Menckens Ghost

More About: Economy - Economics USA

Lessons about a Corolla, a Porsche, Tuition Debt, and Karl Marx

By Mencken’s Ghost

February 7, 2014



The news is full of stories about the skyrocketing cost of college, the ballooning amount of tuition debt, America’s lack of competiveness in science and math, the growing income gap between the educated and uneducated, and the general shattering of the American dream. 


Written primarily by reporters with degrees in journalism, the stories reflect the world view of . . . well, of people who majored in journalism.  The scribes have neither the experience nor insight to write stories like the following, which is a true story but with the names changed to shield the protagonists from class envy and resentment.


For 20 years Tony Craig drove a Toyota Corolla with a manual transmission, hand-cranked windows, and such little horsepower that the air-conditioner could not keep up with the summer heat in the Sonoran desert.  Literally and figuratively, he had one of the most un-cool cars in his neighborhood in Scottsdale, a city where big, expensive SUVs and German sedans dominate.


The money that he and his wife saved from this and other scrimping went into their son’s college fund. 


Now 23, their son will be graduating from a state university in May with a Master’s degree in engineering and with a net worth that is nearly equal to the average net worth of Americans in their fifties.  He has already landed a great post-graduation job.


Recently, a neighbor who has two kids in elementary school asked Tony Craig how his son had learned enough math to get into engineering school on a scholarship, to earn other scholarships along the way, and to intern at prestigious companies.  Although the neighbor and his wife are not wealthy, they drive an expensive Mercedes, a big SUV with huge ostentatious chrome wheels, and a very expensive Porsche, which they take to expensive restaurants and to an expensive health club.  By contrast, the Craigs walk the nearby hills for exercise or ride the stationary bike on their patio, including in the summer heat.


Responding to the neighbor’s question, Tony Craig gave much of the credit to Kumon Math.  “His success certainly was not due to an inherited high IQ,” he said.


He went on to explain that Kumon Math is a Japanese program that his son took from first grade through his freshman year of high school.  It required that his son do a math drill every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  It also required that Tony or his wife score the daily lessons and endure their son’s whining about doing them over until he got them right.  Kumon Math goes against the progressive pedagogical claptrap that has infiltrated American schools about drills and memorization being bad for kids.


The neighbor asked, “How much does Kumon cost?”  Tony answered, “My guess is that it now costs over $100 a month.”  Rolling his eyes, the neighbor responded, “Phew, we can’t afford that.”


Tony Craig was not totally honest with his neighbor.  He did not mention that it also took three generations of the Craig family doing the right thing to get his son on the path to joining the one percent.  It began with poor, uneducated, immigrant grandparents, continued with lower-income working-class parents, and was sustained by Tony and his wife.  All three generations stayed married, worked hard, deferred gratification, and lived below their means. They also scrimped to send their kids to parochial schools to avoid the cultural, academic and statist rot of union-controlled public schools.


They do not deserve plaudits.  It was no big deal.  It was not exceptional.  Scores of parents in earlier generations made similar sacrifices.   It’s what responsible parents did.  Their reward was the personal satisfaction of doing the right thing, not in what other people thought of them or in what they drove.


Now, even responsible parents are in la-la land.  Case in point:


Tony Craig’s son is an ambassador for his engineering school.  He and other ambassadors, along with engineering deans, make presentations to high school students who are interested in pursuing an engineering degree. The students are usually accompanied by their parents.


Many of the parents have a juvenile view of the world.  They continue to believe that college is the place for young adults to “find themselves,” to “sow their oats,” to “have a good time,” and to live in a cushy dorm with the amenities of an expensive resort.  They do not seem to have any idea of how brutally competitive the world has become—how hard Chinese and East-Indian nationals work in college.  Instead, they are stuck in a 1950s “Ozzie and Harriet” time warp.


When the prospective students are told by a dean that it takes five years on average to earn an engineering degree, the parents nod their heads like bobble dolls—until, that is, Tony Craig’s son disabuses them of the notion.  He tells them that although he will have earned both a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in five years, he still had the time for a very rich social life, extracurricular activities, and working as a resident assistant and other jobs.  He also admonishes the parents that if they are paying the bill, they should pay for four years and nothing more, which is a nice way of saying that they should kick their kids in the butt instead of coddling them.


Surprisingly, the parents give more applause to Tony Craig’s son than to any of the other presenters.  Or maybe it isn’t surprising.  Maybe it’s the first time that someone has leveled with them.  Maybe Americans yearn for this instead of the sob stories and pap from the media.


A closing fact:  The average price of a new car today is $31,252, not counting finance charges, insurance, registration, and maintenance.  The average tuition debt is $27,000.  Don’t expect the media, intelligentsia and political class to question why tuition debt is a problem but car debt is not. 


Karl Marx was wrong.  Religion is not the opiate of the masses.  Cars are.  Observe the expensive cars on any city street and you’ll see how much Americans have overdosed.



Mencken’s Ghost can be reached at



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