Bankrate.com, a website by and for the financial services industry, recently published an article titled 5 graduate degrees that don’t pay off . Among those listed were computer engineering (#2), PR, advertising and mass-media programs (#3), a law degree from a fourth-tier school (#4), and atmospheric sciences and meteorology (#5).
The list makes a partial degree of sense to me but I don’t understand what relationship most of the entries have to financial services, and I’d go a step further by suggesting that any degree in any subject from a fourth-tier school is probably a waste of time and money unless your sole objective is adding initials and abbreviations to your business card to make it more awe-inspiring. I also note a question of morality in a great deal of PR, advertising and mass-media programs which, ironically, benefit Wall Street greatly.
Whether or not the other three are applicable to financial services is beyond my ken but at least they can generate a decent income, self satisfaction and, in the case of atmospheric sciences and meteorology, serve the greater good (see my Global Warming and Incoming Bad Stuff.)
What really caught my eye was Master of Fine Arts at #1 on the list.
There is more going on here than a list of disciplines that generally don’t make money for the financial services industry. 5 graduate degrees that don’t pay off says a great deal about how we see ourselves and value (or don’t value) ourselves and our society overall. It is an indictment that brings to mind an observation by Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man (1964) to the effect that when surrounded by an irrational environment the only rational response is to behave irrationally.
Bankrate.com is acting irrationally by defining itself and its readers by occupation; the importance, and it is massive, of what makes the world around us truly worthwhile is secondary, tertiary, quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, denary and, if possible, of even lesser value. And yet, at least since the late Middle Ages, the arts and humanities have been recognized by all cultures including our own until the Industrial Revolution as a lynchpin of a worthwhile society.
In addition to celebrities of the moment, every nation has military and sports heroes (more on that another time), some of them the stuff of legend, but it normally goes further than that. Italian heroes are opera singers; Russian heroes come from the ballet or the game of chess; English heroes are writers and painters; French heroes include chefs du cuisine, Israeli heroes are teachers and scholars…
How did America’s heroes become our jobs?
To draw a metaphor from psychology (for what is society but an amalgam of individual psychological profiles anyway?) it has long been known that people commonly define themselves not by who they are but by what they do, i.e., their jobs or professions. It is hard wired into our brains.
Men suffer from this psychosis (for that is what it is) much more than women because men are raised primarily to be workers (the hunters, and little else) while women are raised to for functionally multi-tasking (jobs being a recent and still imperfect addition to home-keeping, childrearing, and social interaction that isn’t related to employment).
The trauma of unemployment can shatter our self-image and only recently, to a minor degree, have we ceased being devastated by our loss of a job.
Even more to the point are some simple questions the good folks at Bankrate.com would do well to ask the face in the mirror every morning:
What would your company do without the engineers who developed your computers
What would happen to your companies and the stock market get along without the PR, advertising and mass-media programs oozing from Madison Avenue?
Without atmospheric sciences and meteorologists how could you plan weekends and vacations, perhaps at your summer home or aboard your yacht?
What would your residence(s) look and feel like were there no fine arts with which to adorn them so you, in your self-defined world can live in the style to which you would aspire to be accustomed?
Degrees that “don’t pay off”, eh?