Aaron Clarey is the enfante terrible of American economists. Describing himself as “the only motorcycling, fossil-hunting, tornado chasing, book-writing, ballroom dancing economist in the world”, Clarey quickly became known among young people for his politically-incorrect, masculine, libertarian bluntness. 

I found out about Clarey through a law school friend who is currently suffering through his third year as a prosecutor in an especially miserable urban area. During a discussion of the scam that is American higher education and the turning of law schools into glorified, overpriced diploma mills for undergraduate liberal arts majors, my friend encouraged me to check out Clarey’s Youtube videos and his Twitter page.

Clarey’s first book, “Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major”, is the kind of small, hard-hitting book that jolts a young person away from the present-day swamp of lies. A swamp created by the government, the media, and the higher education establishment.  Without exaggeration, this little book could save a young person scores of thousands of dollars and prevent decades of angry misery – the lot of so many young Americans who are un- or underemployed, crushed by debt, and begin their day by wretchedly sending out resumes on various websites.

The unfortunate cases of people with “worthless” degrees are described early in the book. Here is a psychology major from Oregon who a year after graduation, works part-time in a store after applying for over 100 jobs. There is an art and architectural history major from Rhode Island who works as a nanny. To this wretched list, I could add the numerous attorneys I know who live with their parents years after being admitted to the Bar and who work as waitresses, bartenders, or real estate salesmen.

So what are some of these “worthless” degrees that Clarey advises his young readers to avoid at all cost? Hint: most of them are in the liberal arts area. First, the so-called “Hyphenated American Studies”, the truly worthless and pernicious area of higher education, which the author rightly describes as “particularly dirty and low”. These degrees, mandatory in my undergrad college, are the epitome of all that is wrong and improper with today’s higher education. Other degrees Clarey thinks you should avoid are: foreign culture studies, foreign languages, art/music/theater/etc, English, creative writing, literature, communications, anthropology (read: the gospel of Franz Boas), political science, philosophy, psychology, journalism, and education. Some of the non-liberal arts degrees to be avoided according to Clarey are: marketing, business administration, economics, finance, environmental engineering, and of course, the overpriced graduate diploma mills of law school and MBA programs.

On the other hand, Clarey strongly suggests his young readers major in STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. He most advises medical or pharmacy school or a degree in petroleum (“Go South or Saudi, Young Man!”) or chemical engineering, with accounting, actuarial science (“What do you call an account without a personality? An Actuary.”), econometrics, and statistics degrees also highly recommended. 

What Clarey strongly warns against is a degree in finance, describing banking as “an industry where you get ahead not by how much you know, how hard you work, or how much ass you kick, but by who you know, how much you golf, and how much ass you kiss”. Blunt, a bit vulgar, but right on. Aaron Clarey majored in finance, worked in banking for 14 long years, and regrets it every day. Take that, Goldman Sachs.

Another area the maverick economist recommends are the trades. By becoming a plumber or an electrician, one does not have to worry about having a “diverse background”, or being a “well-rounded” (the terms themselves are nauseating) applicant:

[Employers] don’t care if you were the president of the ‘Yeah For Us Super Happy Fun Time Club’ at school. . .They want you to perform a task or a job that requires a skill or a talent to make them a profit.

So whose fault it is that Johnny and Lucy are saddled with debt and are chronically, if not permanently unemployed after getting degrees in sociology and creative writing? Clarey, with characteristic bluntness, points at three culprits. Spineless parents, worthless guidance counselors, and the evil, nefarious higher education establishment (“mafia” is actually a better term). Let us briefly consider each of them.

First, the parents. Clarey rightly calls out the Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers for being “truly spineless” parents who “abandoned the tough, fatherly love approach to rearing and opted instead for the nurturing, motherly love approach”. As a result, many American youngsters are brought up as their parents’ “best friends” and have an unrealistic sense of entitlement. Even worse, parents cannot bring themselves to say to Johnny or Lucy that the major they chose for undergrad is essentially useless in the Great Recession real world.

Second, the guidance counselors. I do not remember my guidance counselor’s name or face, but I do remember how she breezily encouraged me to take out loans and major in whatever I wanted to. Thankfully, I did not listen, at least when it came to undergrad. Clarey calls the guidance counselors out as spineless, “touchy-feely” types who majored in worthless degrees and were lucky to get a government, unionized job with iron-clad job security and no threat of outsourcing or layoffs.

Now, the criminal mastermind of the bunch. Like the Soviet commissars of yore, the masters of American higher education are shielded from criticism and like the Soviet security-military apparatus, the American education mafia is overfunded with little or no oversight:

[E]ducation gets a pass when it comes to any form of criticism or audit. Nobody is allowed to criticize it. Nobody is allowed to judge it.

Sound familiar? Da, tovarisch!

Finally, the nefarious nature of the higher education establishment stems directly from the people involved in it. They are mostly politically-correct leftists with “worthless” degrees. Unlike grade school teachers, most professors went to teach not because of their love for their students, but because there was simply no other alternative. The primary purpose of “Big Education” is to serve as “an employment vehicle for people who are otherwise unemployable”.

Aaron Clarey’s “Worthless” is full of such blunt, politically-incorrect gems, too many to be listed in the space of one article. The next one will address some omissions of Clarey’s book.