Glenn Reynolds, wearing his MSNBC hat, says the economy of the future my be anti-education:

If brain-jobs can be exported easily, then what’s left? The other stuff. Some guy in Bangalore can’t fix your toilet for you, no matter how smart he is. In a globalized economy, being on the spot will convey one of the few advantages that can’t be competed-away by the Internet. Electricians already make more than many professors, and so do plumbers. Before long, they may do better than accountants, engineers, computer programmers, and a lot of other people. Other jobs that require actual presence — massage therapists, car mechanics, painters and carpenters, etc. — may actually do better than “knowledge work†over the next couple of decades.

So here̢۪s the contrarian play. People have said for years that to prepare your kid for the economy of the future, you should be saving for a college education, and planning to turn him or her into a knowledge worker. But maybe the smart thing to do is to save the college money for your own retirement, and teach your kid to fix toilets. Because people will always need their toilets fixed, and there̢۪s a shortage of people competing for the work. Don̢۪t believe me? Just try and hire a plumber.

Ah, progress.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steven says:

    Of course, isn’t this the argument that we have heard for years and years concerning our economy? That we are doomed because of the cheapness of foreign labor. Indeed, the whole 1980s was about the decline of the US and the long-term gloom of our relative position in the world economy.

    However, I would note that GDP in 1982 was $3.3 trillion and for 2002 was $10.4 trillion (both figures in current dollars).

  2. Steven says:

    Although I will concede that certain technical careers (plumber, mechanic, air conditioner repairman, etc.) can be quite lucrative.

    Indeed, I have no doubt that there are plumbers who make much more money than I do.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Certainly true. It does seem to be the case that the non-intellectual trade sectors are making far more money as compared to the median than they once did. Aside from plumbers, electricians, and the like, though, it would be foolhardy to say that kids don’t need to go to school.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Although, I would suggest they avoid graduate study in political science and history. 🙂

  5. John Lemon says:

    Right. Everytime we have some problem with our electric things, my wife looks at me and wonders why I got a degree in the social sciences. An electrician should make more than I do. As I tell my students, if I was alive 1,000 years ago in Europe, I would be one of those folks they sent off to die in the wilderness because I would add very little to the village (assuming they already had a village idiot).

    …but compared to the plumber, I have pretty sweet summers and the shit I have to deal with isn’t literal.

  6. Tresho says:

    Maybe plumbers are so hard to find because of the law of supply and demand — the demands of the work are such that the available workers are scarce. Seriously, I took my car in to be fixed, and the mechanic gave me an estimate that amounted to $80 an hour for his time. I said, “I don’t make that much, and I’m a physician!” “I know,” he said, “I used to be a physician, too.”