Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bryan Caplan's new book

He has an outline here. I've been tangentially interested in the rational voter stuff, but I should probably actually pick this one up and read it more carefully. I agree marginally on some of this stuff, but have hesitations. One of the things that's bothered me about the way Caplan blogs about education is that he often treats human capital theories and signaling theories as an either/or issue. This outline seems more nuanced, which is nice.

The point I strongly agree with here is chapter 8. I think that's more because we've underinvested that and the way we do education here has resulted in some serious bifurcation in the skills distribution.

One of the things I wonder about his emphasis on signaling is that a lot of the things that are being signaled are actually traits you probably pick up in college. College helps turn dependent kids into independent adults, and it's those qualities that make an independent adult that play a large role in signaling. I'm not saying that's the only way to impart those skills, I'm just saying I wouldn't make such a strong case against formal education as Bryan does.


  1. I am a little uneasy seeing those contents.

    This man is engaging in blatant social engineering by talking what sort of education fits his third party preferences. How un-libertarian.

    His preference of vocational education over real education is also disturbing. What's the point of building a child into an economically sufficient being, if he does not understand his purpose and place in this world? That's why we have the sciences and literature - as a part of the existential upbringing of the child, and to ensure that he understands why he must be a civilized person.

    Caplan seems to want to create worker drones.

    1. Sounds like "Chapter 6: Is Education Good for the Soul?"

  2. Speaking of Caplan's book on rational voters, Dr. Michael Emmett Brady has written a review of said book before.

  3. I generally agree with Bryan on this.

    As I understand it, even in the US a great deal of the funding for higher education comes from the taxpayer. A pure Libertarian viewpoint would be to insist that it shouldn't do. Putting that aside though it does and a great many people support that. Does that mean though that they support paying money to people without any control over what they do with it? Clearly not, they support using it for education rather than other things. So, the form of education is a perfectly acceptable thing to debate. Caplan may quite consistently say, "I think no government money should be spent on higher education, but since it is and I can't do anything about it I support spending it well", I don't know if he would say that though.

    Like Caplan I'm skeptical about the grand ideas that University supposedly teaches the student, he "purpose and place in this world" or "why he must be a civilized person". I have met many uncivilised people with degrees and many civilised people without them. Where is the evidence that this is true? I think the problem with this idea is that people (like you Prateek) concentrate on the most intellectually inclined and intelligent people when making this judgement. Those people will follow their abilities and proclivities and most-likely become highly-functioning members of society in almost any situation. They forget about the large proportion of students who have no particular love for their subject or learning in general. Those student are there to get a certificate and have three or four years of fun, some students I've known have admitted that openly.

  4. Living like sardines and partying frequently - sounds like a great environment for growing up. If anything, it's more like a bizarre social situation/4 year vacation for most kids. For the most part, it's been my experience that most people do their growing up after they've finished school. You really need to provide some kind of reason for why it does as good a job as any alternative (the only relevant comparison) - because as far as I can tell, it does worse, and at a cost.

    And on the whole either/or issue. I tend to agree with Caplan but I also strongly agree with the nature via nurture theory. Just because you think the truth is more of a mix, doesn't mean you have to invoke the argument that what's driving the opinion of some is some kind of subconscious desire for purity (or to out-compete the other side) - your claim is not only meaningless but it strikes me as being moderate for the sake of being moderate. What's driven my opinion is my experience and thinking on the matter - I could care less about whether it's a mix or not.

    1. And you strike me as being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative.

      re: "You really need to provide some kind of reason for why it does as good a job as any alternative"

      I never said that, so I certainly don't need to provide evidence to that effect.

      No, edarniw - the reason I say that is because field of study does influence occupational choice, and we do have measured returns to education aside from signaling effects.

      re: "What's driven my opinion is my experience and thinking on the matter"

      By which I assume you mean anecdote and being grouchy about your own experiences.

  5. A college degree is becoming increasingly used as a signal for employment that doesn't require one if the skills associated with the employment is taken into account.


    "College helps turn dependent kids into independent adults..."

    So would a vocational school or simple work life. Given that you are a graduate student it isn't surprising that you would take the position that you take though. I went to college; I've got degrees. Anecdotal and all, but I don't use that for anything and what I practice in my work life could have just as easily come from me not going to college and simply entering the workforce at eighteen or sixteen even. I could just as easily argue that college delays your development as an adult and keeps you in the world of childhood a bit longer, that seems to be just as likely a thesis as yours.

  6. re: "So would a vocational school or simple work life."

    Exactly. That's exactly why I talk so much on here about vocational options like apprenticeships, anonymous. You don't seem to be understanding what I'm saying. I'm not saying people shouldn't pursue vocational school or simple work life at all.

    What I'm saying is that college provides a lot of the same non-academic skills that vocational school and work life does. It should not just be dismissed as a place where one takes classes that don't apply to future jobs.

    re: "I could just as easily argue that college delays your development as an adult and keeps you in the world of childhood a bit longer, that seems to be just as likely a thesis as yours."

    What exactly do you think my thesis is? You don't seem to be grasping it at all.


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.