Johnny Roccia poses one of the hardest challenges to The Case Against Education I've encountered. (Aside: The audiobook is now out!) I see it as a special case of a more general issue: Given the high anonymity of modern societies, why isn't there vastly more lying?
Okay, so I just finished the book. First off -
incredible. It went beyond even my very high expectations. But I
can gush later, and I'm sure you've heard enough of that by now anyway.
But I have to share a thought that doesn't seem to appear
anywhere within those pages. A factor that you may have considered, but
would be incredibly hard to research, I'd imagine.
So let's say education is 80/20 signaling/capital. And
the capital share really only comes into play once you HAVE the job, since it's
pretty hard to measure beforehand. So signaling is the primary metric by
which you GET a job.
So... how many people do you think lie about having a
Anecdotally: I know lots (a dozen+) adults who have
long-standing, high-paying professional jobs that ostensibly
"require" a degree. Those people do not have college
degrees. They lied about that fact, got the job, and were perfectly
capable of doing it so they kept it. I also know several high-school
dropouts who are of the "smart but rebellious" variety, in similar
My experience: Very few employers actually *check* to
see if you have a college degree. NO ONE checks to see if you graduated
high school. Graduating high school, in particular, is so standard that
it's just assumed, and therefore virtually no employer wastes the
time/money/effort required to actually verify. And for those people that
I personally know, I'd have never realized they didn't graduate if they hadn't
told me. How would you even tell? I've been out of high school for
17 years, so I don't have the mental means to grill someone on their
If even 10% of people who claim to have a college degree are
lying about it, how would that affect the numbers in your book? That
*hugely* pushes the validity of the signaling model, but it's got to be hard to
research - how do you ask people if they're lying about their degree?
If you search in the news, you can always find a few cases where some
high-profile person was "outed" from a prominent position because it
was revealed they lied about their credentials. (This seems absurd on the
surface - if they've been doing the job for a decade, why does not having a
degree suddenly disqualify them? Of course, learning new facts regarding
their overall level of honesty can make you not want to continue employing
them, but their basic competence is unchanged.) But those seem rare - and
the result of some extenuating circumstances in each case. As long as you
stick to jobs you can actually do, you're usually fine.
My advice to job-seeking friends: If a job listing has
"Bachelor's in Engineering Required," then you probably need
one. If it just says "Bachelor's degree required," then go
ahead and apply anyway - after all, if a degree in ANY major is equally good,
then the job isn't really looking for skills, just conformity and brains.
You say degrees are helpful because it's hard to fake
long-term conformity, but it's really easy - you just fake having the degree.
So what explains employers' lax enforcement of a signaling
system they're so invested in? Well, what if employers *ALREADY*
recognize that education is mostly bunk, but Social Desirability Bias works on
them, too? An employer that loudly claims "We don't care about
degrees!" looks weird, and then probably attracts only low-caliber applicants.
How do you get around this? Say you require degrees, but then don't
check! That way, you get TWO classes of applicants - those with degrees,
and those with the chutzpah to claim they do (and the confidence that they can
do the job anyway!).
From my own experience: If I see a job I want that
lists a degree as a requirement, I apply anyway. My resume in my career
field is impressive, despite the lack of degree. I almost always get a
callback, and get the job - the interviewer never even *asks* about my
college. So employers use it as a filter, but don't actually care about
it. Social Desirability Bias, with a covert workaround.