I think the article suffers from several flaws — the premise is based on the contention that the only legitimate reason to obtain a PhD is to get an academic position and/or to earn a lot of money.
There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things.
The notion that a doctorate is training for academia is contradicted by the various stories I hear about how graduate school never trains you how to teach. In science, at least, the main thrust of graduate school is to teach you how to do research.
Also, the author contradicts his own idea, because if the only reason for a PhD is to get a position in academia, why should the wants and desires of the business world matter? I suspect that the skills the business world wants is as a lab technician, with the capabilities of someone who can do research but without the financial burden of paying someone who has a doctorate. Someone with the capabilities of a PhD but without the ambition to get the degree..
In some subjects the premium for a PhD vanishes entirely. PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. The premium for a PhD is actually smaller than for a master’s degree in engineering and technology, architecture and education. Only in medicine, other sciences, and business and financial studies is it high enough to be worthwhile. Over all subjects, a PhD commands only a 3% premium over a master’s degree.
What this fails to note is that there is some work that you will only be able to do is you have a PhD. While you might not get paid more, there’s the chance that it will be more interesting and/or fulfilling. There are people who do what they do because they like doing it.
Proponents of the PhD argue that it is worthwhile even if it does not lead to permanent academic employment. Not every student embarks on a PhD wanting a university career and many move successfully into private-sector jobs in, for instance, industrial research. That is true; but drop-out rates suggest that many students become dispirited. In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrolment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%.
Here the author fails to note that the graduation rate of undergraduate degrees is about the same — in 2008, 57.2% of college students had completed their degree within six years of enrolling. If completion is the metric for worthiness, then a bachelor’s degree is just as worthless.
The decision to get a PhD should be made based on knowing the facts. If you want to go on to be a professor and do research at a major university, you should know that the odds are against you, and shame on anyone who tries and misrepresent those job prospects. You should know whether you stand to make more money with the degree. But it’s just irresponsible to pretend that there are no other reasons to choose such a career path.