Steel City Cowboy

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Men, Higher Education and the Marketplace

This article at the Weekly Standard online, which I found through Instapundit, argues that the declining application, acceptance and graduation of males at four your colleges shows the malefic effects of Title IX, as well as an increasing war in the primary and secondary public school systems against what are considered standard males traits, and that a great and scandalous disservice is being perpetrated upon young American males.

Allow me to suggest an alternative point of view.

As economic actors, males are more directly linked to the current state of the market than females, and will therefore react more immediately to any changes in that market. Could it be that declining college enrollment and graduation figures are a recognition by the most interested individuals that the value of a college education is declining? In that case, it is not men who should be worried, but the colleges themselves, as this could be a harbinger of their increasing irrelevance to what most people would consider Real Life.

A 2002 breakdown by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that while 74 percent of males over age 16 were in the labor force, only 60 percent of females were in the same group. In addition to that, a significantly larger proportion of the employed women worked in traditionally female jobs such as clerical and administrative positions. Although the current number and married men and women are basically equal (duh!), the number of men who have never been married is almost thirty percent higher than the number of women who have never been married.

What's the point of these statistics (which are, granted, worse than damned lies)? Well, you could read them to mean that young men (and men in general) expect that they will more likely to have to support themselves than the average woman, and that they will be competing in a job market that requires skills above the menial level. On the other hand, women will be looking at the job market knowing that they are more likely to get married (an economic buffer) or to work in a job that basically requires you to answer phones, click a keyboard and file papers, which, let's face it, doesn't require a gigantic skill set.

So, if the value of college education is declining, it would be men who would begin to jump ship first. People who expect an economic buffer, or who will be competing in a market in which an advanced skill set is not required, can afford to be more frivolous in the educational decisions. College to them would be an affordable luxury. To men, though, the cold grip of economic reality is felt sooner, and more surely.

But how would young men know ahead of time that the value of a college diploma is falling? By talking to their older brothers, their neighbors and friends, who are ten years ahead of them on the employment curve. Ask those people "Did college prepare you for the working world?" and they will most likely laugh first, then reply "Not at all. I learned more in my first month on the job than I did in four years at college. I probably should have saved the $100,000 it cost and started a shoe store." With the exception of certain professions that require licensing and/or accreditation of some kind (MD's, lawyers, teachers), a four year degree is essentially useless to what you will actually do for the rest of your life. And men are beginning to realize it. Everyone will, eventually, but women will do so more slowly, as their reward structure is not as directly tied to their use of the next four years as their male contemporaries'.

Am I arguing against Vickers recommendation in the linked article that the President should take on Title IX? Not at all. Nuke Title IX. It was messing with the market in the first place, adding just one more barrier between higher education and reality, and further decreasing its relevance. However, the problem isn't that because of this higher education has done a disservice to men. We'll be just fine, thank you. Although women play an increasing role, our economy and business structure was founded and evolved based on mostly male structures, and men are still the economic drivers of our society. The problem is that higher education has done a disservice to itself that will only continue and deepen if they fail to recognize the diminished value they are providing.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Only Real Solution to Campaign Finance Reform

Originally written for my personal blog about six months ago, but it just got linked from Instapundit (woo hoo!), so I thought it was worth putting up here, too:

I had begun a snarky, glib post about what would need to be done to fix our current Federal political system, namely the way that incumbents almost never lose, and get all kinds of crazy bribe money, both legal and illegal.

I'm not going to post it, as I just realized the other day the only real measure that will fix the system permanently. I mean, I still think that Congressional term limits and the abolition of Gerrymandering is a great idea, and something that should be fought for. But no amount of rule changes or legal restrictions are going to be able to keep up with the ingenuity of people who are chasing large amounts of money. Think of it like this: the entire polity, economy and government of the United States is like an Internet-style routing machine for money. People will find a way to the money. Or better yet, think of it in meteorological terms: people and organizations are the negatively charged ground; money is the positively charged sky. In both cases, people and money are going to come together, along the most efficient path that the laws of physics (or routing protocols) will allow.

And that brought me to the only solution that can last: get rid of the money in government. Not the campaign finance money, the hard and soft contributions, or the 527's. The more I tried to figure out what could be done about cutting off the routes through which people can influence the government, the more I realized that any kind of regulatory restriction on Americans speaking out for their chosen candidates either as individuals or as groups, in the form of donations or actual speech, was simply wrong, and counter to the principles to which I think we should adhere.

The money I'm talking about getting rid of is the money that the government has at its disposal. Why do lobbying groups spend millions upon millions of dollars every year just to influence one or two little phrases in a piece of legislation? Because those two phrases could amount to an even greater financial return for the organizations and people that those lobbyists represent. For them, the most efficient route to a higher profit happens to runs directly through Congress.

The logic would follow that the more you cut the scope of government, i.e. restricting its purchasing power by way of lower taxes and lower tax revenues, the less incentive people and organizations will have to spend their cash hoping to get more of that money back in return.

Let's say, just for fun, that both Social Security and Medicare have been privatized and removed entirely from the federal government's budget and purvue. Also gone are the ludicrous pork projects that the legislators use in order to look like heroes to their constituents, regardless of their actual political and ideological persuasion. What's left? Not a lot.

Would it be possible that, with only 1/3 of their original money to throw around and a significantly smaller legislative and bureaucratic footprint within which to hide abusive bribe-based legislation and regulation, we would see individuals and organizations focus their money-making efforts elsewhere? Company A or Donor B suddenly finds that the government not only won't help them out anymore, but simply can't because it doesn't have the funds or the authority. Once the return on the investment in lobbying stops becoming cost-effective, organizations will find other, more productive ways to invest that money, and the gravy train from said donors will suddenly disappear.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Better off or worse? It's true that with the profit motive removed from the majority of political advocacy (and helped along by term limits) that you would probably see people become involved with politics at all levels more for ideological than financial reasons. Would that only accelerate the takeover of the two main parties by their fringe of crazy-eyed zealots? Or would they, too, turn to other avenues of getting their message out when they find that the power of government can no longer help them in the ways that they thought it could?

It seems to me that there is no functional way to limit the expression of the people's political choices. That may never have been the problem, and all of our attempts thus far at campaign finance reform are just shooting at the wrong target. The problem has been, and even more so in recent years, that the government has too much power and too much money. Cut that to the bone and all of the distasteful things people have been crying about: corrupt money, the de-facto bribery, the... well, basically it all boils down to corrupt money. It all goes away, or at least drops to a level that would be tolerable to most people.

As the easy government money floats off into memory, I'd even be willing to bet that you'd see a shift in the tone of rhetoric. I realize that both Republicans and Democrats to a certain degree believe the things they say on the floor of Congress and to the TV news cameras, but I know human nature. And knowing that, I have to conclude that as much as they believe in their ideals, they are also influenced by the animal part of their brain into doing and saying things just so they can hold on to what may be the cushiest, most perk-laden job that an American can have. Threaten someone's way of life, and they'll become just as shrill and nasty as any Senator, Congressman or Presidential candidate that we've seen in the last twenty years. When the stakes aren't so high, there won't be as much reason to shed the tears and make the outrageous accusations.

Way smaller government. Way lower taxes. My plan for campaign finance reform. I don't think John McCain or Russ Feingold would like it.