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Graduate from High School, Get Married, and Stay Married

The Albuquerque Journal had an interesting article this weekend (mis)titled, Middle-Class Dreams May Be Out of Reach for Many (subscription). Bascially, the article was based on conversations with two UNM professors. One being pessimistic about the potential for upward mobility into the middle class, and one believing the opportunities are as good today as they have ever been.

First, let’s look at the pessimistic view:

Steve Walsh says he fought his way out of poverty and into the middle class with hard work and a solid education. But when the University of New Mexico professor asks students in his innovation management, entrepreneurial education and economic development classes whether they think they can do the same, he gets some disappointing answers.

“I ask them ‘Do you think your success depends on who you know or what you know?’ and they say, ‘It’s who you know,’ ” said Walsh, who is the Alfred Black Professor of Entrepreneurship at UNM’s Anderson Schools of Management and co-director of the technology management center there.

Walsh said his students tell him they are disillusioned not only by the incessant drumbeat of depressing economic news, but also by seemingly endless news of financial scandals, bailouts and abuses of power.

First, let’s address the obvious. According to this article, Professor Walsh seems to be doing a disservice to his students. Nothing I read gives an indication that Professor Walsh is giving his students the straight scoop. If he was, he would point out several things to them:

  1. They live in a state where the hierarchy is flat. What do I mean? Well, with a little effort, you can get to know just about anyone you need to know to succeed. Business, community and political leaders are at nearly every event in town. If you really believe its who you know that determines your success, then get out there and meet them.
  2. The drumbeat of “depressing economic news” is nothing new. It is amazing to me that a business professor would not point out the cyclical nature of economics. Professor Walsh seems nostalgic for the “good old days” of 1978. The irony is, and argument can easily be made, that today’s economy is very much like the economy we experienced in 1978:

    From 30 years of S&P; 500 historicals, the most similar time frame for 2006-09-11 to 2007-09-07 is 1978-11-24 to 1979-11-19 (ANALYSIS). The dynamics involving the dollar, oil, housing, Iran, and gold are strikingly similar to today. Market phychology cast a remarkable pattern on pricing, and by computationally finding similar price charts, similar sentiment from bygone time frames are discovered. I refer to this process as sentiment fingerprinting. Without much fluff, lets see what happened to the dollar in 1978.

  3. Being the victim of credit fraud is not a huge and devastating crisis. I know, my wife was a victim. It was a hassle and a little unsettling, but it was not a life altering event. However, reading the interview, Professor Walsh paints it as one of the major hurdles facing students of the 21st century”

    Even if you do everything right, you could be the victim of identity theft and have everything wiped out, said Walsh.

    It took us a couple of months to get it straightened out, but it DID NOT wipe out her credit history.

I’m simply amazed by what I read. Professor Walsh seems to be letting his own personal biases and ignorance paint a very bleak picture of the opportunities available for students. This bias comes through crystal clear in this statement:

“I understood the American Dream and believed in my heart that if I tried, it could get better. I would like to know how many of my students feel that way now. Because I just don’t think they do.”

If this man’s teachings were indeed accurately reflected in this article, then I sincerely hope he doesn’t have tenure at UNM. If he does, then the University ought to require that any student who suffers through his classes must follow up that class with a class taught by Professor Allen Parkman – the other professor interviewed for this story:

While many people today say they are not better off than their parents, the overall numbers show otherwise, [Parkman] said.

The gross domestic product, which measures the country’s economic output of goods and services, has increased about 2 percent annually in the last century.

After observing decades of economic and census statistics, Parkman said he’s found what unites those who are not succeeding in today’s economy.

“They are all people who have just made bad decisions,” said Parkman. Whether they’ve made the choice to drop out of school, buy houses they can’t afford, buy lottery tickets instead of saving, got divorced or otherwise became single parents, they all made decisions that damaged them economically, he said.

Professor Parkman has some very simple advice for those who want to join the middle class:

“If you want to live comfortably, you only have to do three things: Graduate from high school, get married, and stay married. If you look within that subset (of people who are not doing well), you will find that those people have violated those principles.”

The American Dream is alive and well. How do I know? Well, I’m living it. Of course, I graduated from high school, got married and stayed married.