Bryan Caplan  

Economics of Education Over the Virtual Lunchtable

Another Caplan Fan... Sailer's Challenge...

I haven't had a joint lunch with Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen for two weeks, but we're having a substitute meal (minus food) in the MR comments section.


Income distribution thus depends on the balance between technological progress and access to college and postgraduate study. The problem isn’t so much capitalism as it is that American lower education does not prepare enough people to receive gains from American higher education.

Bottlenecks currently keep more individuals from improving their education...


What, not even a passing mention of the signaling theory of education? These private gains to education need not correspond to much net social gain. Tyler knows better, but as with his articles on health care, Tyler clearly expects that his NYT audience would prefer not to hear about such "cynical" considerations.


Robin, the studies cited in my post attempt to control for signaling and estimate the returns to education holding type constant. Their "natural experiments" are pretty good, albeit not perfect. Note, however, that these are marginal returns for people on the cusp of going to college. Signaling still might be more important inframarginally.


Only a tiny number of studies control for signaling. Many DO try to control for ability bias, but that's a totally distinct issue, as I explain here:

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Floccina writes:

How about some discussion of the other side of the equation for example could teaching probability help a person avoid state lotteries and lead to and increased accumulation of wealth? How about if people were taught how to buy a car without getting ripped off (check the Kelly blue book first)? How about if people were drilled on compounding interest?

I had physics Professor in college who debunked karate, that may have saved some people money.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

I think the signaling will differ by major.

For example, there is pretty much no alternative to learn how to become an electrical engineer than to go to college because the kind of courses you need (like field/matter/waves) just are not taught outside college, are not easy to pick up from books alone, and the courses tightly interwine with physics and math knowledge in a rigorous way that takes intense concentration.

On the other hand, there probably are some software engineers who learned programing on their own spending many hours on the computer, read Knuth's algorithm books, and maybe took an software development lifecycle course outside of a college. They may already have "years of experience" writing popular open source software.

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