Bryan Caplan  

The Case Against Education: What's Taking So Long

Dom Armentano... Education's Selfish and Social...
I started writing The Case Against Education in 2011.  I'm still not done, but I'm shooting for release in 2017.  What's taking so long?

Almost the opposite of writer's block.  The book is taking a long time because I've repeatedly realized I needed more space to do justice to the richness of the topic.  Economists, psychologists, sociologists, and education researchers have written libraries on education, and I take my time digesting their contributions.  As a result, the book has turned into an "accordion project": When I start writing a chapter, I realize what I have to say requires more than a chapter. 

The current organization:

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: The Signs of Signaling: In Case You're Still Not Convinced

Chapter 5: Who Cares If It's Signaling?  The Selfish Return to Education

Chapter 6: We Care If It's Signaling: The Social Return to Education

Chapter 7: Nourishing Mother: Is Education Good for the Soul?

Chapter 8: The White Elephant in the Room: We Need Far Less Education

Chapter 9: 1>0: We Need More Vocational Education

Chapter 10: Four Chats on Human Capital, Signaling, and Life Well-Lived


Chapters 5 and 6 were originally supposed to be a single chapter.  Now I've spent 16 months writing them.  Still, I have no complaints.  The Case Against Education will be the most research-intensive book I'll ever write, and I have the good fortune to be able to toil until I'm pleased with the quality of the work.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (9 to date)
johnny writes:

Bryan, Peter thiel thinks that education is all about competitiveness (or maybe signaling it?) and that is a bubble like bubble of sub prime:

you can write a post about it?

James writes:

ick. I understand you have to put "Education" in the title, but as the main point of the book(?) is distinguishing between schooling and education, it'd be nice not to see those conflated in the chapter names. Kling will be giving you dirty looks when you pass in the hall.

Mark V Anderson writes:

I really like your chapter headings. Now I want to read the book. We need to wait until 2017?

Steve writes:
Bryan, Peter thiel thinks that education is all about competitiveness (or maybe signaling it?) and that is a bubble like bubble of sub prime:

Even if the college "bubble" is similar to the housing bubble in some respects, it can't pop in the same way. The 2008 crisis happened when millions of homeowners defaulted on their mortgages at the same time, so that the financial instruments made from those mortgages declined in value, inflicting huge losses on the institutions that held them.

Student loan debt is different from mortgage debt in several key ways: it's almost never dischargeable in bankruptcy, and it's guaranteed by the government. So toxic student loan debt won't cause any sudden shock- only a long-term drag on the economy.

By the way, I highly recommend some of the writing that law professor Paul Campos has done on this subject. He's focused mostly on law schools, whose problems seem to be more extreme versions of the problems in higher ed generally. See this Atlantic piece in particular.

guthrie writes:

On the off-chance you haven't run into it, I would like to submit, and encourage you to examine, Mike Rowe's organization mikeroweWORKS as a resource and/or example of your chapter 9 material. He is continually and consistently speaking out against the cultural insistence on a '4 year degree' in favor of vocational options.

Brad writes:

Your tardiness is causing a delay in the inevitable change this work will effect in and on the education industry. Every second counts!

AS writes:

@James, I agree. And so did Milton Friedman in his books. Education is the acquisition of applicable knowledge. Schooling is just attending formal institutions. Not all education requires schools and not all schooling is education.

Do you mean Academic Education?

What about Gardner's work?

If you win and we become like Germany
with many leaving academic education
for work, what will they do?

Underemployment is off the charts.
If you consider the many BS people
working at 7-11 it is even worse.
What happens when Joe Six Pack
and parents figure this out?

What to do about education
will only get worse and
quicker than most imagine.

douglas writes:

Maybe of use, a new paper finds that education boosts crystallized intelligence, but not really fluid intelligence: Is Education Associated With Improvements in General Cognitive Ability, or in Specific Skills? (PDF) "The findings indicate that education’s ability to raise intelligence test scores ... is driven by domain-specific effects that do not show 'far transfer' to general cognitive ability."

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