OT: Degrees as barriers to entry [was Re: - E04 - Leadership! Google, Guido van Rossum, PSF]

Brian van den Broek broek at cc.umanitoba.ca
Tue Jan 3 21:54:56 EST 2006

Steven D'Aprano said unto the world upon 03/01/06 07:33 PM:
> On Tue, 03 Jan 2006 08:27:39 -0800, Alex Martelli wrote:
>>Or some even more stringent qualification, such as the state's Bar exam
>>for lawyers -- you may not be able to sit for that exam w/o the
>>appropriate degree, but the degree by itself is not enough, you still
>>have to pass the exam.  It is that way for Engineers in Italy (I passed
>>my State Exam in the early '80s), although you only need the certificate
>>for some specific professional undertakings (e.g. design a ship, or a
>>large building, or technically supervise building operations beyond a
>>certain size -- not to write software or to design chips).
>>Personally, I agree with the theory, first expressed by Adam Smith, that
>>such barriers to entry are mostly useful to grant practitioners of a
>>certain profession the "scarcity value" that lets them charge higher
>>prices, although of course they're always presented as "good for
>>society".  Note that in Europe in the Middle Ages you needed strict
>>qualifications of that kind for just about anything -- you could not
>>make hats unless you belonged to the Hatters' Guild, etc; most of those
>>restrictions have since been lifted, but a few groups (doctors, lawyers,
>>accountants, ...) have managed to keep them in place.
> Let's not confuse the medieval guild system with today's system. Guilds
> were more like clubs than professional bodies: it was who you knew, rather
> than what you knew, that decided whether you got in. You were forbidden
> from becoming (say) a hat maker unless the other hat makers allowed you to
> join the guild. There was no independent, or even semi-independent, body
> who decided what qualifications were needed to make hats. It was all about
> who you knew -- if your uncle's best friend was a hat maker, you could be
> apprenticed to a hat maker and join the guild, otherwise there was no exam
> to sit that got you in, no matter how talented you were.


> By contrast, today's professional bodies like law, medicine etc. have
> independent standards of skill that must be met. I don't wish to deny
> that knowing the right people can help smooth the procedure of becoming
> a doctor, lawyer, etc., but failing to have an uncle who is a lawyer is no
> barrier to becoming a lawyer, provided you can pass the bar exam. That is
> very different from the guild system.


> Another major difference between today's professional bodies and medieval
> guilds is that the scarcity is not entirely (or even mostly) caused by
> the professional body. It is the universities controlling prerequisite
> degrees that gain more from the scarcity: within reason, the fewer places
> they offer for (say) law degrees, the higher fees they can charge for
> them. In my inexpert opinion, the cause of shortages of experts is more
> the fault of the universities than of the professional bodies.

According to the 2000 US Census, in a population of 174,136,341 people 
between 18 and 65 
there were a total of 862,037 lawyers 
among the employed people 16 years and older.

So, just shy of 1 out of every 200 working-aged people in the USA were 
  lawyers in 2000.

I'm inclined to agree with the claim that law schools don't have the 
correct number of seats, but I think we might just differ on which way 
the adjustment should go :-)

(I do realize that US data isn't most pertinent to Steven, Alex or 
myself -- au, it, ca -- but it is ready to hand. Shamefully, my 
government wants to charge me for the occupation data, and Steven's 
didn't yield free data before my patience and resolve wore out.)


Brian vdB

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