America's economic growth has come from subprime borrowing by the poorest 60%

Then why don’t we concentrate on the problem of college affordability, rather than telling people not to go? Let’s get out there and advocate for universal college education! If we’re simply saying that student debt is bad, you’ll get no argument from me. But I’ll never agree with the “throw up your hands and walk away” approach.

If some form of higher or continuing education isn’t the best path to personal economic stability, I don’t know what is, so I’m not willing to simply say people shouldn’t bother. If the system is rigged to make that hard, let’s change it. But for goodness sake, “Don’t start a business and definitely don’t go to college,” reads like the speech bubble from a capitalist oppressor in a political cartoon.

You’re making my point; not being alert for when you’re chasing sunk costs is a perfect example of the the whole smart/not-smart thing.

I truly, truly don’t say this to be a dick, but your sister’s MFA was a poor choice. It’s one of the degrees with the least potential upside. Not all degrees are created equal. Again, you have to make the choices with your eyes open. What do we know about college?

  1. It costs a shitload
  2. It’s just about the only reliable way to improve your lifetime earnings
  3. It can totally screw you over if you make bad choices at the outset

That’s an inconvenient set of facts, but we can’t just claim they aren’t facts because we don’t like them. Best we can do is navigate them carefully, while casting votes for people who want to change #1.



Sunk cost fallacy isn’t based on your intelligence. Being aware of it doesn’t make you immune to it. It grabs you at a more primal level.

No argument here. I believe it started with an Associates, and to forestall the interest on those loans, she kept staying in school, working towards the next degree… I love her, but… Yeah.

It was like a merry-go-round of debt that she didn’t feel she could jump off of.

Advocating for universal college education and reform is great; it’s part of why I voted for Sanders in the Primary. Unfortunately, the reasonable people don’t appear to be the ones in charge these days.

I think you would agree that not everybody should go to college right out of high school.

This won’t happen, but: if the next three or four graduating HS classes all postponed going to college unless/until the pricing returned from the clouds, that might be a way of advocating that couldn’t be ignored. The colleges would feel the hit if registrations dropped to a trickle.

I’m rereading it and nowhere is this post saying that you should NEVER go to college, or that you should NEVER start a business; just that RIGHT NOW is a VERY BAD TIME to do either of those things.

I feel like you’ve taken away a different message from this post than I have.

It’s people trying to climb out of the hole they are in by digging down, while the government happily sells them the shovels while watching the rain clouds form.

The safety nets are in tatters, or completely gone.

An education is a fantastic thing, as is owning your own business if you have a knack for it. But being in debt sucks, and (if the post is to be believed) debt is what’s fueling our economic growth at this point in time. It cannot last.

So, unless a person is well connected or the final scene in Fight Club is their end game, borrowing at this time is a very risky proposition, no mater what they plan to use the money for.

I would add to that things that may or may not be facts, but are undeniably my observations:

  1. Most high school graduates aren’t prepared to make good choices out the gate thanks to decades of underfunded public education.
  2. Wages have been stagnant for years, and the tax cuts for wealthy “job creators” haven’t done anything to change that.
  3. If wages don’t increase, even with a degree students will have a hard time getting clear of the debt, and it will take them much longer to do it in our current environment than it would have a decade ago, especially if they went with predatory loans (see 4).

I would only add that most high school graduates are not going to make the same choices a much older or more experienced person would.

If you don’t believe in it enough to risk your own money/home, what makes you think anyone else will?

Put differently, most peoples’ businesses are going to fail and no one wants to buy a stake in them. You can’t 'trade a bit of ephemeral equity". No one wants it.

So you can either suck it up and not start your business or decide they’re all wrong and you’re gonna show 'em all.

Sensible, economically cautious people decide not to start the business. “Entrepreneurs” start the business any way they can. Most fail. Some hit it big and become the next shining beacon for the American Dream™.

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My thinking here when writing that was about how tech startups get funded by VCs. Don’t they do their roadshows and in exchange for their A, B, C and follow-on funding rounds, they give away a portion of their company, ie, equity? I’m pretty sure Sand Hill isn’t just handing out loans, right?


That is the idea, yes. Same thing applies though. Most will fail. Most VCs won’t invest in most projects. Even if you (the general ‘you’, that is :slight_smile:) think they will invest in yours, how are you going to fund your roadshows?

What do you do when you’ve touted your idea for the next great unicorn to everyone you can and no one wants to know?

More generally, venture capital doesn’t tend to get greatly excited over someone’s decision to open a plumbing business or a pizza joint.


Investors in the States call it “skin in the game”, which is fine but which shouldn’t be funded by potentially ruinous consumer debt.

Taking opportunity costs, borrowing from friends and family who believe in the venture, and investing one’s life savings in equity are the better ways to go for an entrepreneur who’s being asked to make a show of faith in his own business. Taking out a second mortgage happens frequently, but that’s usually a quick-and-dirty mezzanine round to keep the lights on and the salaries paid for a month or two.


Agreed. I didn’t mean to suggest that people should borrow. I was just trying to explain why people do (as opposed to ‘just’ selling shares).

I was also trying to suggest that sometimes the fact that no one will lend you money for your venture at a sensible rate should be a wake-up call that maybe your idea is not as great a money-spinner as you think.

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And that’s the bootstrapping part of it, of course.

That’s true, for sure. And the bank won’t get excited if you offer a piece of the pie in exchange for funding your corner pizza startup either. But maybe family or friends will, if the plan is laid out to them. But then again, if you’re just opening up that plumbing business, you might not know how to cut someone in. It’s not as easily understood as a straightforward loan is.

And so getting back to the general topic at hand, funding such ventures using subprime loans, and knowing that more likely than not, it will fail, makes it Hard. And this way of doing things makes it lottery-like: When you play, there’s a huge probability that you’ll fail, but if you win, you win big. All or nothing. It’s too bad it’s gotta be that way to such a degree.

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And that’s the statement that dooms us all.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It isn’t that way. But there are plenty of people with a vested interest in telling us all it is.

For example, why should someone starting a plumbing business not know ‘how to cut someone in’? Is that not a fundamental part of the training a plumber should receive before he or she is let loose on the unsuspecting public? Or indeed basic knowledge anyone should be taught, especially in a capitalist society?

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That would be great. That’s a state by state struggle, which means we have to get the money flowing back into public education at the state level (as well as at the federal level). But when the choice is some vague hand waving about “job creation” vs. education people for the jobs that already exist, that’s going to be a tough sell in the current environment.

Not everyone wants to or would do well at college, though. There are plenty of blue collar jobs that don’t require a college diploma, but do require other specialized training. How about universal education for both?

People, no matter what they do, should not have to have 2 or 3 jobs to string together a living. All work has value and dignity and all work should include a living wage. I’ve got a phd, so obviously I like college and think it’s valuable. But it’s not the end all and be all.

I’d very much like to do so.

I disagree. Fuck that “only the idle rich are entitled to a life of the mind” nonsense. We’re all entitled to a life of the mind. If only the idle rich can get degrees in the arts, then the quality of our art will suffer, because it will all be idle rich dudes who have nothing of depth to say to the rest of us.


A total strawman. I think you understood that I meant MFAs are a poor personal finance choice. Of course everyone is entitled to pursue self-actualization, but the whole discussion is about going into debt to afford college. If you’re going to take out loans, it’s a bad idea to do so for a degree that won’t pay you back. Meanwhile, auditing some MFA courses is free.

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Again, if you only want art that is made by the idle rich, then by all means, let’s only let people with deep pockets get art degrees. If the ONLY reason to go to college is for “financial reasons” (the final economic payoff), then we’ve already lost the thread.

It’s not a strawman when it’s about the cultural health of our society. Not all things worth doing are easily made into a quick buck, and everyone should have access to that as well, not just the idle rich. Saying that the working classes are ONLY able to get degrees that pay off just reinforces the problem, and makes our culture stagnant to boot.


Again, a strawman. I want art made by everybody, and never said anything to the contrary.

And you don’t get to redefine what strawman means. You arguing against a point that I never supported as if it were my position is the definition of the fallacy.

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Whether or not you BELIEVE or are even arguing that is immaterial, because the effect in the real world is the same. As I noted elsewhere in the thread, graduate school is as much about making connections as it is about gaining greater and deeper knowledge of your subject. You can say that an MFA is not economically worth it and hence shouldn’t be funded, but what the OUTCOME will be is that only a small number of people will be financially able to get MFAs, which means that only those people are going to make connections to the world of art. It’s true that “outsider” artist often do make their way in the art world, but the field (from those writing about art or running gallaries, to those making art) are often those who were able to make those necessary connections because of their education. The reasons why an artist like Howard Finster was so remarkable was because he was so unique in the art world for his distinct LACK of training. You only get the occasional Finster in a world full of trained artists who have some sort of art degree. Opening up MFAs and other advanced degrees in the humanties and arts to people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity means you get greater variety in the kind of art and the kind of ideas found in art.

So, no. It’s not a strawman when what you’re arguing has the same outcome, even if that’s not what you PERSONALLY support. That’s what will happen if we decide that only degrees that make people money matter and that’s the only thing we agree to fund. A job training course matters as much as a phd in art, as far as I’m concerned - education and greater access to better jobs help enormously. But training in art and the humanities need to be funded as much as more “practical” jobs. They’re not nice to haves, they are core to our survival as living, thinking beings. We created art long before we made the stock market, so that should tell us something about how central such endeavors are to the human experience.


Maybe this is why people start their own businesses:

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But I didn’t say that. I said it was a poor personal choice to take a loan out to get one, not that it shouldn’t “be funded.” If the government were taxing the rich to provide free university, continuing, and vocational education (which I advocate), I would favor zero restrictions on which degree programs were available.

Back to the real world, where free college is somehow communist or whatever:

If that’s true, then auditing MFA courses will give you similar access to the campus milieu and its networking opportunities, with none of the costs.

As an aside, I think it’s a little ironic that we’re talking about the art world as our example of the beneficial culture that repudiates the dirty economics of capitalism. I know your point is more broad, but that whole market basically only exists as an outlet for plutocrats’ egos.

Aside #2. There have been rich socialites who contribute culturally. Oscar Wilde? Jackie Kennedy? The Medici?

Aside #3. We made art before the stock market, yes, but not before markets. I think it’s hard to claim with evidence that art predates exchange. Let’s call them co-incidental. Since a vibrant culture is so vital, we should be glad there’s a market that lets people pay for it. Otherwise we’d all be subsistence farming.


Look, if you’re going to call me out for not sticking to only your meaning, then do the same for me, too. We’re in agreement on publicly funded higher ed. I never disagreed about free BA education. It should be free, given the realities of the job market. And BTW, I actually work in higher ed, so I’m not ignorant of the problems of higher ed as it stands right this second.

Not exactly, because most people just auditing aren’t doing the other things that go along with a higher degree (conferences, exhibits in the case of arts, etc). They’re not going to have an adviser that is going to introduce them to the right people. It’s not just about networking in class, it’s about all the things that go along with getting an advanced degree that you don’t get just auditing the class.

And part of that is because of the dismissive attitude that an MFA is a worthless degree (which as you’ve pointed out, you don’t agree it is). The knowledge of art has broadened both because we have publicly funded art programs in many of our major cities and because more kinds of people have had greater access to the art world. There are not too few people who really came out of the higher art world who ended up making waves in the pop culture world (think of Laurie Anderson or a band like Laibach, which has a very high art mentality that they are disseminating through a mass medium - by making rock records). Punk itself was very much a art meeting mass culture moment. Some of that was made possible by people who weren’t of the elite classes having access to a college education (not all of it, of course, but a good bit of early punk straddled that line between high and low art, precisely because some punks had an art degree).

The shift to more accessible art (the possibility of no longer having artists who are operating for the gratification/being paid by the elites) arrives with mass production. It changed the game, in that it opened up the possibility that more of us could consume art - think of the Bauhaus and their insistence on good design for all.

And people have always made art and likely always will, no matter what kind of economic system we have. What we think of as ART comes from the division between elite and folk cultures, with elite culture being understood as ART and folk culture not being seen as such until the nationalist period, where nation-building elites fan out looking for “authentic” folk art of their “people.”

Did I say otherwise? But Wilde was operating at the edge of the mass culture era, the Medicis were operating well before the mass culture era, in an entirely different cultural context than what we’re discussing here, and Jackie Kennedy was in the modern era, was a presidents wife, etc. I’m unsure of your point here, though. It’s not that the elites shouldn’t make art, but that they shouldn’t be the only people who get to make art and share it with the world.

At this point, we’re both unable to verify either way, given that it’s all prehistory. We do know that art is found that dates back to thousands of years. I’d argue that you have to have something worth exchanging in the first place, not just subsistence goods. And not all markets are capitalism, which is a rather modern invention.

Humans make culture not just for exchange, but for personal expression and communication with others. I’m not one of those that thinks that all things come down to economic exchange. Humans aren’t rational actors nor have they ever been. Even subsistence farmers make art, though. Not because they can get paid for it, but because of some ineffable quality to that kind of communication. But we live in a world where we regularly trade dollars for hours, and so that’s how what is good art tends to be quantified.

My fundamental points here are (some of which I think you may agree with, but feel free to correct me if you do not agree): a) art is never a waste of time and is a crucial human endeavor, b) universal education should be the goal, with people being able to pursue whatever they’d like including an MFA, c) we have serious issues with the rising cost of education and we’re about to have a major crisis over student debt, d) a liberal arts college education isn’t for everyone and various forms of advance education should be easily accessible across the class spectrum… I think that’s about the long and short of it.

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