Students and Sofa Men

Have you ever heard of sofa men? In the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf most men work for the government. They sit around dozing and watching TV, sometimes carrying papers to and from one office to another. These countries include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (where 84% of the workforce works for the government). These are the people who remained on their sofas and in their Rolls Royces while our servicemen and hardware freed them from an Iraqi invasion in 1990.

Nearly all manual labor is performed by foreigners in the Gulf States because the pool of oil below has made work unnecessary for natives. But now low oil prices are starting to impact the financial landscape. Governments are offering incentives to the sofa men to start businesses and get jobs in the private sector.

This really hit home when I read about the Million Student March. A Washington Post article, dated November 12 stated, “Students at 110 college campuses across the country planned to walk out of class Thursday to march for an affordable education.”

My first reaction was, “ keep walking.” But being kind and compassionate, and always trying to see the other side of issues, I forced myself.

As a farmer, I take my crop insurance, which is really a welfare check. I have a sales tax exemption for farm supplies. And we sent our kids to public school (admittedly with a promise to be enthusiastically involved regarding the opinions of the university trained teachers).

I’m on the dole just like everyone else. When the dole is part of the balance sheet for everyone, we take it to remain at work; even though in the big scheme of things it distorts the market, creating untold waste.

When we read newspaper stories online, oftentimes a comments section follows. Comments on students complaining about debt they agreed to take on, low wages in jobs they applied for, or even any cost at all for an expensive service they agreed to buy, inspired some pretty belligerent comments.

I’m sure the students work hard at their studies, but only precedent justifies that anyone but themselves or willing parents pay for their education. That precedent starts with kindergarten (or now preschool and even WIC). The fact that one penny was taken for someone else’s benefit without the donor’s explicit consent became reason to take another. Now the whole cost of college is to be borne by someone with no skin in the game?

Educators believe in their mission so they hold up education as the ultimate path to prosperity. Does this mean that free college for everyone will eliminate poverty? Who is going to fix your car, mow your lawn or serve you a taco? The $15 minimum wage they also advocate will make the taco unaffordable to them unless there is also a taco subsidy.

The wealth in the Persian Gulf and the wealth financing free college were both discovered in the early 20th century. The Federal Reserve and income tax do the same thing as oil except our pool of wealth drains our own citizenry instead of an ancient puddle of goo. The pool of oil these students wish to tap is the remnants of an economy where things were made to satisfy demand and sold only to those who could afford them. Wasted resources were mistakes, not policy.

I pity those students in the Million Student March who march for a free education and sofa men who lack the satisfaction of earning a return for a service that is anxiously sought after by a willing buyer. Students who earn their way to their own education will be rewarded with a learning experience more valuable than the sum of its parts.

Grovelling for a living will not promote self esteem. It is not their fault. The incremental nature of the source of their complaint makes it impossible to remedy.

2 responses to “Students and Sofa Men

  1. This is such a tough issue because I “get” both sides of the argument and I don’t disagree in whole with either of them, but as with most things, land somewhere in the middle.

    I do not believe that having a college education is the end-all, be-all of being successful or stable or contributory as so many have put it; as with most “tools” in the world, when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There are a lot of jobs that can be easily fulfilled without much of a traditional college education or at least with one that’s been properly directed, such as the emerging trend in ‘technical’ colleges and classes and certifications. There is still really good money to be made in some of the more traditional trades such as plumbing, electricity, construction, welding, etc. Not as much as before, and you cannot go into it as a dumbass, you have to have ability with computers and other things now, but it’s still a viable profession without the ridiculous expense of a 4-year degree.

    Not that kids are being properly directed towards it — and therein lies a big part of the issue. Somewhere along the way we got out of the practice of looking at each kid and going, “Based on your abilities and penchants, perhaps you might want to look at going into electronics?” Or ag. Or welding. Or construction. The push in school became, “Without a bachelor’s of arts and the knowledge of Greek philosophers, you’re going to be worthless.” And so we pushed everyone in that direction.

    To some extent, this was also fueled by a lot of businesses suddenly requiring at least a BA/BS to even get *looked* at in the hiring process. I worked for one company like that — no BA/BS? You resume went in the trash without a glance, nevermind whatever experience you had. Lots of businesses still operate that way which is confounding at the least.

    This all being said, having a BA myself, I’m a huge proponent of a classical education and promoting the arts, philosophies, classical languages, etc. I do feel if we reduce higher education to a economic value proposition only and loans are made entirely based upon estimated future earnings, etc., we will wash out all the studies and education based on how we do “human”, because we will focus only on what makes us, “money” and “value”. I do NOT want to see that.

    So….it’s a mix. I don’t think higher education should be free, because you can’t value what you don’t pay for in some regard. Everyone should be on the hook for at least a good portion. But, I also get that education is RIDICULOUS in price nowadays; Luther was $23,000 when I left in 2000. It’s now $46,590/year and growing. Now, I believe I got every dollar worth that I spent there and then some, but almost $47k/year for school? OOF. That would make me pause a LOT these days, and with wages being stagnant and unemployment still fairly high, I’d think twice/thrice about doing it. So SOMETHING has to stem the incredible increase in costs, period.

    It’s tough. I want to live in a well-educated world because I firmly believe we are all better off the smarter we are and it’s more pleasant to live with intelligent beings. We can’t give that away or nobody will value it. But we can’t have a go-into-$200K-debt-before-20 world and expect progress to be made, either.

    • Nathan,

      Sorry this took so long. A good challenge needs a careful reply.

      I fell for it. But my dad went broke. And keeping with strict free-market principles I decided it wasn’t worth borrowing for. My future, my choice, my money. I had already grown up (somewhat by then) and was too rebellious to ask so I didn’t go to school to postpone adulthood (more prevalent than is spoken of).

      Even in the trades you mention (not medicine ect.) more can be learned on the job than in a community college. I can’t count the number of fine businessmen I know who have given up on a piece of paper as qualification when they have to teach the new guy everything anyway. Just think of a system where the new guy works for slave wages in return for on the job education. It could work.

      On the subject of escalating costs of college. The answer is too simple and now too painful to initiate. There should never be a public school. School has become a giant give away to businesses through shovel ready employees. But as you know, they are not shovel ready at all. It is a huge waste. Now I hear all the time that our education system is failing to provide employees ready to work. That is because the market is not market driven.

      As far as what to do about it; as is being demonstrated in colleges today the prevailing opinion on how to gain wealth is through grants ect. The whole concept of an honest day’s work for an honest dollar has been lost for a huge part of the young population. On the bright side, those of us who educate and guide our kids in positive ways should see less competition for the jobs they seek. Unless the affirmative action thing continues to keep good people down.

      Oil went below $40 today. Will the sofa men get off their asses? Those Sunni Arabs are our allies (unbelievably) so the threat of a productive country like Iran will be trotted out as a threat and the cash will roll to hold off the mythical nukes. The sofa men will remain in comfort.

      On Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 11:01 AM, alternativebyfritz wrote:


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