The Case Against Education with Bryan Caplan


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My guest for this episode is Bryan Caplan of George Mason University. We discuss his latest book, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money, in which he argues that the social value of education is negative.

This may seem paradoxical, given that more educated individuals tend to earn more than less educated individuals. This can be explained in two ways: First, people who get more education were likely more skilled in the first place; in other words, there is a selection effect. Second, people who are already skilled can use education to demonstrate their skill to employers; economists call this signalling.

Signalling plays an important role in Bryan's understanding of the education system. He sees the causal effect of education on income as being 80 percent signalling and 20 percent learning. Most signalling models view signalling as negative sum: signals are costly, and to the extent that they help educated workers by pushing their resumes to the top of the pile, they harm uneducated workers by relegating their resumes to the trash bin. If everyone gets educated, then no one has a better chance of finding a job, but they bear the costs of many years and thousands of dollars of education.

Bryan draws on evidence from many different research areas to support his case, from economic research on the Sheepskin effect and comparisons between individual and national effects of education, to educational psychology research on "learning how to learn." We had an excellent conversation and I hope you will enjoy listening to it.

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