Sunday, July 11, 2021

"Can too many brainy people be a dangerous thing?" Overproduction of graduate degrees may lead to political instability

 Peter Turchin wrote an essay for Nature magazine, in which he predicted growing instability for the United States and Europe. 

Why? Turchin thinks western society has produced too many graduates with advanced degrees. This "overproduction of elites" has created a large class of unhappy people--many of whom are drifting into radical politics.

According to Turchin's thesis (summarized in The Economist), the various would-be elites struggle against each other for wealth and prestige. The conflict becomes particularly intense during a time of growing inequality. 

"The rewards for being at the top are then especially lucrative, both in terms of earning power and political influence, and those who miss out feel the loss more keenly."

Without question, American universities have produced too many people with advanced degrees--degrees that often do not bring enhanced status or wealth. The schools have turned out too many lawyers, too many MBA graduates, too many people with advanced soft-skill degrees in ethnic studies, gender studies, and diversity.

Most people who get these advanced degrees take out student loans to finance their studies--often loans in six figures. As the Wall Street Journal reported a few days ago, a high percentage of people with master's degrees from such elite institutions as Harvard and Columbia don't find jobs that pay enough for them to service their student loan debt.

As our universities create more and more would-be elites, their graduates become angrier and angrier. "Articulate, educated people rebel, producing a scramble for political and economic power."

I think Professor Turchin has analyzed our present malaise quite perceptively. Millions of Americans are living in a condition of barely contained rage.

But, in my view, these would-be elites have not yet focused their anger in the right direction. All those millions of people who took out massive student loans in the hope of improving their social and economic status should be angry at the universities that fleeced them and the politicians that refuse to reform the federal student loan program.

Unfortunately, our colleges have not given their graduates the problem-solving and analytical skills they need to figure out who screwed them over. Nevertheless, I think the rubes will eventually figure it out; when they do, there will be hell to pay.

Yucking it up at Harvard: Such fun to fleece the rubes!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Ivy League's Biggest Scam: Expensive Graduate Degrees That Don't Pay Off

 If you are thinking about enrolling in a pricey Ivy League graduate program, read a recent Wall Street Journal article titled "'Financially Hobbled for Life': The Elite Master's Degrees That Don't Pay Off." 

Reporters Melissa Korn and Andrea Fuller report on a WSJ analysis of student debt owed by people who graduated from prestigious schools like Harvard, NYU, and Columbia. Two years after getting degrees from these toney joints, a high percentage of elite-school graduates were not working in jobs that would allow them to pay off their student loans.

For example, a New Jersey guy got a master's degree in Fine Arts in film at Columbia. Two years after graduating, he owes nearly $300,000 in student loans (including interest) and earns between $30,000 and $60,000 a year. Will this man ever pay off his student loans? Not bloody likely.

And this is not an isolated example. The WSJ reported that the median student-loan debt for Columbia's film program graduates was $171,000 in 2017-2018.  How many of those people are earning $171,000 in their current jobs? How many will ever pay off their student loans?

What attracts bright people to expensive Ivy League graduate programs? As one Columbia film graduate said, "We were told by the establishment our whole lives this was the way to jump social classes."

But we were told wrong. I got an essentially useless doctorate from Harvard, thinking the degree would erase Oklahoma from my vita. But it didn't. I still have range dust in my diction, and I still see the world much like my hard-scrabble ancestors saw it--the ones who lived through the Dust Bowl.

The WSJ analysis focuses mainly on Columbia University's film program and its graduate program in theatre arts. But there are other unindicted co-conspirators.  

Harvard's master of education degree, for example, is a scam.   You can get a master's degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education in only nine months, but the total cost of that experience is $85,000 (including room and board). 

I picked up a Harvard master's degree as I went through Harvard's doctoral program. I was proud of it at the time. I went to the graduation ceremony (very posh) and even framed the diploma.

But I no longer put that degree on my vita, and I lost the diploma somewhere along the way.  Thinking back on that experience, I wonder at my naivete.  I sat in packed classrooms containing as many as 200 students, and most of my teachers were nontenured instructors.  

One of my Harvard professors enjoyed rock-star status while I was there. She gave one two-hour lecture a week for a four-hour course. Her graduate students taught the other two hours.  Office hours? If you wanted to see this professor, you had to submit a written petition to one of her graduate students explaining why your appointment was worth this professor's precious time.

I say again. If you are thinking about taking out loans to get an Ivy League master's degree, read the WSJ article first.  If you still want to pursue that path, consult a good therapist--because you are delusional.

If you are from Oklahoma, a Harvard degree won't take the range dust out of your diction.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

12-foot long python escapes into a Baton Rouge shopping mall: What the hell are we doing?

 A 12-foot long python escaped from the Blue Zoo Aquarium in Baton Rouge a few days ago, and the Fire Department began looking for it in the Mall of Louisiana.

But do not worry. A Blue Zoo spokesperson said that Cara (the snake's name) is "a very sweet snake." Apparently, it poses no threat to my grandchildren.

I did not know that Baton Rouge's biggest shopping mall even had a zoo. But it does. It is a private enterprise that charges daily admission and (until recently at least) offered a snake show three times a week.

It is illegal for people to own giant, exotic snakes in Louisiana unless they have a government permit.  I quote the statute:

The importation or private possession of constrictor snakes in excess of eight feet long . .  obtained in any manner, shall be only by permit issued by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries except for animals kept by animal sanctuaries, zoos, aquariums, wildlife research centers, scientific organizations, and medical research facilities . . . .

I feel sure the Blue Zoo is legally entitled to possess a snake and was not breaking the law by keeping it in its shopping mall location. 

But what the hell are we doing? 

The Florida Everglades are infested with pythons because people once owned them as pets. Those snakes either escaped or were set free by owners who got bored with them.

As far as anyone knows, there are no pythons in South Louisiana, although the climate is hospitable to them. The Blue Zoon Aquarium is not far from Bluebonnet Bayou, where native snakes thrive. I'm sure Care would feel at home there.

Our world is dangerous enough without running unnecessary risks that can make it more dangerous. We will not be made safer by doing things we shouldn't be doing just to make a buck.

The Blue Zoo people are sorry Cara slithered away. "This is like we lost our child," a spokeswoman lamented.

Nevertheless, Cara is no less dangerous because it has a cute name. You can name an alligator Tiffany, and the son-of-a-bitch will still kill you.

Postscript: Searchers found Cara this morning. The snake was in a crawlspace inside the shopping mall. 

"A very sweet snake"

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Want to be a College Professor? Some Things to Consider

So you want to be a college professor. 

You enjoy writing, research, and teaching. You want to live in a world of ideas. Why not academia?

It may seem like a nice life. Most professors have almost complete control of their time. They are required to teach their classes and hold office hours, but you may be able to do that work remotely.

Colleges have no dress codes, so you can show up on campus dressed in "business casual," a jogging outfit, or even your pajamas.  The pay is not great, but the benefits may be pretty good: health insurance and a decent retirement plan.

But before you pursue an academic career, ask yourself these questions:

What are the opportunity costs?

Almost all professors have advanced degrees, and it can take a long time to get your doctorate. When I was at Harvard, Professor John Willett told my cohort that the median time for completion of our doctoral program was seven years.

Seven years! Seven years of being out of the workforce! Seven years living off of student loans! Seven years hanging out in the squalid town of Cambridge, Massachusetts!

I will be forever grateful to Professor Willett for his warning. I managed to get my doctorate in four years and be back in the workforce after three and a half years. 

But my starting salary as a professor was one-third what I made practicing law. My opportunity costs were high.

What will you teach?

It is a tight job market for academics, especially in social sciences, education, and the liberal arts. You may write your doctoral dissertation on Balkan nationalism during the Habsburg era and discover that you can't get a job.

On the other hand, the job market is better in business schools and the hard sciences.  And the colleges need more and more administrators--especially in the fields of student services and diversity.

Don't pursue an advanced degree in a field with dismal job prospects. You will end up taking out student loans that you can't pay back.

Where will you teach?

When you are out on the job market, consider where you want to live. Do you want to work at a major research university in a big city--somewhere like the University of Texas or the University of Chicago? Do you have the chops for that?

Or does a small liberal arts college in rural New England look more appealing? 

When making that decision, be aware that the small, liberal arts colleges are under severe stress due to declining enrollments and dwindling revenues. Many will close in the next few years. Don't start your career at an institution that is on the verge of shutting down.  That misstep will be difficult to recover from.

Also, look closely into an institution's benefits plan before taking a job. My first job was at Louisiana State University, which has one of the worst retirement programs in the United States. And Louisiana public employees do not participate in Social Security.

If you make your career in Louisiana, you will be a lot poorer when you retire than if you retire from a Texas or a California university. That may not mean much to you when you are young, but it will mean a lot to you when you are 70.


After reading this, you might conclude that I regret my decision to become a university professor. Actually, I don't. Practicing law--my former profession--was a lot more challenging than teaching, but it was stressful. Being a professor is not stressful--especially if you don't take your job too seriously.

I met a wonderful woman in Louisiana, married into a terrific family, and emersed myself in the riches of South Louisiana culture--its music, its cuisine, and even its 100-proof Catholicism. I've had a good life.

But if you decide to be a college professor, go forward with your eyes open.  It can be a more difficult life choice than you anticipated.

So you want a job like this guy has?

You can now follow my blog on Thanks to my faithful readers

Many of my readers follow my blog on FeedBurner, but that service is being eliminated this month.  I am now signed up with, an alternative to Feedburner.  If you would like to know more about this service, here is the link: 

I generally post about once or twice a week, and if you are a FeedBurner subscriber, you've already been switched to follow.itMy new format also has an easy-to-see and easy-to-access button at the top of my blog page, which you can use to become a subscriber.

I have been writing on the student-loan crisis for more than 20 years. I have been blogging about it on for about 10 years. Over the years, I've posted more than 850 essays, and so far, only one person has threatened to kill me. (That turned out to be a misunderstanding).

Unfortunately, the federal student loan program has not been reformed in any substantive way since it was created in 1965.  As I have tirelessly argued, Bankruptcy relief is the only straightforward remedy for the abuse; and that reform is not on the political horizon.

I have recently begun shifting my focus to giving practical advice about how to avoid falling into the student-loan trap. Once students have crossed the line into excessive student debt, they become like saber-toothed tigers who stumble into the La Brea tar pits.  They can never get out. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

U.S. Army abandons Bagram Airfield at night--doesn't tell local commander: Good luck, guys! Don't forget to write!

 Afghanistan soldiers guarding Bagram Airfield woke up Tuesday morning to discover that the U.S. Army had sneaked out in the night without telling its ally.  

But the Army left some going-away gifts to soften the blow: several hundred armored vehicles, small arms, and tons of ammunition.

Good luck, guys! Don't forget to write!

Retired General Jack King, a television news analyst, said the Americans made a mistake. We should have left enough troops to support the Afghan army--particularly air support. Otherwise, the Taliban--America's sworn enemy--will retake the county in a matter of weeks or months.

And the Taliban will retaliate against the local people who worked for the United States as translators, security guards, and informants.  Those people will have to leave their native country or be killed.

King is being proven right. Aljazeera News reports that the Taliban now controls about a third of the country, and Afghan soldiers are fleeing across the border into the old Soviet-era Asian republics.

 Remember those hapless Vietnamese people scrambling onto retreating American helicopters? Yes, we've seen this movie before.

On the other hand, America's twenty-year war in Afghanistan--like a bad marriage--had to end sometime.  The British were in Afghanistan in the nineteenth century and got their clock cleaned. If you want to read a fictional account of that disaster, check out George McDonald Fraser's humorous novel Flashman and the Great Game

Then the Russians invaded Afghanistan and got their Slavic butts kicked.  Wanna see a movie about that? Watch Charlie Wilson's War, starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Amy Adams.

Would America have been better off spending trillions of dollars on infrastructure rather than blowing it in Asia? What if we had built a high-speed train system like the Europeans or stabilized our eroding coastline instead of hauling gasoline into Afghanistan over the Khyber Pass?

But I do not claim to be a foreign-policy expert. Maybe our government did the right thing by invading Afghanistan after 9/11. I simply don't know.

When I face a philosophical quandary, I often consult the archives of country music, which ponders the cosmic issues. The Afghan army may be listening to Willy Nelson this morning as it tours the abandoned American military bases:

[T]he last thing I needed
The first thing this morning
Was to have you walk out on me

But Willie knew the end was coming when his girlfriend stayed out all night and came home drunk. And the Afghanis surely knew the U.S. would be feckless in the end.

But America better not pull out on Israel the way it pulled out on Afghanistan.  Because if we do, the consequences will be dire not just for the Israelis but for our children and grandchildren.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Is that a Glock in your pocket or are you just glad to be in Massachusetts? Armed "Moorish Americans" run out of gas on I-95

 Massachusetts police arrested eleven armed men on Interstate 95 over the Fourth of July weekend. A spokesperson for the arrestees said group members are "Moorish Americans,"  who were peaceably headed for Maine to do some training. 

And why not? 

Unfortunately, these Moorish Americans had the extreme bad luck of running out of gas in Massachusetts, which has stringent gun laws.

So--who are these guys? 

Associated Press tells us someone posted a video on 1-95, which identified the group as Rise of the Moors (ROM). ROM is headquartered in nearby Rhode Island and has a website explaining itself as a group that celebrates Moorish contributions to human progress:

Because of Moorish innovation and science came algebra, arithmetic, compasses and tools of navigation, astronomy, cosmology; our mastery of pens and printing; advances in medicine and the understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed through plants and other medicinal herbs.

But they also seem to be associated with what the Anti-Defamation League [ADL]calls the "Moorish Movement," which ADL identifies as "[a]n Afro-centric offshoot of the sovereign citizen movement that emerged in the mid-1990s. . . " 

According to the ADL:

Moorish sovereign citizens often claim to have special rights because of their “Moorish” status or because they are “indigenous inhabitants” of North America. In recent years, the Moorish movement has grown considerably, making the African-American community a surprising growth area for a movement with extreme right-wing origins

I checked out the ROM website, and it all seems benign to me. 

I feel sorry for the ROM guys, and I hope the Massholes turn them loose so they can celebrate the Fourth of July weekend in Maine--perhaps munching on hotdogs and shooting off some fireworks. 

And if ROM is, in fact, a "sovereign nation" group, I further hope the Commonwealth of Massachusetts treats all such groups alike, regardless of race. Although the ROM members happen to be Black, other sovereign nation groups are Native American or White. 

In my opinion, all these organizations are mostly made up of people who hold idealistic political views, but they are not dangerous. Thus, the Massachusetts police should not have confronted them with armored vehicles, as AP reported.

Incidentally, Wikidictionary identifies Masshole as "a contemptible or obnoxious person from Massachusetts. 

Rise of the Moors folks look like friendly people. (Photo credit: ROM website)