It’s not often I truly feel that a guest changes my paradigm on the spot – but this is an exception.
This week we speak with Bryan Caplan about his newest book, The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. As Bryan explains, despite being immensely popular–and immensely lucrative—education is grossly overrated. Bryan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity—in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. In fact, decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, yet employers still reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use. Therefore, his recommendation is to cut education spending.
Caplan draws on the latest social science to show how the labor market values grades over knowledge, and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers. He explains why graduation is our society’s top conformity signal, and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. He advocates two major policy responses. The first is educational austerity. Government needs to sharply cut education funding to curb this wasteful rat race. The second is more vocational education, because practical skills are more socially valuable than teaching students how to outshine their peers.
Bryan Caplan is professor of economics at George Mason University and a blogger at EconLog. He is the author of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun than You Think and The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.