Bryan Caplan  

Meta-Measuring Signaling

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Tyler has probably just posted his best piece on educational signaling ever.  Unfortunately, I leave for vacation today, so I won't write a detailed response.  My quick take: Tyler now tacitly admits the force of many of my arguments, so he's retreating into meta issues that apply to all decision-making whatsoever. 

The point of my weirder hypotheticals is to open minds, not measure signaling.  When I talk about measuring private returns, I focus on normal practical decisions - what will happen to your productivity and earnings if you finish high school, college, etc.  When I talk about measuring social returns, I focus on normal policy decisions - what will happen to social output if education subsidies go up or down. 

I don't know where these two approaches fit in Tyler's typology, but maybe he'll tell us.

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Philo writes:

Let's be sure to distinguish between *education* per se and *obtaining an educational credential*. The former makes one a more competent person, the latter signals one’s diligence and conformism, as well as one’s competence (since it is a sign of actual education). It is not clear that the general question, “How much does actual education contribute to one’s greater income, and how much does the signal provided by an educational credential contribute?” is worth worrying over, since the answers for each instance in which a particular morsel of education is received or a particular credential is bestowed will vary so much.

Glen S. McGhee writes:

Cowan comes across as overly exuberant, I think, and so he ends up reifying everything in sight with his magic wand. This, that and the other thing.

It's easier to simply say -- and far safer as well -- that human capital is a myth and it ignores context.

This leads directly to the next step -- how did we end up in this dreamland, that deifies "self." Investigating this history is far more enlightening than the intellectual fireworks on display here.

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