Reihan: Empowered Nerds and the Coming Dropout Boom

An exciting thought, or possible a sobering one, from Paul Graham:

We now think of it as normal to have a job at a company, but this is the thinnest of historical veneers. Just two or three lifetimes ago, most people in what are now called industrialized countries lived by farming. So while it may seem surprising to propose that large numbers of people will change the way they make a living, it would be more surprising if they didn't.

More specifically, the massification of the start-up process will, Graham argues, make it more meritocratic.

Instead of going to venture capitalists with a business plan and trying to convince them to fund it, you can get a product launched on a few tens of thousands of dollars of seed money from us or your uncle, and approach them with a working company instead of a plan for one. Then instead of having to seem smooth and confident, you can just point them to Alexa.

I think this is great news, but it's certainly true that any transition of this kind involves a lot of frictional loss. What will happen to the "smooth and confident"? Lets hope that ex-cheerleaders like Trent Lott and George W. Bush aren't forced to become pom-pom-shaking cocktail servers for harried nerd executives.

Rising affluence and the further privileging of the relatively creative and self-starting will run right into dramatic innovations in homemade psychopharmocology: imagine the non- or under-motivated becoming high-functioning soma-tose zombies.

P.S.- More good news from Graham:

In the US it's a national scandal how easily children of rich parents game college admissions. But the way this problem ultimately gets solved may not be by reforming the universities but by going around them. We in the technology world are used to that sort of solution: you don't beat the incumbents; you redefine the problem to make them irrelevant.

The greatest value of universities is not the brand name or perhaps even the classes so much as the people you meet. If it becomes common to start a startup after college, students may start trying to maximize this. Instead of focusing on getting internships at companies they want to work for, they may start to focus on working with other students they want as cofounders.

This sounds extremely appealing, and it is very relevant to the psychological role of an "affirming structure" for the Organization Kids. Amazingly, resume-building young people built-to-flourish in the meritocracies of the present may well be uniquely unsuited to the meritocracies of the future, though that is kind of an uncharitable view. We'll see.