What professions are oversaturated?

Chad writes me:

What jobs (particularly ones we think of as being inherently beneficial to society) might America have too many of? Political journalism comes to mind this particular month, since we apparently have enough to carefully monitor the Chipotle orders of presidential candidates 19 months before the election. Writers might be another, particularly in a world of self-publishing.

One can imagine lots of reasons for a greater-than-optimal number of people in a particular profession, from government subsidies to cultural biases, but I’m curious if you have a gut feeling about any professions in particular.

A good question, in my view the answer is not so simple.  Writers and artists are indeed a possible nomination, but some of the demand for these professions is likely for consumption, which makes the overinvestment difficult to judge.  And what about lawyers?  Relative to the number of laws and regulations (too many in my view, but take them as given), it is not obvious to me that we have too many lawyers.  Someone has to tell companies when it is safe to proceed, or not.

How about too many people selling medical devices and other high margin items?  Too many people making alcohol?  Too many people raising and selling animal meat?  Those would be my picks.

The finance sector is another obvious culprit, but as a fraction of wealth I do not think it is larger than in the past.  Admittedly people in the finance sector may be engaging in the wrong activities, but I am not sure the case for fewer employees per se is so obvious.  Still, it is another candidate, if only because it (often) involves people selling high-margin items.


I love that you gave these answers. I would have said the obvious one, writers, and I am one! People making booze is definitely one.

Given all the taxes and licensing and regulatory restrictions on alcohol, wouldn't we expect that there are too few people making booze? Taxes and restrictions shift the supply curve to the left. What is pushing the supply curve to the right?

Interstate constraints on trade between states (i.e. wine) make oligopoly harder to form even where large scale production is more efficient and higher quality. Local wineries become subsidized especially given the strange subsidies to small farming and agriculture in addition to the protection afforded by these regulations.

I'm guessing he's not talking about the right market-clearing number but is instead referencing the externalities caused by alcohol consumption.

I'd agree with Tyler, reading it this way: there are a lot of really mediocre microbreweries out there charging premium prices to people who a)just like trying new things or b)just don't know any better. That can't last and once the novelty wears off, many of these places will go under.

Why not? Just keep changing the name. There is no great stagnation.

Can we confirm that we are talking about "Too many jobs" as opposed to "Too many qualified people"?

If it's too many qualified people, than Corporate Law is definitely one. Perhaps Education too.

Even without the qualifier, we may be trending towards a world where less faculty are needed. The superstar researchers will get more funding, and the superstar teachers will be amplified with technology.

In the US we have too many cops. See your link about guns and alcohol. :-)

Too many bomb-makers? Though perhaps there's an inverse relationship with them and soldiers.

My hunch is we have too many soldiers, but I'm not sure the world is a better place with a US army of 0.

We have too many prison guards, from having too many prisoners. (Yes, keep the violent off the streets, but there's a lot of others in the prison-industrial complex)

(Yes, keep the violent off the streets, but there’s a lot of others in the prison-industrial complex)

Rubbish. North of 60% of those convicted in this country already receive probation, fines, and/or community service and even among those who go to state prisons (and not county jails), the mean sentence served is about 30 months.

The crime rate has gone down, down down as the number of prisoners has gone up.

I am satisfied with the trade.

In 1990 there were over 2,000 murders in New York City. Last year there were under 400.

Since the year 2000 alone, the robbery rate in New York has fallen by over 50% and the number of rapes has fallen by 35%.

Hard to say that the police aren't doing *something* right.


We need fewer lecturers and more tutors in the academy.

"My hunch is we have too many soldiers, but I’m not sure the world is a better place with a US army of 0.

You know there is a middle ground. We could account for only 25% of the worlds military spending instead of 50%, and still be leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else. In fact at that level of funding we'd still be spending more then double what the #2 spender [China] does to fund it's military.

Why not quit doing this bass-ackward and formulate what you want the military to do?

Is not the number of soldiers that drives military spending. Its the weapons like jets and ships and missiles. We likely have to few soldiers on active duty.

We have commitments to allies all over the world. We need to keep the sea lanes open. That costs money.

By the way, how do you know how much the Chinese or Russians spend? Because they say so?

It's not the weapons, though that's what gets all the headlines.

Personnel costs and training costs. Operations and maintenance expenses. We can have armed forces going to the field, going to sea and flying holes in the sky. Or we can have armed forces standing formation and painting rocks. Option 2 makes you Belgium. Option 1 gives you the ability to project power and influence. I'm open to the idea that we spend too much and we spend it incorrectly. Using WWII as a yardstick, we have enough generals and admirals for a force of 50 million.
You can't be a world power on the cheap. The Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese are not worried about China because they mass produce cheap consumer goods.

I am sorry but since when does education have too many qualified people? When it comes to complex subjects and ideas most teachers are incapable of thinking for themselves.

That depends upon what kind of qualified he's talking about. Credentialed, or actual knowledge? If he means something like "holds a masters in Education degree", then I'd have to agree with him. If he means, "understands their subject well enough to teach it effectively", then I'd agree with you.

You're all just naming the professions that other people appreciate more than you do, or that people want to do even when no one's willing to pay them to do it. At heart Tyler seems to be an fashioned moralist (less boozing!) and a newfangled animal rights proponent and/or environmentalist (meat is murder and all those cow farts are killing the coral!).

I happen to agree on the last of those - too many cows are bad for the coral - but I'm surprised that this is what a mostly libertarian forum leads off with.

"Inherently beneficial to society"? The problem here is an oversupply of badly formed questions.

The real question is, who is to decide what is "inherently beneficial," and how would one ever obtain a definitive answer without having an All-High Commissar of Inherent Benefit as referee?

But before appointing one (or are they self-appointing?) there would need to be agreement on how "inherent benefit" is determined. Are we talking Utilitarian "greatest good to the greatest number," or perhaps something along the lines of "most beneficial to the least privileged"?

Is it not obvious that these are political questions, and are decided through political means?

Jesus Christ Tyler,
First wanting to get to the left of Chait, now this? Not sure why you want to status-whore for the left so badly, but I, for one, am done with you.

Yup, everyone knows that the way to the left's heart is to say that there are too many regulations, too much alcohol producers and that maybe there are not too many people in finance.

That's basically Elizabeth Warren's platform, right?

Advertising: It's not zero-sum but some portion is organizations fighting to redirect purchase decisions. It seems like a free market would oversaturate at equilibrium.

Military: Same reasoning as advertising except with nation-states competing instead of organizations.

Corporate Law: Similar reasoning as advertising and military, though this may be misguided as they also have a productive role of creating seamless agreements.

Teaching: I suspect we could do better with fewer teachers of higher quality, though perhaps better yet would be a similar total volume but shifting some teachers towards more tutors or teaching assistants.

Finance: It seems natural that people directing the investment of capital would prove more efficient and capturing a disproportionate portion of the wealth. It may be another sector where free markets naturally oversaturate.

Running Farms: We probably have the proper number of people farming but independent farmers suggests a lot of inefficient replication of management skills. Then again farm convergence is already happening naturally and a handful super-farms controlling the food supply is probably a bad outcome.

"Advertising: It’s not zero-sum but some portion is organizations fighting to redirect purchase decisions. It seems like a free market would oversaturate at equilibrium.

Military: Same reasoning as advertising except with nation-states competing instead of organizations.

Corporate Law: Similar reasoning as advertising and military, though this may be misguided as they also have a productive role of creating seamless agreements."

Perhaps all professions related to sales, by the same reason.


I think that, if we take seriously the Efficient Market Hyphotesis, will be an oversupply of people in Finance - the prices are already the correct prices, according to the avaliable information; the effect to the economy of having more and better people working in finance will be minimal, like discovering a good investiment oportunity one minute earlier (although almost irrelevant for the economy as a whole, being the first to discover this oportunity could be a big bonus to the individual corporation, making it a case identical to advertising, military and sales)

The Efficient Market Hypothesis is a good point. It seems like the major benefit of Finance is in getting closer to the EMH. The question is how big does the Finance sector need to be before the additional costs outweigh the benefits. The second question is how much of their profits are tied to the EMH and how much due to expertise at working the financial system.

Teaching:"shifting some teachers towards more tutors or teaching assistants."

How about every classroom get a bouncer?

Professional sports along the same competition reasoning.

The best athletes capture an overwhelming fraction of the benefits so there's a huge motivation to increase investment to capture the benefits. But it's not at all clear that these superior athletes actually improve the quality of the end product (entertainment, inspiration, etc). Major league sports were still major media events in the days of middle class salaries.

Again this is a place where free markets would naturally oversaturate.

We can't need anymore personal trainers. They just take up space at the gym.

Given America's obesity rate and the resulting health care costs, I think we could use *more* personal trainers. We need to motivate people to get off the sofa and hit the treadmill. No?

Creating extra supply does not create extra demand.

Too many economics professors?

+1 for the economics professors. They just take away money from other economics professors which they could spend on cheap postdocs. By the way, we have too few economics postdocs too.

WaPo just reported there are over 200,000 PR professionals vs. under 50,000 reporters. If I had guessed, I would have been off by about 10x. People just really like to see their name in print.

The line between the two is often quite blurry.

"What jobs (particularly ones we think of as being inherently beneficial to society) might America have too many of?"

Sounds like the author of this piece and Tyler know a lot more than the market as to "what is inherently beneficial to society". And, what does it mean for a profession to be "oversaturated"?

Here's a incomplete list, arguably of both trades and professions, of the lowest and highest unemployment rates (based on a BLS survey with lower than ideal sample sizes):


I suppose one might account somewhat for the business and industry-specific cycles; but, the rate of unemployment would be my first criterion.

Ha! Too many actors and survey researchers, and not enough animal breeders!

My choice: epidemiologists.

Mainstream economists.

Way 2 many libertarian trollls...

College professors who teach things that end in "studies" - worse than useless. Too many social workers. Anybody who "raises awareness" for a living. The HR ladies are out of control at this point.

Its really college administrators that are over supplied.

Flocks of vice presidents and director of this or that.

Haw- take a look at the number of hospital administrators

I agree entirely. All the way from the prez down to the dean's office every assistant has an assistant. There is just no way this is improving anything in the college, whether we want to talk about the financial bottom line, the graduation rate, educational quality. University bureaucrats are a great answer.

Tyler's list is just a morally based one, which is OK if that's your particular morality. Of course since morality is not absolute, it is a system of preferences, then everyone would have a different list. Perhaps a more rational way of looking at this would be to first take professions which have to be subsidized by Government, unless we can point to some kind of positive externality, these are be definition oversupplied. A good example is most University research. The vast majority of humanities papers are never cited - http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2014/04/how-few-papers-ever-get-cited-its-bad-but-not-that-bad/. Probably most of the non-cited papers are read by only 3 or 4 people. To produce a paper which has absolutely no impact surely is the epitome of useless work.

Chris, please define absolute, system, rational, and morality. Show your work. When you're finished, you may resume blog commenting.

bjk - you may find the definitions of these words in most dictionaries. Please let me know if you have any further questions.

"One can imagine lots of reasons for a greater-than-optimal number of people in a particular profession, from government subsidies to cultural biases,"

"Cultural bias" is simply a diferent way of saying "individual tastes" - if we accept the principle that utility is subjective, does not make much sense to talk about oversaturation of a profession by "cultural bias"

Community Leaders. I dont know how one becomes a "Community Leader", or what one even is exactly, but if ever mentioned in a story the Community Leader invariably plays the roll of biggest idiot or biggest liar.

What's interesting about the political journalist example is that journalism a classic case of a public good, which will be under-supplied by the market. Instead we observe an oversupply.

(Perhaps we observe both at the same time as too many journalists cover the Chipotle orders of presidential candidates and too few cover the misdeeds of local government)

Perhaps is like finance - an activity where are strong advantages in being the first (the first investment bank to discover a good oportunity of investment, the first newspaper to publish a story); for the economy as a whole is almost irrelevant is the oportunity of investment is discovered/the story is reported at 11:34 or at 11:35, but for each individual bank/newspaper makes a big diference, meaning that each bank/newspaper has an interest in having more and/ore better professionals, even if these aditional professionals are almost useless to the economy as a whole.

Government employees for sure, at every level, ie. bureaucrats. Extinction of the entire US Dept. of Agriculture, Commerce Dept., Dept. of the Interior and Dept. of Education would be a start at the federal level but there's many more functionaries at state and county that should be made redundant as well. The bureaucratic disease has also taken over the public educational system, as parents paying tuition and taxes have discovered. Of course bureaucratic activity means that people must be hired to respond to that activity, a kind of mirror bureaucracy that applies for permits, files compliance forms, submits proposals, etc. There's an extensive overlap with the legal drones there.

Not in general, but I will say there are too many TSA agents and "security bureaucrats". DC is full of people "with clearance" who basically do nothing but pull government contractor salaries.

The problem is that they can always claim they stopped a "terrorist attack" -> more funding.

DC is not 'full' of such people. Public employment and the knock-on effects of it may account for about 1/3 of the local labor force in the metropolitan region.

That is splitting hairs, but ok. The military-homeland security-contractor sector in particular still seems quite bloated.

They tell me the DC economy has diversified quite a bit in recent years, but it still feels very much like a government and contractor town.

That is splitting hairs, but ok.

It tells me something that it's 'splitting hairs' to you to be off by a factor of 3.

The military-homeland security-contractor sector in particular still seems quite bloated.

You haven't measured it, so the statement merely reflects your hostility to people you cannot emulate.

You're a fool if you think I literally meant everyone in DC. How can "full of" even be off by a factor of three if it's not even anything approximating an exact number?

Yes, fire everyone, that's a good solution. very smart chuck.

Extinction of the entire US Dept. of Agriculture, Commerce Dept., Dept. of the Interior and Dept. of Education

Uh, no.

1. Re the Department of Education, the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the statistical collection could be moved to the Labor Department and the rest nuked.

2. The Commerce department is a hodgepodge of benign agencies. with a leaven of law enforcement. There are some small pockets of corporate welfare you could power wash out, but most of what the department does consists of preparations for trade negotiations, export control, statistical collection, and research regarding the oceans and atmospheres, weights and measures, &c.

3. The Interior department is the federal government's property steward. Unless your planning on selling off the rivers and coastline, some sort of agency will be necessary. A great mass of that property could be sold off and devolved and there is a mass of grant money distributed each year which could be eliminated, but you would not liquidate the whole department to get rid of the patronage and selling off the grazing land will take time.

4. Again, the Agriculture department is a property steward and maintains regulatory agencies (food safety), has programs to combat soil erosion, has programs to combat epizootics and epibotanics, and undertakes some in-house research. Your real problem there is unnecessary intervention in grocery markets (Food and Nutrution Service), patronage for agribusiness (Farm Service Administration and some of the work of the Foreign Agricultural Service), and patronage for the ag faculty (National Institute on Food and Agriculture). Over 90% of the budget is devoted these endeavors, but 90% of the department labor force certainly is not.

1. We can't survive without a National Assessment of Educational Progress, however that might affect someone's life?

2. There needs to be true free trade, not negotiations. Any activity designed to be beneficial for commerce can be done by business itself. Are the pound avoirdupois and gallon going to be changed in the near future?

3. About six hundred and thirty-six million acres of the US, mostly in the west, are owned by the federal government. Why?

4.Originally, the Dept. of Agriculture was formed to assist farmers, some of whom were illiterate or couldn't even speak English. During Lincoln's administration there were 16 employees in the department and most of the US population was involved in agriculture. Now farmers have unlimited access to information about crop production and are among the most sophisticated businessmen in the country. Two percent of the US population is currently in farming and ranching. There are over 106,000 employees in the Ag department now.

Most of the employees in Interior and Agriculture are glorified park rangers. The land that they own is owned by the federal government mostly because it is ill suited for development, much of it is too swampy, mountainous, or too barren for year round agriculture or building on. Somebody needs to manage the land, even at the minimal level that it receives, to prevent it from turning into de facto stateless areas as they were in the Old West, before those departments were created, when they were comparable to Afghanistan or Somolia today.

I round numbers, there are about 1,000,000 non-Post Office, non-military employees in the federal government, a decent share of which work in independent agencies. The vast majority of government employees are state and local (ca. 16,000,000), with public education (K-college) making up the lion's share of that number.

Fast food employee? Processes like taking an order and processing payments could be automatized long ago but still people is payed to do that. Uber app allows you to get a car and pay. No minimum salary employee is needed for it. How much more complicate is to order and pay fast food like that?

Never mind the fast food employees -- waiters are even more unnecessary. It's absurd to have somebody whose job it is to write down (or memorize) your order and shuttle it back to the kitchen and then do the reverse with your bill at the end of the meal. They often subtract rather than add value (How often do you sit and wait for someone to take your order or to bring the bill? And how often are there mistakes in the order or on the bill that have to be corrected?)

You may think it's absurd, but for some reason, sit down restaurants haven't disappeared.

Applebee's and the Olive Garden are losing, Chipotle and Panera are winning.

In that lower/middle price point the fast casual restaurant is crushing the sit down restaurant.

Panera Bread now lets me order directly from an iPad, interacting with a person only to pick up my order. There's no reason to think Applebee's won't eventually do the same thing.

The $15/hour minimum wage is going to change the game in some places.

Applebee’s and the Olive Garden are losing, Chipotle and Panera are winning.

Spoken like a true huckster.

Following Milton Friedman, the obvious candidates here would seem to be professions where people are hired directly or indirectly by those spending someone else's money [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RDMdc5r5z8], especially if they are spending it for the benefit of someone else.

Government employees as well as professions employed by government contractors and other suppliers would seem to be the classic example. Employees of high end restaurants (chefs, waitstaff, managers) might be a less obvious one. If their business comes primarily from business people on expense accounts, the restaurant may be very high quality, yet not fully justifying the cost. (By the way, I enjoy dining out, so mood affiliation would have prevented me from thinking of this example had I not just reviewed Friedman's video.)

Medical devices? Maybe. Health insurers spend their own money for someone else's benefit, so we might expect on that basis that there are too few medical devices being made and sold. On the other hand, perhaps the tax subsidy to health insurance itself more than offsets the insurers' incentives.

People raising and selling animal meat? Only if that meat is being sold in high end restaurants.

There are too many medical device reps for sure. They have a level of engagement with the physician--often even during clinical procedures--that is unnecessary and inappropriate.

Also, most insurers don't pay directly for medical devices. They typically pay for procedures, while physicians and hospitals choose the medical device and pay for it out of their revenue. Sometimes insurers allow an add-on payment for a particular set of devices, but usually that is just rolled into the procedure or hospital stay payment.

Yes, you're right. I had a brain freeze. Obviously, it depends on who makes the spending decision. When the doctors and hospitals make the decision and insurance just pays, then it's a case of spending someone else's money which, of course, is one of the reasons that medical costs are so high.

"(too many in my view, but take them as given)"

But why take that as a given. Obviously, the best answers to this question are going to be the upper-middle class make-work professions, such as umm... colllege professors.

My guess would be that north of 40% of the positions in arts-and-sciences faculties could be eliminated as students in BA programs are compelled to spend about 30% of their time fulfilling distribution requirements. There's already a reserve army of the unemployed among the issue of academic doctoral programs, so it would be advisable to cut the number of doctoral candidates in academics and the arts by 60% or 65%. One way to do this would be to have a global budget in annual admissions and have a multiple-price auction among research universities to purchase this fixed quantum of permits (and perhaps a secondary market for unused berths).

Other candidates for the flame-thrower would be occupational degree programs in teacher training, social work, and library administration. The first and the last could be replaced with certificate programs which feature brief runs of course work, internships and stipended apprenticeships. Social work could simply be dismantled as an independent profession with the territory parceled out between police officers with some supplementary training, clinical psychologists and counselors, nurses, and generic administrators; this would not reduce the demand for higher education, but it would require rebalancing.

Oh, and law schools. A lawyer I correspond with has said law schools are set up to train appellate judges, who constitute a tiny minority of lawyers. He suggests one year of coursework followed by an office apprenticeship. Law schools did not always require a BA for entry. If you just had some briefer certificate programs, you might be able to cut in half the number of years of formal schooling to enter the legal profession.

I fundamentally disagree with this post on so many levels. We need to be asking the inverse. I need to mail Rob J Hayes some money and honestly his product needs more work. The presence of so many self published authors is a clear indicator that demand grossly exceeds supply. Duh! This post offends me.

There's always a demand for quality no matter how saturated the field, whether it's political journalism or law or banking or teaching or medicine or even selling (medical devices to blue sky). But it's also true that the herd is drawn to fields such as banking and medicine for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: because that's where the money is. Unfortunately, the herd includes lots of vermin, which is why fields that are saturated may seem so unsavory - including my own profession. At the other extreme, consider engineering (in the world of atoms, not bits): I've been surprised at how little engineers are paid relative to their knowledge. While it's true that graduates of engineering colleges (e.g., Georgia Tech) enjoy an income that is near the top for college graduates (which is why Georgia Tech is always near the top of "best bargains" in education), it's because of the law of averages - they don't offer degrees in women's studies. If Mad Max is an accurate depiction of our future, I'm following the engineers not the bankers. I once represented a developer of industrial property, mostly in the Sunbelt but more than once I went with him to Michigan to see industrial properties, massive plants sitting idle, idle but not empty, for many contained millions of dollars of industrial machinery and an engineer whose only job was to keep the machinery oiled and running. The plants were like museums, only in this case the treasures inside were the industrial machines sitting there like works of art or ancient religious texts in a museum, the engineer the curator of ancient artifacts. It's a sight I will never forget and the reason Thiel's advice that we need to focus more on the world of atoms rather than on the world of bits resonates.

I'm surprised no one said acting. What was Peter Thiel's comment ? 20,000 people move to LA each year to become movie stars and ons only about twenty of them succeed? What a waste.

It's only a waste if they are qualified to do something else. Someone's gotta wait tables, right?

LA does have some of the most beautiful waitresses in the world. :)

Maybe. But they'll have more fun chasing that evasive dream than others will sticking around Moundville, KY.

Scientists. They go in it for the prestige but so few can find jobs in science. They seem to do OK in under-saturated professions like project management, supply chain, regulatory, etc. though if they're able to get into those.

Rubbish. The unemployment rate for those with STEM doctorates is in the low single digits.

I wonder if the concept of "STEM" really makes sense, or is simply an artificial collection of very different things.

In the case of employment it could be useful to know the unemployment (and subemployment) rate of scientists, engineers and mathematicians, instead of jumping all together under the label STEM

Agreed with this. The number of science and engineering graduates in North America exceeds the demand for their services.

To those who comment that STEM doctoral graduates have unemployment rates in the low single digits -- this is only partially relevant, as many STEM PhDs do not work as scientists.

Still, they're working. And not as Uber drivers, or at some other job everyone knows is plan B for the generically well-educated. I think that's his point.

Even among the ones who are nominally working as scientists and engineers, a lot of them are sitting in cube farms making powerpoint decks. The present American economy does not have the facilities or the funding to put them all to work actually designing and building stuff, making observations and conducting experiments, etc.

Fast food workers makes sense. In the Tullock tradition, I would definitely go with Lobbyists too.

I would look to professions that have low pay relative to the requirements to join the profession. Social workers? I know a couple of social workers who took on FAR too much school debt in order to be qualified for a job that pays less that fast food workers are asking for.

Wouldn't "high margins" in finance imply that there needs to be *more* people employed in finance until excess returns are competed away?

So is your original question "which professions hire too many people" or "which professions earn excess returns?" Excess returns would not seem to be the same as "over saturated."

I think the question is really about the social good per capita of each profession, rather than the level of employment.

If I had to choose two though, i would be graphic designers and social media technologists.

Dentists are too plentiful, and they're having trouble making a living. One old-school dentist of my acquaintance says he sees scandals in his practice when people come to him for a second opinion: the original dentist has recommended an elaborate series of procedures when only simple procedures or observation will do as well.

I think this is too bad. I like dentists much better than I do M.D.s and have only twice had a disagreeable experience with one. Doctors are quite generally a disappointment.

Trouble making a living? Every dentist I know is rich.

Yea, I see that too. Comfortably upper middle class if anything. And why would that be surprising? Even those Walgreen's pharmacists make over $30/hr (http://www.glassdoor.com/Hourly-Pay/Walgreens-Hourly-Pay-E716.htm), and I doubt they possess skills greater than a dentist.

If you really mean jobs then surely defense contractors and related is too many. If you mean professions that people are graduating into for which there are not nearly the number of jobs. I think Id say lawyers in the US, and school teachers in Canada are the two best examples. The glut of k-12 teachers in Canada, is astonishing. We may be getting close to the same in nursing here as well. New grads are having a harder and harder time finding work. This was not at all the case for nurses 5 years ago.

surely defense contractors and related is too many.

Surely? Why is that? There is the world we live in and there is paulbot fantasy.

The problem isn't there are too many political journalists, but that they are too concentrated in one area: presidential politics.

And they stink at their jobs.

Any low-paying job taken by people from wealthy backgrounds.

The job is being subsidized by the wealthy parents. Subsidies cause oversupply.

The number of people from genuinely wealthy families is modest (2-3% of the total) and the share being subsidized by their parents after age 25 is smaller still.

The subsidy is in the form of a very expensive education paid for by the parents that is not expected to perform economically for the parent or student.

I think you'd find very few wealthy people who send their children to college with the assumption that it will have no effect on their employment prospects.

The low hanging fruit for the discussion would be people whose employment is least sensitive to voluntary decisions on the open market. Public employees, lawyers, compliance apparatchiks, selected licensed professions (social workers), and (at one remove) college teachers.

That's the obvious truth. But Tyler is showing his true colors instead.

When I was younger I worked for two different federal agencies, once as a contractor and once as a fed (gs13). What i saw was that the federal government is massively over hired. Thousands and thousands of employees only have a few hours of work each day.

That was my experience as a generic public employee (at the state level). About 20% of the staff could have been cut with no service reductions.

Too many Pharmaceutical Reps. They are a huge net negative to society.


Is the actual class of culprits "writers" or "writers with MFA credentials"?
I credit myself as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction with something beyond mere dilettante status, since I was able to glean insights from editing and proofreading for a scholarly press for five years (philosophy, science, and religion titles, chiefly) and working in a professional editorial capacity (business and broadcasting) for a further seven years.
Therefore, I concede my status as a dedicated amateur since I write fiction and non-fiction without MFA credentials. I gladly disdain and decry MFA programs and MFA products (the writers and their works alike) for the respective roles played in "the academic captivity of American letters" that commenced in the second half of the 20th century and continues a decade and a half into this one. American literature across the board is being throttled by academic stodginess, cloying seriousness, and overwrought aestheticism: I know this because I attended a Famous University writers' conference just last August, the empaneled experts could not discern satire when they read it.
The chief experience MFA programs confer is experience of MFA programs: they offer no good substitute for life or the stuff of life actual living literature is still said to embody.

The finance sector is another obvious culprit, but as a fraction of wealth I do not think it is larger than in the past.

IIRC, value added attributable to the insurance sector has not changed much in the postwar period. That to real estate advanced steadily until hitting a plateau around about 1985. That of finance did likewise, but hit the plateau round 1998. IIRC, both real estate and finance account for a considerable multiple of what they did ca. 1947.

Regarding those who raise and sell animals.

Another commenter has pointed out that there is (and has been for many decades) a consolidation in ownership of land. In North Central Montana where I was raised on a 20,000 acre ranch, this consolidation was impressed upon me at an early age when I realized that all of the different pastures were named after the original homesteader. So much of that consolidation occurred because the Homesteading Act was horribly designed for the arid west.

As to whether there are too many people currently engaged in ranching, I don't know where that claim is coming from. It is true that ranchers and farmers use financing both for production and land purchases which are probably subsidized through federal programs that began under FDR. It is probably true that those choosing to ranch earn a relatively low rate of return on their investment. But that is their choice, which by revealed preferences says that they are compensated in other ways. The views towards the Missouri River Breaks and the many mountain ranges beyond from my brother's place impress upon me the cost of my choice to leave. On the other hand, during the two month calving season, I get to sleep through the night.

On the other side of the ledger, consider how difficult it is to enter this profession. First, in the west, it takes about 15 acres per cow-calf pair. Each cow lives maybe 8 to 10 years and produces 6 to 8 offspring, of which at least one must be retained for breeding. So call that $1000 per year in gross revenues per 15 acres. Add in that machinery such as a modern swather or bailer cost $100,000 or so, and you start to see that the margins are pretty thin. Of course, land used in ranching has other uses. Two of the largest ranches in the mountains are owned by scions of a brewery and of a rifle maker, neither who ranch as intensively as the family ranches. That raises the costs of entry. The only way that families can pass on land to their children is to give them sweetheart deals. A sudden death in a family can make this challenging.

Note that land use management requires intense local knowledge. In the thirty-five years since I left for university, the number of springs developed, the number of cross-fences added, and the changes in breeding and range management by my brothers and sisters who have continued to ranch have astounded me.

Those wanting to know more about the political economy of agriculture should read Bruce Gardner's 1987 JPE piece. And of course the cattle cycle paper by Murphy and Rosen in the 1994 JPE is another classic.

FIRE -- finance, insurance, real estate

The rent is too damn high.

+1 I can't believe it took this long for FIRE to be posted. Many white-collars jobs are worthless in that they just re-distribute wealth rather than creating it. Life insurance rep and financial advisors are collectively Exhibit A.

"Many white-collars jobs are worthless in that they just re-distribute wealth rather than creating it."

Yet somehow people are willing to pay these people salaries and willing to patronize the businesses which pay these people salaries.


At the bottom of a great deal of social criticism is the view that you are stupid meat and the critic is not.

Presumably the concept of economic rent was covered during the course of your extensive economics education.

He's not talking about the legal profession.

My nomination: teachers and doctors.

The scalability of these two professions has been held back, by a variety of forces.... and when it explodes it will both make the world a better place and put lots of them out of a job.

As for lawyers, it is interesting that there are more regulations of more complexity, all the while law schools are having trouble filling spaces and lawyers lack positions.

This is the first sign of a decline in the real influence of government. Power over populations are effective as long as it elicits voluntary compliance and there are adequate resources to make the rest fall in line. The US has already seen situations where that hasn't been the case, leading the the serious deterioration in cities, the suburban movement as people left the hell holes, and the proliferation of gated communities where the services paid for by taxation are not adequate to provide the security people desire. There was a revolution in civic administration that has led to cities being the living destinations of choice because of safety and other services being more than adequate.

But the broader regulatory structures have been eroded first by avoidance by relocation. Too complicated and costly due to regulation to manufacture in the US? Relocate manufacturing and import. This has the nasty effect of shrinking the revenue base by which regulatory oversight is paid for, all the while the regulations become more complex and expensive to administer. +

So the second stage of erosion is evidenced by the lack of compliance and lack of enforcement. It becomes a percentage game, almost a risk analysis where the costs of regulatory compliance is balanced against the cost and odds of regulatory enforcement. Ultimately the compliance ends up being focused on regulations where a failure is expensive and public, but the more arcane gets ignored on a cost benefit analysis. Including not asking a lawyer for interpretation, because it is expensive and ultimately irrelevant. And with the starved regulatory agencies who don't have the resources even to know in depth what they are supposed to do, there isn't anyone on both sides of the situation who care.

The third stage is a continuation of this where private regulation within industries or sectors, almost a monopoly enforcement occurs. The regulatory agencies love this, they get fees to pay their minimal staff and look important, the sectors love this because they keep competitive pressures to a minimum, and issues are dealt with to avoid any obvious externalities that attract attention. You don't want to attract attention, it gets expensive. Lawyers are irrelevant unless something goes really wrong.

The fourth stage is when there is a multi tier regulatory structure, where places that can afford it have high quality services and goods, elsewhere the favellas. Very little employment for lawyers.

As for lawyers, it is interesting that there are more regulations of more complexity, all the while law schools are having trouble filling spaces and lawyers lack positions.

This is the first sign of a decline in the real influence of government.

No, it's just a sign of the incredible overcapacity law schools have

Musicians. Like athletes, success is hyper-concentrated among very few. Competition is so fierce that one needs to invest in thousands of hours of practice, not to mentions thousand of dollars in private lessons, just to earn admission to a reputable conservatory/college. Is there any other avenue of study that is so demanding a such at young age?

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate music, and we are blessed that humankind has reached a level of sophistication for the fine arts to exist at all. But, we just don't need that many musicians.

We don't have to listen to any particular musician and we're not generally required to support their endeavors. It costs us nothing for five guys to put together a polka band that normally plays only at wedding receptions in suburban Milwaukee. On the other hand, we pay the salary and retirement of a USDA trade analyst that keeps tariffs up to the point where Americans pay more for sugar than anyone else in the world just so North Dakota beet farmers can drive new 4x4 diesel pickups to their winter homes in Arizona.

100+ comments and no one has said "tech recruiter".

Did anyone say federal bureaucrats yet?

I feel the urge to say artists, but l really want to say content creators. Perhaps we need to distinguish the hobbyists/part-time amateurs, from the professional content creators, but places like YouTube are full of them. And it's essentially free content. Though I'm ambivalent about saying there are too many of them, because I really, really like having access to hours upon hours of free entertainment and education (if you search long enough, it's a good bet you'll find several channels you like).

Also game developers.

Lawyers are overrepresented, though perhaps not for the reasons most think of. At any given time, DC, New York, and a few other places have thousands of contract attorneys engaged in document review on an hourly basis. Most of the work doesn't really require an attorney (at least not at the low levels -- which companies do attempt to outsource), but state bar associations make sure that as much doc review as possible is considered "practicing law," which requires an attorney, with higher attorney rates. It has the classic problems of regulated/subsidized markets -- companies try any way they can to get around it or make it less costly and to avoid conflict of interest rules. Reviewers are dissatisfied because of the way they're treated, especially as compared to what they expected from their law school education -- but of course many refuse to give up the subsidy for a field for bottom level pay in another field. Additionally, all this reviewing of documents requires a lot of tech support/lit support personnel, many of whom are also lawyers.

To find out we should just sample X number of Starbucks and ask the coffee makers what their major was for in college, there's your answer.

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