Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fisksätra School Fire Aftermath

This morning on my way to Kindergarten, I made a detour for the old Lännbo school on the hill. My daughter wondered why we didn't take the usual route, and as we approached she said, enthusiastically, "I smell a hotdog barbecue!". The place wasn't a pretty sight.

What really gets me about this is that according to the news, there have been repeated attempts by teens to burn the place down. Police and fire department were there and put out a small fire only 48 hours before the entire place went up in smoke. Someone has determinedly returned with arsonist's gear day after day until they got a real blaze going.

Why wasn't the place under guard? I guess because nobody took the threat seriously enough. The school was slated for demolition anyway, and nobody lived or worked there. But the cost of guarding it would have been far less than what we'll all have to pay for the 45 people who came on site with fire engines to put out the fire last night. And what we'll have to pay for the criminal investigation.

Having been a non-troubled teen myself, I have never understood troubled ones. "You fucking morons", is all I can say. Impatience and contempt is what I feel. "You useless bastards". And I guess that's really the problem. They really are useless to a society where you need years of training to gain the skills necessary for most of the few jobs that are available. Nobody has any use for a 17-year-old who doesn't want to go to high school. A few centuries ago they would have been apprenticed to learn a trade since they were twelve. I guess now they simply smoke weed, watch DVDs, burn down their old school and kick the shit out of random people in the street.

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Blogger Hans Persson said...

I can agree to much of the last bit, but I really do wonder whether the crime rate was lower then. There were definitely more places to put people with no training whatsoever and still have some use of them. Today the options are a bit limited. Even the McDonalds counter requires at least some basic people skills.

From where we are now, what's the solution to this mess we've gotten ourselves in? I really have no clue, but I think it would be good if we admitted that not everyone needs to have a university degree and don't try to force everyone into having that. We still need mowers, movers, cleaners, etc, and there's no need for an MA to do that.

Let people who don't want to go to high school do something like that for a while. Most of them will probably realize that they don't want to keep on doing that for the rest of their lives and study for something more challenging later, but hopefully they are then a bit more motivated.

27 September, 2006 12:49  
Blogger Martin said...

I agree. But the reason that there are so few no-skills jobs in the West these days is that we insist (quite rightly, in my opinion) on a high standard of living for everyone, that is, a high minimum wage. This has lead to the disappearance of no-skills jobs. Everyone has a high standard of living, but the unskilled people are paid social security instead of salaries. There's no use for them. And their kids run wild.

Parenthetically, a hobbyhorse of mine: not only doesn't everyone need to have a university degree -- many who do get such degrees find them to be completely useless.

I suggest we keep the universities and study loans open to anyone with the necessary brains, but that we limit severely the options of what people will be allowed to study, on the basis of labour market demand. Archaeology courses after the second term, for instance, should be limited to about 20 people a year in Sweden.

"Welcome to university. The entry tests show that you would make a good engineer or maths teacher. However, we don't need more maths teachers. So we can offer you to study engineering. Period."

27 September, 2006 13:04  
Anonymous Magnus said...

Why go as far as a few centuries back? When my parents were teenagers, which is barely half a century ago, high school certainly wasn't needed to make a decent living. University studies was for those seeking high education. Today, only decades later, you can hardly go anywhere without a university degree -- which is of course also the reason that university degrees are becoming increasingly useless as a merit.

I think you are right, Martin, in your reply to Hans, that the high minimum wage policy has almost weeded out uskilled labor. Unfortunately, you are also right in your observations about the consequences: Many people are now on subsidies instead, which is arguably worse. This is because the basic effect of minimum-wage laws is to create unemployment.

The philosphy behind high minimum-wage requirements is nice, but the consequences of implementing them are very often not.

Oh, by the way: While I agree that we need to cut down the number of students accepted to university studies (in certain disciplines especially), trying to fit the number to some idea about "what the labor market currently needs" probably isn't a very good idea. Planned economy has been tried and failed.

28 September, 2006 18:35  
Blogger Martin said...

Magnus, you're glossing over the fact that people on welfare in Sweden have a significantly higher standard of living than they would if there were neither welfare nor a minimum wage that kept them out of the menial jobs.

Unregulated market forces aren't doing so good either in the education sector. The main problem is that the people whose demand drive the system (19-year-olds) have very little knowledge of what sort of skills they will want and need ten years down the line. And so we end up with a lot of 30-year-old academics with useless specialisations.

The education system's supply needs feedback from the labour market's demand. It currently has none. Instead it is driven by the demand of students who know nothing.

28 September, 2006 20:09  
Anonymous Magnus said...

Actually, Martin, I'm not glossing over anything. I'm giving the other side of the story, so to say. I'm not saying that a no-rules labor market would be all that much better in terms of living standards. That doesn't change the fact that high minimum-wage requirements lead to unemployment. There's a balance to be found here.

On the point about student numbers at the universities, you're using a false dichotomy. I agree with you that there needs to be feed back from the labor market, but I also believe there must be som free space for people to move in. It simply isn't possible to dictate that we need exactly 548 electrical-engineering majors five years from now.

03 October, 2006 11:52  
Blogger Martin said...

I think we can agree that some labour market feedback would be in order, even though it couldn't be used to specify exactly 548 of those engineers. What I'm saying is that we should educate e.g. closer to 20 archaeologists every year, not 500 as we have done for a long time.

03 October, 2006 13:21  

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