How Art History Majors Power the U.S. Economy

Written on January 11, 2012 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

By Virginia Postrel, Bloomberg Columnist 

There’s nothing like a bunch of unemployed recent college graduates to bring out the central planner in parent-aged pundits.

In a recent column for Real Clear Markets, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute lauded the Chinese government’s policy of cutting financing for any educational program for which 60 percent of graduates can’t find work within two years. His assumption is that, because of government education subsidies, the U.S. is full of liberal-arts programs that couldn’t meet that test.

“Too many aspiring young museum curators can’t find jobs?” he writes. “The pragmatic Chinese solution is to cut public subsidies used to train museum curators. The free market solution is that only the rich would be indulgent enough to buy their kids an education that left them economically dependent on Mommy and Daddy after graduation.” But, alas, the U.S. has no such correction mechanism, so “unemployable college graduates pile up as fast as unsold electric cars.”

Bill Gross, the founder of the world’s largest bond fund, Pacific Investment Management Co., has put forth a less free- market (and less coherently argued) version of the same viewpoint. “Philosophy, sociology and liberal arts agendas will no longer suffice,” he declared. “Skill-based education is a must, as is science and math.”

There are many problems with this simplistic prescription, but the most basic is that it ignores what American college students actually study.

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