September 25, 2009

Where does anyone (young) want to go, today?

I got some good criticism on the post about accounting as a profession. Clive said this which I thought I'd share:

As an engineer who's father was an accountant I will give you three guesses as to what he told me not to do when I grew up... Oddly it is the same for engineers, we tend to tell our children to do other things. As I've said before if you want to get on in life you should learn to speak the language that the man who cuts your cheque at the end of the month does, or more correctly his boss ;)

So even if you are just a humble team leader get yourself three courses,

  1. MBA,
  2. Vocal training,
  3. Psychology or Method acting.

And no I'm not joking about 3.

He's talking about what we do when we get to 30 and beyond, e.g., most readers of this blog. For us older folks looking back, it is depressing that the world looks so sucky; but this is a time-honoured thing. The myths have been stripped away, the rot revealed.

But the youth of today is perpetually optimistic, and the question they ask is eternal and (Spence-like) opinionated: what to study, first?

What then do we recommend for a first degree for someone near 20? It seems that nobody promotes the accountancy field, including the incumbents. Accountants don't practice accountancy, if they are any good. The only accountant I ever knew well committed suicide.

An MBA doesn't work, this is something that should be done after around 5-10 years of experience. Hence, I'm not convinced a straight business degree ("Bachelors in Business Studies" ?) makes sense either, because all that additional stuff doesn't add value until experience is there to help it click into place.

I wouldn't suggest economics. It is like law and accounting, in that it helps to provide a very valuable perspective throughout higher business planes. But it doesn't get you jobs, and it is too divorced from practical life, too hard to apply in detail. Engineering seems far too specialised these days, and a lot of it is hard to work in and subject to outsourcing. Science is like engineering but without the focus.

To my mind, the leading contenders as a first degree are (in no particular order):

computer science,
biotech, and

Firstly, they seem to get you jobs; secondly, law, compsci and marketing are easy to apply generally and broadly, and pay dividends throughout life. I'm not quiet sure about Biotech in the "broad" sense, but it is the next big thing, it is the wave to ride in.

Comp sci was the wave of the 1980s and 1990s. Now it is routine. Any technical degree these days tends to include a lot of comp sci, so if there is a tech you enjoy, do that degree and turn it into a comp sci degree on the inside.

Law is in my list because it is the ultimate defensive strategy. Headline Law tends to offend with its aggressively self-serving guild behaviour ("a man who represents himself has a fool for a client and a fool for a lawyer") and as a direct practice (courts) the field seems made for crooks. More technically, all disputes are win-lose by definition, and therefore litigation is destructive by definition, not productive. This is offensive to most of humanity.

But litigation is only the headline, there are other areas. You can apply the practical aspects of law in any job or business, and you can much more easily defend yourself and your business against your future fall, if you have a good understanding of the weapons of mutual destruction (a.k.a. lawsuits). About half of the business failures I've seen have occurred because there was no good legal advisor on the team; this is especially true of financial cryptography which is why I've had to pick up some of it; what one person I know calls "bush lawyering."

The downside to studying law is that you can lose your soul. But actually the mythology in law is not so bad because it is grounded in fundamental rights, so keep those in mind, and don't practice afterwards. It's nowhere near as bad as the computing scene (no grounding at all, e.g., open source) or the marketing blah blah (your mission is to unground other's perceptions!).

Marketing is there because every successful business needs it, and you can only be successful with it. MBAs are full of marketing, which reflects its centrality (and also gives a good option for picking it up later). But marketing is also dangerous because it gives you the tools to fool yourself and all around you, and once you've become accustomed to the elixir, your own grounding is at risk.

I don't advise any of the arts (including Clive's points 2,3) as a primary degree for youth, because businesses hire on substance, so it is important to have some to offer. E.g., people who study psychology tend to end up doing HR ("human resources"), badly, perhaps because they lack the marketing sense to make HR the most important part of the business.

Likewise, avoid anything that is popular, soft, fun, nice and that all your touchy-feely friends want to do. When there are too many people and too little substance, the competition suppresses everyone and makes you all poor. That's the best result because at least it is honest; a very few dishonest ones become rich because they figure out the game. The notion that you can study acting, media, history, photography or any of the finer arts, and then make a living, doesn't bear talking about. It is literally gambling with lives, and has no place in advice to young people.

Posted by iang at September 25, 2009 02:50 PM | TrackBack

"computing scene (no grounding at all, e.g., open source) "

you really like a flame war don't you ?

anyhow, what do you mean by that line ?

Posted by: duryodhan at September 25, 2009 01:32 PM

Actually what bothers me here is this only applies if you want to be wealthy which you seem to think is everybody's goal.

I know plenty of librarians and civil servants who have spent the last thirty years work on average wages who truly enjoy their no stress no demand life, working 35 hour weeks,and playing with their kids and golf.

I agree if you want to be a the next big thing then get a hard science degree followed up with marketing, MBA, and some method acting BUT that's only if you want to be *successful* as defined by rich.

Posted by: Jim Bobm at September 26, 2009 01:16 PM


it's only possible to have such an enjoyable life if you have a job!

Advising a young person to enter a field that is shrinking faster than natural wastage is like advising a person not to have a job.

Posted by: Iang at September 26, 2009 07:49 PM

"I wouldn't suggest economics. ... and it is too divorced from practical life, too hard to apply in detail."

Oh, boy, Ian. You've really gone and done it now. :)

I think some basic economics should be learned just as early as possible (like Vince in that Youtube video teaching the kids about international finance, and them getting it. "That's not fair.") so that a young person can start seeing through the BS that is constantly being thrown out there by politicians, political hacks and the armada of Fed supported economists so that your stored *value* can be stolen from you. In many cases, a person's life depends on it. Humans need property to survive let alone to prosper. Humans aren't mostly pre-programmed like dogs, etc., so they have a lot of learning to do. Heck, they even have to be potty trained. Ever see a dog being potty trained? Better starting as early as possible, particularly all the stuff they won't teach or don't know to teach.

Example of basics of economics (they are not hard, just scarce amongst the humans) to be learned right now at the youngest age possible. Never mind this waiting till 20 stuff:


If you are going to go to work in the construction trades, there are some simple basic things you need to learn no matter, literally, which trade you choose.

Some of these are:

1. How to determine if something is level (perpendicular to the pull of
2. How to determine if something is plumb (in line with the pull of gravity).
3. How to make something 45 degrees from plumb or level

If you are going to go to work in any field in life, or you choose to be a dead beat or dilettante, still, there are some simple basic things you need to learn no matter what you choose. Particularly if you're a dead beat or dilettante that is starting out with a grub stake that someone gave you, and you need to maintain and/or increase the real value of.


Let's call them simple basic reality:

The more wealth a person has or a group of people have, the higher the standard of living he/they have.

Wealth is:
1. economic goods and services
2. that people are willing to pay for.

Wealth is not money, currency or government fiat tokens. Gold would not have been of value to Robinson Crusoe when he landed on the island.

However, money, currency and government fiat tokens can be stores of value.

Value can be converted into capital.

Capital is the means of production.

Capital can only come from savings
(Before there is capital, there has to be savings).
(The process of transfering value from savings to capital is called investing.)

Capital plus the use of human minds and hands create wealth.

There is no theoretical limit to the creation of wealth.

There is a limit to how much debt a financial/economic system can take on.

It is impossible to increase one's wealth by borrowing to consume (Borrowing to invest to create wealth is another whole story).

Borrowing to consume merely decreases one's future wealth because of the interest expense that has to be subtracted from future possible savings, and because of the principle payments that have to be subtracted from future savings. No increase in savings, no increase in wealth. Too much borrowing relative to wealth creation and you actually consume capital, become less wealthy.

Statist governments screw up this wealth creation process time and time again. Sometimes they hurt the process particularly badly which is what is going on in the US (and other places) right now. The governments are actually working to decrease the wealth of the US (and other places), thus its standard of living, or working to decrease the growth rate of wealth creation. It is borrowing for consumption purposes when this is exactly what caused the problem to begin with. Big time. And what percentage of the populations get this? Nowhere near enough.


Inflation is the increase of the supply of a money, currency or government fiat token. Inflation causes/effects rising prices. No systemic inflation, no systemic rising prices, like during most of the 1800s in the US. Inflation did not start for real, in any systemic sense till the Fed was started in 1913. It has been up, up and away ever since.

Money (gold, silver, packs of cigarettes, women's nylons), Currencies (silver and gold certificates/notes, or other notes/financial instruments redeemable in something), and tokens (government fiat paper and digital bits redeemable in nothing) have 3 things in common:

1.) Medium of exchange
2.) Store of value
3.) Unit of measure/account (they measure value)

And they are different from each other in three ways:

A. Money does not have any liability attached to it.
It ***is*** final settlement.

B. A currency has liability attached to it. It is redeemable in something specific.
It is ***not*** final settlement.

C. Government fiat paper and fiat digital bits while not redeemable in anything, can not be created without debt/credit being created at the same time due to the nature of the current fractional reserve banking system.
It is ***not*** final settlement.

Inflation, depending on the degree of:

1. Causes people to shy away more and more from using what is increasing in supply (US dollar loosing its reserve status amongst central banks).
2. Steals/robs stored value.
3. Shortens the yard stick (unit of measure) while people still use it as a full measure, screwing up their financial and economic calculations for the future (mal/bad investments).

So, what is the no-brainer protection from what is going on at central banks and their treasuries? Or is it treasuries and their central banks?

Gold, silver and other atoms in your own hands.

The more they create government fiat paper and fiat digital bits (most US dollars are just digital bits on a hard drive, and that hard drive sure as heck does not belong to you), the higher in price gold and silver will go.

Here is something to think about. If you deposit dollars in a bank, where exactly are those dollars once you have deposited them in the bank?

Just like it is impossible to own real estate in the US now a days, you can only rent it from a government (what you buy is limited control over real estate, not real estate). So, too, you can not own your dollars that are in the financial system. You do not have access to root on the server nor own the server that houses and controls the dollars. You are merely allowed limited controled use of "your" dollars.

Reality is what it is. Reality doesn't care if people don't care what it is, or have totally forgotten what it is.

*** end of example

"too hard to apply in detail."

Spread equal dollars amounts over an index of a *current bull market in place*. Right now, the HUI (Amex's Gold Bugs Index) will do (there are others) and you'll beat 95-99% of the "professionals" at the game of protecting your stored value from organized crime. In financial markets, do not diversify. Specialize, since the crowd is always wrong. The famous Quantum fund did not diversify. Otherwise, or more generally speaking, like Heinlein said, specialization is for insects.

A ten year chart of the HUI:
Still a lot more to go on the upside.
"Be right. Sit tight." - Jesse Livermore

Posted by: Bob at September 27, 2009 09:55 AM

I've got computer science and law degrees, and I agree that either or both are a good way to go. (In the U.S. at least law isn't an undergrad degree though -- you've got to do some other major as an undergrad -- anything that involves a lot of writing or logical thinking is fine).

I must strongly disagree with the typical anti-lawyer comments. Lawyers are the bedrock of Western civilization -- we would have little freedom or wealth without them. (Little freedom for reasons I hope are obvious; little wealth because with poor property rights we'd mostly be stealing from each other rather than making things, as in most previous eras of history). Learning law is very good and practicing is very good, for yourself and for society. And no, high school "civics class" does not at all constitute learning any sort of useful law -- quite the opposite -- people who've taken "civics class" rather than studied real law should not be allowed to vote, IMHO. For the same reason that people who've never studied civil engineering should not be designing bridges, and people who've never studied medicine should not be performing surgery. You should have talents for writing and logical thinking to be a lawyer, and you should like to argue (and even more important, you should be able to like people who argue with you -- a good social skill in any case, but especially important in law).

I agree with Clive that vocal training and acting are both very important for almost any profession, especially for those of you who need to improve your interpersonal skills -- which are professionally crucial (much more important to your prospects than which major you choose). As is physical fitness. As classes or hobbies, not as majors. Forget about psychology: like economics, social science, and the like it's largely wrong, and impractical even where it's right.

Don't overlook the mundane -- I took a touch-typing class in high school, and it's the only class I've ever taken that I use every single day.

The most important thing is to not pick "a good" profession but to pick the profession that is best for you. If you like science, become a doctor. If you like abstract math, become an engineer. If you like numbers but not abstract math, by all means become an accountant -- if you are a guy you can meet lots of women that way, which you cannot by becoming an engineer or computer scientist. If you like programming, by all means go for computer science -- or do a Bill Gates and go straight into programming after you've proven yourself by getting into a good school, which is more important than actually graduating from a good school, as long as you dropped out like Bill to do something productive rather than flunked out.

Anything that can be done over the Internet or by phone can be outsourced. The monetary premium is on face-to-face skills -- thus the value of the acting class and the like.

Posted by: nick at September 29, 2009 02:33 AM

I would point out that for an undergraduate degree, a solid liberal arts degree focused on logic, philosophy and communication is a definite asset. For communication I lean heavily toward foreign language skill and NLP.

The ability to think well in a rational and logical manner allows one to analyze data and generate useful information. If this is followed by the ability to communicate ideas and concepts to diverse groups, you have skills that apply to virtually any business or area of specialization... and that is the true bedrock of western civilization.

Once one has a reasonably trained mind, one needs experience... and the traditional trip to Europe for 6 months to a year following graduation from College often had a profound effect on the American youth of that age. It "broadened their horizon" and showed them that there was a whole world out there.

Is there any college in the US that still requires at least passable competence in a foreign language as a general requirement for graduation? Back up 75 years and you'll see that practically all of them did. Yet, today in our globalized world where international communication is now critical, Americans are known as the people who only speak one language.

The longer I live the more I am convinced that the liberal arts degree of the late 1800's to early 1900's was of far more value than the pseudo-education I see today. Technical specialization is great, for technicians, but what if the youth aspires to more than just being a technician? Most highly educated people I know are all technicians, even though they wrap themselves in "PROFESSIONAL" societies with their own claptrap and jargon. At the end of the day, an attorney, doctor, engineer or accountant is just a technician. They provide a service that is effectively a commodity, and (in theory, at least) anyone with the correct credentials should be able to do a competent job.


If one was trying to make decisions about one's children and provide them with valuable tools, my advice would be to ensure that the children have multiple citizenship's and are fluently multilingual. My children, for example, can live and work anywhere in the EU, North America or the Mercosur countries, by right, and between the various passports they have they can travel visa-free just about anywhere they want to go. They flash the appropriate passport and they're in. Once they're in, they have the language skills to communicate well.

Given that one has many years to plan this sort of thing, and given that some of these decisions will have an impact for many decades to come, I think the ability to move freely and communicate with diverse groups are the two critical tools that will provide the most return on investment over a lifetime.

Posted by: Nobody Special at October 3, 2009 07:51 AM

Rich Dad Poor Dad is a book worth reading. Rich Dad didn't go to college. Poor Dad went to college. How much money does it take to get a college degree? 100,000 USD or more? If you invested that wisely, and lived frugally in some poor country, you could live on the proceeds and never work at all. Supposing you had 100,000 USD, invested it and also worked at a low paying job for four years, saving from your wages. At the end of that four years, you'd have doubled your money assuming good investments. The scholar just graduated with a bachelors degree and has nothing. Now the scholar goes on and gets a Masters and a PHD while the guy working at a low paying job continues to save and manage his investments. At the end of 10 years, the guy working at a low paying job retires to manage his investments about the same time as the guy with a PHD graduates and starts working as a slave for some big company. So, rather than putting a young guy on the path of slavery to big corporations, I'd put him on the road to freedom by teaching him how to save and invest. If he knows how to do that, it won't matter what kind of low paying job he starts out with, he'll have financial freedom sooner than the college guy.

Posted by: Vincent at October 4, 2009 01:44 AM

Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) is a gold pumper, a scammer, a fake.
Gold & silver as long-term investments and stores of value is a stupid idea. Metals are to be traded.
Stocks in decent companies are better since they provide goods & services, plus they pay dividends, metals just gather dust.
As for a job, whatever you can get. If you have a hobby you enjoy try to find a way to make money from it, otherwise just do dirty job other people don't want to - such as unblocking sewers.

Posted by: GOD at February 16, 2014 12:32 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Hit preview to see your comment as it would be displayed.