Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book review: Worthless

Recently I purchased a book entitled Worthless: The Young Person's Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major by Aaron Clarey.

The blurb on sums it up as follows: "'Worthless' is the single most important book young men and women can read before they attend college. While teachers, guidance counselors and even parents are afraid to tell you the truth in an effort to spare your feelings, 'Worthless' delivers a blunt and real-world assessment about the economic realities and consequences of choosing various degrees with a necessary and tough fatherly love. Don’t lie to yourself. And certainly don’t waste four years of your youth and thousands of dollars in tuition on a worthless degree. Buy this book and understand why it is important you choose the right major. The book itself could be the wisest investment you ever make."

Since our girls are 16 and 18 and strongly planning for their future, I thought this book would give some ammunition against those who feel we should blindly send them to college regardless of their interests. After all, a college degree is necessary in today's competitive marketplace... isn't it?

Well I couldn't put the book down. Because here's the thing: THE GUY THINKS JUST LIKE WE DO.

The Big Concept this author attempts to convey is to match SUPPLY with DEMAND. Don't waste time and money getting useless degrees for which there is no demand. There are far more degreed individuals than there are well-paying jobs to employ them, which is why so many college graduates can't find jobs commensurate with their education.

The author additionally warns young people that it isn't just the UNemployment rate they should be worried about; it's the UNDERemployment rate. Y'know, the barista working at Starbucks with a Master's Degree in Gender Studies who has $90,000 in student loans weighing her down.

In a nutshell, the author suggests that unless you plan to study a STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine) -- and even then, there are subcategories of these subjects that are worthless -- then young people are better off going to a trade school or creating their own skills set and/or employment opportunities.

The author points out that there are endless counselors, teachers, and other related folks who will happily guide young people (especially those without any burning STEM-career ambitions) toward the plethora of useless degrees that universities grant. After all, these young people are the fodder for the massive "college-industrial complex" I discuss here.

As an exercise for college kids, the author had some students list the top five things they wanted to buy or planned to buy in the near future. Examples included: gasoline, video games, clothes, sports car, motorcycle, smart phone, alcohol, food, jewelry, computer, movies (DVDs), etc.

Then he had the students list their majors. Examples included: sociology, women's studies, accounting, journalism, engineering, psychology, pre-law, communications, music/arts, African-American studies, history, education, etc.

These areas of study sound impressive until you compare the two lists side by side. Very few of the major areas of study will actually lead to producing anything the students wanted to buy, such as vehicles, clothes, jewelry, electronics, gasoline, food, etc.

Not one person listed "a lecture on women's studies" or "a visit from a social worker" on the list of things they wanted. And while such occupations as historian and psychologist have their place, there are far more people vying for these positions than there are decent-paying positions available. And some things, such as art and music, are often best learned through non-academic channels by talented and passionate people rather than achieving degrees in these areas.

To further illustrate his point, the author uses a "village" example. Imagine a small, self-contained village (as Medieval villages used to be). The village has everything its people need: farmers, butchers, knights (protectors), metalsmiths, weavers and clothiers, tanners, blacksmiths, etc. "Everybody had a job or a task that carried their weight in the village," the author writes. "What you did NOT have was the professional activist, the social worker, the starving artist, the trophy wife, the socialite or the village welfare bum. Everybody had a job and everybody's job provided vital and required services and products to the village."

Now blow the village up in scale to embrace the entire nation and see how the pursuit of useless majors fits into this model. The author illustrates this point by highlighting a news article about a young man who returned to graduate school and spent three years and $35,000 to get his Master's degree in -- are you ready for this? -- puppetry.

Now clearly the Medieval village analogy is not as black-and-white as the author paints, but he makes superb points... the biggest of which is: before you spend many years and thousands of dollars obtaining a degree, make sure there is a suitable market for that degree in the first place. Will your degree provide something vital to the free market, or will you only be employable in a government make-work job or in a position not commensurate with your education?

Back in 1980 when I went to college (and when a higher education was one-third the price, accounting for inflation, that it is now), my dad had much the same idea. "Major in whatever you want," he told me; "but always make sure you have a skill you can fall back on." I majored in zoology, and since there were long stretches of time between getting well-paying jobs, I fell back on my skill of typing, and whatever associated skills went with it (secretarial, administrative, desktop publishing, etc).

(I didn't need to go to college to learn to type. Just sayin'.)

People have their whole lives ahead of them to study the subjects they find fascinating. Older Daughter, for example, is interested in Celtic mythology and folklore (fairies, elves, etc.) and has many books on the subject. She's quite an expert in Celtic literature. But what if we were to encourage her to "follow her dream" and get a Master's Degree in Celtic Literature, accrue $80,000 in debt, and face serious underemployment after graduation because no one is hiring Celtic Literature experts? What kind of parents would we be to encourage that?

The idea is that if you have a burning passion – say, literature or women’s rights or the environment – then learn about and become active in those areas in your spare time. Don’t waste four or more years of your life and go into tens of thousands of dollars in debt achieving a degree in your passion without first confirming whether or not there are even jobs in that field. Young people should be acquiring whatever skills will make them marketable, as determined by real-life markets (not smooth-sounding fantastical claims by educators with a product to sell).

Ever blunt, Mr. Clarey writes: "Declaring a worthless major is simply shouting out to the world, 'I’m a parasite and have no intentions of working for a living. I want to do what I want to do and I want the rest of you to pay for it. I ultimately want to produce nothing society wants, but in return I demand other people slave away to make me MP3 players, computers, video games, as well as engineer hybrid cars and whatever else I want. I also want society to create some make-work job for me so my ego isn’t bruised and I can make-believe I’m a real-world-live adult too. And if you dare point out what I’m doing in the real world is nothing more than parasiting off of others, I’ll cowardly hide myself behind some altruistic crusade and accuse you of being a racist, a misogynist, or a hater of children.'"

As I wrote in a WND column, "I believe everyone should partake of higher education to qualify them for a productive adulthood in which they can make a living and support a family. But 'higher education' is not limited to college, especially for an academic degree in (let’s face it) an impractical field. Rather, higher education should include training, apprenticeships, trade school or the old-fashioned working your way up the ladder from humble beginnings. Too many people graduate with elegant degrees but they can’t plumb, wire, build, sew, cook or tinker their way out of a paper bag and must hire well-paid experts to do this for them.

"Additionally, young people ought to be cultivating the intangible but valuable skills all employers seek: a high work ethic, dedication, the ability to arrive on time, to perform a task without complaint and (after training) without supervision, the ability to write coherently instead of like a texting monkey, the ability to speak clearly without saying 'like' or an expletive every fourth word, and other indefinable skills that raise them head and shoulders above the crowd.

"The nice thing about college is it’s always there. Nothing says you must attend college at 18. You can attend anytime. That door never shuts.

"But a staggering debt at the tender age of 22 can shut doors – lots of them. Please, think over your future plans carefully before plunging yourself into the pit of debt."

(Our neighbor's 18- year old son is now apprenticing as a butcher. Wise choice.)

The book "Worthless" is short (171 pgs), easy to read, concentrated, and pulls no punches. As far as I'm concerned, it very much lives up to its subtitle of "A Young Person's Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major."

If you have a son or daughter who is determined to attend college (or if you're determined that your son or daughter attend college) then this book is a MUST READ.


  1. Bless you!! I had the same discussions with each of my 3 children. All 3 went to work instead of college. All 3 are productive tax paying citizens but all 3 are taking college courses in their spare time in subjects that interest them. One loves music, takes an occasional music course, participates in the local band. Another is interested in law enforcement and taking 1-2 courses as he can afford to pay for them toward a degree in criminal justice. The third, our daughter, is a volunteer fire fighter/EMT and a full time mother of 2. She is using the skills she learned in ROP fire science in High School and additional trainings--now she has been offered jobs at the local hospital. NO DEBT for each one! I myself am a high grad that occasionally took a college course in something that interested me but I also worked since high school. I have a great career (notice not job) as a wedding coordinator. So you can succeed without a college degree! And you sure don't need a college degree to raise livestock, can corn, sew a dress, knit a hat, raise a garden, raise children, etc.

    1. This is an awesome resume for all of you. Well done!

      Just Me

  2. I'm so glad to hear the friend who wanted to be a butcher was not influenced by negative comments he may have gotten from anyone. He went for it! Wow. That's terrific.

    Just Me

  3. Another thing to mention is that you shouldn't go to college to find yourself or discover who you are; there are much less expensive (or even income producing) ways of doing that, including local jobs, entering the military, working at Christian camps/ service opportunities, etc

  4. Please, please - it cannot be over-emphasized ENOUGH that not only are some STEM degrees worthless by virtue of their area of concentration, but many of them only return on your investment AFTER an additional graduate degree - which can mean more loans, more debt. As always in an over-supplied area, the bar for employment and good pay is being raised.

  5. Unfortunately, where I live even secretarial jobs require college now. I don't mean that a person needs the education to understand the work, but that employers are weeding out anyone with less than a bachelor's.

    1. Corporations usually don't need CVs.

      Individuals do.

      Therefore, the solution is to incorporate a limited liability company that provides secretarial services, starting with your own ...

  6. Your comment about college "always being there" reminded me of when I was 18 (the early 1970's), the advice was "If you don't go to college now, you'll never go!" College was where (most) parents wanted their kids to go. You were going to be a failure if you didn't go to and graduate from college with a degree (in something, anything!). If you wanted to take a year off before going to college (cause you didn't know what the heck you wanted to major in anyway), it was strongly discouraged. I went off to college and hated it. I wasn't ready in so many ways. I believe that learning a marketable skill would have been a much wiser, and less expensive route. More to the story, but I'll stop there.

  7. I love my husband dearly; he is a good man and an excellent provider with only the best of intentions.

    But I think I might buy a copy of this book just to leave it laying in the bathroom. Because he is flatly insistent that all four kids will, shall, and must attend college. Straight out of high school. Because it worked for him, and will in the future be the ONLY path to success.

    I rather believe he is mistaken (subscribed to that theory myself-- couldn't bring myself to shovel enough persistent-herbicide-laced manure to get a graduate degree in English, and didn't need a Bachelors of Arts to raise kids).

    I would prefer to see our kids work after-school jobs, and ideally attend trade school while they are still in high school, than raise them with the idea that college is the ideal to which they must aspire. I am told that, in a decade's time, our country is going to be in seriously dire straits for a lack of skilled tradespersons. I have absolutely no trouble believing it.

    When you see her, give your neighbor, and her son, big hugs from me.

  8. How well will 'wooden beer steins' sell in the sort of 'medieval' breakdown you extrapolate? There's a certain stink of the pig barn in your constant criticism of a choice you long ago made yourself: you depend upon the foolish expenditures possible only in a society the degeneracy of which you constantly affect to be so practically above, for your cash income! What you're calling STEM is really a sort of advanced trade school training and as such, not 'university'. 'University' used to be, and will be again, a place for the preservation of 'worthless', 'impractical' knowledge that give us the necessary added stature to see God's hem. Such knowledge is the foundation of civil society, without which we would and could live only at the grunt level. You've often remarked about your books and of bookstores. OK. Imagine now: delete from your experience everything you've learned from the formal education process, every 'worthless' tag of poetry, every essay, every article, every intellectual pleasure. All 'worthless' and 'impractical', written and preserved by the best of best-educated people. "The little hills resound with joy." -- delete the Bible, even. What is there left?, and at what level?

    1. You obviously have NOT read many of Patrice's articles, just enough to let you think you are qualified to judge her actions. A typical liberal-"progressive" response. Wooden beer steins are a good part of how Patrice and her husband Don are able to pay the bills and survive. But that is FAR from their only means of survival. The article Patrice refers to above was not written by her, but she agrees with it wholeheartedly. You obviously do not. Your arrogance is exceeded only by your ramblings and self-centered ignorance. YOU need to "imagine" climbing down off your ivory tower and finding a bit of humility. It will do you wonders!
      Oh, and as for that "certain stink of the pig farm," a little deodorant under your armpits will clear that up.

    2. You're talking about the reason and definition of education and I think you're right, but Patrice is talking about the reason for school which, in this day and age is something else altogether. College students today aren't usually attending to rightly order their affections but to attain and be successful in a job. It shouldn't necessarily be this way, but it is. It is also ridiculously expensive. All of that being so, her POV is valid -STEM subjects, trade school, and private study.

    3. You could very well be one of my co-workers - .talking about the wages students who complete the 2 year "tech degree" that my students earn - (and I quote) "They don't deserve to be paid that kind of money ($60 to $100K STARTING) because they don't have the PAPER that I have - those letters behind their names!! I am sorry - that PhD in Psychology (or English, Religious or Women's Studies....) and incredible arrogance gets you no where in life!

      I have relatives with a $500k home, 6 expensive vehicles (the Mercedes Convertible is the latest) and NO degrees between them. You sound like someone who knows that YOUR livelihood is in jeopardy if the youth of this great country figure out the TRUTH! Grow up and move out of your parent's basement! What - you are above doing a little real work and sweating? Go read "Huff- Po" and wait for your next check from the Gov't.

      Members of my family have read the "Unabridged" versions of everything from "The Count of Monte Cristo" to "Atlas Shrugged" without the "aid" of a college Prof. or other instructor. This was done on their own - not because it was suggest by parents. (It is really amusing when your 15 year old comes home from school madder than heck because the school uses the "Abridged" version which omits very important information.)

      I hope you have the ability to change a roll of toilet paper without assistance....I am not sure about some of my highly educated Faculty co-workers......


  9. My son decided to go into the army instead of college 10 years ago and make it his career. He is now a warrant officer learning to fly helicopters and getting his degree in his spare time. No debt and a nice savings account.

    1. Good for him! He is a smart man who used his brains. Thank him for me for serving his country.

  10. Even the STEM disciplines have some serious weak spots as far as job possibilities. There is not always a huge demand for marine biologists, astronomers, pure mathematicians, etc. It is the ability to APPLY knowledge to real world problems that leads to good jobs. So, engineering, materials science, computer modeling and such are more promising than many of the pure sciences. Do NOT skimp on the math to get an easier degree. Problem solving skills will always be in demand!

    1. There is an employer of last resort for many "pure" mathematicians in the United States, but that isn't often talked about in polite company ...

      They're located at Fort Meade.

    2. One of the big current stem employment possibilities is in the area of "big data." In general, I would say the advance degree does well there but a lot depends on how good they are with data. So the pure math person may be extremely employable, or not very employable at all. I know more of the later-but see qualifier below. The Fort Meade folks I knew, many years ago, where multi-lingual translator types. Many of them non-commissioned.

      What is really good about going the "data cruncher" route is that there appears to be an upper limit to the people who have the capability to perform. In other words it is difficult. So if you can do it, and take that path, you are going to do well.

      I should also note that the people I know who have succeeded at it, have a sort of matrix-like creativity to who they approach the data. So it's not just a matter of being able to do equations. I suspect that is why Wall Street employed the Quantum (Quants) Physicists first. They knew the equations, but also had to apply them to real data. Thus I also know a Geographer, that was successful in the area.

  11. I'm a big fan of all Captain Capitalism's books. If you are seeking career advice, buy "Worthless" and "Bachelor Pad Economics." The money, time, and grief you save will more than make up their modest prices.

  12. Aaron Clarey has several videos on YouTube. Some subjects would be considered adult content in regards to your daughters. But many are just spot on with the younger generation.

  13. In our family, your skill base is just as important as your degree. My now adult children have degrees as well as the jobs that go along with them. They also have large skill sets including business know how, and being an independent thinker. What careers? Food Science, Optometrist, OR nurse, accountant, and teacher.

    My advice? During grades 7-12, develop a strong skills base. This may or may not catapult the student into one of these fields, but in the long run, they are priceless. All of my kids earned money from their learned skills.This may be a back up plan or **the** plan.

    If the student is certain he or she wants to go to college, they must choose a major that has many job opportunities such as an accountant. The GPA must be high by he end of the two years or they are wasting their time. Get a job in that field. At this point, the student will know a lot about the field of their choice and should be able to make clear decisions whether to stay in the field or not.

    I would not ditch art or music. Just study them privately, but **seriously.** I have earned a small income--you would consider them freelance jobs-- from art over the years. Art has positively impacted other areas of my life as well.I started rather late with music, but have had some really great playing opportunities! It has been hard work but a lot of fun--if you think three hour rehearsals are fun. :))

    Lastly, be fluent in a second language. It is worth the work!

  14. Jane the Grad StudentAugust 16, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    I second the comment(s) about STEM. I'm in the crunchier side of bioscience (lots of molecular stuff) and would like to point out that, unless you are going into industry or planning a startup, your research is NOT self-sufficient. The money generally comes from charitable corporations, or, more often, the government (NIH, CDC, DOD, whatever). This means that pay scales are generally low, even with a PhD. Early career postdocs are making around $40K, which is usually enough to get by on, but hardly a winning Powerball ticket. Even better, academic inflation keeps on giving after grad school, with certain positions recommending at least 2 postdocs-- at least 2-4 years POST PHD of earning about the same salary as an office admin. I'm not saying don't do it, but I am saying you should know what you're getting into. The good news is, if you can find a school with a training grant, it generally pays tuition remission and a small stipend, so if you're frugal, you can, theoretically, get out of grad school without more debt.

    1. Also, Ortega y Gasset was right when he said that the weight of science was supported by mediocre scientists. (See "Revolt of the Masses" for this and other related ideas.)

      Institutional science is not an actual meritocracy -- it's survival of the tenacious.

      If you've "got it in ya", you shouldn't think hanging around a bunch of scientists who aren't self-sustaining is the way to go.

      Look at Thomas Edison, or perhaps the modern-day equivalent, Elon Musk -- they're getting the science they need to have ...

  15. I started school about the same time as you, and decided to check what tuition has increased to since I started. I was surprised. Adjusted for inflation, it looks like over a 500% increase at my public school since the early '80s. The Wall St. Journal had an article about this on Jan. 10 this year; much of the tuition paid goes to provide needs-based financial assistance to other students.

    From the article: "Well-off students at private schools have long subsidized poorer classmates. But as states grapple with the rising cost of higher education, middle-income students at public colleges in a dozen states now pay a growing share of their tuition to aid those lower on the economic ladder."

    1. Excellent point. In addition, one of my co-workers found (buried some where) documentation indicating that in my state all students in public schools pay an additional $600/ semester in "fees" that subsidize the big ticket sports facilities, equipment and scholarships. We all know that is the game.

      Our small town local newspaper covers all of the sports, but when the high school Latin club competes against a about a dozen or so other schools in the region and does very well you can CALL the paper and tell them and it doesn't get in there. My youngest swept his favorite category in Latin (again) in all competitions this year, but you will never see that in the paper.......


  16. My son plans a double major in civil engineering and some type of agriculture; he wants to finance his college by raising cattle; looking for land to lease now - but Patrice, I'd like to know how you knew desktop publishing in 1980 when I didn't think they even came out with desktop computers until at least the next year

    1. I learned DTP in about 1986 when I was required to put together a newsletter for my office. I used to just send the articles to a printer who assembled the newsletter; but when I heard about PageMaker, I talked my boss into purchasing the program while arguing I would save the office money in the long run, since we could bring the printing in-house. And so it proved, and I was hooked ever since. Now I use InDesign.

      - Patrice

  17. I attended college in a STEM field, but did not graduate. Only twice in my working career was I told I needed a degree. I am largely self taught, and am at the top of my field and respected internationally.

    My oldest son took a couple of semesters of college in a STEM field, and is now at the top of his field without a degree.

    My next oldest took only a couple of college classes, and owns his own company with 32 employees.

    My third son was tutored by my oldest son and now works in the same field as my oldest.

    My youngest son got an entry level position and has worked his way up and is now one of the top folk at his company.

    All of this without college degrees, and all in STEM fields. So even in technology it is not true that a degree is always required.

  18. A lot is said about trade and tech schools. Can I give some advice here?

    Those 9 month schools that they advertize on TV; the ones where a kid amasses 50K in debt in less than a year because YOU TOO CAN BE AN AIRCRAFT/MOTORCYCLE/NAUTICAL/DIESEL MECHANIC IN LESS THAN 12 Months !!!!
    STay away. FAr away. We've (tried) employing a few of these and besides not having any work ethic, they don't know squat. They are "trained" on state of the art trade equipment working on jobs that no one, except maybe out of the country or billionaire's own.
    Obviously, everybody passes without having been tested on their knowledge retention or it's lost on receipt of diploma.

    The last four guys we had working for us lasted less than 6 weeks because they could not be trusted to do ANY job without someone else checking it (for the safety of the customer) before it left the shop.

    We have one guy that did votech in high school, worked his parent's farm machinery and did 2 yrs in a good tech college and is a great worker, and I wish I could clone him.

    everybody else (under the age of 30) wants a paycheck for showing up and breathing. that brings me to my next point - work ethic. Cont'd

  19. Work ethic:

    are parents really realistic about their little darling's chances in the real world? is anyone preparing them for real world life?

    Publik educashion isn't. giving everyone a trophy for showing up has resulted in employees who get yelled at for taking 2 hours to do a 20min. job and then not showing up for work for two days.

    Do I sound harsh and like I'm holding a grudge?
    It's not just us. A lot of small business owners that we do business with have the same problems.

    If your kid wants to learn a trade, have them TRY and get a job as a "helper" first. they'll make less $ taking out trashing, carrying tools, driving, but they will learn on the job, on stuff that people really own, using equipment that employers really have and use on a daily basis.

    And if your kid does not have work ethic, don't expect them to ever move out of your basement or get off the computer games.

  20. "The idea is that if you have a burning passion ..."

    I don't.

    Instead, anything I'm deeply interested in, I find a way to Get Things Done that are related to it.

    I didn't learn my career at university -- I learned it despite attending one, despite there being a degree programme for it. I picked up my skills by working in the field I wanted to be in.

    My problem with the idea of "passions" is that they're slow-simmering fires that people allow to burn just enough that they can have faith in being part of those things.

    I don't have that kind of faith -- I prefer to Get Things Done.

    So should anyone else who believes they might have a "passion".

    Let the fire burn to the edge of control -- it's better that way.

    1. Here's a book saying the same thing. I've found it to be true in my professional life as well.

  21. Amen!!!!!!!!!!! Both my husband and I have college degrees, mine in communication and his in manufacturing engineering technology.

    My degree: not very employable unless you like living in a cubicle in an HR dept.

    His degree: was hired in the aerospace/military industry before he tossed his cap in the air and makes $50K

    Luckily we went to state school and the cost was low BUT here's the thing, my husband LOVES music. He's self taught from childhood, has tons of books and is very talented so everyone thought music degree, right?

    No!!! My husband knew about the music industry and he told me that "he didn't like standing in bread lines". So he pursued an engineering degree so he could provide for our family.

    What he realized was his day job didn't define him. Christ does. As a Christian he knew God gave him lots of talents (music, math aptitude etc) but he also demanded that he be head of the home and provide for his family.

    I think what the public schools have done is tell kids to "follow your dreams" (aka: emotion) at a time with they have no idea what they want to do but plenty of raw emotion.

    So they buy into the lie and go live on campus in make believe land with manicured campuses, modern condo like dorms and have access to free gyms, coffee, paper copies and every social club imaginable for 4 years......and then......wham! they have to leave "eden" and make it in the real world. Can anyone spell F A I L U R E?

    Parents need to wake up and realize that a college degree ain't what is used to be. Train your kids for a skill people, you know something that will actually pay them money and prevent them from coming back to live in your basement.

  22. Worthless book is Worthless because it is the most biased book I had seen .The book lacks any logic or understanding of how society actually works. It thinks that a STEM degree is like a golden ticket to a job , but in the volatile market it is not. Trust me , if you don't like STEM than a STEM degree would be the most worthless degree you'll find in this planet that's even engineers leave their Engineering jobs because they see other professions having more wages and stability than them, Please don't reccomend such idiotic books written by idiots