To the Class of 2012

Down, down, down…

Day after day for the last 2 weeks…almost everything has been grinding down.

Stocks, oil, copper, bond yields… It looks as though the whole world economy is slowing down. China, India, America, Europe. All are slowing.

How much longer can this slow down continue?

A lot longer!

We should have some bounce in the markets this week. But beware. Our “Crash Alert” flag is up.


We spent the weekend in Charlottesville, VA…at the UVA graduation for our son, Henry.

The University of Virginia is probably the most handsome campus in America. Especially in May. It has a green central esplanade bordered by columned buildings in the Greco-Roman style. At one end is the famous Rotunda. Flowers and trees bloom everywhere.

We know of no other president who achieved anything equivalent. Some waged dubious wars. Some launched weasely social welfare programs. The best of them idled away their careers, shaking hands, making deals, and otherwise shuffling offstage leaving it no better or worse than it was when the curtain first went up. But Mr. Jefferson left an architectural monument that is breathtaking. He would be proud of it today.

It is too bad that the soliloquies of its 2012 commencement exercises came nowhere close to the grandeur of the setting itself. Instead, there was nothing more than the usual hollow, air-head do-goodism you associate with graduation speakers. One urges students to go out in the world and ‘make a difference.’ Another tells them to use their educations for some great public purpose. Another insists that they become the leaders of tomorrow. All declare that their years spent (there was no mention of the money) at UVA were a good investment…both formative and decisive…making them the determined, capable people that they have allegedly become.

Jefferson would roll his eyes.

Herewith, we offer an alternative graduation speech. An honest address to the class of 2012. One we will never be invited to give:

I see you before me. Arranged in alphabetical order. From Mr. Aaron from Alexandria to Mr. Zyman of Richmond. You are all suited up…wearing the ancient vêtements that have marked men of learning for hundreds of years. And in a few minutes you will move the tassels on your funny little hats from the right side to the left, indicating that you have been awarded a bachelor’s degree. This signifies that you have joined the few…the elite…the learned.

But how many of you really are learned? How many are imposters? How many are capable of writing a simple essay? How many can decline a Latin verb? How many have mastered calculus and quantum physics?

You’ve heard about the group of men at the old English club. The waiter comes up and asks if they would like some hock. One of them cleverly says ‘hic, haec, hoc.’ So the waiter comes back with drinks for all of them except him. When he asks why, the waiter replies: ‘But sir, you declined the hock.’

How many of you got that joke?

I only ask the question because I am suspicious. Many college grads of today could hardly be called intellectuals. Many have hardly used their brains at all. Some have merely spent the last four years learning a few tricks and the latest jargon of a trade. Marketing, for example. Or journalism. Marketing evolves so fast that whatever you learn here will be mostly obsolete by the time you get a job. If you ever get a job. Besides, the important points could be picked up in a few weeks on the job anyway.

As to journalism, there are a few skills you need to know, which you could pick up in an afternoon; the rest is undifferentiated. You look. You ask questions. You think. And you tell the world what you come up with. No college necessary. In fact, college may hinder you. Instead of using your own eyes and your own brain, and developing your own way of looking at things, you spent your best years in class absorbing the claptrap du jour of the mainstream media.

Others among you have read popular novels or a few history books. You think you know something. Maybe you call yourself a historian. Or perhaps a literary critic. My advice is to keep that to yourself. You have paid a lot of money for something that millions of other people — just as smart as you are — do for a hobby or past-time. There’s not much real knowledge in either of those things…just opinions and ideas which are more vanity and entertainment than genuine learning.

Same thing for those who have spent years studying ‘politics’ or ‘economics.’ Drop the pretense that you know something. You don’t. All you have is a full plate of opinions…most of them preposterous…and most of them indigestible by a thoughtful person.

I don’t doubt that many of the courses offered here — to say nothing of the beer parties — are interesting and fun. But are they worth $160,000 and 4 years of your life? How about some of these titles that I got out of the Course Catalog for 2012: “Fantasy and Values” or “Black Women Authors” or the “Cinema of India” or “Feminist Theory in Anthropology,” or “Creole Narratives” or “Zen” or “Business Ethics”…?

As to that last one, when you get out in the real world, which unless you go to graduate school is happening as of tomorrow…you will find that it is very unlike the make-believe world at this university.

They say that by going to a university you open yourself up to a whole world of knowledge. Yes, perhaps you do gain easy access to a whole world of simplified knowledge and politically correct opinions. But you also cut yourself off from a larger world of real knowledge…the kind you get by doing and observing.

In your course on Business Ethics, for example, you are no-doubt exposed to a number of ideas and theories on the subject. You’d be better off learning it on the job. First, instead of paying someone to teach you, you would get paid for learning. Besides, you can get the ideas and information in the course materials by reading a few $29 books…or read them online for even less. That is true for almost all the coursework in the arts and social sciences. It is all available to you at much less expense. So, in a sense, you have been a sap to pay so much for it.

But you would do even better to combine your reading with real life experience. And in real life you would quickly discover that things are much more complex, much more nuanced, and much less clear than you thought. That’s true in business ethics as it is in everything else. As the Jewish philosopher Hillel explained, the core idea of the Torah, the Bible, the Sermon on the Mount, and business ethics is as simple as this: if you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you, don’t do it to someone else. The rest is detail. And the details depend on the situation, which you only encounter in its full complexity, when you are face to face with it. You don’t encounter it in a book…or in your lecture halls…or in your seminars on campus. So, the time you spend on campus actually prevents and delays you from coming to grips with the real problems you will face in real life…and thus retards your education.

So, you’ve spent — or your parents…or the taxpayers have spent — $150,000 on your education. And you’re retarded.

And now you enter the job market. And don’t think you’ll have an easy time of it. Because previous graduates of this university and others have applied the lessons they learned in school and made a god-awful mess of the economy. There are 14 million people without jobs. About one in 20 young people is jobless. You’re just another one. Frankly, I’m surprised the unemployment rate for young people isn’t higher…given how worthless most young people are.

Why so many unemployed? Because economics professors have taught 3 generations of economists that a command and control economy — to a point — will work. It won’t. But a command and control economy is good for economists and do-gooders, who get jobs commanding.

Economists convinced policymakers…who have their own corrupt reasons for wanting to twist up the economy — to control the price of labor…and prevent it from falling, using a variety of tools and subterfuges. By the way, a ‘subterfuge’ is defined in the dictionary as “an artifice or expedient used to evade a rule, escape a consequence, hide something, etc.”

I mention that because I know that half of you are functionally illiterate. MSNBC recently reported that:

More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.

But one of the subterfuges used by the feds that makes it so hard for you to get a job is student loans. They’ve lent out more than $1 trillion — some of it to you. Rather than work for lower wages, students borrow money at low teaser rates…and go to school. On average, you have about $20,000 worth of debt when you leave this university. And I’ll bet that a lot of you won’t pay up.

But I’ll give you some advice. String your lenders out as long as possible. Eventually, the same college-educated dimbulbs who perverted the employment market will destroy the dollar. Avoid paying your loan long enough and it will probably go away…

Of course, the outlook is not all bad. Some of you will find good jobs — those who have used your time wisely, by studying science and engineering. It’s only the rest of you who are screwed.

The feds keep the price of labor too high. Employers would have to pay you more than you are worth. So, they are reluctant to hire you.

Employers know damned well too that you’ve been retarded by your education. So, they’re leery of hiring you. Especially if they see you’ve taken a class in business ethics. They think you’ll stab them in the back the first chance you get.

And they’re probably right. Because you’ve been told to go forth and create a better world. I’ve seen the surveys. Two out of three of you want to work for non-profit organizations. Why is that? Because your whole weltanschauung…well, I mean, your worldview…has been corroded by your education. You think business is greedy…selfish…and stupid. But where they hell do you think non-profits get their money? Where does the government get its money? How can our society afford to let you waste so many years in college?

All of this money has to come from the productive sector of the economy.

You think you can do good by working for the government or a non-profit organization? Well, I’ve got news. You’ll be a parasite, just like the rest of them. A leech, sucking the life out of the real, productive economy. That’s another reason it’s so hard for you to find a job. The more people who fantasize about getting paid for doing good…for trying to make a better world…the worse the real world gets. Because that leaves fewer people actually doing the kind of real world work that makes the world richer and more prosperous…and better organized…safer and healthier.

So, forget about making the world a better place. Forget about leading anybody anywhere. Forget about thinking you know something. You don’t know enough to lead yourself, let alone anyone else. And most of what you think you know is worthless claptrap. Pseudo-knowledge, in other words.

Finally, don’t try to be a leader. The world doesn’t need any more leaders. It’s got too many already.

Instead, try to find a real job in the real world. Do it well. And mind your own business.

Thank you. And good luck.


Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning