Law Schools v. MFA Programs

Paul Campos has responded to my defense of law schools – at least in comparison to their peers – with a characteristically amusingly written post. One of the things I noted is that the number of creative writing programs is expanding even faster than law schools, and creative writing programs provide their graduates with no hope of future employment. Here's Campos: No one goes into an MFA program intending to make lots of money. Indeed it's notable that such programs never focus on producing successful genre writers — i.e., the next Stephen King or John Grisham — but are rather dedicated almost exclusively to literary fiction. Nor, as far as I know, do MFA programs engage in industry-wide placement stat deception. (Unlike business schools I know something about these programs because my best friend and his wife are graduates of one). The biggest distinction between law schools and MFA programs goes to the crucial issue of what economists call psychic income. Lots of people grow up hoping to write the Great American Novel. Nobody grows up hoping to one day be Henry Kravis's water carrier on a big M&A deal. People go to law school, with occasional exceptions, in order to acquire a respectable and well-paid career. MFA programs cater to peoples' dreams. Law school is where dreams go to die (Yes I'm generalizing). Frankly, I worry that creative writing programs exploit the dreams of their students more cynically than do law schools precisely because they're selling a dream. But mostly, I think that the programs are indicia of American prosperity. We can actually afford to support 170 creative writing programs, even though measuring the outcome benefits we get from them is, shall we say, hard to do. It's either conspicuous consumption, a dedication to the arts, or a way to warehouse 22-28 year olds, who in Europe would go live with their parents and get on the dole, but we must be getting something out of them. One way to justify all those law schools might be to think about whether a similar sort of analysis applies to them as well.

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