[ExI] big rip in education

Stuart LaForge avant at sollegro.com
Thu Mar 7 02:20:03 UTC 2019

Dan Ust wrote:

>  I’m wondering why no one here has discussion Bryan Caplan’s on education:
> https://press.princeton.edu/titles/11225.html
> Or have I missed it? The TL;DR rundown of his book is this:  
> education is mostly signaling. Degree inflation is mainly not  
> increasing worker skills or even detecting talent, but merely an  
> expansive (and, therefore, mostly wasteful) signal. Think of the  
> analogy with buying an expansive engagement ring. According to  
> Caplan, this best explain degree — why the BA and BS degrees have  
> become the new high school diploma.

It is a signal but that is not all it is. And as a signal it is not  
tremendously informative. Masters degrees and PhD.s were included in  
the data that I linked to. We have a large surplus degree bearers at  
all levels.

> He also responds to other theories and even other purposes to  
> education, such as having an informed citizenry. On all these, he  
> shows that the data doesn’t much fit. For instance, with regard to  
> an informed citizenry, the data seems to show few students recall  
> much of their civics and history lessons. They seem to memorize  
> enough to pass the test and then promptly forget this stuff. Which  
> is kind of signaling works: the goal is to signal — not to retain or  
> use what’s learned.)

But so much of what is learned in the physical sciences is so  
practically useful even if it is redundant to a service provided  
cheaply enough by the market that the learner need not practice it.  
Nonetheless a great deal is retained. For example take chemistry. It  
might be cost effective for me to buy batteries somewhere for example.  
But should civilization fall, my knowledge of chemistry allows me to  
construct my own if necessary and you can't put a price on knowledge  
like that. So in a sense, I am saying that the redundancy of technical  
skills and knowledge is itself useful to civilization as a whole as it  

> And, yes, he does discuss how people can basically pursue knowledge  
> and skills online and outside of schooling or degrees. (Of course, a  
> problem for employers is a signal tends to be cheaper for them than,  
> say, extensively confirming someone has independently mastered some  
> skill or domain.)
> Comments? 

If a signal of competency in a specialty takes 3 to 5 years and tens  
of thousands of dollars to generate while demand can shift with the  
wind, it is a poor signal. It would make more sense to allow people to  
switch industries simply by passing competency tests. Also, like I  
said, some of the stuff you learn at school or wherever else is  
inherently valuable long after you pass the exam.

Stuart LaForge

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