his honor wants more truck drivers

Our governor, bless his heart, has come out with his latest education-is-overrated statement:

“We’ve frankly got enough psychologists and sociologists and political science majors and journalists. With all due respect to journalism, we’ve got enough. We have way too many,” McCrory said to laughter from the audience.

He said we have too many lawyers too, adding that some mechanics are making more than lawyers.

“And journalists, did I say journalists?” he said for emphasis.

My favorite neocon friend/mentor/correspondent wrote me to ask:

What say you to your Governor about this? In fact, he is always partly right. In fact, your Univeristy [sic] Entitled Ones are always more wrong than right.

Here’s my answer:

First, the fact that Governor McCrory conflates majors with occupations is the Freudian slip — the Lacanian fragment of the real, if you will — that reveals the unstated assumption: that the sole function of college education is employment, and more specifically training for specific jobs. Neither the North Carolina Constitution nor the UNC Charter contemplates this instrumental view; instead,

it is the indispensable duty of every Legislature to consult the happiness of a rising generation, and endeavor to fit them for an honorable discharge of the social duties of life, by paying the strictest attention to their education: And … a university supported by permanent funds, and well endowed, would have the most direct tendency to answer the above purpose

In other words: McCrory is asking the wrong question. Even if “we” (meaning North Carolina, I guess) are in greater need of truck drivers than social scientists, lawyers, and journalists, it does not follow that access to high-quality four-year college should decline. I would assert that North Carolina will be better off if its truck drivers, HVAC technicians, and technicians are well-educated because the public has an interest in all of them “honorabl[y] discharg[ing] the social duties of life.”

Second, The Honorable Governor McCrory is probably wrong about the need for occupations in the future. BLS suggests that the growth in social science occupations by 2022 will be roughly that of truck drivers, as will that of lawyers. Journalists, granted, are plummeting, but they are apparently being replaced by dramatic growth in other kinds of “Miscellaneous Media and Communication Workers” (Oy!).

I can imagine why the Governor prefers fewer journalists, lawyers, and social scientists, and why he prefers his truck drivers and mechanics minimally educated. But he’s wrong as a matter of public policy and the long-term good of the state.

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

10 thoughts on “his honor wants more truck drivers”

  1. According to the 2011 ACS (the latest I have on my computer) unemployment among sociology majors was 5.8 (raw n = 16 out of 272 in the labor market). In contrast, unemployment among “Driver/Sales Workers and Truck Drivers” in North Carolina was 7.5% (raw n = 500 out of 6,539). It’s a dumb comparison, but it’s the one the Governor made.

    It looks like full time employed truckers in NC also make $2K less than the median wages of full-time employed NC workers.

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  2. Speaking of unstated assumptions, an unstated assumption in this post appears to be that a four-year college degree is necessary for an “honorable discharge of the social duties of life.”

    Another unstated assumption of the post is that public policy should be evaluated in terms of the state and not the individual: even if North Carolina would be better off with college-educated truck drivers and HVAC technicians, let’s at least consider whether the truck drivers and HVAC technicians themselves would be better off investing the associated financial and opportunity costs involved in earning a four-year college degree.

    It’s also an unstated assumption of the post that the views of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1789 regarding the role of a university can be used to support public policy positions in 2014, without requiring any reflection on whether the role of a university might have changed in the past 200 years. (I suppose an alternate unstated assumption could concern the use of original legislative intent.)

    And it seems to be an unstated assumption of the post that there are facts, concepts, or skills necessary for an “honorable discharge of the social duties of life” that cannot be learned in K12 or through independent study but can be learned in four years of college.

    I’m not arguing against increased access to college or against universal college education, but if we’re going to make the case that North Carolina would be better off with college-educated truck drivers and HVAC technicians, then it’s worthwhile to identify what these future truck drivers and HVAC technicians will learn in college that will benefit the state; and, once we identify these things, then it’s also worthwhile from a public policy standpoint to consider whether it is possible to teach these things before students graduate from high school.

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    1. I acknowledge plenty of unstated assumptions, but think your objections are overstated.

      1.) I don’t claim that a degree is necesssary for the “honorable discharge…”, but rather that it is helpful. My assertion is that the things students learn in college have benefits in social (and political) domains, not that people cannot perform adequately in these domains without college.

      2.) The governor was making claims about the state’s need for workers, not about the individual benefit to those workers. Making high-quality college available to people doesn’t force them to take it. The question is whether there is a state interest in high-quality education that goes beyond employability. I assert that there is.

      3.) The 1789 charter is, in fact, the founding document of an instituton the governor is charged with fostering. It articulates a vision for the university that far transcends job training. Subsequent mission statements and the like have reiterated, in various ways, that the university’s role is not simply about job training.

      4.) facts,concepts, or skills: see 1.) above.

      I agree that it’s a worthwile, even urgent, project to assess what people learn in college that benefits the public in domains beyond employment. The question of whether these can be taught pre-college is a losing proposition, in my view, because it will always be the case that whatever learning has occurred in K-12 can be expanded, deepened, and grown through more education. So an unstated assumption in your response: that the set of facts, concepts, and skills relevant to “honorable discharge” is static and finite.

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      1. Hi Andrew,

        Of course “it will always be the case that whatever learning has occurred in K-12 can be expanded, deepened, and grown through more education.” But it’s also the case that whatever learning has occurred in a four-year undergraduate program can be deepened in a master’s program…and that learning from a master’s program can be deepened by a doctoral program…and that learning from a doctoral program can be deepened by a second doctoral program.

        So if North Carolina would be better off if its truck drivers and mechanics earned a four-year college degree, then it seems logical that North Carolina would also be better off if its truck drivers and mechanics had Ph.D.s and J.D.s and M.D.s. The critical question is not whether more formal education is better, but the point at which the benefit of more formal education outweighs its cost.

        I’m not sure whether the list of the facts, skills, and concepts relevant to an honorable discharge of the social duties of life is static, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the list is finite, because an infinite list implies that it’s impossible to honorably discharge the social duties of life.

        So let’s assume a finite list. I have no problem with a moral argument for universal access to college; but if the argument is that North Carolina receives some benefit from college-educated truck drivers and mechanics, then it seems necessary to identify the facts, skills, or concepts that provide this public benefit and that can be learned only in college.

        I’m not arguing that these facts, skills, and concepts do not exist; I’m just not sure which of these “public benefit” facts, skills, and concepts can be learned only in college. Even if we assume a continuum of relevant facts, skills, and concepts, it’s true that these facts, skills, and concepts can be deepened with more education, but I’m not sure why the end of college is a better point to stop along this continuum than the end of high school.

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      2. I believe you’re making a couple of key errors here. One is that an infinite list implies that it’s “impossible” to accomplish honorable discharge. No, an infinite list implies it’s always possible to improve honorable discharge. This error is assuming infinite => impossible.

        From this error flows your other, which is the assumption that “can be learned only in college” is the appropriate standard. Far more reasonable is a pragmatic standard: are generally learned in college better than elsewhere.

        Nevertheless I continue to agree that a thoughtful assessment of the facts, skills, and concepts providing civic, social, personal, intellectual, moral, and economic (inter alia) benefits attaching to college is an important, even urgent, task.

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      3. Hi Andrew,

        If the “honorable discharge” to-do list is infinite in number (1, 2, 3, …) or infinite in character (i.e., at least one item can never be completed but can be approached only asymptotically), then I think it’s fair to characterize completion of the to-do list as an infinite task.

        There’s an infinite list of whole numbers, but just because I can count off more numbers in college does not mean that counting to infinity is possible or that the extra counting in college is worth it. Generally speaking, just because it’s possible to move along an infinite continuum does not mean that it’s possible to reach the end of the continuum.

        (Of course, if there is a point along the infinite continuum at which a person is able to honorably discharge the social duties of life, then the relevant list is no longer infinite.)

        Correct me if I am incorrect, but my interpretation of your argument is this: North Carolina would be better off it its truck drivers and mechanics completed a four-year college degree because some things necessary to honorably discharge the social duties of life are better learned in college than elsewhere.

        Even if the entire argument is correct, sending truck drivers and mechanics to college is not the only policy response. Given the reality that high school is the end of many students’ formal educations, it seems that a superior policy response is to identify the things that college does better regarding these “honorable discharge” facts, concepts, or skills, and then to use that knowledge to improve high school education; but that would require identifying these “honorable discharge” facts, concepts, and skills, so I’d be interested in learning what these facts, skills, and concepts are.

        But let’s assume that it is impossible to adequately teach these facts, skills, and concepts in high school. Even then, sending truck drivers and mechanics to college is not the only policy response. Instead — thinking only of the public benefit to North Carolina — we would need to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the benefit that North Carolina receives from truck drivers’ and mechanics’ improved “honorable discharge” facts, concepts, or skills is enough — together with other public benefits and public costs — to warrant policy change. But, again, that requires identifying these “honorable discharge” facts, concepts, or skills.

        I’ll offer tolerance for group and individual differences as an “honorable discharge” fact, concept, or skill, and I’ll stipulate for the discussion that college — in the aggregate — helps students develop or deepen a tolerance for group and individual differences better than high school does. I’m just not sure that the public benefit of more tolerance offsets the negatives associated with, say, truck drivers replacing four years of earnings with four years of college debt, given that there does not appear to be a wage premium for truck drivers (http://higheredreporter.carnegie.org/are-our-colleges-and-universities-failing-us/).

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      4. Your infinite-regression argument (if BA is good for all, why not MA, PhD, etc.) is apt, but so is its inverse (if it can be taught in high school, why not middle school, elementary school, etc.).

        I’m very skeptical of the project of a strict cost-benefit worksheet on these questions precisely because that privileges economic over other benefits. The whole point of my argument is that the university’s mission is not exhausted by these benefits. I don’t object in principle to establishing commensurable measures for social, moral, personal, civic, and similar benefits, but these benefits are certainly not captured in wage premiums.

        Finally, college debt is not a necessary component of college education. At UNC in specific (the university the governor was presumably focusing on most), graduate debt is much lower than the national average, and low-income students can graduate debt-free.

        I think we’ve pretty much reached saturation and readers can probably figure out for themselves which of our arguments makes more sense.

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  3. Liberal arts education translates directly into economic innovation by teaching creative problem solving, social tolerance, and a system of reasoned intellectual and social deviance (of which, the piece which get legitimated, become “innovation” after the fact).

    Conservatives generally don’t know any economics, and believe that economic value comes from “making things.” Thus the one-dimensional promotion of STEM and the trades as against all those foofy toofy liburul edjumcations.

    That idea of economic value works on the same logic that soviet visions of progress did — we get a bunch of factories whirring, and everyone will be rich. But no. We live in a service economy, and will increasingly so while manufacturing becomes automated. That calls for broader and deeper training in humanistic skills.

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  4. I’m not sure his statement was intended to be taken that literally (not that there is anything wrong with following his logic to such empirical statistics). Of course, if there is evidence that the state needs more workers with a certain training then it makes sense to divert resources to train them. His comment seems a lot like pandering to not-so-latent anti-intellectual sentiment to me – not that he’s ever been that big on education, even when campaigning (the first and second times). Of course, the venue of his comments is a factor, too.

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