Bryan Caplan  

The Effects of Education: Fishing Proverb Edition

A fascinating short history of... Atlas Shrugged: My Tw...
Human Capital

"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime."

Ability Bias

"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day.  Teach a man to philosophize and he'll starve."


"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day.  Teach a man to philosophize and he'll enjoy cushy two-fish-a-day office jobs for a lifetime."

If you find these proverbs obscure, read this.

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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Jack writes:

Set a man a fire, and he will be warm for the night. Set a man ON fire, and he will be warm for the rest of his life.

Pierre writes:

I prefer this version (warning, NSFW language):


Hazel Meade writes:

I had an interesting discussion lately about the different way people interpret parables, for example the "Stone Soup" parable. Most of the liberals I know think it's a morality play about sharing. Most of the libertarians think it's a "trickster" story about a guy who gets the town to make him some free soup.


Patrick writes:

@Hazel Meade

I think this demonstrates what I've been saying for a while. Ideological differences don't have much to do with beliefs and have a lot to do with variations in the human conscience. They are neurological in origin. There is strong evidence political orientation runs in families. Social conservatives feel moral outrage when authority is questioned, even when they know an authority figure is wrong. Lefties and libertarians have a few wires pulled out—they can't feel much outrage about the same situation. Lefties feel moral outrage about privation in proximity of great wealth. Libertarians have a few more wires pulled out and just aren't bothered.

Evolution favored the development of different moralities in different environments. Libertarians do great in a market-oriented society. I think they'd do poorly in the stone age. Tribal warfare was ubiquitous and xenophobia was a crucial adaptation. Lefties, I speculate, evolved to live in cities. The first cities, about 10,000 years ago, brought together people from different tribes, and that made tolerance and openness to experience valuable.

If I were uncharitable, I could characterize both libertarianism and leftism as developmental disorders, like autism. Evolution, though, makes no distinction between disorder and adaptation.

At this point in history, social conservatives are dramatically outbreeding lefties and libertarians. This is how you tell who's really winning the argument.

English Professor writes:

Don't see the part about ability bias. In that scheme, education has no effect on the results. So the real issue is the ability of the man that you're teaching. If he's smart, he'll figure out how to get a fish on his own. If he's dumb, he won't. So the real ability bias platitude has to bifurcate according to ability:

Teach a smart man to philosophize and he'll eat well every day.
Teach a dummy to philosophize and he'll starve.

Tom West writes:

Thanks Hazel, this should make the next meeting of my friends (a mix of left and Libertarian) quite a bit more interesting...

I expect a more than a few "what do you mean 'there is more than one interpretation'?"

Capt. J Parker writes:

I don't get that chart in the link. It seems to say that income and productivity are independent of each other. Maybe you meant 'employment prospects' or 'opportunity' instead of income? Or was this all about academia. Even if it were, how do you uncouple income and productivity unless you become a monk? Maybe adaptability instead of productivity?
The human capital, ability, signaling models are great though. The pure ability state does not exist, you need a little human capital but you can obtain that online. Signaling is huge. Pure human capital is the model assumed by progressive public educators. Too bad it also does not exist in nature. Today's high ability High Schoolers suffer because of this.

OBB writes:

Ability Bias

"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. But dont teach a man anything, it is useless.

Clay writes:

@English Professor, the original parable presumes a starving man to begin with. If the man was already able to fish for himself, the whole parable would be moot. But yes, by the ability bias model, teaching a skilled fisherman philosophy wouldn't cause him to starve.

@Capt Parker, income is supposed to measure productivity, but it isn't perfect. Some people have cushy jobs where income is disproportionately high to innate productivity and other people have the reverse situation.

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