This concludes our month-long review of Simkovic & McIntyre's Economic Value. This blog series added some new things I did not see previously observed and rehashed some deserved "criticisms" of the work by those who fail to appreciate its true greatness.
For this last entry, I want to praise Simkovic & McIntyre for their greatest feat of all: perpetuating the great lie.
As I sit here, drafting this entry, I note that my present lawyer salary is about two times greater than my pre-law school salary according to my last full year's tax return before enrolling in an institution of third-tier excellence. On purely economic terms, presuming I make this salary the rest of my natural life, law school was a positive economic investment.
And yet, my professional career has never felt this dead, and I would kill a roomful of adorably fawning puppies to go back to age 24 and try it all again.
I don't hate practicing law. I love writing, researching, thinking through problems, and working with about two-thirds of the people I come in contact with. But I would say a good once a week I stare aimlessly at my computer screen and wonder what the fuck I did in a previous life. Every now and then the phone's harsh ring invokes a momentary nightmare like a Pavlovian reaction. Occasionally I feel like having a drink in the late afternoon only to immediately feel guilt because the bar associations are on a rampage of sniffing out alcoholism like McGruff the Rabid Crime Dog.
I look at people my age who have less intellect and less impressive credentials who seem to be doing fine and more liberated from industry-wide black holes. Why did I take this road and not that one? It's difficult to know whether the grass is truly greener, but I know that grass is less burdened with debt and that I can work harder and smarter than average at tending it. Survey says I'm not the only one.
Simkovic & McIntyre's work systematically debunks any such thoughts. The great lie is that nuanced people and professions can be reduced to monotonous averages and that law school is either a wise investment or it is not in purely economic terms. As a lowly liberal artist, I was destined to make penurious wages. Law school was my salvation, other educational alternatives or putting sweat equity into a business be damned. My alternative realities are little more than economic and social pornography. In a way, it's a fatalistic view that removes the input of any decision save whether to go to law school or not. White, black, dumb, smart, ugly, beautiful. Just digits on an enrollment sheet.
Of course, Simkovic & McIntyre found a market already primed to believe in its hokey premium model. When looking at schools and law school as a whole, did we not compare our present salaries to the advertised ones and titter at the thought of an easy tripling? Law schools have been milking the premium angle, at least on an implied basis, to cash-starved 23-year-olds for decades. Simkovic & McIntyre merely found a way, post-recession, post-fixed-stats, to capitalize on that mode of thought with a regression analysis of gobbledygook horseshit.
In reality, very little of life's finer aspects come from a strictly economic evaluation of fungible people. A similar great lie, not explicitly discussed in Simkovic & McIntyre's work, is that many of us went into the law, at least in part, because we saw a rational, meritocratic profession that traded in truth and justice and rewarded intellect and hard work. The crushing blow of law, perhaps, comes from a mismatch between the perceived ex ante value of such traits and the actual (negative) value of such traits ex post.
Perhaps, then, Simkovic & McIntyre's work is a greater work of propaganda than even the best shills have given it credit. Not only do they play on the idea that legal careers can be evaluated (poorly) using (kindergarten-level) econometrics, they implicitly ignore all of the other items beyond money that make a career worthwhile and satisfying.
In tricking us all into arguing over financial prosperity or non-dischargable ruin based on a law degree premium, Simkovic & McIntyre have convinced us to ignore all of the other reasons being a lawyer creates unhappy careers at a rate faster than almost any other profession. Sure, Economic Value is unscientific hogwash on its face, but what isn't written at all is that law may be toxic for reasons other than cold hard cash (tempered with modest debt) and, for certain completely normal personality types, law school is unsafe at any price.
The law, in many ways, is about understanding nuance where others see similarity. In looking at multiple generations of diverse law school attendees with varying intellectual abilities and backgrounds, Simkovic & McIntyre's approach sees not nuance, but a big bucket of ageless interchangable lawyers unconcerned with justice or delaying starting a family. From a certain angle, not only is the work rubbish and hostile to the virtues of the scientific method, its assumptions are insulting to several core belief systems underpinning American law while still telling people using fancy numbers 'n' such to go to law school.
That anyone cited this ludicrous monstrosity of light teaching loads beyond patting Simkovic & McIntyre on the metaphorical forehead and telling them to try again is a sign of certain mastery. That they got the entire full-time staff of the Law School Truth Center to devote a nine-part series to their work?