Mises and Nozick in so many words

From a commenter named "Herkimer" in that same MR thread about liberal arts education:

Early in this thread it was suggested that study of physics and/or math should be preferred to liberal arts.

In fact, our studies often later define our politics. The typical liberal generally majors in liberal arts, and after graduating with his/her degree in art history, or American literature, or gender studies, etc. heads out to find one of those high paying jobs. He/she goes to a major employer, who views the resume and asks, "How much can you lift? We have a couple of openings in the shipping department.."

"Huh?", says the liberal.

"Well, your diploma only tells me you know how to listen, read, memorize and regurgitate stuff on exams. I don't see any real world work skills here other than those held by a reasonably competent high school graduate.."

But you hired my room mate Bob, yesterday starting at $85,000 a year!"

"Your roommate has a degree in electrical engineering, and we need him to help design the next generation of widgets for our company. Your education has only given you facts from the past, and you can be replaced with a nice big coffee table book, the Golden Treasury of Art History."

Discouraged, the liberal goes on to finally get a job with the Foundation to Save the Gay Unborn Whales at $15 an hour, and ever after hates the "large multinational corporations" who start engineers at $85K a year but simply use the internet when they want to know something about art history or American literature.

The common denominator among liberals is that an overwhelming number of them derive their daily bread either by public charity or government ( tax ) support in some fashion. That's the world of "education" and the general non-profit community at large.

Disclaimer:  I am a fan of the engineering-arts education.

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The other side of the coin

The other side of the coin is that engineering type education can make one prone to social engineering and constructivism. It is particulary true in France for example, where market solutions are generally deemed "simplistic" and should be replaced by efficient, scientific planning. This is described very well by Hayek in "The counter-revolution of science", where he points at the École Polytechnique (a scientific / engineering school) as the source of French scientism and constructivism.

That may be true...

...but in my experience, engineers are more libertarian relative to people in other fields, even if on an absolute scale, they support big govt like everyone else.

But I take issue with your underlying point: that "logical" thinking is prone to statism. It might in certain cases, but IMO, it's more likely to lead to libertarian views than other types of thinking. After all, economics is a a study of efficiency, and public choice is the scientific study of political systems. I'd rather talk politics with someone good at critical thinking than someone who 'feels' his way through life.

A just so story

This is a generalization and a just so story (an origin myth). I'm sure that it accounts for some liberalism, but it does not explain, at least not without some additional details, the notorious liberalism of Hollywood, for example. I wouldn't reject it as one kind of origin in a taxonomy of liberal origins. MIT, a school that focuses on science and engineering, is quite liberal as I recall. Possibly not as liberal as liberal arts schools, but more liberal than the average American, I would say.

The Hollywood Left

My hypothesis for the dominance of left-wing ideology in Hollywood is that the left-wing model of the economy as a winner-take-all game of chance is actually a pretty good model of the way things work there. As far as I know, there are few if any actors making decent middle-class salaries. You're either rich, or you're waiting tables to make ends meet while you wait for your big break. And the difference is largely a matter of luck*.

Whereas in the rest of the country, most of us are in the middle class. Sure, luck still plays a role in dividing the upper-middle class from the very wealthy, but hard work, thrift, and knowing a marketable skill will take you a lot further here than they will in Hollywood.

*Or perhaps this is pure leftist propaganda, and as bad a model of Hollywood as it is of the rest of the country.

Only to the middle class

That's only what happens to middle-class liberal arts graduates.

The parents of upper-class liberal arts graduates have their parents set them up with good jobs. Or they just don't care because they are living off a trust fund, or plan to marry a rich husband.

Engineering majors -- yes, they are needed to do real work, but real work means making that $85,000 for the rest of your life (maybe a rise to low six figures, then unemployment once they become too old to learn new skills). More and more engineering work is being outsourced to Asia where people are just as smart (Asian countries always kick U.S. ass in international assessments of children's math and science skills) but work for a lot less money.

Engineering majors -- yes,

Engineering majors -- yes, they are needed to do real work, but real
work means making that $85,000 for the rest of your life (maybe a rise
to low six figures, then unemployment once they become too old to learn
new skills).

Every single recent (last 5 years) graduate in Electrical Engineering or Computer Engineering (such as my brother) I know is making or is on track to make at least $100K by the time they're 30 years old. I don't know any old umemployed engineers. The ones I know either move up into management or keep "dead end" engineering jobs (which keep their salaries >$100K) because they're not cut out for management for whatever reason.

Either way, engineering provides probably the most reasonable opportunity for a lower class individual to achieve the American dream. There were plenty of people I knew at VT that couldn't get in initially for whatever reason, went to community college for 2 years, and if they got > a certain GPA, automatically got into VT engineering, got their degrees, and are now making >$100K.

More and more engineering work is being outsourced to Asia
where people are just as smart (Asian countries always kick U.S. ass in
international assessments of children's math and science skills) but
work for a lot less money.

More and more engineering work has always been "being" outsourced. It's nothing new. There's a constant commoditization of all technology. It doesn't mean that American technology dies. On the contrary, it means that we move higher in the technology chain by letting others do stuff that's easier. There will always be opportunities for engineers in a free economy.

$85k

Anywhere outside of Manhattan, $85k a year right out of college is pretty good. And if you don't have any dependents, it should allow you to save upwards of a quarter of a million dollars by the time you're thirty. Kyle Markley, an engineer at Intel, claims to have hit the half-million mark this year, and I see no reason to doubt him. I believe he's still under thirty, but I'm not sure. With that kind of money, you can give yourself raises.

At your age, and in your location, and with your extended educational history, I can definitely see where you're coming from. But if you're young, thrifty, willing to live outside of Manhattan, and not too keen on putting in the long hours necessary to make it in law, finance, or medicine, I don't know of anything that beats engineering.

Heck, on an hourly after-tax basis, adjusted for the fact that you can start working three years earlier, engineering may even pay better than law, unless you can make partner at a top firm.

Partisanship

In the US, you're a conservative or a liberal, a Democrat or a Republican. Sure, there are other possibilities, and libertarianism represents one possibility, but for the most part people with their various issues coalesce into coalitions. I won't go into the reasons for this, though there are reasons, it's not just a coincidence. The politics of liberals and of conservatives are heterogeneous and contradictory. They are not really coherent, even though liberals and conservatives tend to think they are. The coalitions are a product of historical accident.

Suppose, then, that you find yourself drawn to liberals/repelled by conservatives, or vice versa, for some reason or other. It's not necessarily economic. But once you're drawn into one coalition or another, you will tend to adopt its platform across the board. And so, even if you didn't start out with economic views, you adopt them. Not because there is any direct link between your personal history and left wing or right wing economics, but because you became a liberal or conservative (for some other reason), and then you adopted the corresponding economic positions.

Don't forget that degrees

Don't forget that degrees don't just advertise marketable skills to potential employers, they also advertise the capacity to understand and memorize in a structured way many complex or rich subjects and domains of information. And in some cases it also tells the candidate can successfully teach himself, which is invaluable.
(disclosure: I got an engineer degree in telecoms and networking)

"Well, your diploma only

"Well, your diploma only tells me you know how to listen, read, memorize and regurgitate stuff on exams. I don't see any real world work skills here other than those held by a reasonably competent high school graduate.."

I'm not sure how to feel about this. I'm a liberal-artsy major at an engineering school, and I've been on both sides of the fence. I'll fully admit that an undergraduate degree in engineering (and perhaps math and the hard sciences) is more valuable on the job market than everything else - including economics and philosophy, by the way. That factor might explain some of the ideological bias, but it doesn't explain all of it. I'd guess that the average American economics undergraduate major is significantly less "liberal" (left-wing anti-market statist as Herkimer defines the term) than the average engineer. And the reason this is so is not because economics is more hard-sciency than engineering, but because of the inherent nature of the discipline (its focus is on markets so it's no wonder econ majors are less knee-jerk anti-market than others) as well as the historical political leanings of the economics professorate (which, in this case, I would argue, is due to the nature of the subject matter). Majoring in art history, American literature, or gender studies is bound to be worth less on the job market than majoring in engineering, but this alone is only part of the explanation for ideological bias. The other part is the critical mass of current academics who hold left-wing anti-market statist views, and impart these views to each successive generation of students. But I see no reason to think this bias is inherent in these subjects. Just because I understand economics doesn't mean I want to devote my life to profit maximization. I would sooner kill myself than major in engineering.

Now, I've turned the issue here over to explaining ideological bias, because that's what disturbed me most about the above post. But the actual issue - that of the "value" of a liberal arts education vs. an engineering/hard science degree is also problematic, because the value of an education isn't solely determined by undergraduate degrees alone. If it was, we would see law schools recruiting predominantly engineering/hard sciences majors. While it's true that--immediately out of college--an undergraduate degree in engineering is more valuable than any other, it's not necessarily true once you include graduate school.

I'd rather talk politics with someone good at critical thinking than someone who 'feels' his way through life.

Really? Then you haven't talked politics with enough Randroids yet. Do so, and you'll be begging for a talking partner with a little more "heart". :)