We have a problem: there are too many smart people in the world. There are too many overqualified workers. There are too many college degrees. There are too many applicants for positions that rely on a particular kind of intelligence. Our modern labor markets have inflated to the extreme the appreciation of highly intellectual jobs, disregarding those that require craftsmanship or simply soul, delicacy, or empathy.
Hardly anyone wants to care for the elderly, or repair short-circuited sockets, or slice meat in a supermarket. Most young people are too busy trying to hack their way into some big consulting firm that promises a bright, bold future. And they’re willing to do just about anything to get there, including sacrificing their family life, their leisure, their friendships—selling their own mother at a flea market if necessary.
According to the OECD, 45% of young Americans have a lovely, shiny college degree under their arm. Of course, we should congratulate them on their efforts. But we should also tell them the truth: as the number of graduates expands, the value of the degree decreases. Much of young people’s frustration comes from the fact that a college degree no longer guarantees that they will find a job worthy of their high qualifications. There have come to be more economists than economy, more lawyers than lawsuits, more engineers than bridges.
So something disconcerting happens, as British essayist David Goodhart has realized. In many Western countries, while young graduates find themselves in a working hell that falls far short of expectations—wandering around scrounging for jobs with salaries far below what they thought their training was worth—workers with less glamorous reputations, such as electricians or plumbers, earn a far better living at a much lower cost.