Should we be surprised?

James C. Scott might not like my schadenfreude relating to this (arguable) application of metis vs systemization, but……..

Germany has long been associated with systemization of a variety of social and technological processes. At least from the time of Kant and his philosophical peers, the guiding ethos of the nation in systemization, which was captured in the German neologism wissenschaft, and we have seen its application and effects from the Prussian education system to the industrial process of the Holocaust. A more modern outgrowth of the Prussian education system is the German system of education tracks, which in theory help place students on trajectories most in-line with their aptitude and interests. In contrast to the US/neoliberal model of promoting always and only a University Education(!), this system has increasingly been looked to by other countries in the last decade as a way to steer those more suited for or interested into vocational training and the skilled, specialized, non-academic workforce.

However, despite rising interest abroad in the system, a new headline suggests cracks in the system may be appearing in the originating country. Reuters reports:

More than a third of German companies could not fill all of their training places last year while almost one in ten received no applications for such roles, a survey by the DIHK Chambers of Commerce found.

Last year, the number of vacancies for training positions was at its highest for more than 20 years.

Germany’s twin-track vocational training system, which involves up to 3-1/2 years of on-the-job learning in firms alongside theory lessons at vocational school, is credited with giving Germany the European Union’s lowest youth jobless rate – 6.8 percent in 2017 against an EU average of 16.8 percent.

Widely admired abroad, the training system is being exported in various forms to Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. But its popularity is waning at home as young people increasingly prefer the higher status of a university degree.

That could hurt growth in Europe’s largest economy by exacerbating a skilled labour shortage, which is partly caused by hundreds of thousands of ageing employees leaving the labour market every year.

“It’s a dangerous trend – Germany is running out of skilled workers,” said DIHK President Eric Schweitzer. “At first, orders lie around for longer, then firms have to reject them outright – to the point where entire sectors run into problems.”

At first blush it appears that the inflation of value of a university education is creating much of the problem. Something not mentioned here is the German fertility rate. Modern finance-driven capitalism tends to depend on growth. Yet the German population is on decline. This is why we’re told Germany (and the rest of the EU) needs immigrants. Immigration in Germany has boomed in the last decade. So where are the workers? A variety of reasons were offered:

Since 2013 the number of young people starting university degrees has been higher than the number starting as trainees, the education ministry said.

Companies and industry groups complain that schools focus too much on sending young people to university and should also stress the benefits of the dual system, which offers training for 327 occupations at more than 426,000 companies.

In southern Germany, for example, there were far more trainee places on offer than applicants but in Berlin the opposite was true and some sectors like administration and IT were oversubscribed.

many girls do not think of the traditionally male-dominated job when considering their options, Kley said. “If we could attract girls, we’d suddenly have 50 percent more potential applicants,” she said.

So highly skilled and likely native born Germans are seeking higher pay and status, and educators and administrators are complicit in driving this. Also maybe the patriarchy. But this doesn’t explain why immigration hasn’t solved the problem. We are frequently told that we need low skilled immigration in the US because “they do the jobs Americans won’t do.” Shouldn’t that be the solution in Germany?

But even firms that do find trainees are not always happy, telling the DIHK that many lack motivation or German and maths skills.


All roads do not lead to facts, Part 1

There has been much ado in the last couple of years about the the public crisis in the fallen reputation of “experts”. A number of reasons were proffered: Short term analysis of prediction outcomes are unfavorable to experts; experts are out of touch with the common man’s experiencepeople are angry and won’t listen to those who disagreethe digital world is shifting systems from a vertical to a horizontal axis, and then many variations of people are stupid and overly prone to bias. One the most common refrains, particularly across social media, was that people who agreed with the experts and voted in desired ways in democratic events were doing so because of a love of facts, and those that did not listen to experts completely disregard facts. Is any of this true?

Plenty of research has shown that US liberals and conservatives equally engage in motivated political reasoning and will readily believe false political rumors when it is in-line with their politics. So then it is not that the Brexit crowd or Trump voters are uniquely susceptible. So what or where is the problem, and how do we solve it?

Scott Alexander is a proponent of what could be labeled something like “The Baysian model of being Less Wrong”, where people can chip away at their preconceptions and wrong opinions over many years of diligent study and reflection, and also collaborate with others to do the same:

If you genuinely believe that facts and logic don’t work on at least 50% of the population, again, you shouldn’t be writing articles with potential solutions. You should be worrying whether you’re in that 50%. After all, how did you figure out you aren’t? By using facts and logic? What did we just say?

Nobody is doing either of these things, so I conclude that they accept that facts can sometimes work. Asymmetric weapons are not a pipe dream. As Gandhi used to say, “If you think the world is all bad, remember that it contains people like you.”

You are not completely immune to facts and logic. But you have been wrong about things before. You may be a bit smarter than the people on the other side. You may even be a lot smarter. But fundamentally their problems are your problems, and the same kind of logic that convinced you can convince them. It’s just going to be a long slog. You didn’t develop your opinions after a five-minute shouting match. You developed them after years of education and acculturation and engaging with hundreds of books and hundreds of people. Why should they be any different?

Scott’s approach here is understandable. It’s how both he and his readership, including myself, have understood ourselves to have changed our thought processes and beliefs over time. He and I are also trained (to different degrees) in cognitive psychology, and this is a somewhat grossly over-generalized Beckian approach. There’s a problem though, hiding in plain sight. Let us put aside the issue of “non-facts”, “Fake News”, etc. Let us imagine a pool of all ostensibly true facts in the world, available for human consumption (by ostensibly I mean that they have not yet been disproven – I don’t want to get into an epistemological argument). But what precedes these facts, and their consumption? Put another way: where do facts come from, and where do they go?

To be continued…..