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The previous post on the apparent decline in the average IQ of college graduates in the US over the last fifty years used the GSS‘ 10-question Wordsum vocabulary test as a basis for those IQ estimates. As was pointed out, vocabulary tends to increase with age (through the late fifties before peaking and then beginning to decline). That incremental increase through adulthood is very modest, however, reducing the gap between those who graduated in the 1960s and those who graduated in the 2010s by less than 1 IQ point.

To illustrate the change over time more starkly, the following graph shows, among those who spent at least four years in college, the percentages by year of participation in the survey who scored either 9 out of 10 or a perfect 10 out of 10 on the Wordsum test. Responses are restricted to those aged 25-40 at the time of participation so potential age confounds are eliminated:

The questions have been the same since the survey’s inception (see them here).

Forty years ago, 1-in-2 graduates could ace the Wordsum test. Today, 1-in-6 can. That’s just about perfectly in line with what we’d expect to see if the top 6% or so of the population is capable of acing the test.

Four decades ago, 12% of the population had degrees. Today, 33% does. If, in the early seventies, that 12% roughly corresponded with the top 12% of the IQ distribution, then the 6% of the population that aced the Wordsum test would comprise 1 in 2 of those grads. If today that 33% roughly corresponds with the top 33% of the IQ distribution, then the 6% of the population acing the Wordsum test would be a bit more than 1 in 6 of today’s grads. QED*.

This is a devastating refutation of contemporary educational romanticism. College isn’t anything close to a panacea. Education doesn’t increase intelligence. It doesn’t even appear, for most people, to do much in the way of increasing knowledge. These ten vocabulary words are all common enough that it’s almost inconceivable that after four years of college a student who paid attention and engaged with the classroom material would not have come into contact with all of them on multiple occasions.

The incentive structure for higher education is extremely perverse (or more charitably, is setup on the genuine presumption that spending time in college reliably increases earning power).

Student loans are the most difficult types of loans to have discharged, so lenders who lend to students are making what amount to government-guaranteed loans. After a few years interest on those loans runs at 5% or 6%. Lenders are thus earning 5% on things that putatively carry zero risk. It’s easy money.

The universities are getting paid by lenders no matter what so they have no incentive to restrict student enrollment either (unless they’re top-tier universities who trade on restricted access).

The zeitgeist says if you don’t go to college then you’re a loser, so lots of people who have no business being there end up going.

Outstanding student loan debt in the US is now at $1 trillion and climbing, but a huge chunk of that value is illusory value. Many of those loans aren’t going to be paid back. The people holding them do not have the prospects or the ability to ever pay them off. Lenders are booking them as essentially no-risk assets, but they’re not.

I don’t purport to be a financial expert–let alone an Economist!–but I can’t shake this feeling that we’ve seen something eerily similar to this before.

As the Z-Man is fond of saying, this will not end well.

GSS variables used: YEAR, EDUC(16-20), AGE(25-40), WORDSUM(9-10), BORN(1–except for 1974 and 1976 as the variable wasn’t introduced until 1978)

* Okay, not quite. About 12% of the population aces the Wordsum test. There is a correlation between intelligence and educational attainment, but it’s far from perfect and is becoming more and more attenuated as time goes on.

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
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  1. Can you analyze a little deeper? In particular:

    Can the same percentage of all polled people ace WORDSUM?

    Can you adjust for demographics and figure out if the performance per ethnic group is dropping?

    Can you be sure that top slice of people who would have gone to college 50 years are doing as well now as then? Not sure how to define the top slice. I'm trying to get at the question of whether the elite is becoming dumber.

  2. I could see the student loan bubble inflating for the foreseeable future.

    When people finally die of old age and they still have a student loan balance, the student loan lender can seize whatever assets are available to pay off the balance. A new financial industry can emerge where lenders and creditors get to decide how to carve up the leftover assets before the body turns cold. At our current rate, everyone will have a car loan, credit card bills, a mortgage, and student loan debt when they die. If someone dies and has $100,000 in assets but owes $150,000 in debt, who gets what? What are the odds that the student loan lender gets first dibs?

    The bubble will keep inflating because even if many loans never get paid in full, the interest collected alone probably keeps the loans profitable. If people are in a perpetual state of forbearance, over time, I'm sure they can make a profit.

    I had huge amounts of loans that I paid off in three years by scrimping and saving. I had my graduate school degrees paid for by my employer. I got lucky. There are people now in their 50s who are still paying them off. It's going to be common for people to continue paying them up through retirement.

    I don't see it changing because it's appealing enough of a proposition to keep going. How many of the new students these days can admit to themselves that they're not college material? How many of them can admit that the only degrees they are capable of getting are ones with no real value whatsoever? At least for young women there is the dim prospect of marrying a wealthy man but for young men it makes even less sense.

  3. Sid says:

    "Education doesn't increase intelligence. It doesn't even appear, for most people, to do much in the way of increasing knowledge."

    The main point of college is to get smart, ambitious people together as friends, and then have them leave a trail for future students to tread down.

    The second point is to give those people basic skills or awareness of the basic themes of the subject they study. For example, Ivy Leaguers​ setting out into business will all know what net present value is, but the more arcane details of any particular craft or trade are best left to be learned on the job.

    (That's why it's such a mistake to make a school a total institution – most people attending won't really learn all that much. You learn a lot more useful skills on the job than in a classroom.)

    There are a small percentage of people – intellectuals – who master a broad swathe of knowledge and research methods in acquiring new information. What they do is crucial in the grand scheme of things (though some disciplines are more worthwhile to study than others, to say the least), but it's a mistake to think that more than a limited number of people will ever become truly proficient at that.

    As such, the problem with having so many people go to college isn't just that it dilutes the intellectual potency of the students with mediocrities: it also sets people up for a mistaken end goal. In truth, most people, including intelligent ones, really don't learn that much from formal schooling.

  4. I remember reading a marginal revolution post indicating that the percentage increase in the number of college enrolments since the 1970's has gone solely to the humanities and social sciences and the percentage of enrolments in STEM has stayed the same. In fact computer science saw a slight decrease.

  5. Dan says:

    Is there a way to crosscheck this with other non-wordsum data? The conclusion is utterly devastating if true. I wonder about the wordsum list though. If 2 or 3 of those 10 words fall out of regular use, it would make the test seem harder over time. In terms of the number of words it is a very small sample and different cohorts have different terminology. Take 'cloister.' Nuns don't even live in convents anymore (it would interfere with their left wing activism.)

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Anecdote isn't data, but I only got 9 out of 10 (IQ around 135-140, two masters degrees). I didn't know 'caprice.' (i.e. whimsical). Had it been defined differently (mercurial, for instance), I think I would have gotten it. I thought 'caprice' had something to do with 'hostility' or 'negativity' (thus mercurial would have tipped me off). I didn't know it referred to simple 'change.'


  7. I aced it. I never went to college, just HS grad. I read a lot as a kid and adult. It's that simple, really.

  8. Randall,

    % of total native-born population that aced the wordsum, by decade (sample sizes are all in the thousands):

    70s: 15.1
    80s: 13.2
    90s: 13.6
    00s: 12.0
    10s: 10.3

    English, German, Irish, Italian, or black can be done by ethnic group. Sample sizes aren't big enough for anyone else. Samples for Jews are way too small.

    Random Dude,

    A lot of things like this do seem to just keep going on and on forever. In this case, though, the growth rate in outstanding student loan debt is staggering. It's increased 500% in a little more than a decade, from $200 billion to $1 trillion. Is that growth rate in outstanding debt sustainable?


    Charles Murray says 10% of people genuinely benefit from higher education. That sounds about right to me, even a little high–maybe 10% of whites do. Transferring practical, tacit knowledge from a classroom setting to the real world isn't very efficient or effective. On the job training–from plumbing to doctoring–is better. Higher education should be for the liberal arts. It's all ass backwards now, with the smarter people doing the inefficient "hands on" training in classrooms and the mediocrities stumbling through liberal arts.


    That makes intuitive sense. There's no floor for the soft degrees.


    Not from the GSS. The other quiz questions–like scientific knowledge, etc–are asked way too sporadically, often just two or three iterations over 40 years.


    Emanate and allusion are missed more often than caprice, interestingly.

    Funny how our first interaction with words often sticks. I thought I remembered "caprice" as a M:TG card, and would have probably missed it if not for multiple choice (the card was actually "carapace"). As is, none of the options fit something like "hard shell", so I starting thinking of adjectives and came to "capricious", which I knew meant to change easily.


    If college had widespread utility, though, we'd expect most who went through four years to be able to get 9 or 10 of these correct.

  9. It seems we are overlooking the word guarantee in the phrase guaranteed student loans..

    The guarantee is that the gov't will pay the lender if the student does not.

    If the borrower dies, the gov'y will get paid if there are any assets.

    If not, yours truly the taxpayers get the privilege.

    College for all is such a scam on so many levels.

    It provides educated scum with salaries and scams regular folks to do it.


  10. My teen son just aced it. He did a classical ed curriculum and has read more than many college grads.

  11. Feryl says: • Website

    I know caprice, allusion, and emanate off the top of my head. But language comes pretty easy to me.

    I seem to remember that people born before 1941 did better on the Wordsum test. Which is in keeping with the idea that the factors of:

    – weakened concern for obscene language post 1960
    – the growing emphasis on a visual culture (e.g., TV and video games)
    – Increasing emphasis on directness and practicality of language
    – decline in social mores (worse manners, devaluing of the "correct" way to communicate with others)

    have caused those who came of age in the 60's and beyond to not develop a more rich and less lowest common denominator verbal culture.

    It doesn't take effort to swear, and it does take some cultivation to know how to deal with others in a respectful and collegiate way. Boomers are more inept at graceful social interaction (esp. the later born Boomers) than Silents, and it appears that X-ers and Millennials are even more pitiful than Boomers.

    In a way, movies written by pre-Boomers and partially or entirely acted by pre-Boomers now seem kind of dated, since people just don't interact with the same finesse anymore.

  12. Issac says: • Website

    The bubble will continue until a work-around the credential system for academics is popularized. I've worked in engineering, private sector, for almost three decades. If there were a way to pluck talent out of highschool and train them towards passing the FE/PE without college, like in the olden days, we'd avoid degree holders like the plague. Nothing but nothing good comes out of universities these days, not even the hard-nosed tech school have been spared.

  13. Silly girl,

    Right, the guarantee distorts the entire market terribly. There are no mechanisms for it to fix itself organically with those guarantees in place.


    The overall decline has been more modest. The mean wordsum score has stayed essentially the same over the last forty years, though the standard deviation has actually slightly narrowed–there were more high and low scorers four decades ago than there are today (which doesn't mesh with the putative phenomenon of assortative mating–the evidence for that happening more today than in the past is actually pretty weak generally).


    Thanks, that's what I'd gathered. It's nice to hear it from the front lines.

  14. akarlin says: • Website

    I think it was Hanson or maybe Garett Jones – basically, one of those IQ-pilled economist types – who once brought up figures showing that only about 20% of the cost of the average university education directly benefits you by raising your human capital, while the other 80% is a signalling cost from which no-one benefits in net terms.

    Longshot, but does anyone have a link to this study or something similar?

    Anyhow, I completely support a root and branch reform of higher education. Here is my proposal.

    I am not a leftist, but I actually do support the idea of subdisidizing higher education (but restricting access).

  15. Feryl writes that people born before 1941 did better on the Wordsum test.

    It isn't directly relevant but is hopefully of interest. I would like to mention that people born before 1941 would have learnt to read during the period before American schools had completely switched over from teaching reading via the phonics method (starting with the alphabet and learning to read words letter by letter and then syllable by syllable) to teaching reading via the whole-word method (memorizing whole words as if they were no different from Chinese characters).

    This deliberate change in the way compulsory schools teach reading appears to have precipitated a shocking collapse in functional literacy in the United States. John Taylor Gatto analyses this in great detail in his book The Underground History of American Education. He cites the results of functional literacy tests (the same test each time) administered to new recruits by the US military before major wars.

    These are rough figures from memory. In 1917 98% of recruits passed the functional literacy test. In 1941/1942 96% passed. But in 1950 when the Korean War began, only nine years later, the figure had fallen to 82%. The top brass immediately set about trying to figure out how hundreds of thousands of recruits has successfully faked not being able to read. Their psychologists reported back that the results were genuine. By the time the Vietnam War started, the figure had plummeted again to 71%.

    Gatto's analysis is that the whole-word teaching method has a lifelong retarding effect on literacy, vocabulary and the ability to acquire new words. This effect is presumably most pronounced among lower-class families who (presumably) have less of a tradition of learning to read at home.

    If the theory is correct, it would account for a long-term decline in Wordsum scores among non-elites.

  16. Can you take the Professional Engineering exam without a degree and x years experience? Because you cannot take the teacher exams in Texas without a sponsoring institution. Absurd, of course, but there it is. I think the same may be true of the CPA exam in Texas. The gatekeepers are very sure they want their piece of the pie.

  17. Anatoly,

    Education is funded for K-12, theoretically contingent upon passing grades, so the framework is already there–college becomes 13th grade but the tests for passing 12th are difficult, so difficult that only one-quarter of students have the cognitive capacity to do so. Seems to me that pairing this with an elimination of credentialism would make it an easier sell–yes, the brightest can go on to university but that alone doesn't necessarily make them eligible for positions that are closed to others (even though in reality that would be the case 99% of the time–a perceived sense of fairness is important).


    Interesting, though total population Wordsum results for those over 40 from 1974 onward (seven years of everyone born before 1941) are essentially the same–with a little noise here and there–over the entire length of the survey, from 1974 to 2016.

    Silly girl,

    Sitting for the CPA in my four-state area requires a master's in accounting (which is only a 30 hour degree). There is no legitimate reason for this beyond pushing more people through additional college courses and restricting the number of certificates awarded. Same story with different details across all kinds of industries in the West.

  18. Feryl says: • Website

    One need only listen to/read the statements, of, uh, statesmen from the 70's or earlier, and then compare them to the austere platitudes given by their modern counterparts.

    From Esienhower's "industrial complex" speech (1961):

    "Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology — global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger is poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle — with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment."

    On a more populist front, look at the lyrics of a 70's rock song like Uriah Heep's Lady in Black:

    She came to me one morning
    One lonely Sunday morning
    Her long hair flowing in the midwinter wind
    I know not how she found me
    For in darkness I was walking
    And destruction lay around me
    From a fight I could not win

    She asked me name my foe then
    I said the need within some men
    To fight and kill their brothers
    Without thought of love or God
    And I begged her give me horses
    To trample down my enemies
    So eager was my passion
    To devour this waste of life

    But she wouldn't think of battle that
    Reduces men to animals
    So easy to begin
    And yet impossible to end
    For she's the mother of all men
    Who counselled me so wisely then
    I feared to walk alone again
    And asked if she would stay

    Oh lady lend your hand outright
    And let me rest here at your side
    Have faith and trust in peace she said
    And filled my heart with life

    There's no strength in numbers
    Have no such misconception
    But when you need me
    Be assured I won't be far away

    Thus having spoke she turned away
    And though I found no words to say
    I stood and watched until I saw
    Her black cloak disappear
    My labour is no easier
    But now I know I'm not alone
    I'll find new heart
    Each time I think upon that windy day

    And if one day she comes to you
    Drink deeply from her words so wise
    Take courage from her as your prize
    And say hello from me

    Nothing about "haters", no cursing, no crude references to body parts or functions, no silverback posturing. As for the more, um, genteel music that's made today (housewife top 40 and such), it's all lyrically banal pablum. Virtually no advanced thought put into the lyrics.

    One of the reasons so many people long for the 70's is because it was the last decade of any degree of sophistication in terms of not immediately targeting the lowest common denominator. Some of this is generational; Boomers took the reins in the 80's and weren't as concerned about projecting a cultivated adult image as earlier generations.

    Granted, I like a lot 80's stuff (it's still my fav decade for music and many of my fav movies came out back then), but there's no doubt that later born people were raised in a much baser environment and the further we get from the 70's the coarser things get. I've no doubt that (((someone))) was more than happy to make hay with crude borderline retarded pop culture like thug rap, sexualized pop by hos, and movies vying to set the record for number of F bombs (which started in earnest around 1990).

    Gentiles born after oh, 1950, are increasingly resembling (((pigs))) in their indifference to decency norms. The more we wallow in a cultural sewer, the harder it gets to shake the stench.

    As if anyone should wonder why the phrase "degenerate art" came about.

  19. Feryl says: • Website

    "This deliberate change in the way compulsory schools teach reading appears to have precipitated a shocking collapse in functional literacy in the United States. John Taylor Gatto analyses this in great detail in his book The Underground History of American Education. He cites the results of functional literacy tests (the same test each time) administered to new recruits by the US military before major wars."

    Couldn't one also claim that we simultaneously were entering a period in which standards of, for lack of a more refined description, high cultural conduct were diminishing? Post WW2, Gentiles felt shame about (((certain))) kinds of people being on a tight leash, though the leash wasn't loosened all that much until the mid 1960's, at which time a young generation which felt no sense of obligation to uphold the ways and standards of older generations demanded changes. Sailer has observed that when America was in the last gasp of older generations enforcing anything resembling refined culture in the 70's and 80's, Jews frequently lambasted WASPs for being too uptight. Over the last 20-30 years, this cheap shot has lost it's relevance since later generations of gentiles are products of full-on Jewish steered culture.

    Folks, we once lived in a country in which certain neighborhoods kept not only blacks out, but even Jews out as well. Guess (((who))) fought the hardest to make prostitution on camera (e.g., porn) legal? I don't remember a Jewish league of decency ever existing, nor do I recall any evidence that powerful Ashkenazis ever united in America to clean-up our culture. Why would (((they))), when it's always been, first and foremost, about the money? There are exceptions, to be sure, but not enough to change the general rule of shylock sticky hands.

    The Kushner/Cohn stuff is beyond satire. A well-meaning goy just wants to make this country better, but he's got $ first Jews in his damn ears all the time. Uhg.

  20. Feryl,

    It's especially frustrating because he's no stranger to the game (how could he be, having spent the last forty years in Manhattan real estate?). Remember during the campaign when, in a room full of wealthy Jews, he was in full shitlord mode, joking about how they wouldn't support him because he didn't want their money. What happened?

  21. "Couldn't one also claim that we simultaneously were entering a period in which standards of, for lack of a more refined description, high cultural conduct were diminishing?"

    Yes, although I'd also blame the deliberate wrecking of America's schools for that too.

  22. Feryl says: • Website

    I don't think Trump was particularly serious at the outset. In fact, I don't think he fully thought through some issues (or was incapable of grasping them) until he was elected. As we all know, he faced massive opposition before that. Since nobody, at the elite level, thought he would win (outside of maybe a small handful of nationalist dreamers), they didn't try that hard to put their hooks into him. Less persuasion, more of just trying to swat an irritant away.

    With the post 1980 Jewphilia showing no signs of slowing down, they're still exerting mucho influence on things. I know Agnostic says that Jews are irrelevant to the running of the military. At the same time, though, guys like Steve Bannon can only do so much to counter the "centrist" approach favored by Western Ashkenazism. "Centrism" being a benign label for open-borders neo-liberal gang rape. Before Jews were permitted to dominate many companies/industries, out-right communism was popular among Jews. After communism was exposed, Jews simultaneously were given greater power in the corporate West. As such, Jews these days, by and large (Bernie Sanders notwithstanding), if they promote liberalism only promote the most toothless and globalist version of it.

    As the socially acceptability of opprobrium towards Jews has diminished, it's become impossible, especially in America, to put the interests of ordinary gentile natives first. This wasn't always so. As late as the 50's, we didn't always side with Israel.

    BTW, Trump would've never developed the early relationships he had had he been some kind of force for nationalism earlier. Trump was already a tabloid figure to begin with (due to his wealth and personality), but one can only imagine how much more heat he would've taken, as a blond goy, had he been influentially pro-American early in his life.

  23. Feryl says: • Website

    How much are Nords at a verbal disadvantage?

    The Jews, since the late 70's, have had 4 Minnesota senators. And get this: 2 born in NYC, 1 from D.C., another born in Berlin, Germany.

    2 of 'em were Republicans (one a turncoat). Boschwitz: "He presently serves on the Board of Directors of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, is an AIPAC Board Member, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations." Total neo-con.

    How the hell does an ethnic group that's nearly non-existent in a state manage to get that much power in that state?

  24. One of the main goals for girls in attending college back in the day was to meet suitable young men. Young women in the 1950s and 1960s would openly speak of their aspirations for getting a "MRS" as well as a BA. It is interesting that no one here has raised that important point of college attendance here.

  25. Sid:"The main point of college is to get smart, ambitious people together as friends, and then have them leave a trail for future students to tread down."

    Yes, and also to restrict the future of politically problematic individuals. Not a meritocracy – and not a meritless position, to be sure

    In the past, I amused myself once or twice by imagining getting enough sleep in high school and doing what the Harvard interviewer fantasized me doing – that, is going to the beach and playing volleyball, then coming back and being accepted – not that I have any respect for Harvard – but the terrorizing of all their cherished liberal beliefs and the stealing of all their women would then follow, to great mirth

    Feryl: "I don't think Trump was particularly serious at the outset."
    Trump was sincere and thought gravely on the matter. One should look at his past interviews

  26. Feryl/Difference Maker,

    I think it's a mixed bag in terms of what he's serious about and what he isn't. His position on trade has been essentially unchanged for as long as I've been alive. His apparent Damascene conversion on immigration is much more recent, circa 2012ish.

    Old fogey,

    That made sense when the ratio was 2 men for each woman. We're close to that having flipped, and it's emphatically not recommended that men go to today's college campuses in search of a Mrs. of their own!

  27. As I see it, the monetary system today functions like this:

    For every dollar borrowed and spent, two dollars of "value" occur: One is the dollar that cascaded through the economy, accruing to GDP. The other is the debt (instrument), treated as a receivable, i.e., an asset.

    Ever since the secular low in the bond market in 1981, borrowing-to-spend has been seen as entirely salutary. Bondholders couldn't get enough, because each time rates fell, the capital value of their holdings rose. Congress (and everyone downstream of it) leaned that taxation was unnecessary: tax cuts for all, benefits for all!

    36 years of this warped the economy drastically in favor of those industries first in line for all that "loot:" Medical services. Higher Ed. Welfare Administration. Everything government. And of course, the FIRE economy.

    If one believes as I do, that this system only worked as long as bonds were in a bull market, then the looming collapse of borrowing will utterly crush employment in those industries.

    I subscribe to Prechter's Socionomic Hypothesis, so I believe it is endogenously patterned social mood, not Potent Directors like Fed officials, that determines the direction of markets (including interest rates.) We're still in what seem like the latter stages of the largest asset mania and credit bubble in recorded history.

    The rationalizations for Universal Higher Ed are simply part and parcel of the kind of silly theories and fads that arise to "explain" why people are doing what they're doing.

  28. I will never forget a conversation between two late-40's women (a drug rep and an RN) discussing how happy they were that their daughters were getting "the Full College Experience." Yes, that's explicitly to what they referred. (Shudder.) More freedom than any adult, no sense of cost and no responsibility…talk about a bad combination.

    All three of my sons got STEM degrees, no debt incurred, took their studies seriously. The two Comp Sci grads learned little of value for their occupation, but the mechanical engineer learned much (although he had to teach himself a lot of it, as I heard it. He passed the PE last fall at 28, I don't know if that's good bad or indifferent. He had a 4.0 throughout his entire K-Undergrad.) Son #3 is actually working on the side with recruiting to lean on some colleges to "fix" their crappy coursework in favor of what he (as an employer) would strongly prefer. As he tells it, the colleges are reluctant to actually TEACH what a large employer of Comp Sci grads actually wants.

  29. Anonymous [AKA "Prospero"] says:

    Scandinavian pathological altruism and Jewish pathological ethnocentrism are like two jigsaw pieces which perfectly fit each other. The scandos are naive and gullible. Jews are the opposite. Jews do not have to persuade Scandos to be like they are – they are already like this. Sweden has few Jews, but succumbs to political correctness anyway. And it would without Jews.

    Sweden has been an accidental paradise for so long – no wars, no conflict – that for a long time it thought everyone else was just the same as them, middle class and tolerant. Jews are not like this – they have been in long conflict with the states they reside in.

    (I'm Swedish)

  30. dc.sunsets,

    Previously the tech and real estate bubbles were part of the same asset mania, and now it's student debt, which has increased from $200 billion to over $1 trillion in 15 years.


    A similar explanation stateside, though we've had a little more of the rough and tumble (self-inflicted) with things like Vietnam and Iraq, and of course the Cold War.

  31. Audacious Epigone,
    An arithmetic chart of the DJIA from 1920 to today is very instructive. It is very clear that fiat money (post-1964/71) + bull market in bonds (i.e., declining interest rates) = a Vesuvius-sized increase in perceived (dollar-denominated) wealth.

    Perhaps it's my inner autist, but the abstraction involved in "monetary valuation" fascinates me. Almost everything people "think" about stocks, bonds, etc. is demonstrably silly. We're told that money moves from one market to another, or "cash on the sidelines" is favorable to rising prices because it can "move into the market."

    Neither of these is remotely true, of course. When Albert takes his $100 from Bank of America to buy a share of IBM (prior price $99) from Bruce, Bruce takes that same $100 and puts it back into BofA. No net movement of money is possible. "Cash on the sidelines" is silly. Of course, if there's a billion shares outstanding, the Market Cap of IBM just rose a BILLION DOLLARS because two people, a buyer and a seller, agreed that a single share should exchange at a dollar difference. A billion dollars came from….WHERE?

    With declining prices, it goes into reverse. Monetary value comes out of nowhere, and disappears into nowhere. The "wealth value" of stocks, bonds, etc., is nothing more than a phenomenon of mass psychology. However much nominal debt exists, and no matter how much "value" exists in real estate or the stock market, all it takes is a mass psychological mania to double it…or a mass psychological firestorm to burn it all to ash. It's all just a massive abstraction, albeit one that influences access to life's necessities and every other physical manifestation of wealth.

    Given this, I find it far more interesting to look past things like Higher Ed debt and Higher Ed output, and examine the RATIONALIZATIONS for why (in this case) "everyone" should go to college. It is in the rationalizations where I find the most interesting discussion…and when you strip it all away, EVERYTHING is a rationalization. Humans are fascinating creatures. We are not rational, we are rationalizing. The forces that make us do what we do operate far below the level of the conscious mind.

  32. re: " In truth, most people, including intelligent ones, really don't learn that much from formal schooling." Sid

    This is not true in STEM. Perhaps the internet will change this but having Professors shepherd neophytes into mastering the Math, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, etc. needed to enter into STEM fields insures early competency. Graduate school is especially necessary for the production of high level STEM practitioners.

    Dan Kurt

  33. Anon,

    Great point, thanks.


    We are not rational, we are rationalizing. The forces that make us do what we do operate far below the level of the conscious mind.

    Jonathan Haidt's elephant and rider, exactly.

    So it's not influencing the money supply per se that matters, it's how that–and everything else–influences human psychology in the aggregate?

  34. Luke says:

    Re young women attending college to get their Mrs. degrees:
    there is no need for that. Nothing says women can't meet, date, become engaged to, and marry college men without being college students themselves. A "mixer" event, co-sponsored by a college organization (for the men) and any outside group (church, Rotary/Kiwanis/Elks, whatever) could do this fine. It's as if you're saying that doctors would have trouble finding women to marry if women were once again largely absent from being medical students; uh, no.

  35. Audacious Epigone

    "So it's not influencing the money supply per se that matters, it's how that–and everything else–influences human psychology in the aggregate"

    That's the theory, or sort of. Socionomics posits that humans are guided by a kind of infectious "social mood" due to the pre-conscious need to "fit in." We tend to bend to the viewpoints surrounding us on topics where we have no definitive means of "knowing." [I aver that some of us herd more, some of us herd less, but in my experience, everyone herds some.]

    This is what guides fashions writ large. Robert Prechter posits that it is literally the engine of human history. (See History's Hidden Engine, a free video, for more.

    I find the notion of an endogenous, patterned, pre-conscious influence on our behavior fits the tides of history pretty well. Until a better hypothesis comes along, it's my favorite.

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