Monday, June 6, 2011

An Accidental Victory Against Credentialism: When A Nobel Prize Isn't Enough



President Obama's Federal Reserve Board nominee, Mr. Peter Diamond, just joined tens of thousands of recent college graduates who discovered that having their degrees and awards is insufficient in getting hired. Unlike Mr. Diamond, however, the generation saddled by student loans and tasked by Obama himself with "Winning The Future" do not have the option of going back to their "congenial professional existence as a professor at MIT."

Mr. Diamond penned a widely-read op-ed in the New York Times on June 5th, 2011 ("When a Nobel Prize Isn't Enough"), in which he laments his inability to get hired despite his expertise in the labor market. It is fairly ironic that a labor market "expert" cannot get himself hired but this speaks to the wider disconnect between high-rent academics (as well portrayed in the Oscar documentary "Inside Job") and the real world.

Here's the news, Mr. Diamond: what you offered to the people who have to approve your nomination does not meet the market needs. You may view this as unfair, as an affront to your lifetime achievements, as idiotic, as politically-motivated, and so on, and, no doubt, these are all true statements, but may be you should just accept that the trebuchet of reality has demolished your self-congratulatory ivory tower. The process has been political circus of the lowest order but don't hate the player (Senator Shelby), hate the game. And stop with the sense of entitlement: clearly your Nobel is not enough for the market. Markets are forward-looking and the market has clearly communicated that it would like to see people who do not rubberstamp every decision, as has been the case all along.

I have been on both sides of the "credentialism" wars and I am an active proponent in demolishing academic and professional "branding" through initiatives such as Khan Academy and the Thiel Fellowships. An Eight Schools Association boarding school, followed by a legacy admission to an Ivy League and a fencing championship, followed Goldman prop desk easily leads to hundreds of millions for a "start-up" fund: but what percentage of this success is linked to parental zipcode and the access/socialization associated with it, rather than merit?

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