Bryan Caplan

The Case against Education

Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

Princeton University Press 2018

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in EconomicsNew Books in EducationNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books Network November 20, 2018 Marshall Poe

Pretty much everyone knows that the American healthcare system is, well, very inefficient. We don’t, so critics say, get as much healthcare bang for...

Pretty much everyone knows that the American healthcare system is, well, very inefficient. We don’t, so critics say, get as much healthcare bang for our buck as we should. According to Bryan Caplan, however, the American educational system–higher education in particular–is much, much worse. In The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money (Princeton University Press, 2018), Caplan argues that we are quite literally paying a fortune and getting almost nothing of any collective value. Pretty much all the news in this book is bad. Students spend a ton on secondary ed, but they don’t learn many marketable skills. In fact, the don’t learn much at all: they forget almost everything they learn in college quite quickly. Taxpayers heavily subsidize this “learning” experience, but the social payoff is dramatically less than the investment. College is a good deal for good students, but it’s a very bad deal for the many poor students who don’t finish and have thus wasted their savings and several years of their lives–years they could have been working and accumulating money instead of throwing it away. College doesn’t make us culturally or ethically better people by almost any definition of “better.” Interestingly, despite what conservative pundits say, it doesn’t even change our political views: even though the vast majority of professors are liberal, and their courses perhaps have a liberal slant, students come out of college  with the same political attitudes they brought to it. What does college do for students? According to Caplan’s compelling argument, it signals to employers that they are conscientious and hard working enough to (you guessed it) finish college and, by inference, work an ordinary job. That, he says, is a very costly signal.

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