Another comment that grew into a post. Originally intended for the same David Thompson thread as the Sowell quote, so I won’t bother linking again. If you’re interested, you can get to the post that prompted it from there.
The problem isn’t that people are studying “useless” things like philosophy, or even the media, while not enough are doing “useful” subjects – as if somehow the problem could be fixed by altering the balance – but that too many are entering universities, full stop.
And this honestly isn’t the “elitism” bemoaned by the Left: it’s simple comparative advantage. There cannot be that many people so good at studying anything at university level for them, and by extension the world in general, to be better off than if they did something else.
The reason we can be sure of this is the one that they tell us themselves: once they’re done, they can’t find employment; not even continuing their studies in the vastly expanded universities. If they could even do that, then the fact that they still weren’t entering the productive economy of making and selling things wouldn’t matter: clearly what that kind of world wants is more people pursuing knowledge. But this world, even with its priorities and signals knocked out of whack by government action, quite plainly and obviously doesn’t.
The idea of Universities as graduate factories isn’t really all that new: they’ve been churning out priests, lawyers, and doctors for centuries, and people who wanted to enter one of those professions went to university as a matter of course. Even in the medieval period, most of them were founded for the explicit purpose of training the first of these; and not entirely because it was seen as the pious and righteous thing to do, but simply because people actually wanted to have more priests about. And, although I’m something of a traditionalist as regards the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and all that, this was actually fine as long as supply more or less matched demand. The problem now is that, thanks largely to government meddling, the supply now vastly outweighs the demand. People don’t want more philosophers, artists, or media-studiers cluttering up the place. We have enough already. It’s plain economics.