Demand and supply. Entitlement and teaching our children how to fish.

Earlier this year, the Toronto Star and Maclean’s magazine reported that young people in 2013 clutching newly minted bachelor’s and master’s degrees are complaining that they can’t find work in their chosen fields.

Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France from 1906 to 1909 and 1917 to 1920 said about war:

La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires. (War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.)

The articles in the Toronto Star (Trades part of solution to youth unemployment, Career education lacking in Canada, Keep an open mind about 20-somethings, and Tips for the young and jobless) and Maclean’s magazine (The New Underclass and The Million Dollar Promise suggest that education is too serious a matter to entrust to traditional thinking. Especially if that thinking is being done by parents in connection with investing in their children’s education.

Through no fault of their own, parents and young people have been seduced into seeing postsecondary education as a ticket to prosperity and a secure retirement instead of as a commodity that follows the rules of economics and obeys the law of demand and supply. Universities were conceived to be institutions of higher learning, not production lines. But production lines they’ve become. The environment has “commodity” and “ROI”, not “intellectual exercise”, written all over it—at least for now.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. How universities are perceived and valued has changed. The 10 oldest continuously operating universities in the world and the ones that have come into being since then have morphed into businesses, complete with balance sheets, that produce graduates for the consumption of other businesses and institutions.

Movements in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, commodity prices and currency exchange rates are impacting on us whether we want them to or not. We should be paying them more heed considering they’re heard every hour on the hour wherever on the planet radio and television exist. But they’re being drowned out in the noise of everything else that’s being broadcast. PDD looks at the relationship between those movements, postsecondary education and university degrees through a microscope. We think in terms of ROI because the world demands it. Who’s the investor? Who’s the customer? Who’s the ultimate consumer? At what point do we begin to see a return, from whom and over what period of time?

“Chosen field” applied to graduate unemployment and underemployment implies that somebody is being denied access for personal rather than economic reasons when in fact there’s no work to be had in that “chosen field” and may not be for the foreseeable future. To make our point, consider lakes and streams instead of “chosen fields”. Experienced fishermen know that expensive equipment doesn’t catch fish. People catch fish. They know which bodies of water contain which species, where in that body they’re found, how big adults tend to be and what test line to use, what time of year they spawn and run, what time of day they feed, what kind of bait attracts them (many tie their own flies), and whether catching them is better done by fly casting or trolling. This is personal due diligence.

They also know that populations change. Pollution, viruses, invasive species and the encroachment of civilization can change the mix of native species or decimate them entirely. So they plan accordingly, knowing that the proof of the planning is in the catch. This is personal due diligence.

Investing in education for employment income reasons demands clearly articulated, justifiable objectives. For example: I want a degree that will teach me how to fish because I know and have confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt that (a) fish exist; (b) it’s legal to catch them; and (c) my catch can be traded with someone who has an interest in them. This is personal due diligence.

Before the industrial revolution drew us away from the land and into the cities, we were hunters and fishers and gatherers. We knew where we had to go to find food because we knew it wasn’t going to find us. It’s a forgotten skill we have to re-learn and master. And it applies as much in cities as it does in the wild.

PDD wants you to minimize the risk of investing in education that produces a less than desirable return. Thanks to the law of demand and supply, corporations, organizations and institutions are reaping the benefits of multiple, under-applied or misapplied degrees for a song through unpaid internships and 6-12 month contracts sans benefits. Their behaviour is reminiscent of what medieval landlords did when the relationship between them and the people who lived on and worked their land could best be described as: “I’m yours. Do with me what you will.”

The time to begin the selection process is at least a year before tuitions become due. While you’re at it, think about the physical and psychological advantages of working in the right environment for the right people while doing what you love to do.

As you and your child ponder his or her future, please mull over the following:

Where will I find my fish?

How many times will I change employers?


How many times will I be downsized or outsourced?

What will the terms and conditions of my pension be?

Will my retirement plan experience the “Nortel effect”?

What are my expectations for community college or university?

Are they my expectations or someone else’s?

And finally, for a totally different perspective on survival and life as it’s being lived in other parts of the world today, please read David Brooks’s review of Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday from the January 13th issue of The New York Times. You’ll never think about “chosen fields” the same way again.

1 thought on “Demand and supply. Entitlement and teaching our children how to fish.

  1. Pingback: Change, the fall of empires, and dreams that fade | Personal Due Diligence

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