In the 4th debate for the Republican nomination to be the contender for President that faces off against the Democrat (see: “Hillary Clinton“) in the 2016 election, a question was posed about about whether the government should force employers to pay their least important and profitable employees a higher amount (instead of allowing the labor market to dictate pay based on the value and demand of the work a position holds). Amidst the candidates comments supporting freedom of choice over government meddling in the private decisions workers and businesses make for their own lives, Florida senator Marco Rubio cut to one of the causes of the question by noting the useless degrees many students choose to go into debt over more prudent vocational education.
“Here’s the best way to raise wages: Make America the best place in the world to start a business or expand an existing business, tax reform and regulatory reform, bring our debt under control, fully utilize our energy resources … repeal and replace ObamaCare, and make higher education faster and easier to access.”
He added: “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”
His closer of “You’re going to make people more expensive than a machine. We need more welders and less philosophers” was noted that proper grammar in such a context is “fewer philosophers”, not “less”. Others had more aggressive criticism of the comment in what seems to me to be merely a transparent attempt at finding something to attack more than anything resembling an actual legitimate point of contention.
While the points that people shouldn’t make themselves less valuable to employers than machines and that they should instead should go to school for an actual reason and not just to burn money and waste valuable years on completely non-beneficial titles for fields they don’t get employed in seems pretty unassailable – it was heavily assailed non-the-less. The reasons why are obvious, even though the point itself is an obvious one: aside from the academic industry not wanting dilution of its brand, there are a lot of people who have already wasted their time and money on useless degrees and want to feel better about that waste by continuing to laud them, not to mention opportunists who are merely looking for an excuse to take down Rubio’s rising star.
Evidently, Rubio was so sterling in his debate performance that this Welders vs Philosopher salary thing was the biggest trending story of the whole debate in articles and social media afterward.
The refrain in most of the reaction was in claiming that Rubio’s statement is wrong and that Philosophers actually make much more than welders.
Except they don’t, and here is how Rubio’s critics are making the false attack:
TEACHERS ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH DOERS
CNN notes that “Most critics cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which lists the median annual salary for welders at $37,420. For philosophy teachers, the wage is significantly higher: $63,630.” The obvious answer to this should be a resounding “so what?” as this means nothing.
A welding teacher is not necessarily a welder so why would anyone accept the bogus premise that a philosophy teacher is a philosopher? This is a fallacy of changing the goal posts since it is using imbalanced criteria to make a point. You either compare welding teachers to philosophy teachers (i.e: teachers compared to teachers) or you compare welders to philosophers (i.e: people gainfully employed doing the act of welding vs people who philosophize as their profession) but you can’t claim to un-make Rubio’s accurate point by keeping only half of his statement and changing the other half.
LEARNING IS NOT THE SAME AS WORKING
The other dubious debunking of Rubio’s claim rests on changing the context of his comment. The Washington Post headlined “Sorry Rubio. Philosophy majors actually make more than welders”. But why would Rubio a “sorry, but…” statement about yet another irrelevancy to his point? Again, the criticism requires changing the comments of the criticized, which in turn doesn’t go on to debunk a point but rather just goes into an irrelevant tangent that uses some of the same words in the original point.
Someone with a degree in Philosophy is just “someone with a degree in Philosophy”. You don’t become a lawyer by studying law in college – you become a lawyer by becoming a lawyer. Likewise, you don’t become a welder by studying welding – you study welding to become a welder.
Rubio didn’t say “those who study Philosophy” in his comparison, so what are his critics so afraid of that they can’t just respond to what he actually said? Probably because the context of his remarks make it clear that he was just using shorthand for “useless liberal arts major” in the context of minimum wage workers and as I noted earlier – that is impossible to argue against. But his critics couldn’t just let him go and make such an obvious and accurate point like that without appearing to counter it, so they engage in all this nonsense to obfuscate the truth.
But even playing the game of literalness these critics are using, the numbers and logic just don’t support the claims against the comment. To accurately fact check the legitimacy of Rubio’s point about “welders making more than philosophers”, one has to look at the number of people who studied philosophy and used that study to become employed as a philosopher vs those who learned welding and made a living from being a welder. Sorry, Philip Bump, who wrote that WashPo article, but what you study isn’t the same as what you do for a living. By Bumps metric, he’s conceivably including the hypothetical person who majors in philosophy in college and then went on to become a welder. But replace “welder” with anything and you’ve got the same non-point. A doctor, lawyer, scientist, politician, entrepreneur or other business professional might very well have majored in philosophy but they’re not “Philosophers” and it ain’t their philosophizing that earns them a higher salary than a welder.
(INTENTIONALLY?) MISSING THE POINT
The most bizarre criticism is from the people butthurt about an alleged attack on Philosophizing as a profession. You would think someone learned in the art of using logic and reason to understand reality would… do any of that… and then realize that making an obvious statement regarding advice about career trajectories is not an attack or statement that having a skill used in that career is useless.
I’m regarded as pretty self absorbed and I can’t imagine feeling similarly about such an obvious statement on the fields that apply to me. I’m an improvisational actor and would agree with a candidate saying we need more welders than improv performers. I also think improv should be taught in high schools, business schools, and elsewhere because of its inherent skill while at the same time telling everyone who will listen to absolutely not count on it as a career and instead learn an actual skill that actually builds things. Pretty simple to see the non-competition within those points, if you ask me, but others had trouble with Rubio’s comment as if he made some kind of condemnation on knowing anything about philosophy.
BY THE (SUPER OBVIOUS) NUMBERS
By using the intellectually dishonest metrics of “philosophy teachers” and “philosophy majors” to be synonymous with what a “philosopher” is, Rubio’s point is ignored, not fact-checked or even rebutted.
To revisit: Rubio’s point was about the responsibility of government and the individual. He said the responsibility of government is to make America the best place to start or grow business and that the responsibility of individuals is to train themselves for preparation in such a business climate by learning necessary skills for their career goals. He didn’t say anything against majoring in philosophy, one assumes (if they are to honestly appraise the argument he’s making) for a reason: such a major could very well fit into a larger career goal. His comment made an observation about preparation for success in the workplace and it was accurate: On average – welders earn more money than philosophers, so choose your education spending wisely and with a plan in mind.
There are a lot of welding jobs and there are very few philosopher jobs. There are essentially no philosophy jobs outside of entrepreneurially creating your own business or website, advice column, book, or becoming a thought leader that can command hefty speaking fees.
But even going off of the pre-mentioned fallacy about Philosophy teachers being “Philosophers” instead of what they actually are (“teachers”), the numbers don’t add up since the number of people who have risen to the title of tenured professors in philosophy is far smaller than the number of employed welders. Likewise, majoring in philosophy (or any other liberal art) that is not a requirement or aid to your intended profession is a waste, even if such major holders go on to make a good living outside of the field they majored in.
There is just no possible honest angle that makes Rubio’s comment incorrect.
Sorry Hippies, but the fact remains that most liberal arts majors made bad decisions with that choice and their inability to use those majors in the workforce illustrates it.