How Credentialism Will Destroy The Economy

Today most jobs which pay a middle-class wage, and possess decent stability, require a degree and specific experience of some sort. However for most of human history, and indeed until 20-30 years ago, a guy with a minimal education could earn enough to get by and have a family. While I am not suggesting that we turn back the clock, let us consider one peculiar dilemma of living in this age.

Let us say you invest a few years, and tens of thousands of dollars, in gaining one particular skill-set or qualification. What happens if the jobs that require that skill-set or qualification are no longer a viable career choice? Consider that technology, and outsourcing, will soon replace most teachers, professors, librarians, software engineers etc. Other jobs might suffer because the technology or product it provided is now obsolete or has a very low margin of profit. Even so-called necessary jobs like physicians won’t be able to provide the income steam most people expect.

How often can people retrain for jobs/careers which are fairly easy to learn if they were trained on the job- something companies/organisations are now loath to do.

Under the current paradigm you cannot get a new decent job unless you have the right qualifications/experience, but getting that requires a lot of investment (time and money) and comes with no guarantees. After a certain number of years and bad experiences, very few people will want to play this old-fashioned rigged game. However that will also translate into fewer people with a decent and stable income stream.

People without a decent and stable income stream behave very differently from those who have one. The current economic paradigm and its predictions are based on the idea that most people will be middle-class or better with a stable income steam. While the fake economy can ignore the problem for a few years, the real economy will continue to deteriorate to the point where the social contract is discredited beyond repair- ubiquitous communication only accelerates the process of general disenchantment with the system.

However the scumbags who support and perpetuate credentialism, “meritocracy” and the “free market” will keep on trumpeting their ideology even after everybody else can see their fraud. Since these scumbags are also the priests and nobility of the current system, nothing short of their premature death will be enough to change the system.

I have a feeling that we will get there- one way or the other.


  1. marlon
    May 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Here is an article supporting you

    It talks about Watson, a Jeopardy “winner”, being used in medical diagnoses. Obviously, this software will not replace doctors at the onset but as computing power increases, and cost of that power decreases, they will become commonplace (and more accurate after a few years), thus replacing some doctors.

    Plus, imagine such a program being used to assist mechanics, software engineers and other such professions! I wonder what my son will grow up to do.

    • May 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      You still need humans to work on the program.

      • marlon
        May 23, 2011 at 3:46 pm

        It will take far fewer humans to program it than it will replace.

  2. May 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    The idea behind credentialism isn’t a bad one: Only let those who are properly trained practice a profession. In many cases this means saving lives or millions of dollars.

    However, the gatekeeper institutions in a credential system are given great power and subjected to incredible temptations.

    Another problem is that such a system selects for those who go through all the orthodox motions with greatest vigor and the least amount of thought. Creativity, versatility, dignity, personal integrity are effectively weeded out.
    If you slip up or choose to restrain yourself at any point, you move to a less favorable position and someone more ‘meritorious’ takes your place.

    In time, it all becomes about the piece of paper, the credential itself and less about whether one truly possesses the qualities or knowledge signified.

    Meritocracy is one of those sacred cow buzz words in the west but no one really seems to understand what it really means or implies. If we stop and think about meritocracy, it is not always a good thing.

  3. Joe
    May 23, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    How long will they be talking about recovery until they must admit there isn’t any? I don’t care what the stock market’s doing if real unemployment is at 20%. How long until we see protests and riots. 5 years of this? 10?

  4. MeMyselfI
    May 23, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    My degree in Computer Science was rendered useless by an 8 year segway into the family business. While I was there I was a one-man IT shop – *on the side* – for a $5M (revenue) factory (my primary duty was General Manager for the shop).

    That doesn’t matter now.

    Since I wasn’t actually _in_ IT for those 8 years, and I didn’t get CompTIA certs or Cisco certs, I cannot even get an *INTERVIEW* for an IT job today.

    It also doesn’t help that I’m competing with 20+ other candidates for each opening, but I’ve already been told that even if the economy were good I would need to go back to school. What a load of crap… I can still program. I can still support Win7 and Linux and setup *ANY* router or server.

    I just don’t have the certs.

  5. Commander Shepard
    May 25, 2011 at 12:37 am

    “…deteriorate to the point where the social contract is discredited beyond repair…”

    That’s already occurred. Beta males (the majority of men) can’t get girls and now they can’t get jobs. Society just loves to shit on them.

    Recovery is happening, a McJobs recovery. As the military scales down it’s operations don’t expect the gazillions of hardened soldiers and mercenaries they employed to go back working at fast food. The future won’t be pretty that’s for sure…

  6. May 25, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    This post hits the nail on the head. You might like reading John Taylor Gatto, he’s big on this issue.

    As for me, I feel like were are conditioned into a certain type of operative logic that causes us to see things as common sense that, really, aren’t very sensible at all.

    There was a little ersatz debate on NPR this afternoon between some chick essentially arguing that $100k of college debt was a more steady investment than encouraging kids in a program to go out and start their own business. Her specious argument was that the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Zuckerfarts of the world are rare, and no one with a right mind quits school to become a rock star, high risk low probability of success.

    The debate was entirely lacking in imagination. The chica was all words and no imagination, the guy she was debating made a couple of air headed points that sounded good but collapse under their own internal contradictions. Neither was seeing a biger picture.

    What is it gents? No one unless they have no grip on reality are babbling about becoming the next dot com billionaires, we are talking about something more down to earth. Are most small businesses that give ‘income replacement’ (a specious phrase anyway) revenue billionaire jobs? No, I think many people would be happy if they had a business that successfully pulled in $40k, or $60k after expenses, this is realistic.

    This is *liberating*. The idea that everyone can or should be a millionaire and if you can’t then by golly get yourself $100k plus interest in debt so that you can make $60k a year, buy a $200k house on a mortgage, and a plasma TV. This is the kind of numbskull thinking that most Americans, and most people world wide, used to recognize as pretty damn stupid. No offense to those who subscribe to it.

    I disagree that the thinking behind certifications and credentialism is not a bad idea. The Swiss, for example, have a very practical training and apprenticeship based approach to the job market even at extremely high sectors, like finance. I would trust Swiss bankers over the MBA’s running our banking sector over here.

    Credentialism is essentially about putting up barriers to entry, there is something useful to this if you want to protect a status quo.

    But the system will eventually break under its weight.

    I don’t object to credentialism in a few essential highly, technical positions that are life and death. But if you look at history often times fields retreat into closed credentialed hierarchies with certification because of a subtle subtext, limiting competition and establishing a status quo.

    That’s history.

  7. Webe
    May 29, 2011 at 3:05 am

    You guys seem to be missing the point. The point isn’t that people should get training and be competent (of course!), the problem is that the system setup up to do this guarantees no quality in the people it lets in, and keeps out people who may well perform.

    Would anyone think of selecting concert pianists or athletes on the basis of qualifications or certificates? Of course not. Only current performance matters. Can you turn someone into a good teacher by sending them to education courses? Can you get a job by volunteering for a week to show them you can hande it? Are people with the right credentials threatened by terrible results? Have you ever read about an imposter who spent the last ten years as a surgeon and an esteemed colleague before it came to light that he never attended med school?

    I tried getting permission to write all the exams in my first semester so that I would only have to do the courses I didn’t pass: I was told No, they were afraid of establishing precedent! (They were worried about me acing all the busy-work courses and getting half the credits within one semester).

    Credentialism is all about make-believe control and quality. It is an abdication of ongoing day to day common-sense responsibility and reality. It’s pretending you’re doing something even though it has nothing to do with real problems and real solutions. It just reinforces heirarchy and the delusion that there is social order. And that’s very detrimental to a flourishing economy/society.

  8. May 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Software engineers aren’t going to be obsolete any time soon.

    There are lots of credentials created by the free market independent of any government. For example, Cisco, Microsoft, and some other tech companies have certifications you can earn that will boost your earning power. You can study at home on the internet to learn the skills and knowledge needed to pass their cert tests.

    The need to attend bricks-and-mortar schools is going down with the emergence of a big online schooling industry. Check out Western Governors University as probably the most legitimate and impressive.

  9. May 30, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    well, I guess you can always be a phone sex operator or do durty webcam shows….

  10. remy
    June 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    “…deteriorate to the point where the social contract is discredited beyond repair…”
    That’s already occurred. Beta males (the majority of men) can’t get girls and now they can’t get jobs. Society just loves to shit on them.

    that is a great point. i have nothing but the utmost respect for such men. it is they that can create and maintain civilization. they are truly the guardians of culture and civilization. they have been de-incentivized and mocked and scorned the those so inferior that they can’t understand that their own survival lies with the “beta.”

    i am always amazed at them and the things they know. and they seem to know everything! do women really choose the “fittest”?

  1. May 29, 2011 at 1:13 am
  2. August 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

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