Buying Futures: Education vs Saving

A Strange Situation

We, as a country, are completely in love with the idea of going to college.

Millenials go because they are taught that, if they don’t, they will work at a coffee shop. They go, and work at coffee shops anyway. The biggest reason for this is that there is no control connecting available jobs to available degrees. You can get any degree you want, and high schools tell you to pursue something, but don’t engage in the politically fraught task of telling you what to pursue. They are incentivized to send as many of their students to some college, any college, as they can. There are virtually no jobs in philosophy, but the incentive is subject-blind. There are not even as many jobs in law as aspirant grads want to believe, but academia is not comparing grads vs job openings. It would probably be bad for business. There should be virtually no formal students in dozens of the extremely expensive degree programs available now.

A Stranger Reply

“College is about learning and becoming a better person. Degrees with poor job prospects can be the best – it’s not all about money!”

As a person who earned a degree in a field with no prospects (who otherwise enjoyed growing as a person), who desperately and entirely believed in the above statement, let me tell you that it is completely wrong for one reason today: context. The cost is not one you understand until after you’ve paid the entire thing. Student loan numbers are a fantasy difficult to comprehend if you’re not a graduate or a parent. Sure, you may be frustrated by the number of people who attend college to party, and you may find that your lonely quest at self improvement could be done virtually anywhere in the world. Those aren’t the problems, though; not really. It’s also true that college can give structure. That can be tremendous. But why on earth aren’t we questioning the cost? I don’t mean “complaining about the price.” I mean opting completely out when we look at what it will really take to “go improve as a person in a structured environment” – sacrificing much of our subsequent years to pay for it.

Do we improve that much?

Let me tell you something exciting and depressing.

$5,000 dollars invested for a 1-year-old in a simple stock market index fund could reasonably (and almost effortlessly) offer, at that child’s 21st birthday, a down payment on a house, a free wedding, or a free car. $10,000 invested at age 1 would mean roughly the right target to retire on at age 65. That makes an awful, awful lot of sense if you’re a parent and want to give your kid something that won’t take the rest of your years to pay off.

If it’s too late for that, and you’re looking at college right now? If you could make $30,000 a year, living at home, without a college diploma, or go to college for 4 years for /DreamJob/, what’s better? Assume you save just 2/3 from the “job” path. $20,000 a year, for four years, would make you a pile of money that could generate around $7,000 year if regularly invested, or else buy a condo in the midwest (saving you rent payments indefinitely). Alternatively, you could make -$20,000 a year in debt (assuming only tuition debt). -$80,000 over 4 years, losing around $4,800 the first year you get out of college to interest payments, and scaling gradually down (IF your interest was subsidized while in college). It will probably take you more than 10 years of your college job to pay back those loans, assuming you want to start a family or see the world or whatever, since you spent your best saving years spending as much money as you could, instead.

Why on Earth would you accept the college arrangement? You would have an awful lot of free time to improve as a person if you were financially independent at age 30, because you built a money generator from age 18-24 instead of going to college just because you were told you had to. Or, worse, you went and figured out you hated the only profession you were qualified for (and are suddenly overqualified for everything else except… Starbucks).

If it’s too late for your parents to give you $5,000 on your first birthday (instead of $80,000 or more, AFTER all the work of raising you and paying for your tuition too, sheesh), you could use your time at home to build yourself an income permanently. Then you could improve yourself, you know, for the rest of your life. Or you could go to the bars and party. Or you could move out on your own, pay all your own bills, feel like an adult, and work your entire life for someone else. The greatest gift parents can give their children isn’t college, it’s saving, and providing a roof over your head just long enough for you to get out from under it. Isn’t it weird, then, that our college grads are “investing” $80,000+ and moving back home with debt, instead?

Endorsement Anxiety

Christianity supports many virtues. Love, forgiveness, tolerance, charity. There is no controversy – we can call these virtues. Religious and non-religious alike can recognize them. The practice of those virtues is woven into daily life a varying amount, depending on the individual and culture. Some (Gandhi famously) have objected to how much focus the virtues actually receive, and I think it’s time to bring attention to this again.

My Christian friends, endorsement anxiety is a plague of termites chewing on your house. Endorsement anxiety is, simply, the notion that applying your virtues without figuring out who deserves them first is somehow sinful.

It is important to begin by saying Jesus did not appear to have endorsement anxiety. Jesus would wash the feet of sinners and bathe them equally in forgiveness without a thought about who deserved how much soap. Today, overwhelming attention is placed on who can get married (without compelling a churchperson to perform said marriage). Overwhelming attention is placed on whether to make a cake for said wedding – whether it violates a Christian belief. Recently, a great deal of Catholic attention is being lavished on who can be excluded and how much from communion, in reaction to the suggestion it be made more inclusive.

Put simply, a lot of effort seems to be going in to “who can we keep in the outgroup?” The subtext seems to be “we are at war, and have enemies on all sides, so the more we can keep out, the more likely our sacred institutions will not be damaged by them.”

It is this idea which is actually counter to (and destructive towards) those sacred institutions. Those institutions are strong if they pull their flocks towards the virtues, not if they hide from sinners – by Christian measures, nearly everyone is a sinner. What good would it do to hide? Why is there a growing menu of sinners to whom it is no longer necessary to apply charity, tolerance, or love? When it comes to endorsement anxiety and violating a belief, I ask you:

Which belief?

More importantly, where is the endorsement anxiety more central to Christianity than love and temperance and tolerance and charity and humility?

Today, some Christian media seems heavily occupied with some kind of war – media war, culture war, a war for the survival of Christianity, Christianity’s “decline.” I hear scholarly faithful remark bitterly about the negative trends, the hostility towards the religious. I cannot argue that the trends are positive compared with 70 years ago, but I must ask, how negative really are they? How much threat is there? This is a religion millennia old with institutions that have weathered more historical events than any country on the planet, whose adherents lived in tombs and crypts to escape death when times were tough. Isn’t the panic about the end a little overdoing it?

Isn’t the panic as dangerous a media darling today as anything else the news is over-reporting?

Luckily, there are some significant counter trends. These trends don’t get nearly enough attention, and they should.

Christian ancestors lived among the dead and took communion in secret, survived those times, and flourished. Weekly they take the blood and body of a god, the same god who offered Judas the first Eucharist. What fear is there in kindness to sinners? What fear can overcome you at all?

God Will Provide?

A friend of mine recently sat in a dental office as a woman, whose child was headed to Columbia University, was complimented on being a good parent. He wondered if the kid should be left out, for having worked hard herself. The parent responded that she could only thank God. He, a Catholic, thought she had overcompensated in the other direction. While she could also thank God, he thought, her own and her child’s role were still relevant.

Whether religious or not, you have probably come upon the expression “God will provide.” It is an idea some people find comforting. On an individual level, it can be helpful. Unfortunately, it often isn’t, and on the wider, social level, it usually isn’t.

First of all, it’s statistically untrue. Someone whose nine children are starving in Haiti today cannot expect, on the tenth, God will reverse their fortunes. Sure, one of the many hard-working charitable organizations trying to feed them in God’s name may get there before tragedy, but that often doesn’t happen. For the world’s population in poverty, the notion that “God will provide” may be more an expression regarding “the strength to endure” than the physical things you need.

I have no children myself, and have been asked more than once why. I would like to have them. However, I cannot afford to do well by them. I have been told in response that no one ever “has enough” for children, a lovely sentiment if you’re in a six-figure household. I have also been told “God will provide” – as aforementioned, a statistical falsehood. Nor do I blame the people who have children despite having little. It is not, after all, money that buys happiness, but poverty can buy a whole lot of sadness.

When it comes to finding work, having children, or engaging in any of the difficult challenges of life, let’s not discredit the people who worked hard facing real uncertainty about whether they would be successful. Let’s remind the ones who succeeded and forgot the uncertainty, honor the ones who succeeded and remained mindful, and remember the ones who faced that obstacle and lost. One can do this and be humble at the same time. Whatever our affiliation, let’s stop saying “God will provide.” If you’re religious, God already provided quite a bit – let’s use it to do well by each other now, instead of hoping for more later.

That’s No Webcomic…

Dear Reader,

Welcome! Typically, bloggers start their work with a mission statement. Here’s mine.

Politics in America doesn’t give us much confidence, lately. Almost anyone you meet in the US will recommend you avoid mentioning politics if you want to be polite. Religion is right beside it on the list.

You know what? That’s crap.

You learn to connect with people meangingfully ONLY by talking about subjects that matter. Congress did a much better job when delegates had to eat together, work together, live in the same place for a while – they had to recognize each other as people. It’s a lot harder to ignore enemies (or friends) when you’re going to see them every day, and it’s a lot harder to look yourself in the mirror if you treat them poorly, too. When connecting with our fellows is more important than dominating them, that’s when we learn.

Connecting does not mean “without rigor.” It doesn’t mean “disagree, but only gently.” Peace and war are each only maintained with effort. Stand up for what matters to you, and with gusto, without being a dick. If you want a fight, go somewhere else. If you want a debate, I want it too – and I think we need it.

Let’s care about dialogues. Critical thinking. Breaking from the party or propaganda for new ideas, for nuanced understanding of old ideas. Let’s believe in standards, in causes, in journalism, in making a difference. Let’s seek knowledge and wonder. No poltical party, no religious (or non-religious) group will be simply dominated into some kind of conversational submission. Anyone for whom that is a goal is either an armchair zealot or an internet troll, and both are useless. Neither have any guts.

Will this blog revolutionize any of our national conversation? I’d love it if it did. I’d like to open up those conversations, and I’m not talking about just rants. I want discourse. Pop music is often mocked because it doesn’t provoke, but provocation without purpose is just as much fluff – it’s grafitti, it’s public swearing. It doesn’t stretch any boundaries, prod any thoughts.

How many meaningful conversations can you have with your friends? How many of them would discuss Democrats, Republicans, theism, atheism, abortion, taxes – without feeling threatened? Would you feel threatened?

I’m going to try to do my part. This blog will provoke. Sometimes it will offend. It won’t aim to insult. This is my commitment to you, and if I inspire anyone, I hope it will become your commitment to your fellow citizens.


Politics, Prose and Pthoughts