Here's an excerpt from the latest draft of The Case Against Education.
The link between practical skill and worldly success is
subtler than either mainstream defenders or contrarian detractors of modern
education imagine.The skillful do a good job.The successful have a good job.Despite its
weak effect on skill, education remains the modern economy's surest stairway to
prosperity.The more steps you climb,
the better the market treats you.If you
personally know a lot wealthy dropouts and indigent college grads, you
personally know a lot of exceptional people.
Challenge the data all you like.Correct for brains, motivation, family
background, choice of major, and beyond.The education premium will shrink before your eyes.Yet the shrinking stops long before the
education premium disappears.Vocational
majors are especially lucrative, but even Fine Arts and Archaeology degrees boost
your income by 30% or so.While you
count the cash, don't forget the equally solid effects of education on
employment, health insurance, pensions, and beyond.
Why would shrewd, money-grubbing employers pay such exorbitant
rates for archaeologists?Education's contrarian
detractors typically blame the government, but their stories fall flat.Government sinecures?The private sector pays more for education than the public sector.Regulation?The education premium in licensed and unlicensed jobs is roughly the
same.Lawsuits?Legal doctrine notwithstanding, the IQ "test
tax" is only a pittance.
Contrarian detractors should stop avoiding the obvious explanation:
signaling.Going to school to certify your skill can be as lucrative
as going to school to enhance your
skill.If archaeology B.A.s are better
workers than high school grads, an employer needn't waste his time wondering,
"What useful skills do archaeology programs really teach?"Instead, he'll skip the bottom line: "When I
pay 30% extra for an archaeologist, I get my money's worth.End of story."
Education's contrarian detractors and mainstream defenders
have one illusion in common: Both think they can kill two birds with one
stone.The detractors find little
effect of education on job skills, so they ignore the evidence about the strong
effect of education on worldly success.The defenders find a large effect of education on worldly success, so
they ignore the evidence about the weak effect of education on job skills.Both sides make strong cases as long as they stick
to the evidence they know.Both sides
falter, however, when they use one body of evidence to close two separate
The wise approach is to take all the evidence seriously.To
understand education, we have to look at skill and success, at learning and
earning.Irrelevant education really is
financially rewarding.Human capital
purism can only respond with denial and dismay.We should be thankful, then, that the signaling model is ready, willing,
and able to pick up the slack.