As for immediate practical questions, Reynolds, like most of our generation, has a weakness for Polonius-like platitudes:
For students, piece of advice No. 1 is: Don’t go into debt. When I went to law school, back in the ’80s, I turned down free rides at a couple of excellent schools to go to Yale Law School, even though it meant taking on a lot of student-loan debt. I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to do the same thing today, even to go to Yale Law, the undisputed king of the law-school rankings — and I’m positive I wouldn’t make a similar tradeoff for many other places, even Harvard Law.
Debt is what gets people into trouble in bubbles: They borrow heavily because they think the value of what they’re buying, whether it’s a house or a tulip, will go up. When it stops going up, they’re sunk.
Today, the value of an education isn’t going up, but the price is. That’s a bad combination. So don’t borrow heavily.
Bored JD points out that until very recently the approved cultural response to this dilemma was "who cares?"
When confronted with this scenario, the prevailing mentality in this country until 2007 was quite simply, "fuck that guy. If he is too stupid to make rational decisions, let him get buried under the weight of his own poor choices." Then the bubble popped. And a whole load of people who never took out subprime mortgages, refinanced their houses to buy expensive consumer goods, or authorized bad home loans suffered. My father was laid off three times in four years because of a crappy economy. He's always lived within his means, never purchased anything gaudy or expensive with home equity. His home value took a bath and he will now probably lose money on his house. A guy who worked hard for many years and made what most people would consider good decisions.Another correspondent emphasizes that neither middle-aged boomers nor Kids Today have yet adjusted to an increasingly grim new normal, in which the wave of economic devastation that swept over much of the American working class in the 1970s and 1980s has now reached well up into the professional middle and upper middle classes:
I think something far more powerful at work than SSS is the now outmoded notion of “doing everything right” in America. It used to be that getting a graduate degree, especially a JD or PhD, really was a golden ticket of sorts. That time is now not only gone it has if anything passed through the looking glass into bizarro land, where having such a degree is a black mark. Making all the right choices no longer grant access to anything more assured than massive amounts of debt.
It’s hard to fault people for failing to come to terms with something that was heretofore inconceivable, especially among the striving middle classes, without their insider knowledge of hedge funds and how to place one’s knife and fork on the plate at the end of a seven course meal.