Advanced Degrees and Deep Resentments

The Assistant Village Idiot links an Economist article and summarizes:

People with advanced degrees who are not prospering are often deeply resentful, certain that something must be wrong with “The System”*. I have worked with them for years, MSWs who believe that in a just world they would be entitled to the salaries that other people with their number of years of education get.  Other measurements, such as relative value to society, difficulty of the task, level of risk, and the like do not factor in…That they may have been lied to by the educational establishment or their upper-middle-class expectations (“For a good job, get a good education”), that they may have made poor economic decisions due to Following Their Dreams™, or that they may have chosen one of the easiest of Master’s degrees to pursue does not occur to them. It is largely political, cultural, and attitude training.  

I don’t like the title of the Economist piece…”Can too many brainy people be a dangerous thing?”…which confuses intelligence with credentialism, but I think the point about highly-degreed and resentful people is spot-on.  I was reminded of a comment by Francis Bacon, who wrote 400 years ago that that one cause of mutiny and sedition in any polity is breeding more scholars than preferment can take off.

And 50 years ago, Peter Drucker noted that:

Individually he (the knowledge worker) is an “employee”…but the knowledge worker sees himself as just another “professional,” no different from the lawyer, the teacher, the preacher, the doctor, the government servant of yesterday.  He has the same education. He has more income. He has probably greater opportunities as well…This hidden conflict between the knowledge worker’s view of himself as a “professional” and the social reality in which he is the upgraded and well-paid successor to the skilled worker of yesterday underlies the disenchantment of so many highly educated young people with the jobs available to them.

Drucker was talking about people who are frustrated by their lack of status even though they are well-paid, as with the Silicon Valley protestor who complained that ‘tech workers are workers, no matter how much money they make.’  As I said in my post TechnoProletarians, as any field becomes a mass employer, it is likely that a substantial number of the people working in that field will feel that they are not getting the high status and rewards that they should have.  And the frustrations about which Drucker writes are surely greatly exacerbated when large numbers of people in a field are concentrated in the same geographical area.

And these frustrations are become extreme when the ‘knowledge workers’ in question are not highly paid…PhD-holders working as low-paid adjunct professors with no real hope of promotion, for example, or increasingly, tech workers facing downward salary pressures from H1B visa holders and the offshoring of programming work.

The media and authority figures that these individuals were exposed to them in their formative years were almost unanimous in the view that get a good college credential and everything else will pretty much take care of itself.  Consider this poster:


The above poster was apparently often found on the walls of high-school guidance counselors in the 1970s, according to Mike Rowe, whose critique of the poster’s message can be found here.  It certainly seems like an effective way to create a sense of entitlement among people getting degrees–with the more prestigious and advanced the degree, the higher the entitlement–together with resentment when those expectations are not fulfilled.  College loan balances contribute additional fuel to the emotional fire.


32 thoughts on “Advanced Degrees and Deep Resentments”

  1. Lots of Mercedes mechanics making $100k. My younger son, who is a fireman with a couple of years of college, is the only one of five who owns his own home. My wife has three sons doing very well, owning homes and married. None have college degrees.

  2. Yes, those kids who were sold a baggage of fail – that spending a bomb for a college degree without considering who would pay them for exercising those skills for a remunerative paycheck … those idiots are screwed, big time.
    Me – with my English degree: I didn’t hock my economic future to get it and never expected a high-paying job as a result of it, anyway.

  3. I worry about the medical students. USC tuition is now $67,000 a year. When I went it was $1200. These kids are all borrowing tuition and probably more. Medicine is a good profession but the incomes, except in very narrow specialties, are going to leave these kids repaying loans until they are 50. Two of my kids are lawyers and one has a MLS and was part way to a PhD in History. I paid for all their bachelor degrees. This is all grad school.

  4. The Trump hate from the overcredentialed was transparent from day one, an incandescent rage that someone could succeed without doing things the way they were told you have to, and not giving deference to the kind of stupid platitudes you have to.

  5. Peter Turchin on elite overproduction, same issue.

    Used to be high school was demanding and not everyone could do it. Then it was dumbed down. If you show up you get a diploma. It’s nothing to be proud of. College is now the same way except: (1) it’s not free, it costs a ton of money, and (2) if you don’t do it you are de-barred from any serious employment, so (3) kids these days are coerced into spending four years or more and six figures in borrowed, non-dischargeable, debt, to enter the adult workforce. It is amazing this has not produced a lot more anger and violence, TBH.

  6. Individuals who are highly-credentialed but feel underpaid are likely to be especially resentful of people without such credential who *are well-paid. Just 3 months ago, MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes and Washington post writer Dave Weigel avidly agreed with one another about the characteristics of Trump supporters (of whom they don’t approve)…men without a college degree who have enough income to buy a boat (Hayes qualifies it as *white* men)*. They seemed quite offended that men without college degrees would be able to afford boats.

    Yet I would guess that Hayes makes considerably more $ than most of these boat-buying undegreed men…not so sure about the writer, Weigel…so at least in his case, the resentment must be more indirect in its causes.

    Whatever the case with these two individuals, as a general matter I think the anger of the underpaid degreed is a big factor in the resentment against the Deplorables.

  7. Whatever the case with these two individuals, as a general matter I think the anger of the underpaid degreed is a big factor in the resentment against the Deplorables.

    Oh yes, it’s a class thing mostly. Even those who are wealthy may resent their inferiors moving next door or joining the club. Very much a class thing.

  8. I first heard the idea that pay should be commensurate with years of education in connection with public school teachers pay many years ago. I’m not sure what they were using as an exemplar but they were sure they weren’t getting paid enough. Now the minimum degree in a lot of school systems is a masters and Ed.D’s abound. They’re still sure they aren’t being paid enough while the rest of us wonder if they should be paid at all based on actual results.

    Medicine may be the only area where someone just out of training goes directly into full practice. An executive might entrust his life or those of his family to a resident in the hospital supervised by someone who was one last year but he’s not going to give an engineer just out of school a multi-million dollar project to run.

    Pretty much every profession has what amounts to a years long apprenticeship. My dad told me a long time ago that you could be paid either more or less than what you’re worth and that it’s best if you’re paid a little less. It took me a while to realize he was right.

    Professions where there is a demand for exceptional and talented practitioners are healthy and productive. Those where the demand is for credentials not so much. The latter are uniformly concentrated in government. It’s a sure sign that nothing useful is being produced. Of course, people of proven proficiency generally get a premium.

    HR departments have become the refuge of a lot of low value degrees. When they are in charge of hiring, credentials are the only thing they can grasp. A business that doesn’t have a way to bypass HR to acquire true talent is doomed. The favorite way now seems to be internships where prospective hires work with the people doing the work already.

  9. Jews a generation older than me often had a family expectation that they would acquire a trade – preferably a portable one – even if they were pursuing advanced degrees. It was likely left over from the culture of European oppression, where you needed something to fall back on. I knew only two in my generation – the son of the owner of a pharmaceutical company who went on to law school. He had worked a year as a finish carpenter before coming to William and Mary. Another apprenticed to an electrician for 18 months before attending college. But among the older Jewish psychologists and psychiatrists I worked with in the 70s and 80s, more than half knew jewelry repair, watch repair, custom-making dentures, butchering, or some other such trade. They bemoaned that this was no longer the custom – they could not even get their own children to do it.

    It not only teaches you something useful and provides some security, it also teaches you respect for those who do that sort of job.

    I don’t know why I even bring it up. Those days are gone and they aren’t coming back.

  10. Cross-posted to AVI

    From the economist piece:

    }}} Mr Turchin suggests that though slavery was the proximate cause of the American civil war, a more fundamental one was resentment from up-and-coming Northern capitalists towards stuck-in-their-ways Southerners.

    Mrrr, don’t let the proggies hear that. They’ll have your balls for neck charms for daring to say that the South claiming that it wasn’t just about slavery is correct… LOLZ

    }}} House prices are so high that only inheritors stand a chance of emulating the living conditions of their parents. The power of a few “superstar” firms means that there are few genuinely prestigious jobs around. Mr Turchin reckons that each year America produces some 25,000 “surplus” lawyers. Over 30% of British graduates are “overeducated” relative to their jobs.

    This is just retarded. I just bought my own house. The problem is,
    1) Peeps no longer have the skills to build their own. My GF (b. 1905) built his OWN home — literally from scratch — in the middle 1950s. This means they cost more and fewer people have the skills to build them, which drives the cost of the labor portion up. There was a time when buying the land, and the goods needed to MAKE the house were the tough part of home ownership. Today it’s a matter of hiring the labor to do the job, which starts at $10-20 per hour and goes up from there.

    2) Regulations — for good or bad — drive up prices significantly. In FL, hurricane codes are making houses much much more expensive than they were decades ago.

    3) The actual space and amenities for a house today are vastly greater than they were 50 years ago. 50y ago, the size of the home was almost half, per occupant, than it is now… and dishwashers, garbage disposals, clothes washers, dryers, and so forth are all standard, instead of an added expense. Closet space in the last century has also vastly increased. It’s an interesting question how many homeowners today also have a storage unit.
    (New US homes today are 1,000 square feet larger than in 1973 and living space per person has nearly doubled
    Carpe Diem –

    4) Nobody MOVES. There used to be a large itinerant class — people who moved where the work was on a regular basis. Go back and look at all those old movies and TV shows where someone lived in a boarding house. Just TRY AND FIND someone even running a boarding house today. No, a B&B does not cater to the same market.


    In all, this is just feeding into a lie that the left has been perpetuating as a part of its destructive victimhood promotion process. We’re all rich as croesus and so busy whining about what some other guy has, that we’re going to destroy the whole system so everyone can be closer to the same level of poverty. As Thatcher said in one of her last appearances as PM, “They’d rather that the poor be poorer, as long as the rich are not so rich.”


    Yes, the US middle class is shrinking, but it’s because Americans are moving up. And no, Americans are not struggling to afford a home.

  11. Buying a home, though, isn’t just about the structure and the land: if a couple has kids, or plans to, then they need to either move somewhere within the bounds of a ‘good’ school district (assuming that such exists in their area, and can be determined), or make enough money to pay for private schooling.

  12. We’re land grant school people and that was a wonderful tradition – inexpensive, spread out on the plains and where scholars could go home in the summers to help on the farm. My Antonia describes the narrator’s tense summer, studying the classics so that he would be on the level with the others at Lincoln – this must have been the 1880’s or so. My parents majored in civil engineering and home economics – there other courses broadened their horizons as did WWII and our home was full of books and journals, but they had learned skills that (well, given the ways that life take us they ended up not using all that much) that would have led more conventional, more ambitious, and, well, probably people with less of a taste for drink, into solid careers. They never complained about the jobs they did – they did what they did. And they found much about living in a small town worth the other sacrifices.

    A lot of this is quite simply not buying into the absurd arguments of high school counselors and college recruiters about the money you’ll make if you go to school – I had an example in front of me every day of my life that things didn’t work out that way, but they also demonstrated that our greatest pleasures were arguing with family and friends about ideas and politics and beliefs. Those are the pleasures you brought back from college (in the old days, anyway – now we have the net and television which offers much of that if that’s where you want to go) – and they are useful, anyway. And my father could help my brother with his house additions and building a shuffleboard table by pulling out his old engineering texts and figuring a bit.

    Selling college as a money making proposition was what led dutiful parents to pay those absurd tuitions, paying those absurd tuitions gave colleges money to spend on many quite non scholarly perks for both students and teachers. We all (I think) saw this coming decades ago, would complain about it, but then move on. That’s the problem with assuming education was more self satisfying than remunerative – I think it can lead to a rather passive approach to life, even if it isn’t grievance filled and bitter.

    I do wish that Biden wasn’t so chummy with the teachers’ college unions and that this new administration didn’t have the absolute gall to expect the public that either didn’t send their kids to college or did send them and paid for it to even consider paying off student loans. (If they want to take it out of endowments, that would have some fairness to it.) And I think we are all (we all with any sense of justice whether it takes the form of charter schools that give parents choice or tribunals that don’t assume all men are rapists before they begin) going to be sorry Betsy de Vos will be leaving.

  13. Honestly some of the above makes me, living in a small decaying town in upstate New York, feel like I’m living in a different reality. Houses here cost basically nothing, because there is zero demand. The only “new” houses are subdivisions that were built in the 70s and 80s. They go for way more than houses “in town”, not even due to quality but because of class issues. And “Nobody Moves”? What? These towns that have been emptying out for decades are still emptying out, somehow. Everyone has friends and family in the Carolinas (way more than TX and FL, I think because of the relatively easy driving distance), many of whom come back seasonally. The Covid shutdowns are going to complete the destruction of these towns.
    “We’re all rich as croesus and so busy whining about what some other guy has”
    Who’s we? This sort of Kevin Williamson type conservatism is just so gross.

  14. I don’t like the title of the Economist piece…”Can too many brainy people be a dangerous thing?”…which confuses intelligence with credentialism, but I think the point about highly-degreed and resentful people is spot-on.

    Exactly. Education does not create brainy people. The number of brainy people is a constant, and immutable, in my opinion. What with Gauss and all.

    Every major university features wannabes who hang around, hoping against hope to become full-fledged faculty members (i.e., at least tenure-track professors, if not tenured senior faculty), in addition to the nutjobs pushing their cancer cures and perpetual motion machines. (I used to use the latter to provide “find the flaw” problems when I taught thermodynamics.)

    Everyone is always polite to them (who knows if they might go postal? best to keep them sweet), but they have no chance. Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Nichevo.

    They are close relatives of those who attend extension courses and then tell anyone who will listen that they are students at Prestigious University.

    Both groups are a bit pathetic.

  15. And dancing delicately around a Godwin’s Law violation, guess which demographic provided a lot of support for you-know-who? Mid-level bureaucrats who’d been let go owing to Weimar austerity measures and who had had their savings wiped out by Weimar hyperinflation.

  16. The presumption that the economy in many blue states could be “Eds and Meds” was the natural outgrowth of the non-market based pricing for all of these university and medical activities.

    One of my business partners has two sons as physicians and it reminded me that the rational for having future physicians and surgeons complete a full 4 year degree then go to med school is absurd. Many other countries required only two years at most of general university education before entering medical school (the Irish for example). This would not only reduce total borrowing by medical students but put them out into residencies several valuable years earlier.

    This plus the Medicare based payment systems just keep driving up costs and lowering efficiency.

  17. “We’re all rich as croesus and so busy whining about what some other guy has”
    Who’s we? This sort of Kevin Williamson type conservatism is just so gross.

    Kevin Williamson is an especially loathsome example of the garbage people who infect the bloated carcass of what remains of conservative inc.

    I despise him, and will never read anything more by him, having read quite enough.

    He’s the sort of nasty, bitter whiner who just can’t understand why the people who are upset with the direction of the GOP or the country won’t just shut up and die. His ilk are what made Donald Trump president and re-elected him as well.

    Of course, I’m pretty sure at some point soon I’m going to read of another nasty screed from him, attacking people who have noticed the massive amount of fraud in the recent election and won’t forget it.

  18. Diryjobsguy
    FWIW, 3 MD brothers all had the option of ‘pre-selecting’ for medical school after completion of ~3 years of college. There were core requirements, but they did not have to continue that 4th year if they did not want to pursue a BS degree just to have that piece of paper.
    The universities sold a sheepskin as the key to a ‘good job’. Ivy League schools are a given to certain people due to ‘legacy’. That ensures them a job leading to a seat on boards of directors. The rest that pay the exorbitant tuition get in debt so much they likely will owe for the majority of their career.
    Too bad their anger is for ‘orange man bad’, as it was the other team that made it possible for the U’s to increase their tuition and fees by easing loan access.
    Those pursuing degrees should be more aware of what they are ‘buying’ as it may be a poor investment. Some degrees are a waste of time, but that is just my opinion, though I doubt they will prove to be a good investment. tom

  19. the rational for having future physicians and surgeons complete a full 4 year degree then go to med school is absurd. Many other countries required only two years at most of general university education before entering medical school (the Irish for example). This would not only reduce total borrowing by medical students but put them out into residencies several valuable years earlier.

    I agree. One problem is, and it may be less common now, is that some people don’t decide early. Two friends of mine were in their 30s when they started medical school. One became a GP and the other became a professor. I worked as an engineer while doing pre-med at night.

    France has no college requirement and medical school is free. My medical students were acquiring huge loans.

  20. Brian,

    A blog friend in a small town up the Hudson Valley noted mostly same things – until covid exodus started from the Big Rotten Apple. He called it “the day of the locust”. So, per physics law of balance in connected vessels, now here in Brooklyn we started noticing the house prices that were climbing up for the last 25 yrs suddenly stopped and hang on precariously, slipping down more and more often.

    Another friend, who just went to a meet of an attempted resurrection of libertarian Manhattan Project, said there probably will be no second meet anytime soon – as several people said they are moving out of the city. Particularly, one just closed on a house in TX.

    Re: topic of the post.
    Russian satirist Kusma Proutkoff (actually,it was a pseudonim for three people writing together) said in mid-XIX cent.: “A specialist is like an inflamed tooth: its fullness is one-sided”.
    Meaning – over-educated experts in one area are incompetent in everything else.

  21. DirtyJobsGuy: Ms. Savita Halapanavar was allowed to bleed to death in an Irish Hospital about 10 years ago since the peasant doctors couldn’t tell if she was or was not pregnant and they just couldn’t risk an inadvertant abortion. Catholics, don’t cha no? It took three days for the woman to die and the wizards of Irish medicine could not figure out if she was actually pregnant or simply infected. That does not speak well of bare-foot bog-hopper medical training.

    ****! Irish medical education! My cat got better. My normal response to your Irish medical training would probably involve firearms.

    I’ll stop here, since this keyboard doesn’t have enough symbols and my Mother drilled the appropriate words out of me.

    Back when I was in college (several centuries ago), the curve at least got rid of most of the idiots who only wanted a big income and a nurse to fondle. They are now probably offended since they can’t comprehend an automobile diagnostic computer or hold a 1/4″/foot grade.

  22. Mike-SMO, pretty angry there. Those of us who graduated from medical school (I would guess even Irish medical school) know the difference between what is called “therapeutic abortion” and “spontaneous abortion,” also known as miscarriage. The treatment we all learned was D&C to remove any “products of conception” that will cause continued bleeding. If your story is true, it has little to do with religion or Irish medical education. It could be just simple incompetence but there must be more to it.

  23. I found the story, but it is Wikipedia and abortion politics might be involved. The account says the fetal heartbeat was still present, which is odd at that point. Maybe it was incompetence but Wikipedia is unreliable in anything political. Maybe you personally have more information.

  24. Oh yes, it’s a class thing mostly. Even those who are wealthy may resent their inferiors moving next door or joining the club. Very much a class thing.

    Those most obsessed with status, have built their entire lives around being perceived as the elite … they have made an all-in investment in elite status; financially, professionally, politically, even in terms of reputation and self-esteem.

    Success on the part of inferiors threatens to erode the perceived value of that investment … particularly because its value depends on our need for the “services” of the elite, and if we can succeed without them, we don’t need them as much.

    One thing I advise young engineers to keep in mind, is to maintain high respect for the assemblers and technicians that do not have the engineer’s credentials, but possess knowledge that was not included in a high-priced university textbook … knowledge that will save your professional reputation repeatedly, if you respect them as sources of such knowledge.

    Of course, it is easier for engineers to absorb this message, than for others … for most of them, their thinking is tested against objective reality on a near-daily basis, and the consequences are significant to them if they get it wrong enough for long enough. Even impressive credentials doesn’t shield them from that … as Ray Stantz pointed out, in the private sector they expect results … a condition that is nowhere near as present, it appears, in an academic or bureaucratic environment.

  25. }}} And “Nobody Moves”? What? These towns that have been emptying out for decades are still emptying out, somehow.

    Brian, you’re REALLY missing the point. As in the classic, “NNNNNNNEEEEEowwwww!!!” missing it…

    1) The place you’re talking about have been emptying out since the 70s, as everyone in the Rust Belt shifted to the South. Florida is now the #3 most populous state in the nation… because all those NY people came here. Partly this was driven by taxes, partly by energy prices. And partly by land values — those values have inverted, BTW… but FL is still large enough that it’s mainly the urban areas where land is expensive. — and finally, business benefits. FL is a very highly ranked state, in terms of its pro-business attitudes. It sucks if you’re out of work, but the fees for unemployment insurance against employers are some of the lowest in the nation. Counterbalance that with the absolute lack of a state income tax.

    2) The comment was made — and I expressly used the term — about ITINERANCY. That is, you moved where the work went. With the clothes on your back. You did not have an entire house to sell from week to week, nor a semi-truckload or two of furniture and goodies to take with you. This class is far far less common than it used to be, to the point where there are no — again, as mentioned — boarding houses still around to provide them with living quarters. About the only itinerant class that may (probably) still exist is farm labor, and that’s usually new immigrants and illegals, I would assert. I could be wrong, of course.

  26. }}} “We’re all rich as croesus and so busy whining about what some other guy has”
    Who’s we? This sort of Kevin Williamson type conservatism is just so gross.

    You and Pengy should get together. You’re both laughably clueless about the state of even the poor in this country, vs. both most other countries *AND* more critically, what is historically so.

    People in the projects are buying $200 Nikes. They have iPhone 10s. Whether this is a rational expenditure given the rest of their living conditions is a particularly apt question. But they are clearly not choosing between food on the table and clothes on their backs.

    My mother told me the story of a farm family (she grew up in Iowa) where she stayed overnight with a schoolmate. They had pancakes.

    With leftover beef gravy from the night before.

    Because you did not waste food calories, when you’re TRULY, ACTUALLY POOR.

    I would challenge you to find anyone not totally homeless who has had to make any kind of choice like that. And the majority of the totally homeless are that way because of drug issues or chemical imbalances, who refuse to take meds.

    Modern Americans for the most part cannot even begin to CONCEIVE of being that freaking poor.

    So yeah, we’re Rich As Croesus — I’ll repeat that statement, because even the 2nd lowest quintile for the most part lives better than the majority of the highest decile in America did 125 years ago. And the USA at THAT time was the richest or second richest nation in the entire world. They have ready access at the push of a button to many many things those people had to go out of their way to have — if they could have them at all.

    Everything’s Amazing And Nobody Is Happy

  27. Oh, another point I meant to make about the food thing:

    The growth of the term “Food Insecurity”, as a replacement for “children going hungry”.

    “Many children don’t know if they’ll have anything to eat tomorrow night…”

    Oh, bullshit. If that is the case, it’s because they have one of those rare strict parents who might actually send them to bed without supper. Or their mother is a junkie who just sold the food stamps for a score. You don’t have an entire generation of children growing up obese (even WITH the BS changes in what defines “obese”) and having kids missing too many meals for lack of food available.

    Hence the need to replace the term “Hunger” with “Food Insecurity”, a term which is so blatantly vague that it is meaningless, to a replace a term with a concrete definition, that triggers the bogon flux capacitor into full flood overload-release when it gets misused by the Left.

    ‘Nuff Said.

  28. People in the projects are buying $200 Nikes. They have iPhone 10s. Whether this is a rational expenditure given the rest of their living conditions is a particularly apt question.

    I know where you are coming from, and it’s not a race thing. A particularly irritating sight for my late blue-collar father, was seeing people in a nice, big car pull up to their home – a shack – in his native Kentucky.

    Or when the TV news videoed a shack like that as evidence of Appalachian misery … but didn’t zoom out to show the nice home adjacent to the shack, built by someone who took the initiative to make money honestly to build it.

    I have a photo that I frequently post on Disqus-equipped sites that allow photos … it shows three black men in a courtroom: a cop, a lawyer, and a defendant. It is labeled:



    But making good choices takes responsibility and initiative on the part of the individual … something which our elites discourage, instead expecting and attempting to compel us to “Trust and Obey” them like they are the central figure in that classic hymn.

    If they were honest, they would invoke a different cultural reference … from Animal House … YOU F____D UP. YOU TRUSTED US.

  29. The comment was made — and I expressly used the term — about ITINERANCY.

    In my view we would benefit from realizing that the willingness to move to better one’s lot renders one less vulnerable to the failures of employers, union bosses, and government “leaders”.

    I’m not saying that one has to fit the strict definition of itinerant you have delineated here … but they need to keep themselves in a position to fire their management when a better opportunity comes along, or when their management gets stuck in terminal stupid. And if necessary, call U-Haul to help with the move.

    Too many in this nation believe they have a RIGHT to work the same job the same way in the same place for a lifetime, and expect others to assure economic security now and in the future FOR them. That attitude is a big reason why the jobs left here for overseas … and in many cases, left them with pink slips.

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