Bryan Caplan  

The Case Against Education: The Project Evolves

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In the last Table of Contents for The Case Against Education, chapter two is "Useless Studies with Big Payoffs: The Puzzle Is Real."  After writing this chapter for three months, I realized I had to split the discussion.  Now there will be a full chapter showing that students learn few job skills in school, followed by a separate chapter showing that the education premium, though sharply exaggerated my mainstream labor economists, is still quite high.

Other big change: I got so many positive reactions to the dialog chapter in Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids that I decided to end my education book the same way.

Here's my full revised Table of Contents.  Comments welcome.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The Magic of Education

Chapter 2: The Puzzle Is Real: The Ubiquity of Useless Education

Chapter 3: The Puzzle Is Real: The Handsome Rewards of Useless Education

Chapter 4: Measuring Signaling

Chapter 5: Who Cares If It's Signaling?  The Private, Familial, and Social Returns to Education

Chapter 6: Nourishing Mother: Is Education Good for the Soul?

Chapter 7: The White Elephant in the Room: We Need Far Less Education

Chapter 8: 1>0: We Need More Vocational Education

Chapter 9: Four Chats on Human Capital, Signaling, and Life Well-Lived

P.S. How long until I finish?  At the current pace, another two years.  I still have a lot to learn about my topic, and I'd rather take my time and do the job properly.

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COMMENTS (12 to date)
KnowPD writes:

Look forward to it! Would like to see a post or coverage of education as a consumption good. I know there's one on education as a merit good but what's the difference? To me education is much like having children - a consumption good. The fact that it improves earning power is a bonus.

Sean writes:

Have you considered webbing drafts for public criticism?

Dan in Euroland writes:

I find it a little unsettling that you already know your conclusion, and even have your title, but then admit "I still have a lot to learn about my topic. ."

Ivan writes:

I thoroughly enjoyed your "Myth of the Rational Voter", however the "Case Against Education" is probably one of my most anticipated books. I have been trying to explain the signaling theory of education to anyone willing to listen for almost a decade now with very limited results. It's mind boggling that not more people are actually analyzing and thinking about this issue

Vipul Naik writes:

Which of these chapters will discuss the "networking" theory of education, i.e., that education is mainly an efficient mechanism for people to build networks for work, meet potential romantic partners, and form other useful lifelong associations?

Anonymous writes:

It's not that he knows his conclusion. It's that he has a working theory. You cannot pursue a topic without one. And when you assume you do, it's just that you don't realize that you do. Sometimes you revise or replace your theory. Sometimes you don't. But you always have one.

Peter H writes:

I find the titles you're using for the breakup of chapters 2 and 3 wanting a bit.

What puzzle is real? Nothing else in the title (unless you're omitting a subtitle) or any other chapter heads mentions anything about a puzzle. A bit of brevity would help here, perhaps the following?

1. The Magic of Education

2. Ubiquitous but Useless Education

3. The Handsome Rewards of Useless Education

Both titles 2 and 3 strongly hint at a puzzling problem by the contrast present, and shortening them up makes the tied together themes more apparent without making the reader feel talked down to the way repetition can.

This is just a style point though, the substance sounds like an excellent read.

Brad Strang writes:

Two Years?? Essssh.

Jim Rose writes:

Have you considered Japanese universities: everyone who passes their really tough entrance exams then passes all subjects in their degree and gets an A! I studied at a Japanese university.

The last year of undergraduate study is spent mostly sitting tough entrance exams that employers administer because they know university grades are of no value.

Entrance to a high prestige university is taken as evidence of quality. A poor result on the entrance exam can be offset by paying a donation to a broker who the pass on the bribe to university officials to fix the matter. People have sued to get their donation back when they got only into dental school rather than medical school.

Because grades matter little, students slack off a lot. Takes a little of the pressure off academics too!

If a student is given a failing grade, the professor has to explain why to his faculty. It is the professor’s fault that the student failed because the professor did not give sufficient guidance to motivate them to succeed.

Jim Rose writes:

I should add that attending a high status Japanese university is valuable in the labour markets because they passed the entrance test. Passing the entrance test signals raw albeit it untutored ability.

Luis Ortiz writes:

2 years, wow big project. Is it a side project? I can't imagine knowing that I'll have to give 2 years to something before I see the fruits of my are a stronger person than I.

Keith writes:

Bryan, I second "Dan in Euroland"'s apprehension. Yes, you need a working theory, but it sure seems like you are rather confident in it.

So here's a question: How confident are you? If you'd like, you can analyze the question this way:

1. What is your current estimate of the fraction of the private return to education (say, through 4 years of college) that comes from signaling?

2. What is the probability that your estimate two years from now will be only 3/4 your current? And how about 5/4 your current?

I'd be really interested in a quantification of your confidence.

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