[I]t’s very frustrating that Kurtzleben, and essentially our entire elite policy media, doesn’t go a step further: trying to predict what particular set of discrete and limited skills will be useful in the future is a mug’s game. It’s a fundamentally risky way for an individual to behave, and for policy decisions that are supposed to be based on the most good for the most people, it’s incoherent strategy.
Jobs in petrochemical engineering have been exploding, because of a largely-unpredictable boom in American fossil fuel reserves. Becoming a contracting engineer for a construction firm was a great idea in 1999, but by 2005, was a very risky proposition. Going to law school was the epitome of mercenary self-interest until, suddenly, it was the epitome of laughable, deluded foolishness. Teaching kids how to code Python now, when they’ll be hitting the job market 20 years from now, is ludicrous, especially in a world where there’s every reason to think that tech firms will continue to have very low employee to market cap ratios and where computers might take over the bulk of coding. Individuals can navigate the markets, if they’re smart, privileged, and lucky. But great masses of people never can. If you’re telling me that you know what every freshman should start studying in 2014 so that s/he can get a good job in 2019, I think you’re full of it.