Socrates Was a Stone Mason

Mike Rowe, the star of Dirty Jobs, has been a champion of training for teenagers to take on jobs that do not require a college degree.  He weighs in on Rubio’s observation that we need more welders than philosophers:


“Rubio gave a nice shout out to welders on the debate last night (that may or may not have made Socrates roll over in his grave). We all know you support welders and their hard work, but should we go so far as to say, “We need more welders and less philosophers?”

Hi Liz. Great question. Across the interwebs today, people are rushing to point out that the mean wage of a welder is actually lower than the mean wage of a philosopher – $40,000 vs. $71,000.

There’s an article on Vox that “debunks” Rubio’s claim.…/…/9709948/marco-rubio-philosophy-welder.

Here’s another from CBS that “fact-checks” his statement.…/republican-debate-fact-check-was-…/

Based on these “revelations,” Rubio’s assertion that “welders make more than philosophers” is being dismissed out of hand.

Interestingly, no one has pointed out that last year, philosophers earned a combined total 1.6 billion dollars, whereas welders earned a combined total of $34 billion. Nor have I heard anyone explore the differences between mean wage vs. median wage, and the vastly different number such a calculation would yield, given the disparate size of each group, and the impact of high-earning outliers, particularly among the philosopher cohort. I suppose I could do all that here, but really, what’s the point? Numbers can always be twisted and turned to make whatever case the speaker wishes to drive home.

Personally, I’m convinced that more and greater opportunity exits in welding than philosophy. But I would not encourage one at the expense of another. That’s precisely how we’ve wound up with a workforce that’s both over-educated and under-trained. Never mind obscenely indebted. Also – it’s dangerous to conclude that one profession is superior to another simply because it pays more. Those kind of generalizations are fun but meaningless.

Having said that, I’m glad Rubio said what he said, because I know for a fact that employers are clamoring for welders. And I also know with certainty that a talented welder who is willing to go where the work is has an excellent chance to earn a six-figure salary. I have no idea if the same is true for a philosophy major, but I can assure you of this: an excellent welding program will cost a lot less than a Philosophy Degree from an excellent university. I can also tell you that the classified section of today’s paper is conspicuously void of openings for “Experienced Philosophers.” “Experienced Welders” on the other hand, appear to be in high demand everywhere.

Anyway Liz, to answer your question, I don’t think we need fewer philosophers – I think we need more philosophers who can weld. Or better yet, more welders who can philosophize. Welding and Philosophy are not opposites – they’re two sides of the same coin. Likewise blue and white collar. Labor and Capitol. Employer and Employee.

We are all more than our jobs.  Just because someone is an attorney doesn’t mean that in his spare time he can’t write about history.   A plumber can be an expert on the Civil War.  A housewife with small kids can have a passion for ancient Greek.  Of course Socrates, the father of philosophy, earned his daily bread as a stonemason.  Serving as a hoplite at the start of the Peloponnesian War he put up a sturdy rear guard defense after an Athenian defeat.  “When you behave in war as he did, then the enemy do not even touch you; instead they pursue those who turn in headlong flight”, his admiring pupil Plato noted.  We should all be lovers of wisdom, no matter our occupations, and what we do to earn our daily bread should not define us or prevent us from study that may never put a penny in our pockets but greatly enriches us nonetheless.



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  1. What a refreshing post.

    The freedom to serve neighbor has endless vocational possibilities and within each one a chance to serve authentically. True service.
    Not the (What’s in it for me?), variety.
    It is within these various occupations that we encounter the purpose of Christian life, namely to spread the Truth to all who will listen. The welder has clients. The garbage man, co-workers and supervisors. The lawyer, defendants and so on.
    The vocation of Christian can and must naturally permeate the secular vocation. When it does your place in society, your work becomes elevated in the supernatural realm.
    The light within you attracts neighbor and they seek this peace, confidence and joy you radiate. Hence the Christian vocation is active and alive. Venerable Solanus’ words; ” Life is to live and life is to give, and talents to use for good if you choose. Do not pray for easy lives but pray to be stronger. Do not pray for tasks that are equal to your talents but pray for talents that are equal to the task. Then the doing of your work is not a miracle but you become the Miracle, then you shall receive the richness of life that has been brought to you by the grace of God.”

    Fr. Solanus Casey is on the road to canonization. Died in 1958.

  2. And hookers make more than parish priests. What’s the point–other than we live in a world of relativity when it comes to morals and absolutes when it comes to money?

  3. Mike Rowe is a really interesting guy. He’s not political from what I’ve seen, but he’s intelligent and observant, and that generally leads to people saying things that sound right-wing. In a healthier society, he’d be considered a great thinker. In a truly healthy society, he’d be considered an average guy with common sense. There aren’t a lot of people with common sense talking about education and job skills these days.

  4. As stated above; “we are all more than our jobs.”

    I agree with that.
    The point of who’s job is superior to another’s is moot. At least in my opinion as stated earlier.

  5. We need more welders, sheet metal workers, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers and such and far less college grads with degrees in recreation and womens/black/Latino/whiny group studies.

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