Universities August 2022

Universities are obsolete. I made a post on LinkedIn about it, and people with three letter acronyms in their name jumped to the defense of their preferred church of liberalism. Ultimately we have an ethical obligation to liberate the handful of useful things that Universities do, like gatekeeping the nursing profession, from their general lack of value creation and overall wealth destroying effects. The world would be a better place if Universities shut themselves down, gave their power to credential new doctors back to doctors themselves and returned the capital to the shareholders. Given our escalating moral quest for purity and our perfectionistic ways, it may take another generation or two to do this the hard way.

It’s ironic that the phrase correlation does not equal causation is such a difficult pill for the academic class to swallow. Just because smart people like to defer hard decisions a half decade into the future by claiming to be making life progress by attending University doesn’t mean what they’re doing is useful. The act equates to a pilgrimage to the Tibetan temple in search of deeper meaning. We know this is true because University requires a solemn pledge of poverty for its duration, even among the staff. If it created so much wealth, presumably we would see that in the form of actual economic impact, rather than a combination of pledges for moral purity from parents and ongoing lifelong tithes of people’s incomes.

It’s hard to think of an area of spending with worse ROI for the world at large. Fighter jets come to mind. That said, no one is wasting their life savings on a fighter jet the way we do attending University. The way we weave a moral narrative into University, and the way we use it as downside insurance for rich people’s children, makes it a truly pernicious and cancerous force in the world. We can’t agree to basic statements like ‘the acceleration of technological progress, the reduction of violence and the increase to personal freedoms are universal goods’. It’s going to take us a long time to accept that Universities are merely churches for the enlightenment era. Born of science, but sustained by teleological beliefs, the parallels between the abuses of the church, the vow of poverty, the guilt motivated tithes and all are absolute.

When they were created, Universities were closer in form to the late night parties that happen during Y Combinator. You take the 1% of the population who is a venn diagram of intelligence and motivation, and give them open calendar space to read books and talk about ideas. What we have are poorly executed vocational institutes. Most professors today would be offended if you told them their ideas are original. Citation is viewed as the holy grail of scientific evidence. If someone didn’t think of it before, it’s probably dangerous, scary and we should put it back in the box. What we get are more Simon Sinek like characters, like the Chief Marketing Officer for people with actual original ideas. We can buff out the rough edges of truth seeking and make people feel better about their lack of career prospects and wealth.

I’ve argued before that Universities are ultimately two things: they are intended to help people learn things, and they are intended to help people get jobs. Parents want the latter but pretend to indulge the former. You can take Liberal Arts at Harvard because when the time comes, you can omit which degree you did. There exists no better form of downside protection for the mediocre. All you have to do is buy your way into a school other people recognize, and your kid is much less likely to ever make less than $80k/year. But ultimately, if your mission is to help people learn and generate wealth, Universities are a shockingly bad way to accomplish both. Most of the time a burned out, impoverished person in their mid 20s is slowly reading you a textbook. It’s like YouTube but with only 1x speed and not from the actual experts in their field. It’s horrifying we let doctors be trained this way, sooner or later we’re going to need to progress.

On the helping-people-get-jobs side of the house, they are openly committing fraud. Even in professions protected by a need to attend university, we end up graduating way too many of any specialized knowledge worker we need. Professional services firms have a process of putting new grads through the meat grinder, hoping to get the most diligent people with the least critical thinking ability possible to put to work 80 hours a week. Making $100k/year as an investment banker out of school is great until you calculate the hourly rate. Your reward for accepting four years of punishment is more punishment. It really is not a good way to further your career, and no matter how you slice it, simply working to do something more economically useful sooner in your career and compounding the earnings ends up being vastly more wealth generating in the long run than almost any amount of earning power gained through University. Most people end up with student debt which further prolongs the poverty pledge and tithing.

I realize that by not attending University, people won’t let me criticize it. You have to read the bible to argue against the central point, I get that. Thankfully there’s enough facts to point to that you can make a very strong case against University from the outside. To me they say, how will you succeed without us? And to them I say, I am not alone, not an outlier, and didn’t even have to try that hard to succeed without them. The removal cost in my own life has been positive in almost every dimension. I have less learned helplessness and perfectionism, am further ahead at building my own personal balance sheet, and have read more widely and diversely than I would otherwise have. Even by their own metrics, I’m winning.

If you’re a parent thinking about encouraging your kid to go to University, consider whether it is really about your own moral cleansing and not their learning and career prospects. Convince your child that the most important convergent values set to have is one that focuses on how one can give their unique talents back to the world. AI will do most of the things that University grads do now in the not too distant future. You’re going to need to set your kid up for a world in which income protection and wealth downside insurance costs more than you can afford. Teach them to be useful to others and they’ll eat for life. Saddle them with student debt and they’ll be eating an inadequate diet for the next ten plus years, best case.