No, Philosophy Doesn’t Pay More than Welding
I am not a fan of Marco Rubio. He isn’t my candidate, nor do I support him. He often rubs me the wrong way, and I prefer not to pay attention to him.
I have an advanced degree, and I am finishing my PhD. I have a substantial amount of graduate and undergraduate credits in Philosophy, and I spend a great deal of my time discussing political theory, ethics, and philosophy. I can easily be labeled as a “philosopher.”
During the last debate, Rubio said: “Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”
The Rich Philosophers?
The New York Times, however, does not: “The average annual salary of ‘welders, cutters, solderers, cutters and brazers’ was $40,040 in 2014, according to data from the United States Labor Department. That is basically the same as the median starting salary of newly graduated philosophy majors, which was $39,900, according to data from PayScale Inc.” (source)
ABC tries to go bolder: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage of welders was $40,040 in 2014, compared to the $71,350 mean annual wage of philosophy and religion teachers.” (source)
Slate runs the same numbers as ABC, showing that they lack originality. (source)
Even the supposedly conservative TheFederalist feels the need to take unnecessary digs: “Rubio really needs to take a seminar on Aristotle. I think he’d love it, and perhaps then he would stop raining scorn on men who embodied many of the ideals that conservatives (including Rubio himself!) hold most dear.” (source)
TheFederalist’s Rachel Lu’s comments are the most egregious because Rubio says that we need “less philosophers,” not “no philosophers,” and we actually do need fewer philosophers. She has the mistaken liberal belief that everyone has the same potential and can benefit in the same way. That mistaken belief is exactly how we got into this mess, but more on that later.
If you notice, these reports either turn to PayScale, which is a flawed, self-reporting system by anonymous users, or point to the salaries of those at the top of the academic profession.
I tried to work in academia. Most of my fellow classmates tried. There is no money, there are no careers, and there are no prospects. The average job is as an adjunct, which pays very little and by each class you teach. PayScale claims that the average salary for an adjunct professor is $40,000 per year, with someone self reporting that they made over $90,000. I know of no one who was able to make $40,000 a year teaching 5 classes each semester. There is no possible way.
When not using the flawed claims of PayScale, they use the Bureau of Labor Statistics to discuss tenured college professors. Tenure is hard to achieve. It is not the average collegiate job, and it is very difficult to find open positions. There are far too many PhDs with far too few positions. Colleges and Universities want money, and they cut back on staff positions while increasing openings in graduate departments. Often, the programs are watered down to get as many payers as possible. This, in turn, floods the market.
The lack of talent is not a problem for universities, because adjuncts teach low level courses that don’t need a high level academic to teach. Often, those who do make a decent salary are celebrities of some kind: they have published; they had some sort of successful non-academic career; or they are controversialists who go on TV or radio and make scandalous claims for attention.
According to data from a few years ago, those graduating with PhDs were only able to find placement (tenured, non-tenured or adjunct) only 65% of the time, and these jobs weren’t necessarily in their field or even what could be referred to as “philosopher” positions (source).
35% of PhDs cannot find jobs coming out of college at all! AT ALL!
Charlotte Allen points out the current dire state of academia in the Weekly Standard: “As late as 1970, more than two-thirds of faculty positions at U.S. colleges and universities were tenure-line, but now the percentages are reversed, with 1 million out of the estimated 1.5 million Americans teaching college these days classified as “contingent” faculty, the overwhelming majority of them working part-time. Parents who have shelled out or borrowed the more than $60,000 per year that it can now cost to attend an elite private college may be shocked to learn that their young Jayden or Sophia isn’t actually being taught by the Nobel Prize-winners advertised on the faculty but by shabbily attired nomads with ancient clattering cars who are wondering how to get the phone bill paid.” (source)
Those who have earned PhDs and become high earners make their success elsewhere: politics, think tanks, and government entities. Sure, those with PhDs have often demonstrated an ability to think that allows them to excel, but they are not “philosophers” in those positions. I have been able to rely on my education, but I have never been able to work in my field. This is often the case. If you are a trained philosopher and you aren’t able to make any money as a philosopher, then that needs to count as zero income as a philosopher.
So yes, welders make more money than philosophers. Most “philosophers” can’t find decent work in their field and often have to turn to jobs like welding to make a living.
Going Back to the Real Problem
Don’t get me wrong, I love academia and higher education.
In my previous works, I have defended traditional higher education as essential to conservatism (“Are the Liberal Arts Liberal?”). I have criticized our heavy reliance on science (“Nietzsche, Science, and Truth”). I have argued that literature is necessary for the soul of the citizen (“The Necessity of Reading”). I have gone so far as to attack the obsession our society has for STEM and tech jobs as a whole (“Are We Progressing or Regressing”).
With my background, it probably seems odd that I would agree with Rubio. However, it would be more odd for me to disagree because he is correct. There is no other way around it.
Right now, we have stripped college’s role in shaping the soul of the citizen and replaced it with job preparedness. Traditionally, colleges were filled with the rich (smart or not) and the smart (rich or not), and the media described college as 4 years of paradise, freedom, and preparing to be an adult.
Those with a class-warfare mentality did not like the privileged having what the unprivileged lack. The class-warriors did not realize that those with college degrees mostly made more money than those without because they were, for the most part, either richer or smarter than others (there is some influence from college connections, and some from expertise learned if you pursue academics). Thus, government funding and a lowering of standards opened up college to the masses.
Colleges expanded rapidly. Colleges became monsters. With a lowering of standards, colleges became less about academics and a vacuum was created. The vacuum was filled with sports and partying, which debased the culture of the schools.
It was only inevitable that taxpayers demanded some return for their investment. Before, when colleges were small and elite, donors were able to cover most of the costs. In the traditional English college system, the rich paid to get into a college, and the smart yet poor were given a free ride, which could only happen when the two groups were balanced. With the ratios falling heavily to the poor, government subsidies and loans became the main source of funding, and government funding always comes with a demand for results.
What kind of results can be demanded from colleges? Mostly, taxpayers demand an education that can produce jobs, and STEM was promoted while the “Liberal Arts” were demeaned. College completely flipped in its function.
I cannot agree with those like Peter Lawler who argue “our goal should be both to prepare students for the 21st-century competitive marketplace and to read Wittgenstein and other real books.” (source)
College is not about jobs, it was never about jobs, and it should never be about jobs. It is about developing the soul, because we need a handful of people with the necessary intelligence to develop their soul so we do not lose who we are as a people. In Plato’s Republic, we have two different archetypes of the student, Thrasymachus and Glaucon, being taught by Socrates. Thrasymachus is unable to understand beyond his limited view, and he goes on his way. Glaucon, however, receives special attention by Socrates and is introduced to a higher level of philosophical discussion.
Plato had no problem with specialized types of education that provide an education catered to a specific job, just see Book III. However, he did not support wasting his valuable time educating those who clearly lacked the necessary mindset required of a philosopher.
Society will probably have plenty of Thrasymachus who dabble in philosophy, but there will only be a few Glaucons. The Thrasymachus wishes to learn only for what the education can provide him: power. The Glaucon wishes to learn for the sake of learning. Ultimately, you do have to chose one of those two paths, and both paths have their own sacrifices.
Even if we destroy college and turn it into a career education, welders do not need 4 years in college. Most vocational careers do not. We have vo-techs, vocational colleges, and apprenticeships. Those paths are relatively cheap, provide a good paying job, and result in a job immediately.
We should downsize our college enrollment by roughly 50% right away. We are wasting far too many people’s time, bolstering too many unnecessary academic bureaucracies, and spending too much on collegiate athletics. There is far too much associated with colleges that has nothing to do with a college education. There are far too many people attending college who lack the purpose, motivation, or justification for pursuing higher education.
So as someone who has been a long time defender of higher education, we need to embrace Rubio’s point of view if we are going to save both our economy and higher education.