The Ten Commandments of The American Religion

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.


If I stood in the center of Times Square and said something like “Moses didn’t really part the Red Sea,” or “Jesus never existed,” people would probably keep walking around me, ignoring what I said.

But if I stood there and said, “Going to college is the worst sin you can force your kids to commit,” or “You should never vote again,” or “Never own a home,” people would probably stop, and maybe I‘d lynched. But I would’ve at least gotten their attention. How? By knocking down a few of the basic tenets of what I call the American Religion.

It’s a fickle and false religion, used to replace the ideologies we (a country of immigrants) escaped. Random high priests lurk all over the Internet, ready to pounce. Below are the Ten Commandments of the American Religion, as I see them. If you think there are more, list them in the comments.

The below is an excerpt from my just released book, I Was Blind But Now I Can See

The Ten Commandments of the American Religion

#1 Thou Shalt Own a Home. The American Religion wants you to have a home with a white picket fence. Why would the high priests of the American religion want that? A couple reasons:

So that you owe the banks money for 30 years or more (after second, third, or fourth mortgages). The banks need to borrow from your checking account at 0.5% to be able to lend right back to you at 8%. That’s how they make money and it’s one of the largest industries in the world.

Also, owning a home makes you less flexible in terms of where you can move. The job market is ruled by supply and demand. Supply of jobs in an area is finite. So they want to make sure you can’t move so quickly so that demand only goes up.

#2 Thou Shalt Go to College.
There’s the myth that going to college leads to a better life, or a “promised future.” Almost like how the contract Abraham had with God would lead to Judaism being a group of “chosen people.” A couple of points:

Statistically, there’s no proof that smart, ambitious, aggressive people won’t benefit enormously from a five-year head start against their peers who choose to spend five years doing homework and drinking beer and going to frat parties. And don’t quote me the stat about the differences in salaries between college grads and non-college grads because there’s enormous selection bias in that stat and it’s like comparing apples and oranges right now.

The government needs to pay off $74 trillion in Social Security in the next 50 years. They have to make money somehow, so student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt for the first time in 50 years. Imagine that: we send our children off to college and then 5 years later (the average time spent in college by those who graduate) they come out owing the government $100,000. Thank God the government gets to exploit our kids so they can pay off the promises they made under Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.

There are so many exciting alternatives to college. I list some of them here. I’m excited for my children, because I hope they have experiences that will change their lives forever rather than going into the rat race so they can end up ignorant, in debt, and working at nonsense jobs so they can pay off the gangsters who have guns pointed right at their heads.

One anecdote: the guy who caught Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit is a sales clerk at Verizon with $150,000 in student loans. Why couldn’t he get a better job with his college degree? Why did he give Jeter the ball back? Jeter is going to make $100 million in the next few years. This guy could’ve paid his loans back and been free. Freedom is everything. But he wanted to be a “good guy.”

The American Religion needs you to be in debt; needs you to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to read the same Plato you could’ve read in the bathroom at your local library. “You’ll have a better life,” they say. “Your life is secure now.” Right, you are fully secured by the shackles they hand you on graduation day.

[See, Living Life Is Better than Dying in College]

#3 Thou Shalt Recognize that Some Wars Are Holy. Everyone argued with me in my post about “Name me a war that was worth it.” Apparently some wars are “holy” and can’t be argued against. All I want is to prevent 18 year-olds from dying. That’s the basis of my argument. We can argue all the history we want after that.

#4 Thou Shalt Obey the Constitution. There’s no document more sacred (as it should be) in the American Religion. And yet, just as the principles of the Bible are often forgotten by its highest adherents, ditto goes twice over for the U.S. constitution. For instance, who has the power to declare war? The House of Representatives according to the Constitution. The House hasn’t declared war on anyone since 1941. The U.S. Constitution is the Holy of Holies in the American Religion. Until those moments when we break the rules. Then everyone looks the other way. “We had to do it that way,” goes the common refrain. “To protect our way of life.” Someone is always protecting me and my way of life. I’m fine thank you.

[See my post: July 4 is a Scam]

#5 Thou Shalt Give to Charity. Because the American Religion, unlike most religions, doesn’t have a strict code of ethics, giving to charity is often considered the sign of a “good person.” A couple of points on that:

Giving to charity costs money. So the best people in the American Religion then are the ones who have the most money to give.

Volunteering is more and more difficult for people who have to pay back student loans and exorbitant home loans. Good luck volunteering when your children need to be fed or when you are an indentured servant thanks to your advanced learning in the ivory tower.

Let’s go over the math of every dollar you spend on charity. When you give $100 to a major charity, most of that goes into the bank. They then invest the money. On the interest they make on their investments, a percentage goes to actual charity, another percentage goes to salaries. So for every dollar you give to charity, about 2 cents a year, give or take, goes to the actual charitable cause you wanted to support. Now let’s break that down even further. How many charities have executives making over $500,000 a year. More than a few. And let’s say it’s a medical charity. Now most of the money is going toward drugs that cost billions of dollars to approve. See the next point.

[See my post: A Better Way to Donate to Charity]

#6 Thou Shalt Obey the Food & Drug Administration. What is this organization? And does it do any good? The FDA requires that drugs go through trials to prove their safety and effectiveness. That sounds good, right? Before you give an 80 year-old a drug for cancer, let’s make sure it doesn’t kill him first.

It costs billions to build those trials and the FDA can shut you down at any point. Companies raise those billions from charities and from individual investors, who usually lose all of their money when the FDA shuts down a trial. But what’s the solution?

Well, we have the Internet now. We have social media. We have “word of mouth” on steroids. That’s what technology and innovation is for. Lets get the drugs out there. We can all see which scientists worked on them and what their backgrounds are, we can all read the patents, we can read real-life experiences from people using the drug. The Internet will conduct “virtual trials.” Will people die? Yeah, but people die in FDA trials too. Will more lives be saved? Of course! Many drug companies just give up (they can’t raise the money even if their drugs are miracle drugs). Now they can get those drugs out there and we can really see. If I have a terminal disease, I want the FDA to get out of the way and let me ingest whatever I want.

#7 Thou Shalt Always Vote. When I wrote the other day that I don’t vote I got quite a bit of violent email. That I was somehow ruining the country. Really?

I live in New York. So I know my vote is meaningless no matter which way I vote. And I’m tired of voting for congressmen who supposedly represent my interests, but then make deals with lobbyists and other congressmen for bridges to nowhere, and then get hired as vice-chairmen of Goldman Sachs when they “retire” after years of “public” service. I’m fine representing my own interests and I’d rather vote directly on issues.

So why can’t I vote on the Internet? I can read all about the issues there. I could vote directly on bills, presidents, wars, drugs, whatever I want. If I could vote directly on issues, instead of sending a “representative” in my place, the costs of lobbying would go from the millions to the billions, which would deter the corrupt lobbying industry and further give more power to the people. And then, maybe things would actually get done in this country. In the article below I explain why all the initial reasons for the legislative branch (as it stands now) are obsolete. And the beauty of the U.S. Constitution is that it can change.

[See my post, Politics is a Scam – Why I Will Never Vote Again]

#8 Thou Shalt Choose Between Two Political Parties. We’ve basically had two parties for the past 200 years. With occasional offshoots. I don’t believe in either party. And I bet a lot of you don’t either. It’s all a way for a select few to push through an agenda that is going to change constantly over the years anyway. This is not a new opinion. Most people hate the two-party system. So let’s change it.

Again, with the Internet, I’d rather be a party of one and just vote for what I want on every issue. I’m perfectly willing to read about the issues of the day and vote directly. I don’t need to have my congressman represent me. How many ethics scandals are going on in Washington right now? And, how many should be going on that we don’t even know about?

#9 Thou Shalt Recognize the Media as the “Fourth Estate.” There’s this weird idea that’s developed over the past 50 years that the media is somehow a “check” on the other three branches of government. This is ridiculous but people still don’t get it.

Six months ago everyone was panicking that radiation from Japan was going to get blown over San Francisco. Did that happen? Of course not. But the media doesn’t apologize for the thousands of people who got sick taking iodine pills, or who spent weeks away from supposedly radioactive areas.

And let’s not forget the whole “debt ceiling scare.” Every week there’s a new fear. I obviously don’t think the media should be shut down. But there certainly should be a greater sense of responsibility than simply scaring the hell out of people with a new topic every. single. week. I am so bored of the “fear of the week,” I’d rather watch Snooki all day long rather than another “fear of the week” analysis from the pseudo-experts who are desperate for screen time.

[See, “How Snooki Can Help Stop Violent and Sex-Crazed Children”]

#10 Thou Shalt Forever Progress Toward the Frontier. My kid had to read about Lewis And Clark this summer as she prepared to go into the fourth grade. The “frontier” is a beautiful, almost spiritual concept. The idea that we can always expand, always improve. For the first several hundred years after the Europeans took over North America, we expanded into every unmapped territory. But then something went wrong.

We’re missing out on the more subtle points of the word “Frontier.” For the past several decades we’ve expanded into the frontier of technology, creating everything from computers, to rockets that go to the moon, to the Internet, and many cures for many diseases (polio, smallpox, etc). But now our innovators, technologists, and creators have to pay down their homeowner debt, their credit card debt, their student loan debt. They have to vote for people who never truly represent them and get us further and further into trouble. The government puts more and more hurdles in front of our creators.

Who knows what further twists and warps the American Religion will take to destroy us more than we’ve already been destroyed. At the end of the physical frontier is the ocean and we’re all being pushed into it.

I love this country. But I get sad when I see all of the above. When 18 year-olds are sent to get killed while 60 year-olds can’t get the drugs they need to survive. Where the government and banks and even charities take all my money. Where commercialism in its worst form conspires to take the remaining dollars of my salary.

I’m not political. I’m not in any party, nor do I believe in any particular political philosophy. For me, I believe in the impossible. That change, even at a mass level, only comes from the inside of each individual. That if each person tries to remain physically healthy, emotionally healthy, mentally healthy, and spiritually healthy, then the country itself will rise to new heights never seen before in the civilization of man.

A height without mythology, without the dream of immortality, without fantasy notions of a “better life” that turn out to be just lies. Without deeper and more complicated mechanisms to control the masses. Where mediocrity is not rewarded with power over the creators. I know, I’m asking for too much.

So today I’m going to do what I always do. And it has nothing to do with anything in this article.

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  1. Greg says:

    “Before you give an 80 year-old a drug for cancer, let’s make sure it doesn’t kill him first.” – Exactly, because younger people never get cancer.

    “we send our children off to college and then 5 years later (the average time spent in college by those who graduate) they come out owing the government $100,000.” – Exactly, because the $100,000 figure you invented at the end of the sentence must be a typical debt, since you took the trouble to say “average” in the beginning of the sentence.

    Mr. Altucher: you have some good ideas, and also some ideas that I don’t think are good but are at least defensible. But your posts prove, time and again, that you are more interested in being a contrarian than being open-minded; you are more interested in hyperbole than you are in accuracy; you are more interested in manipulation than you are in information.

    Freakonomics: Mr. Altucher’s cross-posts lower the standard of intellectual honesty of your blog.

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    • James Altucher says:

      Thanks for the response. I’m glad you like the ideas. I research everything i write but I can write an entire book in a single post. I’m not interested at all in being a contrarian. Rather, i think we should begin to look at things with open eyes and seek true transformation in many of the ills in society rather than just the band-aids we are attempting.

      Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 59
      • Mike B says:

        Assuming that you are actually the real James Altucher I will agree that you aren’t trying to be a contrarian, because its clear that you just want to sell your books. While your life plan to become a self-made self-help guru may have worked out fine for you, it’s not a sustainable path for everyone. Go peddle your easy answers to a crowd that isn’t used to actual analysis.

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      • James Altucher says:

        Well, whatbooks exactly am I trying to sell because if you go to my blog and read my posts onself-publishing you’ll see I give my books for free and I give negative reviews to my prior books before that. So I’m not trying to be a ‘self-help guru’ or anything of the sort.

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      • James Altucher says:

        So I give specific details onhow people can self-publish their books. I also explain why someone would want to, at the risk of ruining my relationship with traditional publishers, and i give out my book for free, andpeople still put 5 dislikes on the above comment. I’m glad people are interested enough to even read this but Im trying to understand the ranking system.

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      • Mike B says:

        The dislikes are for you personally. The content of your comment doesn’t matter if its motivation is disingenuous.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6
      • Sean E says:

        Ummm. So basically your response to the fact that you are a contrarian is, Nuh-uh! I am not!

        Thumb up 7 Thumb down 9
      • James Altucher says:

        Sean, thanks for the comment. If you read what I actually wrote it says, “I’m not interested at all in being a contrarian”

        I didn’t say I wasn’t one. Other people can call me that label but I have zero interest either way.

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    • pawnman says:

      Agreed. I think my favorite quote was “Statistically, there’s no proof that smart, ambitious, aggressive people won’t benefit enormously from a five-year head start against their peers who choose to spend five years doing homework and drinking beer and going to frat parties.” Then he attempts to discount the statistical differences as “selection bias”, despite the fact that every year of education will add, on average, 4% more earning power over your life. Not to mention the fact that the unemployment rate for college graduates is less than half the national average. As well, there is no requirement to go into debt to go to college. College is not some scheme cooked up by the government to keep social security solvent. I went to college, and I’m doing my best to ensure my daughter will as well.

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      • James says:

        Notice also his assumptions (which I suppose arise from his own narrow view of life) in the statement “here’s no proof that smart, ambitious, aggressive people won’t benefit enormously from a five-year head start against their peers who choose to spend five years doing homework and drinking beer and going to frat parties.”

        Fine, and maybe even true of a limited set of people. But suppose you happen to be smart, but are not particularly ambitious or aggressive; that in fact you don’t really see wealth accumulation or entrepreneurship as the be-all and end-all of life, but would like to find interesting work that pays enough to allow you to live comfortably? Suppose further that you don’t intend to spend any significant portion of your college career drinking beer and going to frat parties? In point of fact, though my college runs through a PhD, I’ve never been to a frat party, nor had the slightest desire to go to one. I could also find plenty of occasions to drink beer outside of college, were I so inclined.

        In short, his prescriptions are just as much a religion as the so-called American religion he denigrates.

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    • Jenny Li says:

      It’s not that younger people don’t get cancer–his point is that while some FDA rules initially make sense, a lot of them don’t.

      College debt obviously ranges, we all know that. His point isn’t that college debt = x, but that with the sharp increase in cost for college education, costs may outweigh the benefits.

      I’d rather listen to both sides of an argument–i.e. someone point out the holes in a widely held belief (everyone should go to college, everyone wants to own a home, etc) then just think that everything that is, must be right. Wouldn’t you?

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      • James Altucher says:

        Jenny, thanks. And good points. Last year we had a nationwide debate about healthcare. Healthcare costs have gone up 3 times faster than inflation since 1977. College costs have gone up TEN TIMES faster and yet…no national debate. Things like this need to be questioned, whether one agrees about going to college or not. Student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt for the first time in history. This is a shame that we are graduating a generation of indentured servants and not inventors and innovators.

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      • Matthew says:

        I am also very concerned about the rising rates of colleges. Is this an attempt at one of the following:
        -Make sure schools make plenty of money to stay in business
        -insure that the debt of an average grad cripples them for atleast a decade
        -Make it harder for students with less financial mean to get into and pay for college
        -Improve education and life for all
        As a professional educator I would hope it was the latter, but it typically appears to be the first three in my opinion. Yes, there is financial aid for students who cannot afford it, but these students often do not finish college. So now, these students have a debt that can rival the debt of a college grad, but now they do not have the degree that would theoretically help pay it off sooner. I have not researched this greatly, but I would look forward to any feedback that Mr. Altucher may have. Thanks

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  2. Ross says:

    I really don’t understand why the good Freakonomics folks keep giving this guy airtime. His rants are uninformative, poorly reasoned, and lack any significant insight or new ideas. A classic example of blogosphere behavior: write something radical enough and you will get attention no matter how nonsensical it may be.

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    • James Altucher says:

      You say they are not new ideas. but they are also radical. I think the reason I get “airtime” is that they provoke such contrary emotions in people.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 36 Thumb down 37
      • Ross says:

        Radical may have been the wrong word, contrarian is better. Don’t buy a house, don’t go to college, don’t vote, don’t trust the government or the media. There can be value in challenging widely accepted practices, but only if you provide some new information or angle, which you don’t, in my opinion. Your writing is provocative without being thoughtful or constructive. In your own words, “pseudo-experts who are desperate for screen time.”

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      • PreemptivePlacebo says:

        Inertia is a strong force. If you feel like you are driving in the wrong direction and you wish to change course, you must first acknowledge that another road might possibly exist. That’s when you start to watch out for a turn.

        Chances are if you are not watching inertia will pull you right past without your knowledge.

        Conventional wisdom has a great deal of inertia. James is like an eight-year-old riding along in the back seat who won’t shut up. “Here comes an intersection. There goes another one…..”

        People hate back-seat-drivers most when they turn out to be right.

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      • edel says:

        He never said we should “not to buy a house” or “not to vote”. He says that those should not be considered like a must for everyone…
        Sorry, I found his post very interesting and thought provoking indeed.

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      • James Altucher says:

        Thanks, edel. I really wonder why questioning these conventions engenders such angry responses.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 11
      • Mike B says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Neil (SM) says:

        I think he didn’t even say that. To me it came off more like just a slightly-negatively-toned glimpse of what he calls the American Religion.

        Basically, these seem to be the things we believe in the most, and it’s interesting that when anyone questions them, many people go berserk. Like many are doing now. Immediately attempting to discount everything he says.

        But I think we have to dig a little deeper to find his point. Maybe many of these “commandments” and conventional wisdom are correct for most of us. But shouldn’t we be able to discuss and question them to find out for sure, rather than just taking it for granted?

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      • James Altucher says:

        You say “not constructive” but I think here and throughout the links I mention I offer solutions. I don’t attempt to be contrarian at all. I just think its healthy to look at the institutions we hold dear and question them.

        I am hardly desperate for screen time. Maybe try to get to know me and my writings a little before you say that.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 9
      • John B says:

        It seems many people on this site only want to be spoonfed their preferred way of thinking.

        When someone actually forces them to really think, they fall back on trite arguments and attack the writer.

        I don’t agree with all his claims, but each and every one of them gives food for thought. Too many of this site’s “college graduates” find actual thinking and challenging preconceptions way too hard.

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      • James says:

        You ideas may or may not be radical, but they are in many cases flat-out wrong, being apparently the product of your own very narrow-minded ideas of the right way to live.

        Take for example your “never own a house”, which you justify in part by saying that owning makes it harder to move in search of jobs. Some of us – I hope a lot of us – don’t live to work, we work to live. Having a house & garden (sans white picket fence, but with some 3-board fences around the horse pastures) in a place where I can easily get out to hike or ride in the mountains or by the lake (and ski in the winter) is a large part of what makes life worth living for me.

        Or college: there’s probably some truth to what you say, if you’re only going for a liberal arts degree (see the recent thread). But I suggest you try getting a job in science or engineering without at least a BS before proclaiming that it’s universally a bad idea.

        Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7
      • PreemptivePlacebo says:

        Jonah Lehrer did a wonderful blog post a while back about the commuter paradox, where people overestimate the additional happiness they will derive from purchasing a larger home and underestimate the misery that will be caused by an increased commute.

        Commuting makes us miserable. More so that almost anything else in our typical day. Those of us who commute long distances often do so because we are fixed in one place. We own a home.

        Two income families who rent can easily move and triangulate their commutes. They can move to the best school district as needed. They can move to the exact sized home they need at that moment.

        They can even move to a town with an excellent public stable.

        Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2
      • Mackenzie says:

        Fine then, it makes it harder to move to see the world! Get a job where you can work from home then move to a new city or even a new country every year going from 12-month lease to 12-month lease. Now, THAT would be living the life.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
      • James says:

        “Commuting makes us miserable.”

        Which is why I telecommute :-)

        The point here is that, contrary to JA’s hypothetical “American religion” or his own counter-religion, there is no one right way. One size does not fit all. Some career-oriented people might prefer urban living cubicles close to their work (shared Manhattan studio, anyone?), others perfer to adjust their work to their chosen lifestyle, or the place they choose to live.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
      • Matthew says:

        Anytime, throughout history that a person “thinks outside of the box” there seems to be alot of criticism and emotion that follows. Also, people that state information (without bias) will cause conversations that evoke great enthusiasm (for or against) due to pre-conceived ideas on anything from religion, politics, and/or finances. I think that it is important to try and decide things for yourself rather than buy into any one person’s viewpoint. Hopefully these types of posts, articles, book, and/or conversations will help each person to individually decide what they believe. Whether it is what society says he/she should believe (example: everyone must own a house, must go to college, money doesn’t solve problems), it is important to decide how you look at the world. Thanks for the thought provoking posts!

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  3. BL1Y says:

    I think not voting is often more patriotic, if done purposefully. If you don’t know enough about the candidates, stay home and let people who have done the research have a bigger say.

    Also, not voting signals to third parties that a larger portion of the population is up for grabs. However, it would may be more effective to vote for a third party; decreased signal that your vote is up for grabs, but increased signal that you actually vote.

    Sometimes I’ll just vote by alternating parties. Not liking either of the main parties, I’d rather neither have complete control.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5
  4. JohnS says:

    Some of these points directly contradict earlier material published on Freakonomics, such as the claim that college is meaningless – there have been natural experiments that strongly suggest that going to college pays off.

    Also, most of these commandments are about pointing out what doesn’t work, then suggesting that “getting rid of” that thing will make it work – but without any practical evidence that it will actually make the situation better. It’s just a bunch of hand-waving to appease people vaguely upset about the current state of America. As Greg said – its contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. When will Freakonomics stop publishing material from this guy? Frankly, I expect better material from this blog.

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    • James Altucher says:

      The stat usually passed around about college is that college graduates have higher salaries 20 years later.

      Unfortunately, Statistics 101: selection bias. When smart, aggressive, middle class kids go to college they will have higher salaries 20 years later than the less ambitious kids who chose not to go to college. I have yet to see a real statistic on this matter.

      To do the correct test: take 2000 people who are accepted to college this year. Randomly select 1000 of them and say you CAN NEVER go to college. Then see where all oftheir salaries are 20 years from now.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 18
      • Marci Kiser says:

        I too am in the camp of agreeing with one or two of these points, but when they’re this astonishingly glib I’m instantly turned off.

        Unfortunately, like the crack about ‘giving to charity’, JA lumps all of ‘going to college’ together, as if every person is going to college for the same reason and receives the same benefit. He makes no allowances for those who learn specialized skills such as medicine or law or engineering, and acts as if we all come out with a BA in Communications.

        I’m an MD. I make a good living doing what I do, and everyone who does what I do spent a long time in school learning how. We have ruinous student loans and often don’t get our first real jobs until we’re 30, but I have yet to hear a better system as to how to produce someone that’s qualified to fix the bleed in your brain before you end up a vegetable.

        As to the notion that ‘the Internet’ will allow people to conduct better trials and information-sharing than the FDA, it’s obvious JA confuses the Internet for the perfect competitive market. This is probably why he hasn’t noticed that the Internet allows one to exist in a world in which vaccines cause autism and acai berries cure everything, including berry overdose.

        (Also, I love some of the ‘stats’ that get posted. Don’t want to go to college? Just ‘get $10,000′ (presumably from between your couch cushions) and go to India.)

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      • Sam says:

        I think you’re missing the point here. It’s not that you should never be charitable or that nobody should ever go to college. The issue is that the “religion” tells us that giving to ANY charity or going to ANY college is a good thing. Making the decision on a case-by-case basis is fine.

        The reason he calls it a “religion” is because these are commandments that shall not be broken. If you just take the opposite of these commandments – never vote, never give to charity, never go to college … then you are just creating another “religion.”

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      • James Altucher says:

        perfectly said.

        Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5
      • Neil (SM) says:

        What you’re missing here, is that J.A. is not saying for sure that college is good or bad for everyone.
        Maybe that we just haven’t been questioning the assertion that it is a must for everyone. And therefore we haven’t been able to do any realistic studies like the one he mentioned.

        You’re sort of making his point for him by getting defensive about his questioning.

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      • James says:

        You know, there is a real world experiment being conducted right now. Look at the salaries of people from poor 3rd-world backgrounds who came to the US to study science & engineering (or got advanced degrees in their native lands), and got jobs in the US. I do believe that, on average, they do a lot better than the “smart”* middle-class American kids who either don’t go to college, or get the aforementioned degrees in communication and such.

        *Assuming that after a childhood of TV and video games, there are any smart American kids.

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      • D Lin says:

        It would appear from this note that you would accept nothing less than a controlled randomized study to determine the effectiveness of college. Perhaps we should have a similar standard with regards to pharmaceuticals.

        I think that personal reviews are useful for Yelp and Amazon. I would hesitate to rely on anecdotes for medications. I have a respect for sites like, but I see them as producing leads rather than conclusions. Also, it seems like social media is the sort of place where misinformation can quickly spread, leading to things like excess consumption of iodine. ( Finally, although I don’t understand the implications, I am slightly concerned about how such a plan would interact with the digital divide.

        I have severe reservations about conducting clinical trials “virtually.” Internet polls are considered less accurate than phone polls, because the methodology is much less rigorous. Also, some studies may require tests that cannot be easily be performed by amateurs at home. By the time you put together enough of an administrative framework to make sure that people take their pills on time and to check for side effects, you would probably be pretty close to how a clinical trial is conducted currently. I think this is one of those areas where you get what you pay for.

        I am not in the biomedical field, but I would imagine that the FDA does not shut down trials out of spite (or corruption), but only if the drug is proving ineffective or harmful. In this way, they are protecting people from snake oil salesmen. People who [have loved ones that] are facing life-threatening conditions are probably far from rational. They are more than willing to cling to anything that can give hope, and they will fight assiduously for that faith, for the right to ingest the magical cure. There are people who take advantage of this. Perhaps they believe in their treatment as strongly as their patients. Nonetheless, people still visit faith healers and wear magnetic bands. Perhaps this is a good strategy for some people, after all doing something is better than doing nothing. However, this is not how science is done. Science is about [expensive] experiments, and I think we should have more, not less.

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      • JohnS says:

        As I said, there have been natural experiments regarding college, some of which have been written about on this blog, (For example ) and they all support the notion that college is worth it. You really should read Freakonomics, it’s (usually) a great blog!

        You said you hadn’t seen any statistics supporting this idea. Can I ask how hard you looked?

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Well, technically, they showed that college is worth it—but not that *everyone* should go to college. If you actually want to be a taxi driver, ballerina, or auto mechanic, you’re normally better off going to specialized training for that, rather than a full college degree. There’s no good reason for an aspiring respiratory technician or business secretary to get a four-year college degree rather than to complete a specific post-secondary training program.

        We used to have those. Remember “vo-tech schools”?

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      • pawnman says:

        Except that in their radio show, Levitt and Dubner disproved this with a little “natural experiment” called Vietnam. People who would not normally have gone to college did so to escape the draft…and they made far more than their blue-collar counterparts from similar backgrounds over the long-term. Essentially, conducting the experiment you are talking about. Also keep in mind that college degrees are essentially required for many high paying jobs…I’m not going to hire a chemical engineer or an architect who was just “highly motivated” in but didn’t go to college.

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      • James says:

        There’s also probably data for an inverse experiment: people (like me) who had the qualifications but not the money for college, and so enlisted, or otherwise spent some years working at non-college track jobs before getting a degree.

        Granted that I’m only one data point, but I’ve made a lot more money after college than before, with less effort and far more enjoyment.

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      • Mackenzie says:

        But many software houses would absolutely hire a software engineer who’d never spent a day in a university setting but has a nice pile of patches on GitHub.

        Also, it’s kind of hard to get a well-paying job if you’ve got PTSD, are blind, and only have one leg.

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      • pawnman says:

        Perhaps, but I think you’d have a hard time getting a job as an investment banker, or even the store manager of a Wal-Mart, without a degree.

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  5. Allen says:

    Why do you keep linking stories by this idiot? Is it just to generate traffic? Because there’s nothing “freakonomics” about it — just random unsupported ravings.

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  6. Nathan says:

    I’m relatively surprised by the dislike of my fellow commenters. Pretty much every one of these points is, at the very least, worth questioning. While the proposed alternatives/solutions aren’t exactly thrill worthy, can anyone honestly say that, for example, the current political landscape is actually representative of the people?

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    • James Altucher says:

      It’s unclear to me why people anonymously post stuff on the internet. I think, in general, it’s been a hard decade foreveryone and people who are angry and have been hurt by it use this as an outlet to get that emotion out.

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      • James Altucher says:

        but i do notice my posts get far more anonymous facebook likes than hateful negative comments so I’m grateful for that.

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  7. Chaz says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  8. AdamY says:

    Nowhere in all that rambling did I see anything resembling a statistic. I actually agreed with some of what you said, but a lot of it just seemed like ranting. At least when other writers on this site make claims I don’t agree with they have reasoning to back it up. There is none of that here.

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    • James Altucher says:

      Adam, thanks for the question. If you click on the links that support each item I actually give MANY statistics to support the solutions I propose.

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