Hardly a day goes by without a debate about the proper role of government. Some people view government as a huge sink hole for money whose primary function is to limit freedom. Some citizens want the government to be as helpful and active as possible, preferably using tax revenue from other people. I'm somewhere in the middle, trying to decide each case on its merits.

For example, I think it's a good idea that the United States requires banks to calculate consumer loan interest costs using a specific formula to produce something called the APR. Now consumers can compare loans from different banks. That law probably doesn't cost the government much to enforce, and it's good for citizens. Prior to the APR requirement, banks tried as hard as they could to confuse and screw consumers.

I'm starting to feel the same way about college majors. I think the government should require colleges to display the average starting pay and the estimated lifetime earnings for each of the majors they offer. Perhaps colleges should also display the unemployment rates for each college major. Let's also assume that colleges have to use their own graduates for the calculations because, for example, Harvard graduates would see higher starting salaries than grads from lesser schools.

Then I would take it one step further, the same way cigarette warning labels do. For majors with the lowest starting salaries I might include the warning: "Graduates with this degree are unlikely to be able to pay their bills. Their best career options include crime, marrying for money, or living with parents."

Proponents of small government might point out that information on starting salaries is readily available on the Internet. That's true, but I think there is value in presenting the information with brutal frankness, and including appropriate warnings with every description of course offerings. That level of convenience will make the parents' jobs easier as they try to steer their kids in the best direction.

Is that too much government?

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Aug 10, 2012
I think this is a great idea - however I consider those who are not saavy enough to do some research ahead of time to be part of the Natural Selection process.
Jul 3, 2012
I love your idea. It is not too much government since those universities and colleges almost always get tax money. Let's not waste that tax money on useless majors.
Jul 2, 2012
Although I'm a conservative-leaning Libertarian, College warning labels are one bit of government interference I could get behind. College tuitions for worthless "I hate America studies" majors are currently the most fraudlent scam perpetrated on the innocent populace.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012
Great idea! Daddy needs a list of golf courses, ranked by networking opportunities!
Jul 2, 2012
The data would need to be strictly controlled and entirely independent so as to be able to intelligent filter out those graduates whose entry into employment was as a result not of their academic achievement or extra-curricular activities or experience, but merely because their Daddy plays golf with the chairman or similar.

There are significant swathes of the upper echelons of banking, accounting, management and politics occupied by the just-barely-qualified expensively-privately-educated children of the previous generation of such people. Any survey of employability statistics from their universities would show they did very well indeed, which would give a dishonest impression to prospective students whose families lack the necessary connections and money to get into careers such as management or the law.

It is widely understood that David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, had a starting salary post-graduation of £90,000. It's fair to say this is, even for people with firsts in Politics from Oxford, not typical.
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 1, 2012
"Is that too much government?"

Yes.. Do you read news from UK.. Government mandated/regulated rate setting process on which every other rates have been calculated have been manipulated by the setters with impunity. It isn't a problem if someone manipulates a rate which I can choose to ignore... in this case you can't ignore it as the Government essentially guaranteed it/mandated it for so many things but it was actually being screwed...

Think twice about all your intellectually orgasmic progressive thoughts.. they lead to implosive climaxes.
Jul 1, 2012
"blampow, conservatives believe in certain rights, and want them guaranteed.
they want an open and even playing field based on those rights, even if that field puts them at a disadvantage."

Sure, I'm with you on those broad ideals - and I'm not necessarily a "liberal", more of a libertarian. I didn't say anything about health care, for instance.

It just seems to me that anyone who really believe in even playing fields, meritocracies, fairness, etc, should have a problem with any method a small group uses to wield power over another group and keep them down.

You used the very terms I was stressing - a fair chance for everyone, an even playing field - but isn't the enemy of those ideals a huge concentration of power in the hands of a few? Does it really matter if those powerful few are in the "govt" or not, or if the "power" they wield is legal, military, or financial?
Jul 1, 2012
blampow, conservatives believe in certain rights, and want them guaranteed.
they want an open and even playing field based on those rights, even if that field puts them at a disadvantage.
there is a love of the ideas that rejuvenates them even when it turns to their detriment.
it gives a predictability and blame hierarchy that they feel is fair and manageable.
when you start letting govt decide things like what you are wearing to work today, maybe a pink dress for a guy, etc. conservatives feel like they are no longer in control. when they are no longer in control none of the predictability nor blame is valid.
letting govt dictate behavior, such as involvement in an industry, is dangerous, even with a wise and benevolent govt. the us govt is not wise nor benevolent. the door opened does allow the us congress and potus to tell you to do anything they want, and constitutional precedence implies it cannot be challenged on its constitutionality.
say barney frank wants to have sex with you, and he imposes a $1 million tax on you for noncompliance. if you take it to supreme court YOU WILL LOSE. coercion thru taxation is a violation of the public trust. that is what obamarobertscare is.

coercion should only be employed from criminal acts, after due process. not cuz barney likes your butt.
Jul 1, 2012

Yes 9% per annum is available in almost any bank in India at the moment, even after interest rates in India have declined somewhat. In fact I have a deposit that is currently giving me 10.50% pa.

But don't forget that this is in Indian Rupees. The rupee depreciated against the US dollar by about 20% last year - so if you converted your dollars into rupees, got 9% pa and then converted back into dollars - you would be down 11% over the year. Do you still feel the rate is attractive? :-)

Even for us Indians who don't need to convert our money into dollars, the inflation rate in India is at least around 12% per annum. Which means that even we are losing money year on year. In fact, India is one of the few countries having a negative real interest rate - ie interest rate adjusted for inflation.
Jul 1, 2012
I think the colleges I looked at did have some variant of this. A govt information campaign urging people to look for these stats before committing might be a less intrusive way to accomplish a similar goal than the mandatory warning labels concept: also, the people who would be reached by the warning labels, but not by the info campaign, aren't exactly going to be great engineers anyway, right?

Slightly broader-than-topic, but Scott/others: what do you think of the idea that the govt/freedom dichotomy is too limited: sufficient concentrations of power, whether governmental or corporate, can have similarly freedom-limiting, life-stifling effects: for instance, if someone grows up in a town whose only employer is walmart, goes to terrible schools, suffers chronic malnutrition in developing years, etc - how is the "free market" anything but the abstract blank slate overtop of which a defacto aristocratic/monarchic/feudal power balance has been allowed to cancerously form, blighting this person's life from the start, as surely as if they'd been born an olde-tymey peasant under a monarch's thumb?

TL;DR - I'm confused as to why conservatives focus on "govt" as the only way a small group of elites can control/blight others' lives: shouldn't the villain here be "inherited unfair advantages" and "wanting to season a comfortable life even further by ruining/controlling others' lives"?
Jun 30, 2012
I agree. We're talking about huge investment, both of time and money. It's also surprisingly difficult to cut through all the waffle and find this information out on the Internet. Even if you have properly developed online finding-stuff-out skills, which most kids of seventeen don't have.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 30, 2012
My take is that between "affirmative action" and a glut of federal money to pay for college (up to now), the traditional university education has become pretty much worthless, with exceptions.

It would not surprise me if the ancient practice of apprenticeship were revived as a better-working substitute. It would also be more affordable -- in effect you pay for your higher education by working for low wages while you are getting it. Once you've learned it you get a promotion, but since you have no "degree" for other employers to recognize, you can't "jump ship" without effectively starting all over again.

This is not a perfect system, but it avoids relying on an outside market (in education) which is demonstrably broken.
Jun 30, 2012
This is a good question. Overall I think that one way or another the principle of knowing how much a degree will pay (and maybe difficulty of work/finding work) are good things to know before hand.

On the more libertarian side of things, this could be done via a non-profit organization or watchdog group. You could argue that the government is big enough as it is. Frankly it is and it needs to trim the fat.

Another side of the argument is that since the government is now responsible for all student loans, they'd have a right to know how useful a loan to here would be over a loan to there. Likewise since the government kinda need to know how much money it'll make to create a baseline budget, so you'd think they'd want to track this anyways for tax purposes and threaten schools or majors that aren't up to par.

I'd say that this is a good idea in general and while I think the government will find a way to screw it up one way or another, it isn't the worst thing it can do.
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 30, 2012
"Prior to the APR requirement, banks tried as hard as they could to confuse and screw consumers."

The problem everyone should have with this sentence is your use of the word "banks" as if they were a single entity and not made up of human beings with families. The people who make the rules, who set the policies, who do every single thing you decry as evil, are looking out for the best interest of their own collective; that is, they are trying to keep all of the other employees and themselves gainfully employed so they can feed their families and put a roof over their heads.

For those that still want to talk about limiting people's rights because someone else knows what's best for them: the only amendment to the Constitution of the United States to ever be repealed was also the only one that took away a right. This doesn't stand up to legal scrutiny, or common sense.

Your point about warning labels for higher education is well intended, surely, but naive. The real problem is that there are chuckle-heads who keep telling everyone that you need a college degree in the first place. How many plumbers, carpenters, electricians, ditch diggers, guys who repair roads, garbage men, waitresses, cartoonists, etc. etc. etc. need that degree? But there isn't a person alive who won't say that we need people to do those jobs as well. A healthy economy has people doing all of the jobs necessary to keep the society moving, not just the ones at the top. Sure, a small few will earn the jobs at the top. That's the nature of reality. But for every one of them, how many others got passed by? Don't begrudge others success, or not aspire to it yourself or for your children.

"The poor will always be with us." - Jesus Christ circa 32 A.D.
Jun 30, 2012
Based on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision yesterday, the government has virtually no limits on its power, so this discussion is moot.

But let's pretend otherwise for purpose of discussion, as long as we still have some first amendment rights.

I don't think it is fair to say that "banks tried as hard as they could to confuse and screw consumers." Don't the consumers have any responsibility to understand what they're signing? Have they no access to legal advice prior to signing? If a bank screws a consumer, that will get out and other consumers won't go there; moreover, the bank won't get repeat business. Moreover, if a bank or loan officer purposely misled a consumer, that is covered by fraud statutes that already exist. Your statement is painting with a broad brush, and it is completely unfair to so characterize financial institutions.

On to your larger point. Sure, I think that requiring banks that they have to disclose important information in clear terms is a fine use of governmental power. I would say that APY is at least equally, if not more important, than APR, but now we're splitting hairs.

As to your truth-in-college idea, it's not really going to work out. Look at those come-on ads for getting skinny, making big bucks at home, et. al. They find the one guy who lost 800 pounds while making $10 million at home, and then in print too small to read unless you have 20/01 vision, it says something like, "Results not Typical." Which means, "No effing way you'll ever get close to these results, sucker!!!"

There's a more practical reason why the government would never make colleges do that. Academics create good little liberal government-lovers. The last thing an out-of-control, bloated, overreaching government wants is to have their young sycophants no longer get brainwashed to support liberal causes. So don't hold your breath.

Jun 29, 2012
There is a regional joke about this kind of analysis (which most colleges already provide). Here is a link in grad student form: http://blog.minitab.com/blog/michelle-paret/using-the-mean-its-not-always-a-slam-dunk
Jun 29, 2012
Your plan looks good on paper but it won't solve the problem.

Because if you're hiring someone with a degree, you expect them to be smart.
If they need the government to warn them about stupid ideas (like doing low paying majors and expecting a good job afterward), it means they're not smart.
If they're not smart, you don't want to hire them, no matter what they end up studying.
Jun 29, 2012
Your premise is false to begin with - that warnings are necessary. NO ONE believes that an anthropology (or journalism) degree will yield an equivalent lifetime income (on average) as an engineering degree. The issue only arises because those that *want* to pursue anthropology (or journalism) are annoyed that they will earn less than then the engineer, not that they didn't have foreknowledge.
Jun 29, 2012
@RisingStars, I didn't mean that Philosophy majors were losers so much as philosophy degrees have no commercial value. I have (what I have to presume as) an unusual amount of exposure to philosophy majors.

One is pretty much a worthless, super-good-looking guy that married a Scandinavian model (who was my cousin) and they proceeded to be beautiful in a never-ending fight over their poverty -- the crux of the argument being that they are too beautiful to be poor, so the other must be an idiot.

One is an ex-roommate who also had a computer science degree; he's doing fine.

The third was my ex-roommate's college buddy. He committed suicide, because poverty wasn't fun.
Jun 29, 2012
The government requires warning labels for everything else, why not?
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