That “old technocratic central planning impulse” is alive and well in Oregon

CascadeNewLogoBy Steve Buckstein

One of the most memorable and talked about lines from the November 10th Republican presidential debate came from Senator Marco Rubio, who said, “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

The fact-checkers quickly came up with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to counter his earnings claim; but the larger question might be whether the president, or any level of government in America, should use the power of the state, and taxpayer money, to choose one career path over any other for students in a free society.

In Oregon you can find lots of politicians who are sure that our state education system needs to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM for short. Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian wants to return shop classes to high schools. In 2013 the Legislature created the Oregon STEM Investment Council (under John Kitzhaber’s Oregon Education Investment Council, which no longer exists).

To encourage certain students to pursue technical or vocational careers is one thing. But pretending that the state knows what is best for all students and that it should set goals for college participation (such as Oregon’s 40-40-20 goal) and STEM education is another. As former Reason magazine editor and author Virginia Postrel noted a few years ago,

“The argument that public policy should herd students into Stem fields is as wrong-headed as the notion that industrial policy should drive investment into manufacturing or ‘green’ industries. It’s just the old technocratic central planning impulse in a new guise. It misses the complexity and diversity of occupations in a modern economy, forgets the dispersed knowledge of aptitudes, preferences and job requirements that makes labor markets work, and ignores the profound uncertainty about what skills will be valuable not just next year but decades in the future.”

Those in and around Oregon government and educational arenas seem to always be concerned about attracting good manufacturing and “green” jobs to the state. But, as Postrel says, much of this talk is “just the old technocratic central planning impulse in a new guise.”

So, for sure, let students with an aptitude and interest in technical and vocational careers know about the opportunities and earning potential they offer, but don’t ask the state to pick winners and losers between STEM and other educational pursuits. And don’t let the state tell us how many students need to complete four-year degrees, versus two-year degrees, versus simply graduating from high school. Those are decisions best left up to students and their parents.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

  • Dem, there they blow again

    Dem centrist invocation @ Mahonia Hall: “We shall overcome ewes in the RINO party!”

  • thevillageidiot

    Since I live here. everything in Oregon government is geared toward central control and planning. Schools are just the most obvious. the oregon health plan (not to mention obummercare) is entirely government control and planning. Land use is entirely government control and planning. the winners are the developers who know the politicians at all levels. the losers are the property owners. (and by property owner I mean those who make mortgage payments in the delusion that they actually own the property. try doing something on you property without the permission of the city county or state.) the lottery is government central planning. the gambling business is government central planning. Kitz actually believed his “promise” to not allow private gambling off reservation was his job to protect the gambling businesses on the reservations. Climate change legislation is government control and planning. the government knows best on how to control climate change. this sounds like the king who could not control the tides on command. The current issues over irrigation in the Klamath basin government control and planning. the current issues with the timer industry and how best to utilize forest lands is government control and planning. all of these seem to be working really well. if you are a beneficiary of the governments favor.

  • Bob Clark

    Local government can’t even do a basic function like keeping the streets repaired (posit the City of Portland which has raided transportation monies time and time again to fund art projects, light rail for another city, convention center hotel, etc). Government intelligence is mostly an oxymoron. It can’t possibly keep up with the millions of transactions and individual experiments every day people collectively arrive at. The collective wisdom of free minds and free people is a beast of prosperity, and also tribulation, that can’t be replicated.

    Socialism is like a time out for people which wears down with lack of innovation and eventually wealth implosion. The young don’t understand this law of social physics and some of the old don’t care as it’s beyond there life time; and then there are those living hand to mouth dependent on the last dregs of government support.

    For some like myself, I want free minds and free markets, for better or worse. For others, the appeal of the initial structure of socialism clouds their vision.

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