HONOLULU, January 15, 2015 – The problem with America today isn’t a question of scarcity but rather excessive abundance. There’s a reason people use 1-ounce gold bars as an investment device and not 8-ounce plastic sandwich bags full of oxygen, for the simple fact that gold is terrestrially scarce and air is everywhere. Basic economics (and hopefully, common sense) tells us that the more abundant something is, the less it is worth.
There was a time in America where a high school diploma was a prestigious accomplishment and an almost sure guarantee of a stable career. When I was in high school, the majority of my peers opted to go directly to work and skip college, either enlisting in the military or working in entry-level jobs.
Today, most entry-level positions require a minimum of a college degree and it is all too common in 2015 to find MBAs working as servers in restaurants, baccalaureates working alongside persons with associate degrees and high school diplomas in mall retail stores or working for commissions selling cell phones.
There will always be “economists” who attempt to dismiss this phenomena by explaining that technology in 2015 is somehow “so much more advanced” than it was in the 1980s and 1990s that ordinary jobs (like pouring liquor and flipping burgers) somehow require more knowledge than prior generations, but their argument fails to take into account that the rise of the information society has made access to knowledge easier and more abundant.
Someone who goes to a public library to use “free” internet workstations can find out more in 20 minutes than I could in two hours of flipping through voluminous Dewey Decimal card catalogs and placing inquiry phone calls from numbers extracted out of a rotting phone book hanging perilously from a pay phone booth in 1995. Anyone who wants to jumpstart a car for the first time can simply remove their phone and say “OK Google, how do I jumpstart my car?”
If you want to acquire knowledge or skills for free, all you have to do is go to a public library or use your cell phone. The problem plaguing today’s workforce is not the fact that young Americans don’t have enabling knowledge or effective work skills. The real problem is that government credit has subsidized nearly everyone having a college education, so having a high school diploma is worthless and now only an associate or bachelor can get people into minimum wage jobs.
You’ve probably seen the image macros in support of Obama’s community college plan popping up all over social networks saying things like, “Isn’t the chance to get access to education worth it?” Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the value of education. I graduated from high school only five months after turning 17, got my bachelor’s at 21, my master’s at 22, two postgraduate certificates at 34 and two doctor’s degrees before even turning 35 – but not a single college degree was paid for by the American taxpayer.
Gresham’s Law tells us that bad money chases out good under legal tender laws. When the government mandates that everyone must have something, they distort the market by making that good or service more expensive (higher demand) while simultaneously destroying the value of having it. Don’t believe me? Try walking into the Harvard Club and see how many people you’ll impress by saying “Hey guys, I have a high school diploma!” Everyone there has a high school diploma, so having something everyone else has is worthless.
For the millions of people who now have the opportunity under Obama’s proposal to get a “free” community college education, there are thousands of people who could barely afford going to community college who slaved through minimum wage jobs just to pay for an associate degree (some even in super-tough fields like nursing). By giving “free” college away to today’s young people, the government is stripping the value of every single person who worked to pay for their community college degrees.
Let’s be honest about what’s actually happening here. The real reason politicians want to offer “free” community college is to inflate the collapsing education bubble just a little bit wider before it spectacularly implodes and takes down one of the last bastions of cheap credit America.
If you’re reading this and sincerely want “free” education, don’t go to community college. Visit a public library. It will take less time and save college classrooms for paying customers.