Smart people, stupid choices

Why Should Everyone Else Pay for Other People’s Dumb (and Hedonistic) Career Choices? asks Barry Rubin on PJ Media.

He starts with a hard-working 28-year-old man who is “puzzled and increasingly bitter that he cannot make a good living” with a degree in linguistics — to which he’s adding Oriental philosophy studies.

He cannot make a living because the market for people with degrees in linguistics and in Oriental philosophy is limited. He should have known that. Someone should have told him that. The calculation of practicality should have been made. It wasn’t.

Young people need to be taught “the world doesn’t owe them a living,” whatever politicians may say, Rubin writes.

If you have a profound passion for art, literature, or other such things, go for it. But be aware of what’s likely to happen afterward.

. . .  Studying the social sciences and humanities, not to mention all of the phony degree programs that have sprung up, does not make one employable, nor does a degree have written on it “hire this person at a high salary.” Even as they charge more, universities — especially certain departments in them — are creating neither qualified professionals nor serious intellectuals.

“Get a useful education, a job, and a hobby in that order,” Rubin concludes. “And don’t expect the hardworking people, who have had to make compromises in their own lives, to pay for you to do whatever you want.”

About Joanne


  1. “And don’t expect the hardworking people, who have had to make compromises in their own lives, to pay for you to do whatever you want.”


  2. Linguistics is actually a useful field to study IF combined with a minor (or sufficient coursework) in computer science. One of my college sorority sisters was a linguistics major and CS minor and she makes a good living working for an educational technology company. I’m not 100% sure of exactly what she does but she’s involved in the development of learning software.

  3. There’s more to “stupid choices” than just a college major. It’s the individuals that are not involved in college, networking, getting work experience, trying different career paths who end up living at home with their parents once they graduate. I believe that an individual should follow their passion (even if it’s art), but also have a backup plan or at least connections to possible jobs outside their field of interest until they can find a job they are interested in.

    • tim-10-ber says:

      Exactly what I have told, and expect of, my sons. They have been allowed to follow their passion in college but know they have to have additional skills to cobble together enough income to live on until their primary career opens up for them. Some how I know they will both make it…

  4. It often depends on what kind of person earns the degree. Some people with seemingly useless liberal arts degrees develop lucrative careers in consulting, business, and non-profit work. These careers can reflect significant creativity and insight that can be quite desirable. However, others struggle. So, it may not be the degree but the person.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      It also often depends on where they earned their degree. A B.A. from an Ivy or almost Ivy in humanities offers a lot more opportunity than one from genertic state college.

    • Sean Mays says:

      Let’s be careful about the use of the phrase “liberal arts” – they include the traditional hard sciences as well as mathematics. I’d say one of the useful ways to measure the value of a program is how progressive it is. Physics (for example) is pretty progressive. I’ve you haven’t mastered kinematics, big parts of E&M won’t make sense. There’s a building and structuring that goes on. Many fields lack this and you see it in the graduates who can’t analyze problems and work out the pieces and put it back together.

  5. Obi-Wandreas says:

    One of my best friends from childhood is a linguist. He makes a living because he has a PhD and has spent years in Mexico cataloging for posterity a local language which is very close to dying (along with the last few speakers). He has made himself one of those few for whom there is a call.

    Every young person hears the cliché that you can be whatever you want to be, and you should just follow your dreams. Often, this comes from those who have successfully done just that, and honestly want everyone else to have the same sort of success.

    For most, however, reality hits – my band never made it out of the garage, and I have yet to receive word on my application from Starfleet Academy. The key, for most, appears to be to find something that you can do, that people have a need for, and that you can make a living at.

    There’s nothing wrong with taking a day job while you’re following your true passion on the side. For some, a combination of talent and fortune will allow them to capitalize on it, and that often requires taking a risk. There is a big difference, however, between calculated risk and just wasting your time.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      My husband majored in Lingustics. He went on to get an MBA, though, and works for an evil but very profitable Investment bank. His undergraduate proved a good investment, but, then, he graduated in 1986. He probably wouldn’t recommend our sons follow the same path.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    I studied psychology. Needed a degree for OCS. Which I figured would be the end of the story but was not, and here I am.
    Went into sales.