My column this week at Social Matter is about the history of the apprenticeship system (mostly in America) and why it’s so challenging to revive it despite a lot of interest in doing so. Here’s an excerpt:
When intelligent people discuss the problems with the higher education system in the Western world – namely that it costs too much and fails to prepare most of its students and graduates for fulfilling lives – the suggestion to revive the apprenticeship system which existed in bygone times often comes up.
Billionaires like Nassim Taleb and Peter Thiel have both advocated something like a return to the apprenticeship system which was ubiquitous up until the early modern era. These suggestions are also often echoed by bloggers and others who know vaguely about what they want, but aren’t quite clear on what the old apprenticeship system was and why it ultimately faded.
This article will attempt to clear out some of the confusion and obfuscation around the issue.
One company that attempted to revive the apprenticeship concept for high tech companies just shut down earlier this month. In the closing letter, the founders cited some failed matches and high expenses for managing the relationships between ‘apprentices’ and mentors. Their ambition was to create a national apprenticeship network, but the model couldn’t scale.
Some states have also attempted to create larger apprenticeship programs outside the construction trades, where they are still prevalent (albeit in a different way than was traditional).
Despite all these well-intentioned efforts, many if not most of them are likely to fail. To understand why, we have to retrace the history of why compulsory education and labor reforms displaced the old apprenticeship model.
Head on over and read the whole thing. Please comment at Social Matter if you have any suggestions for follow-up topics. In particular, I’d like some suggestions for sources to learn more about the guild system in Europe.
What I’m working on
I have about 5,000 words in excerpts and notes written down about The Vampire Economy, which is a pre-WW2 book about the economy of Nazi Germany drawn mostly from letters and interviews. I’m going to experiment with some audio recordings on my phone (was good enough for at least a couple podcasts I’ve appeared on) of some of the more fun quotes from the book.
I’ve also collected and reformatted most of my posts from this blog and Social Matter. I’m going to be collecting them into a compilation that I’m going to be selling on Kindle and iBooks (the latter might be a later release than the former). This is mostly done and waiting for me to get a newsletter up and running to my satisfaction. That’ll make for an exceptionally fat eBook. In the future, I’ll be doing collections more frequently to prevent it from piling up like that.
I’ve made some progress on the e-mail course that I mentioned before. This’ll be a teaser for a weekly newsletter which will have a writing style closer to what my regular blogging was like. I’m getting that up before any of the other stuff. It a bad idea to start off with a drip course because it’s so time consuming to put together properly, but I’ve completed enough work on it that I don’t want to drop the project.
My book project is stalled at around 30,000 words. Some of the material is good — generally, one notch above the typical quality level on this website. I’m not sure that it needs to be a full book, or that the political manifesto type format is all that worthwhile. This is one of those not-so-hidden pitfalls of self-publishing, and it’ll be the last time that I attempt a full-length book without a publisher.
I’m unsure that the world really needs more opinionated books written by 29-year-olds. I’m going to look for some criticism to determine what I do with the manuscript. If I’m going to finish it, I want to be confident about it — and if I’m going to junk it, I want to junk it so that I can get started on some more worthwhile projects.
If I do elect to cancel it, I’ll just publish what’s mostly completed on the blog for free.
An example of an alternative project would be a digest of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s most important works. I also have a bunch of other ideas that I’d like to tackle, like a discussion of Soviet infiltration in the US government during WW2 using Diana West’s book on the topic as a jumping-off point.
R. Wilbur says
Re: European Guild System
I don’t have the book in front of me, but I recall that Richard Sennett’s “The Craftsman”
had a really excellent but short bibliography for medieval craft guilds – both academic and source.
“The Craftsman” itself was good, I think more philosophical than hard-economics, but it pointed the way to some good source material.
R. Wilbur says
And, though I haven’t looked at in quite some time, John Medaille had written a sort of neo-distributist book looking at cooperative and guild-like modern organizations like Mondragon in Spain.
re: “a digest of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s most important works.”
Go for it. When I was in Grad School at an Ivy in the 1960s Kuehnelt-Leddihn visited under the auspices, not of the University, but a group of well dressed undergraduates. I had seen the flyers announcing the visit and attended. I remember he was well dressed but in old clothing, almost thread bare. But what a mesmerizing speaker in flawless English. His works need to be kept alive. Best of luck on the project.
Wow. I’m jealous.
SFC Ton says
I think the trick is some professions will fit an apprenticeship model and others will not
The only semi serious obstacle I see is compulsory education as it is established now and as you mentioned, but in a sane world, every 16 year old young man would have a trade skill. Then he can chose to work and earn or go to college. I also wouldn’t let anyone major in liberal arts type stuff until they are 50-55. Young men should be engaged in much useful, masculine endeavours
Aristotle’s model had men not starting households until their 40s, so that’s not a bad idea at all. Given that even lawyers were on a trade/apprenticeship model until recently, there aren’t many professions that can’t be taught that way.
SFC Ton says
I think by 16, young man should have a decent ground in pound game, be able to run an M4 through a shoot house, and do actually useful work with his hands, then he can figure out if college etc is for him, but being to young to be fully mature, should have those options limited for him to, once again, useful, profit driven work.
Then when you are an old man, hopefully mature and full of wisdom, you then you are in a better frame, with a better understanding of the world to turn your studies to less practical matters.
Note, this wouldn’t stop anyone from studying anything informally. Also I would not allow women to teach boys/ men at all, and reserve formal teaching positions to older/ mature men.
I put a premium on experience. Before I was 30, I was as elite as elite gets in the US military, with a ridiculous complex skill set and lots of trigger time. Now at 45 and looking back, I was a dumbass kid, full of self importance.
A man really don’t know a damn thing until life throws him a curb party or two. Reckon 40 would work for somethings. 30-35 probably for head of household. In the model I suggest, he would have had 14 years or full time work, savings and experiences to see how the real world works. Course that would in a world without usury as well
Bob Wallace says
Laura Ingalls Wilder was teaching school at 15, with just a certificate.
SFC Ton says
Yea and Daniel Boone killed a bear when he was only 3
The topic I’d really like to see you write about is usury. Were our ancestors right about the idea that it’s a mortal sin to lend money at *any* interest? Is it still a sin to loan money at interest to a corporation, which is an entity that is not a person? What would a modern economy look like if we got rid of usury? Could the west adopt the interest-free models of modern Islamic banking?
I think that our ancestors were right about usury, and that more of the evils that infest our society spring from it than we may think.
My current position is that it’s complicated. Also Islamic banking uses various loopholes to get around charging interest. Many equity investments are really more like loans with convoluted terms.
I would have to focus a lot more on financial history in particular to do a good job on that question. I’ve actually been thinking about making that the eventual niche that I carve out, mainly because it’s something that I gravitate towards naturally and is currently under-served.
By comparison, there is a lot of social history, diplomatic history, and military history out there.