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September 30, 2023

This Guy Thinks Your Degree Is Useless As Long As You Got a High Score on the CPA Exam

In a recent article titled "The Dark Side of a Divided White America," The Fiscal Times chatted with Charles Murray, W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of books that include Losing Ground and What It Means to Be a Libertarian.

Murray apparently upset a few folks with his earlier title The Bell Curve, so intentionally decided to focus only on white people in his latest:

Once, white Americans across all classes shared a common culture when it came to “the basics”– marriage, work, religion and law-abidingness, argues political scientist Charles Murray in his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. That’s all changed in the past five decades.

“The white working class has deteriorated substantially on those dimensions. It’s fallen away from some central cultural institutions that have been crucial to what used to be called the American way of life,” he told The Fiscal Times this week. “Meanwhile, a new upper class has developed a distinctive culture in their delayed marriage and childbearing; in child-rearing practices; at work; in their comparatively sparse exposure to mainstream film and television products; and in their increasing geographic isolation. They’re increasingly ignorant of how the rest of America lives.”

Murray's ideas about the workforce are antiquated at best, broad and generalized at worst. He essentially suggests to the Fiscal Times that unmarried men are a pox on the workforce, causing chaos everywhere they go.

Another reason marriage is so important: Married men do a lot better in the labor market than unmarried men. It’s not just because women marry men who are likely to do better – though scholars have documented that. Marriage civilizes men. That’s something men have known for a long time, as women have. When you have a large number of not only unmarried males but never married males running around, you have a potential for social disorganization and collapse that’s really great – particularly when a lot of these unmarried men are not in the labor market. Guess how they’re getting along? By living off their girlfriends, or their sisters, who are able to get welfare. Or they’re on the move, avoiding debt collectors, child support collectors, or the police. They put a lot of pressure on community life.

Strange view on the ball and chain aside, Murray suggests the BA is meaningless, comparing the education bubble to the housing bubble. He insists at some point people are going to say, “I know they keep telling me that I’ve got to get a BA to be a success in life, but do I really want to be $100,000 in debt when I’m 22 years old?”

So – yeah, I think it’s a bubble. And I hope it collapses, and I hope it collapses soon. The BA has become a pernicious force in American life.

So what does Murray suggest as an alternative to meaningless college education? A barrier to entry like the CPA exam. Unfortunately, his view of the CPA exam's function is a tad uninformed (a high score on the CPA exam usually proves that the candidate studied too hard, not that they are any more capable of performing the functions of their job than someone who passed but with a lower score), as tends to happen when you have people from outside the industry holding it up as the standard for knowledge tests everywhere.

TFT: If this comes to pass, how would young people position themselves for the labor market?

CM: What I think will trigger the bubble: Employers may say, “Look, I can’t tell what this BA means. What are your certifications? I want something equivalent to the certified public accountant exam, the CPA exam. And if an applicant walks into my office with a good score on that test, it’s clear he knows some accounting. I can be absolutely confident of that.” You could do the same thing – and people have – with many other kinds of specialties. As that movement gains strength, all of a sudden the BA becomes less important as evidence that the applicant actually knows something of what the employer is looking for.

Also odd about Murray's comment is that – perhaps he doesn't know this – the majority of CPA exam candidates have the benefit of a fifth year of college education before they even begin to sit for the exam. Any logical person would look at the 150 unit rule that so many state boards of accountancy have in place and assume there is a reason that rule has been adopted by so many boards. Cynics might tell you it exists as a pre-barrier, with the CPA exam serving as the final test to weed out the CPA candidate pool even further. But even the cynics can admit that for some CPA candidates, the extra education helps them gain a better understanding of the topics covered on the CPA exam – at least for those candidates who use the 150 unit requirement to further their accounting education, not necessarily including the ones who pile on underwater basketweaving classes to meet the requirement.

Is your BA bullshit? Probably not entirely. Obviously real world experience with the topics you covered in school is far more effective than reading rules out of a textbook. According to Murray, if you're married and scored high on the CPA exam, you're employable. If you're unmarried and scored low, you're a loser. At least that's what I gathered from his comments.

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