and background where you went to get a master's degree, a law degree, amedical degree, or Ph.D. because that is "what one does."  Every single person from my preparatory academy high school has at least a master's degree.  Let's also be real, it's not that the people I went to school with were smart or always hanging out in the library because they loved learning.  Their parents were just richer than the people who lived in the neighboring zip code. So they bought degrees--sometimes with donations, sometimes with friends in high places, sometimes with prep courses, tutoring, etc. but make no mistake if these kids had been born in different circumstances they wouldn't have been sent off to some ridiculously overpriced school to learn something as useless as law   pottery.

It's the educational equivalent of spending thousands of dollars for a Louis Vuitton purse or whatever the kids buy nowadays--also called conspicuous consumption--to publicize their own status and high worth to the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, the majority of people cannot afford to waste thousands of dollars on a Louis Vuitton purse, and by the way you're really buying nothing--literally when you buy a purse or any other bag you're buying space to hold shit you probably don't need.  

So the knockoff and imitation versions of the bag come out, or the homage version comes out (the same is true of watches about every single mass produced watch can be traced back to a handful of luxury ones that created a paradigm--see Rolex).  The bag as an idea loses its luster.  In terms of functionality--whether it's a bag, watch, or law degree--and even my top tier friends agree--the genuine article is pretty much the same as the knockoff (hey guess what kids, everyone uses the same textbooks).  Although if you go to the Top Law Schools forum they make the exact opposite argument, all day, every day.  They do so with the most vociferous whinging I've seen since a girl in my 5th grade class complained to the headmistress that her skirt wasn't too short and shouldn't be sent home (if you didn't go to private schools you won't get it--naner naner naner--no really you lucked out private school culture is a hell of drug abuse, over-privilege, MTV reality show like victim-hood, and snootiness).  

The ravenous demand for this item continues.  In terms of a law school education, by the time the bubble gets to the top we not only have the 4th tier of law schools, we have unaccredited schools or schools opening up in India.  At that point, the bag loses all meaning and so the ultra rich will search for the next status item while the poor bastards who bought into the dream continue the quest for the now "unfashionable/undesirable" item.  That's why there's such a high turnover of trendy fashion accessories, one season it's this, the next season it's that, meanwhile we're running out of natural resources.

Unfortunately, if you spend a $100 bucks out of your paycheck it probably won't make a difference that you bought the fake bag and grew tired of it.  But when the people who can afford to spend $5,000 on a bag that's really worth $20 bucks are actually spending $10,000 for it, then everything gets inflated beyond reason.  It becomes almost impossible for someone of average means to have a chance of getting a law degree that same overpriced $5,000 bag without going into nondischargeable debt for the rest of their life causing financial ruin.  

But what if you pay $10,000 dollars for a bag that was only worth $20 bucks when your budget only allowed you to spend $100?  Welcome to the new normal.

By the end of the article, the writer points out that most of the kids in Thiel's program are not inner city geniuses tinkering in the local rec center.  Instead they're more like him, kids of privilege either financially or educationally (i.e. ivy/top tiers).  Thiel's program is attacking the prestige of higher education in general--but not dealing with the underlying, more destructive idea of elitist entitlement.  

Also, just to plant this seed in your mind, it is more likely that Thiel doesn't really give a shit about higher ed or the claims he lays against it.  The actual purpose of the program is to try and find the next Facebook-cash cow...but I'm sure that his modest "incentive" wouldn't provide him with a significant stake in any successful venture from one of the "best" kids in his program...only a cynic would think that's the true motivation behind the program....cynics...

The ultimate irony will likely be that in the future, the status symbol will be no education at all.  Because the super rich won't need a degree to get by in a system they've rigged, they never did.  And a lack of formal, higher education is the only thing that the dirt poor and the super wealthy will ever share in the future.



  1. Demos, I come from a different social set. I was the first in my family to graduate from college, let alone law school. For many years, Hispanics did not push their children to go to college. In comparison to Asians, blacks and non-Hispanic whites, this is probably still the case.

    In the past 10 years, I have met literally hundreds of poor-to-modest minority men and women who have at least one of the following toxic assets: MA, MS, MFA, JD, PhD, MSCW, MBA, MSW, MSCJ, MMPP or MPA. These people (mistakenly) believe that "higher education" will put them in a higher social class. For many, an advanced degree or two symbolizes "accomplishment." (Personally, I am more impressed by a half-court shot that goes in the basket - and I am not a big sports fan.)

    I know several Hispanic women - some making $55K-$65K as professionals and managers - who want to go to law school. Some of these women already have an MBA or MPA. When I ask them why they would want to give up a decent income - for the chance to incur more student debt - they invariably tell me that they are not happy in their job.

    This is another problem with Americans. (Actually it stems from the larger problem Americans have accepting reality.) Anyway, people believe that they should enjoy their job. Guess what? Short of playing second base for the San Francisco Giants, being a globe-trotting photographer for National Geographic, or getting paid to pound Lauren Graham from behind, most people will not enjoy their job.

  2. You are not allowed to be so insightful. Go see the headmaster.

  3. Stop posting this stuff, you'll scare the help.

  4. "Guess what? Short of playing second base for the San Francisco Giants, being a globe-trotting photographer for National Geographic, or getting paid to pound Lauren Graham from behind, most people will not enjoy their job."

    Giants suck.

    Getting bit by mosquitos in some 3rd world hellhole taking photos sucks.

    Pounding Lauren Graham from behind...yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  5. See. They're already making noises about humping above thier station. You above, back to the scullery.

  6. 4:47 pm

    And who won the World Series last year, asshole?

  7. S&P didn't "downgrade" the United States. They said there's a 1-in-3 chance they'll reduce our AAA rating in the next two years, based on our country's inability to address our economic tailspin.

    If you're a Republican, you think that's because the S&P wants us to go back to the Bush economic policies and stop electing Democrats. If you're a Democrat, you think the S&P was censuring the Tea Party GOP base for playing abortion-politics with the budget for almost a year (the GOP blocked the Dems budget with a cloture move prior to the mid-terms, in case anyone has forgotten recent history already) and for threatening not to increase the debt limit this session.

    Either way, these are the people who completely missed the subprime bubble, and the other ratings agency, Moody's, said the exact opposite. So basically it's a wash. But "downgrade?" No. That didn't happen.

  8. As for Nando's comment. I don't know if Americans expect to be "happy" so much as they have been raised to expect to get by with a reasonable level of work-to-return ratio. That has disappeared from most jobs, due to globalization, and so people inevitably turn to something they think can't be outsourced or made insecure. Law is the last stop for those who insist on chasing the American dream. It's sad that circumstances changed so quickly, and some people just won't believe that everything their parents said about work-hard-to-achieve has become a bs narrative, used now mainly to entice the masses to take on more and more debt.

  9. "To attack the value of Higher Education is like attacking the American Dream...and for a lot of people that is all they really have to lie to themselves to keep going through with the daily grind"

    I grew up hearing from all the Adults that if one did not go to College, one would always have to work much harder, and for a lot less compensation, and would never be promoted, the way the educated "Kid" that is new on the job would. He had that Degree.

    And to try and paraphrase the idea of the American Dream you mention; the dream that kept many people going every day, went something like this:

    "I'm going to work hard to make sure my kids go to College, so they won't have to struggle and go through everything their old man (and/or mother) did."

    The Government helped that dream along by giving a guarantee to Student Loans.

    So what happened?

    And I distinctly remember an old commercial featuring the former NY Governor Mario Cuomo.

    He articulated the same concept. He talked about how his parents came through Ellis Island, and how they worked hard, and he worked hard, and went to Law School and college and succeeded obviously.(He went to St. John's and I believe completed a JD and an MBA program-a very difficult one)

    That was the old formula, but not any more it seems.

    That mindset was almost what you could call unassailable morality, but not any more.

  10. Yes, indeed. At no point was the United States ever formally referred to as Pax Americana either, except as a rhetorical flourish used by JFK during a speech at American University.

  11. @JDPainter - I'm finding, more and more, that anything your average older person/parental type says about anything at all is just complete and utter bullshit.

    That's not because our parents were stupid. It's because advertisers and financiers figured out a way to make money off of EVERYTHING parents told their kids to do. I mean, look at the "eat sensible portions and exercise" advice - it's just used to sell so much crap. And "get an education?" We all know how that turned out.

    It's just too easy. If parents said "do this," people will do it even if it doesn't obviously make sense. And if people will do something stupid just because they were told to, then that means someone can make money off it.