Markers of Success, Cargo Cults, Statolatry

Fresh guacamole is certainly a marker of success:

And now, on to cargo cults!

Cargo cult: a religious practice that has appeared in many traditional pre-industrial tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. The cults focus on obtaining the material wealth (the “cargo”) of the advanced culture through magic and religious rituals and practices. This same magical thinking is evident in modern cargo cults found in welfare states where it commonly manifests as statolatry, celebrity “wisdom,” higher ed credentialism, doublespeak, increased centralization, prohibition, crony capitalism, nannyism, denigration of the individual and individual liberty, and a sycophantic press.

“The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.”

The Political Obsession with Middle-Class Markers

Homeownership, by XKCD

Homeownership, by XKCD

Kind of like, if you “own” your own home and have a college degree you are a “success”. Kind of like believing that government is the only way to solve large problems, i.e., statolatry.

Whether the ambition is to become an investment banker or a Starbucks barista, the dirty little secret is that nothing learned during the four (or five) fun-filled years on idyllic campuses has anything to do with either form of employment. That four years of English Lit or finance courses wouldn’t be required to work behind the counter at Grumpy’s is obvious, but it’s also the case that what’s learned in those finance classes is not necessary if your desire is to thrive at Goldman Sachs either.

To believe otherwise is to believe that someone (the college professor) who for the most part lacks any background in the real-world application of finance could transfer skills to those who desire that real-world knowledge. Lots of luck there. If Wall Street is your goal, major in whatever interests you. Ultimately the top financial firms are looking for “good athletes”; as in people who are smart and who work hard. Anything you need to know you’ll learn on the job.

Sorry Left AND Right, No Job Requires A College Degree

What does it take to be middle class in America? The timely answer seems to be not home ownership or a college education, but a good job.

In a survey released late last month, 86 percent of the 2,000-plus Americans polled by the Pew Research Center put a secure job at the top of their list of requirements to qualify for the middle class. The next most-popular answer was health insurance, which made the list for 66 percent of respondents in the survey, conducted in July.

Owning a home was considered a sign of membership in the middle class by only 45 percent of those surveyed. Having stocks or bonds rated for only 28 percent.

What’s It Take to Be Middle Class? A Job


Middle class in the U.S. can mean something very different depending on where you call your home state.

Census bureau numbers show a shocking disparity in the definition of ‘middle income’ – with Maryland boasting an average of $67,469 and Mississippi posting an appallingly low $39,078, a difference of $28,391.
. . .
Data from 2011, shows the median household income across the nation was $50,054.

A close examination of average household income by state shows that as the top and bottom income levels vary – naturally so does the middle.

The three year average of median household income from 2009 to 2011 of residents in Maryland was $67,469, with the average in New Hampshire ($67,287) and Connecticut ($67,165) close behind.

But the average dropped significantly as one traveled down the coast.

Mississippi posted the lowest average at $39,078. Its neighbors in Arkansas ($39,806) and Tennessee ($41,524) also posted income averages that were shockingly low.

These vastly different levels can make it hard to adequately craft policies for the generic ‘middle class’ segment, when the middle is not equal.

Pundits have responded that the term ‘middle class’ is much too broad to target the exact population that will receive aid.

Are you middle class? Map reveals how you need to take home $67k in Maryland but just $39k in Mississippi

The government can not mandate good behavior or self-discipline. Magical thinking does not change reality. Incentives matter, and what you subsidize you will get more of.

Does America really need 8,000 waiters with doctoral or professional degrees? Do 5,057 janitors really need their advanced degrees? Millions of Americans already have useless college degrees.

America Doesn’t Need More College Graduates at Taxpayer Expense

“Cargo Cult Science,” from a Caltech commencement address given in 1974 by Richard Feynman

If you live cheaply enough, you can spend your life doing what you want to do. Even if you have to work for a living, you can chose your work based on what you most want to do, rather than what pays the most.

Passing for Middle Class


Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. We also need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT).

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