Tag Archives: education

Fixing the Student Loan Debt Crisis and Reforming Edcuation

From Demos: Why Education Does Not Fix Poverty

The author lists some reasons why poverty has not fallen in spite of the US population becoming more educated:

First, handing out more high school and college diplomas doesn’t magically create more good-paying jobs. When more credentials are chasing the same number of decent jobs, what you get is credential inflation: jobs that used to require a high school degree now require a college degree; jobs that used to require an Associate degee now require a Bachelor’s degreee; and so on. Obviously the supply of good-paying jobs is not a fixed constant of nature, but there is no reason to think that the supply will automatically go up to match the number of people with the necessary credentials. The types of jobs available in a society, and their level of compensation, is determined by many factors (demand, worker power, technology, global competition, natural resources, etc.) that have little to do with the number of degrees that society is minting.

This is compounded by the fact that even after adjusting for inflation, student loan debt is surging:

Student loan debt exceeds credit card debt:

And to add insult to injury, the rate of debt exceeds gains in wages. Debt is up 35% and median annual wages are flat:

Too much debt compounded by poor job prospects – a bad combination. Regarding debt, the system is broken, and the very people who are trying to ‘save’ the poor with ‘good intentions’ are making things worse, by continuing the college/debt cycle in perpetuity. A better solution is to replace costly, time-consuming diplomas with cheap, easy to administer IQ-like tests like the Wonderlic, as well as the SAT, which is also a good proxy for IQ and signaling competence and learning ability. Yeah, there is disparate impact, I know, but these tests would save a lot of time and money, sparing millions of students, particularly low-income students, of decades of debt. Employers want employees who can learn quickly, make inferences, adjust to changes, and anticipate needs – all skills linked to IQ.

Regarding the mismatch of skills and unemployment, another problem is that we’re perhaps in an era of ‘peak school‘, and instead of more education for the sake of education, we need ‘targeted education’ to teach young people the skills employers are directly seeking, sorta like vocational schools. More intelligent students can either undergo a comprehensive formal, liberal arts education or learn high-paying skills like coding while in high school instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars or more to learn it in college and frittering many valuable years. Britain has a program similar to this, Eleven-Plus exam, as I explain in an earlier post Birth ‘Lottery’ Does Not Preclude Meritocracy:

The politically correct approach to education of trying to bring everyone to the same level is flawed; we need to use cognitive screening to ascertain individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, and then create curriculum optimized around this. Beyond the basics like reading and math, higher IQ kids, for example, should be encouraged to learn high-paying skills like STEM at an early age, as well as pursuing other cognitive creative endeavors; lower-IQ kids should learn service work since that’s where the most opportunities, if there any, will be. Britain had a system similar to this, the Eleven Plus exam, which tested kids at the age of 10 for future educational placement, with lower-IQ kids learning vocational work, average-IQ kids continuing with their education, and high-IQ kids going to special schools.

And from Scott Adams How to Get a Real Education:

I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, thinkers and engineers who will propel civilization forward. But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach B students something useful, like entrepreneurship?

He’s right. What we have is a misapplication of resources and ability. Rather then a cold dose of reality that, no, Jimmy with an IQ of 90 should not go to college, teachers would rather (or at least they are forced to) lie to parents and students, sending them down a path of debt that is worsened by a high college dropout rate.


IQ and SAT Scores as a Solution to the Student Loan Crisis
Breaking the Tuition Feedback Loop
Disparate Impact Litigation Hurts Job Seekers, Students, and Employers
Some Ideas to Reform Higher Education
The Student Loan Charade
An Indebted Generation

Improving Society and Policy

From Jim: Fixing housing, health, and education.

The fundamental problem is the misallocation of public resources.

Replace costly, time-consuming diplomas with SATs, Wondericks, and other IQ-like proxies, to signal competence. Employers realize that GPAs are becoming diluted due to grade inflation. This also explains why there is a push by the left to make these standardized tests easier, making them less useful for identifying exceptional talent. But in some instances, IQ-like tests are allowed is the employer can disprove disparate impact by showing that the test is sufficiently applicable to the job, but this is often very costly for the employer. eliminating such litigation would help job-seekers and employers.

The fed govt. should refuse to provide student loans to those those are unlikely to graduate, using IQ tests as a form of means testing. Students with IQs below 110-115 are much more likely to drop-out, fail, or major in low-ROI subjects, wasting the money. The proliferation of student loans is a contributing factor to both credentialism and spiraling college costs.

Stop wasting so much money on special education, and focus more resources on the top 5%, who are, statistically speaking, more likely to contribute to the economy and technology than the bottom 5%, yet the bottom gets vastly more funding.

How about more funding to create the next Teslas, Ubers, and Facebooks, and less on low-ROI programs like disability and welfare. As the federal govt. fritters away money, billionaires are funding technology initiatives, which is a good argument for lower taxes to spur innovation and creativity.


Helping America’s Gifted Poor
Reviving the American Dream with ‘Purple Policies’
Purple Policies, Part 2

Healthcare? Ration by IQ for expensive procedures when payment is not an options; advocate euthanasia for costly incurable diseases when payment is not an option. For example, the organ donor list should be prioritized by IQ, all else being equal. 5% of patients are consuming 50-80% of healthcare resources, typically for rare diseases and end-of-life care, which is a big waste. If you’re a multi-millionaire and can afford costly end-of-life care and or experimental treatments that are unlikely to work, fine, pay for it out of your own pocket, but taxpayers should not.

Related: Affordable Housing, Healthcare, & Tuition: Putting Things in Perspective

Education and the Blank Slate: Setting Realistic Expectations

Excellent article from a surprising source: Helicopter Parenting Has Given Birth To A Generation of Entitled Victims

Another similar patient I saw was a 14-year old female presenting with depression and anxiety. Though she was of moderate intelligence, she and her highly-educated parents insisted on her taking the toughest classes in pursuit of her primary goal: to be accepted to a top college such as Harvard or Princeton. Her mother helped the child compensate for her below average grades by citing a “learning difference” and aggressively advocating for academic accommodations so that her daughter could continue her quest for scholastic excellence. These semantics elided the reality that the girl was not at the same intellectual level as her brightest peers. She became severely depressed and engaged in self-harm behaviors, citing her primary stressor as the competitive nature of school.

If we continue to walk on eggshells to avoid offending these hypersensitive young adults, we are empowering their victimhood status. If we continue to indulge their irrational demands, we are robbing them of the opportunity to learn how to function independently in the real world.

Not to make this too partisan, but some on the ‘left’ (and I hesitate to use this label because there are many on the ‘right’ who also believe in the blank slate) want to believe the nurture can supersede the barriers to success imposed by biology, and that to acknowledge such biological reality makes one an ‘oppressor’. People who fail to succeed may be victims of poor genes, but are not victims of an oppressive system. Instead of these people being coddled by delusional affirmations, as the author suggests, we need to make them aware of their limitations, and then devise strategies for these individuals to live to their full potential, however limited that may be, even if this may seem ‘unfair’. The ‘real world’ is unfair, and coddled young adults are in for a rude awakening after the cocoon of political correctness is stripped away that, no, they are not special.

Related: The ‘blank slate’ view of humanity is looking increasingly outdated

The evidence that human nature is under genetic control has been building for some time, yet despite this it remains a taboo to discuss it because it doesn’t fit with the ‘blank slate’ model of human behaviour. If you turn on any radio bulletin about the sex gap in STEM subjects, for example, or the differences in academic achievement between the social classes, possible genetic factors are never mentioned. I’m never sure if this is because the people in broadcasting are unaware of them, or whether it is just assumed they’re so obvious as to be not worth explaining

The reasons for the cultural taboo about genetics are obvious, understandable and political, although buttressed by mainstream Christianity, which is opposed to any sort of genetic determinism. As Fraser pointed out in his recent piece about designer babies, the word ‘eugenics’ still elicits a strong and negative reaction, even if people are happy to ignore it taking place in practice.

Exactly. Also such an article would likely never be published in a mainstream American publication, but Britain, despite its social liberalness, to its credit seems to be slightly less squeamish about HBD matters. And to take this further, economic events since 2008 are making Social Darwinism a reality, whether you wish to believe it or not, with some people failing to succeed not because of an oppressive system but because of bad genes. The ‘blank slate’ is obsoleted not just by empirical scientific evidence but by the economy as well.

The is related to the far-left (and I sometimes hesitate to use this label because there are also many on the ‘right’ who also subscribe to the blank slate), who tend to believe that people are born equal but imperfect, and it’s the role of the ‘state’ to ‘prefect’ them, in much the same way new computers all have the same operating system installed. The HBD-right and some on the ‘rational left’, on the other hand, may believe that some are born ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others, and the state should create economic and social environments for everyone to live their their full cognitive potential, not to promote equal outcomes.

But based on my own experiences with the ‘alt right’, many Christians actually reject the blank slate and believe in biological determinism, such pertaining gender and racial differences. Also, IQ is not the ultimate determinant of the worth – or lack thereof – of an individual, but rather it’s of equal importance to other other mental traits such as morality and personality. I somewhat disagree – IQ is more important than emotional intelligence (EQ), and with practice EQ can be raised, whereas IQ cannot.

It also, paradoxically, leads to greater kudos for those at the top who are wrongly seen as having justly earned their success, when in fact it was partially through genetic luck. Our discourse is filled with that tiresome phrase ‘privilege’, yet the greatest privilege is to be born intelligent, healthy and attractive (and, just to compound this sense of injustice, these three things correlate).

Advantaged people should not apologize for their privilege but rather embrace it, and less advantaged individuals should acquiesce to the hierarchy than dissent.

The Daily View 3/8/2016

Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework

And the Reddit discussion, which is more valuable than the article.

A common thread among commenters, growing up, is that homework was tedious and useless, yet scored high on tests, which is a common trait among smart people, who tend to test well. Salon is right, and I recommend homework be replaced with competency tests, which would not be as heavily influenced by patents nor waste hours of time. Or base grades only on tests. This is similar to the solution proposed to replace costly, time-consuming college diplomas with SAT and IQ tests, which are more accurate at assessing learning potential. Employers want employees who can learn quickly, and IQ and learning speed and job performance are highly correlated.

America has locked up so many black people it has warped our sense of reality

Black people are twice as likely as white people to be out of work and looking for a job. This fact was as true in 1954 as it is today.

That’s what happens when an achievement gap is an IQ gap. War on poverty, civil rights movement, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on public education, entitlement spending, and other programs have not closed the crime gap, incarceration gap, nor the achievement gap. This is discussed in more detail here, here, here, and here.

How low will interest rates go?

They are going much lower. Would not surprise me to see the 10-yr bond go to .4% should the US economy enter another recession. All it takes is some weak data or the market falling a bit, and those bond yields drop like a stone. Low rates good for homeowners. James is right about deflation, not inflation, being in store for the future.

As more evidence of a SJW-backlash, Time magazine, a liberal publication, is being ridiculed on Twitter for putting Evelyn Waugh on a list of female writers. This also helps dispel the myth that liberals are more educated than conservatives.

It’s the left who are against web 2.0, calling it a ‘bubble‘ and ‘racist‘, when neither are true.

I mean, it wasn’t exactly the price. A mutual fund valuation committee’s decision that, say, Zenefits is worth 30 percent less than it was a few months ago doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone bought or sold shares at the new lower price.

Exactly. Fidelity and T. Rowe Price ‘markdowns’ are NOT the same as shares changing hands at a lower price, and there is no evidence shares of the hottest, most successful web 2.0 companies have done so. Valuations for Snapchat, Uber, Air BNB, and Pinterest keep rising. Only low-quality start-ups have seen valuations fall. Not a single web 2.0 company or stock I have praised has done poorly, and my predictions keep being right over and over, owing to my extensive knowledge about the consumer internet technology industry.

Related: Not Worried About Tech Valuations: Why It May Be Different This Time

Why he left

Why are so many smart people such idiots about philosophy?

Philosophy is important for more than just a while, and has serious, practical uses for all of society. There are countless examples of philosophy of mind theories’ relevance to neuroscientists, or cases where political philosophers have shaped politicians.
Historically, physics and mathematics have often overlapped with philosophy, and many great scientists engaged with philosophers to advance their own thinking. (Einstein’s work can be studied alongside that of Kant, for example.) The physicist behind the theory of relativity was also a philosopher of science and, as Hall points out, Einstein reconfigured our concepts of space and time—itself a philosophical undertaking.

This is further evidence we’re in a philosophy ‘boom’, with philosophy almost becoming a ‘STEM’ subject, with applications ranging from computer science, to quantum physics, to neurology.

Related: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Philosophy

And from Nerd Culture: Here to Stay:

I actually thing we’re in a philosophy boom, with recent developments in quantum mechanics and the synthesis between the two subjects. There is a lot of research in this area, about quantum mechanics, thought experiments (Chinese room), turing tests, complexity/computational theory of mind (Bostrom simulation argument, singularity) and connection to free will and other philosophical concepts. Philosophy becoming more STEM-like

He’s right: Learn To Code, It’s Harder Than You Think

All the evidence shows that programming requires a high level of aptitude that only a small percentage of the population possess. The current fad for short learn-to-code courses is selling people a lie and will do nothing to help the skills shortage for professional programmers.

It’s hard enough teaching kids algebra, let along coding, which is many magnitudes harder. And, no, HTML or ‘drag-and-drop’ doesn’t count.

People who are good at coding are ‘wired for success’ in today’s economy and will continue to earn more money than most people. Coding is the ‘new literacy’, but a lot harder and pays much more.

This story about being a fat passenger on a plane went viral. The viralness is evidence of the power of stories and narratives over consumerism and low-information pandering, even though I don’t agree with the article.

Southwest famously let director Kevin Smith board, then publicly escorted him off the plane for looking too fat for his seat. United will refuse to board you unless you agree to purchase an additional ticket at the day-of price, and who has $600 to spare? I check first class prices, where seats are slightly wider and put me at less risk of passenger complaints. $1000. I move on.

If you can afford to overeat, you can afford to buy an extra seat. I’m sure you pay in other ways such as an increased food bill, higher insurance premiums, and more doctor visits for obesity-related health problems. If you were really concerned about saving money, you would lose weight.

In that way, air travel is sadly familiar, a microcosm of what happens so often as a fat person. I am watched — and judged harshly — as I try — and fail — to fit into a space that was made for someone else.

This is part of the culture of ‘self’, where personal problems becomes vectors for sympathy and status seeking. It’s not the same as narcissism since this is often used in self-deprecating manner.

Is America Really ‘Dumbing Down’?

It has become a common refrain among pundits on both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ to lament that America is in a state of ‘dumbing down’, with examples of pop culture (Keeping up With the Kardashians, MTV, etc) and education (political correctness in curriculum, SJWs on campus, etc) as evidence of America’s alleged intellectual decline. This belief may be more motivated by partisanship than data, and a confirmation bias may exist in that both sides are looking for evidence, however tenuous, of how the other side is making America ‘dumb’. Liberals blame pols like Trump or too much religion; for conservatives, it’s pop culture, the rise of agnosticism and atheism, and the breakdown of the family structure/unit. But that doesn’t really answer the question if America is ‘dumbing down’, as ‘social decay’ and ‘dumbing down’ need not be mutually inclusive. The problem is there is conflicting evidence, making it hard to conclude either way but, but I generally believe that reports of America’s ‘dumbing down’ are largely overblown. For every example of how America is becoming dumber, I can find counterexamples.

Many on the ‘right’ argue that college is ‘dumbed-down’, but one one hand, Charles Murray argues that college is only worthwhile for individuals with an IQ above a certain threshold, 120 or so, in contradiction of the former. It can’t be both. The evidence suggests Murray may still be right, despite creeping liberalism on campus, as I argue here:

That’s a pretty high threshold according to Murray, but others say college is ‘dumbed-down’, so it can’t be both. I suppose the threshold would apply to STEM an not other majors? Maybe Murray was referring to college back in his days, which had more rigorous standards, whereas today college may be easier. Nonetheless, the college dropout rate today is still very high (approx 60-50%), suggesting that even ‘dumbed-down’ courses may prove too challenging for many, in agreement with Murray’s findings, although people leave for reasons besides the coursework being too hard.

The college drop-out rate rate has remained persistently high. If college were as ‘dumbed-down’ as some insist it is, wouldn’t the drop-out rate be lower?

The conflicting picture is present in evaluating the supposed ‘dumbing down’ of primary and secondary education. An article from Education Week, Why Have American Education Standards Collapsed?, as well as an earlier article, Are We Just Fooling Ourselves? Is American Education a Colossal Failure?, argues that America’s educational standards have collapsed:

In my last blog, I described how high school textbooks that used to be written at the 12th-grade level for 12th graders are now written at the 7th- or 8th-grade level. I cited a report that said that many community college teachers do not assign much writing at all to their first-year students because they cannot write. I revealed that the community college course called College Math is not college math at all, but is in reality just a course in Algebra I—a course that is supposed to be passed in middle school in most states—with a few other topics thrown in, and many community college students cannot do the work.

But on the other hand, as I explain in more detail in earlier article America’s Intellectual Renaissance, an article from The Atlantic paints the opposite picture of how students have more homework than ever, with difficult assignments that take hours to complete. And there’s more standardized testing than ever.

From Intellectual Renaissance I also show the global IQ map, of how America ranks higher than many countries despite America’ large Hispanic and black population. And from Why Smart People Deserve More, America leads the world on a per-capita basis in published research, patent applications, research & development grants, and Nobel Prize laureates. Hardly ‘dumbing down’.

According to GDP per capita, a good proxy for national IQ, only Japan and Singapore rank higher:

In all of these maps, America consistently ranks among the top, and 10-15 points higher than low-IQ countries like Brazil and Turkey which struggle with recession, corruption, commodity export dependence, high inflation, failing currencies, and high crime.

As further evidence against ‘dumbing down’, a Wait But Why article about the Fermi Paradox, a topic that is fairly complicated, with a nod to Robin Hanson, too, went massively viral, getting thousands of ‘re-tweets’ and Facebook ‘shares’ and ‘likes’. It says it got almost 300 thousand Facebook likes and shares, a staggering number. That’s the most I have ever seen for an article anywhere; normally, an article gets a couple hundred, sometimes a thousand or two. The article discusses Hanson’s ‘Great Filter’, as well as the The Kardashev Scale, typically subjects that are of the the domain of physicists and astronomers, not average people. Hanson is now an ‘esoteric celebrity‘, having attained digital fame and immortality with his ‘Filter’ concept, as well as his groundbreaking research on ‘Futarchy’, quantum mechanics, and prediction markets. Thanks to the viral article, thousands of more people now know who he is. But the fact that the article, which is about a complicated subject, went so viral is evidence against ‘dumbing down’, and that there is a huge, unmet demand for complicated stuff. The left wants to believe that people only want to read ‘social justice’ stories, that ‘black lives matter’ and so on. No, scientists, quants, nerds – people who produce economic value and enrich the world with their knowledge and discoveries – matter more.

I was on arXiv a couple days ago, and in just 2015 & 2016 alone, hundreds of pre-prints in the ‘finance’ section were published – one section out of hundreds, and just a single year, and just a single repository. Over many years, many topics, and many repositories, we’re talking thousands of articles of research about complicated stuff – physics, finance, math, etc. Not all of this research is from Americans, but a lot of it is.

So I think the verdict is still out as to whether or not America is ‘dumbing down’. There is evidence either way, but possibly more evidence to suggest it’s not.

The silver lining is that there are enough smart, productive people to compensate for potential moral and societal decay. Also, a generation of smarter, better-informed population of ‘rationalists’ (millennials) on sites like Reddit and 4chan may be helpful in loosening the grip of emotive SJ-liberalism that has taken hold since the 60′s. We, the ‘rationalist right’, need people who are smart enough to see through the left’s lies and then spread the word, because dull people sure won’t.

What isn’t being taught in schools that should be?

This ‘Ask Reddit’ question What isn’t being taught in schools that should be? is going viral.

This was the most upvoted answer, getting over 3,000 upvotes:


Pay taxes
Find a job
Buy a house
Buy a car


Current Events
What laws there are
Financial Advice
Trading stocks
Mental disorders

As evidenced by the thousands of comments and upvotes, both for the answer above and for the question, a lot of millennials agree that there is a problem with the education system we have now; specifically, what is being taught in school may be obsolete in today’s economy. School and education is still stuck in a pre-2008 mindset, where good-paying jobs for all skill levels were abundant and everything was less competitive and efficient. Obviously, that has all changed.

The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs stipulates that before you can indulge your worldly intellectual curiosities, you must first have food and shelter, and that requires knowing marketable skills, whether it be stock trading, investing, web design, coding, or STEM, etc. The landlord doesn’t care if you know Chinese history; he wants your check or you’re getting evicted. Neither does the electric or water company. But that doesn’t mean that millennials don’t care about History or disparage those subjects; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Based on my observation of social media voting patterns, there is a great deal of respect for people who peruse careers and hobbies where intellectualism takes precedence over making money. But, the thing is, the liberals arts can be pursued on one’s own time and leisure for free due to the information being readily online. Since there are only a finite number of hours of schooling and hands-on instruction, and teachers are being paid with taxpayer dollars, why not teach things that may have a greater ROI for students, that cannot be answered with a Wikipedia search?

But also, millennials see their baby boomers parents (as well as the headlines since 2008 of people losing everything, of being unemployed,) frittering away cash on useless purchases, and other bad financial decisions. Millennials, who are surprisingly savvy about personal finance, value self-sufficiency and financial independence, but schools typically don’t teach personal finance – things as debt, mortgages vs. renting, taxes, budgeting, credit scores, index funds vs. individual stocks vs. bonds, credit cards, or even how to balance a checkbook. That’s where the dissatisfaction with today’s educational system comes from – that fact schools are not teaching these pertinent, actionable skills.

Related to skills, the problem is schools teach skills (reading, writing, algebra, etc) that are merely ‘good enough’ to be functional and educated, but that alone won’t cut it in the hyper-competitive post-2008 economy. Even college skills are falling into the category of ‘good enough’. Unlike 100 years ago, there are too many people with these ‘good enough’ skills, depressing their value. Nowadays, to get a good job, you can’t just be ‘good enough’ – you must be exceptional. Average is over. You can’t just be a good writer; you must be Proust. You can’t just be good with numbers; you must be Neumann or Nash. Due to the limitations imposed by IQ and the Bell Curve, few will ever attain that level of mastery, which means that that everyone else has to settle for mediocre-paying jobs that they are intellectually overqualified for, ironically enough. It you’re smart, but not a super-genius, you’re often stuck with a job that can be performed by a high school graduate or less. For the 40% of the population with IQs between 100 and 125, that leaves low-tech entrepreneurship and gig jobs as alternatives to the the drudgery of low-paying, intellectually un-stimulating work. But schools don’t teach entrepreneurship or how to land gig jobs.

Some say the ‘HBD-sphere’ is too obsessed with IQ, but perhaps it seems that way only because IQ is so important. For certain fields, IQ gives one the capacity to succeed. Hard work will get you past the finish line, but a high IQ is still necessary to compete. In today’s competitive economy, IQ is becoming more and more important of a determinant of whether one succeeds or falls between the cracks. There are other factors, but IQ is still important.

Stock trading (buying and holding Facebook, Amazon, and Google stock), home ownership (especially in the Bay Area), STEM (coding apps), venture capital (investing in web 2.0 companies like Uber), and apps (web 2.0) is how people are getting rich in a post-2008 world. Schools don’t teach any of these things, but, again, the Bell Curve renders a lot of these aforementioned skills unattainable for many. To code a decent app generally requires a >125 IQ. Stock trading is hard and typically requires an above-average IQ to be successful, but buy and hold is easier if you choose the stocks I recommend. Venture capitalism is off-limits to most of the population, and as part of the post-2008 trend of bifurcation (which I discuss in the capitalism essay), unless you invest one of a dozen or so web 2.0 ‘unicorns’, VC is probably a waste of time and money. The VC game has changed from one that rewards investing in uncharted waters to one that rewards investing in things that are already large and successful like Snapchat and Uber.

Schools don’t set realistic expectations for students, instead filling them with false hope that abundance and good-paying jobs await upon graduation.

Times are also changing, as people shun the arts, which typically don’t pay well, for endeavors that do – such as stock trading, real estate, coding, and so on. This is driven by social factors (the celebritization of STEM) and economics (STEM pays better).

The Student Loan Charade

From Bloomberg: Who’s Profiting from $1.2 Trillion of Federal Student Loans?

For-profit colleges profit, so does the higher-ed bureaucracy.

The issue is while student loan debt and tuition is high, the amount paid out of pocket by the student is low relative to the sticker price and only modestly exceeds the CPI. After taking into account debt forbearance and other options, it’s probably not as bad as the media makes it seem. There is evidence of a feedback loop of more aid and then higher tuition, which leads to more aid.

Another problem is that high school graduates who are not intellectually suited for college are prodded to enroll, subsequently dropping out with little show for their efforts but a mountain of debt that they will never pay off. The newest iteration of SAT has been dumbed-down to such an extent that it’s ineffective at screening for college suitability for all but the highest of scores, and grade inflation renders high school GPAs nearly worthless, too. If the financial aid application process took into account IQ to weed out the students who are most likely to fail, as the military already does to screen eligibility of recruits, maybe we would stop going in circles in this unproductive finger pointing about student loans.

Not to make this too partisan, but liberals are the problem, again and again. Liberals like Sanders whine about student loan debt, despite the fact that it’s their policies that are making life hard for millennials.

Too many bureaucrats jobs depend on the student loan charade continuing, as summarized by Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

…in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

From Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

That’s the situation we have now with financial aid.

Then there is the issue of credentialism, contributing to the tuition feedback loop. With the exception of certain degrees (medicine, biology, engineering, computer sci, etc), a degree is more of a signal of ‘baseline’ general competence rather than competence of a specific skill. But the thing is, there are much cheaper and better * ways to signal general competence, such as with IQ tests or the SAT, than with expensive, time-consuming degrees. Political correctness and fear of disparate impact litigation can explain creeping credentialism.

An finally, the student bears some responsibility for: 1, not dropping out due to laziness or other factors within his control (dropping out eliminates all of the hypothetical income gains from going to college); 2, understanding the terms and conditions of the student loan instead of whining about being exploited; 3, majoring in a field that is likely to pay enough to cover the loans; 4. understanding his limitations, in declining to apply if not smart enough to benefit from college.

* Grade inflation is making GPAs less effective at signalling competence, contributing to creeping credentialism. If a 3.0-4.0 GPA bachelors of arts doesn’t mean much, then the next step is a Masters. Then it’s PHD, and so on.

There is also tendency for things to become harder and more efficient as time goes on, due to competition, evolution through trial and error making people smarter and savvier, and the low-hanging fruit being picked. This is observed in the investing world, with the majority of active management failing to beat the indexes whereas in the past active management was more successful at generating ‘alpha’.

How a person with an SAT score of a 1000 writes

An SAT score of 1000 on the post-1995 test is unimpressive, corresponding to an IQ of around 100. Most people who score that low (either on an IQ test or on the SAT) keep it private. According to those celebrity SAT lists you see everywhere, even most actors score higher than that, yet the author is in finance – a field that one would assume is more intellectually rigorous than the performing arts. Weird how that works, and maybe this agrees with my earlier post about the liberals arts possibly being harder than STEM, even though it pays less. *

Since people only brag about high scores, how can we assess everyone else based on public information? One way is through writing samples, but even those can be misleading, however, as some people with above average intelligence will either lazily or deliberately use poor punctuation and sentence structure.

This example is particularly informative, since he posts his SAT score and numerous writing samples that are written to the best of his ability. The author is 35, implying he took the post-1995 version of the SAT, which has a lower ceiling than the pre-1995 version. Unfortunately, we don’t have the breakdown of the score by math and verbal. If the math is substantially higher than the verbal, then maybe the IQ higher than 100, as the math portion of the SAT has a much lower ceiling than the verbal. As his writing is cogent, albeit simple, my guess is the breakdown is 550 math and 450 verbal – or about a 100 IQ. A lot of people may assume a 400-range verbal means semi-literate, but apparently not.

*But how can that be? Isn’t STEM always harder? It depends. My belief is that there are varying ‘ceilings’ depending on career and accomplishments. Math & physics may have the highest ceiling of all, but this is only applicable to a tiny percentage of the population who are working on unsolved problems in the theoretical domain. But I think in comparing your typical engineer vs. your typical author (not Amazon self-publishing, but by a traditional publishing house), I think the author (due to the difficulty of getting published and the necessity of good prose and plot) comes out slightly ahead. At the professional level, there are more people who can do math well than can write well**, which could suggest that professional-level fiction and prose writing is more intellectually demanding than professional-level STEM work. At the sub-professional level (low-paying service sector work, for example), talent in either domain is not needed.

** This is just my hunch, but I suspect there is some truth to it as evidenced by all the complaints about how college graduates can’t write well. Bad teaching? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just hard.

STEM vs. Liberal Arts: Which is Harder?

The essay Who’s the alpha male now, bitches? got me thinking – not about the subject matter of angst-ridden young adults and mass shootings, but the inimitable eloquence of the writing style itself. The precision and skill of how the words were chosen and arranged to make the essay informative yet galvanizing.

So, is STEM easier or harder than the liberal arts? The online opinion seems to skew in favor of STEM being harder, but it would be nice to have an official academic study about this. Another, perhaps related, question is: which subjects are perceived to be harder? For student who found high school easy and got good grades, which subjects are they more likely to major in college, versus c-grade high school students. I imagine students who perform poorly in high school, once in college (assuming they go), will choose subjects they perceive to be easier. If c-grade high school graduates are choosing STEM in collage, and a-grade high school graduates are choosing literature, philosophy, and history, then STEM may be easier. And then you would have to look at the graduation rate and GPA. If c-grade students who major in STEM outperform c-grade students who major in liberal arts, it would further lend credence to liberal arts being harder.

Although the data shows the humanities have a higher GPA than STEM, this does not necessarily prove the humanities are easier:

Major Average GPA
Education 3.36
Foreign Language 3.34
English 3.33
Music 3.30
Religion 3.22
Biology 3.02
Psychology 2.98
Economics 2.95
Engineering 2.90
Math 2.90
Chemistry 2.78

It could be that all the a-grade students are flocking the the humanities, while the c-grade ones go to STEM. The a-grade students, possibly being smarter, get higher grades than the c-grade students.

If SAT scores are a good proxy for high school performance and IQ, we would expect low-scorers to major in ‘easier’ subjects:

Interestingly, literature, social science, and linguistic majors have as high of SAT scores as most STEM majors. Although math and physical sciences rank among the highest, the difference isn’t substantially higher than that of the literature majors. The major ‘liberal arts’ is only four points lower than biology. The study also doesn’t tell us the completion rate, only the choice of major.

It’s also been observed that the verbal sections of both the GMAT, ACT, and SAT are harder than the quantitative sections, with top verbal scores being much rarer than top math scores, although this can be attributed to the verbal sections having a higher ‘ceiling’ than the math sections.

One possibility is that the threshold to become ‘good’ at math is lower than to be ‘good’ at literature and writing. Maybe it’s easier or more attainable for your typical high school graduate to grasp advanced calculus and special relativity than, say, publish an article in the New Yorker.

Perhaps STEM is more inclusive than liberals arts. It seems there is a sort of pretentiousness in liberal arts, especially with literature and the divide between ‘low-brow’ and ‘high-brow’ tastes. Another question is, how do you define ‘hard’ and ‘complexity’; what makes a subject ‘complicated’? Is it the number of things you have to memorize, the quantity of reading, the synthesis of information? STEM may be easier because usually the only thing that matters is the correct answer or outcome, not the ‘prettiness’ of the underlying mathematics. Whether you pass or fail depends on your ability to product correct responses to technical questions, not necessarily elegant responses. The liberal arts, especially writing for publication, requires not only a unique perspective but the ability transcribe your ideas into prose that is grammatically correct and enthralling to the editor and reader. It’s like imagine in math you not only have to produce the correct answer, but are restricted to a certain set of symbols in your derivation, but, on the other hand, some STEM problems are very difficult.

Purple Policies, Part 2

From Charles Murray: The Trouble With Kids Today

Again, my underlying point is simple. IQ has a substantial direct correlation with measures of success in life, and it is also correlated with a variety of other characteristics that promote success—perseverance, deferred gratification, good parenting, and the aspects of personality that are variously called “emotional intelligence” or “grit.” The correlations are not large, but many modest individual correlations produce large differences in life outcomes when the means of two groups are separated by as large a gap as separates both parents and children of America’s working and upper-middle classes.

Charles Murray is right about the inescapable role IQ plays in socioeconomic outcomes, especially in the post-2008 economy, and how people are falling behind because of low IQs in an economy that increasingly rewards intellect.

The left says the solution is more education spending – for everyone, regardless of IQ. The left believes that equal education and socioeconomic outcomes can be attained if enough taxpayer money is thrown at the problem, with the role of biology being nonexistent. The right, on the other hand, wants to get the government out of the picture, but since public education is probably here to stay, the best approach is to reform it through ‘purple policies‘ to optimize America’s most important resource, cognitive capital. Instead of the futile leftist endeavor of trying to create equal outcomes, let’s create equal opportunities so that America’s gifted children can live to their full potential within the meritocracy. If we’re going to have pubic services, let’s make sure resources are allocated optimally instead of indiscriminately.