Sunday, November 12, 2017

When Signalling Becomes the Main Economic Option

Is education "overrated" as a social and economic signal? Even though college comes with a high cost, there's few other valid platforms for knowledge use, across a wide spectrum of economic activity. The fact so many choose the signal of a college degree, is also a reminder that not everyone can successfully opt for self employment, as well. One of the more unsettling aspects of economic stagnation, is that so many need to compete for what has become limited versions of a knowledge use platform in developed nations, especially given the monetary tightening that took hold with the onset of the Great Recession.

If more substantial economic options were already in place - options which could also make signalling less important - I wouldn't need to question the premise of Bryan Caplan's latest book, "The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money". The Amazon book review details "why we need to stop wasting public funds on education", and concludes:
Romantic notions about education being "good for the soul" must yield to careful research and common sense - The Case Against Education points the way.
Apparently his book is timely, if in fact some states are already contemplating dismantling their public universities. Given the fact Caplan supports free markets, however, his reasoning appears incomplete in a larger context. Has he considered the extent to which valuable human capital could be lost, without concerted efforts on the part of private industry to bring more knowledge and participants to 21st century workplaces?

And this is just a consideration of knowledge use in its most pragmatic forms. What about learning for the love of learning? Is not education which is "good for the soul", also good for our economic health - not to mention the real wealth of experiential product? By dismissing public education out of hand, Caplan must believe that economic progress would continue as before, only with less government support. Nevertheless, the best way to ensure continued economic dynamism, would be to generate better private means for economic access and participation. In other words, instead of taking something away, create something better. If private industry creates viable options which integrate informal education as part of their structure, populations would then have less reason to expect public education as a mandated requirement.

By itself, an argument to cease governmental support for education is a closed argument, which would quickly result in a more stratified society than we are already experiencing. I believe that thinkers on the right would gain more positive traction with citizens, by arguing for new and better platforms of economic and social engagement, which could ultimately reduce the incentive to maintain expensive forms of economic access. After all: Just as it is better to have a job in place before leaving an old job, it is better for a society to have new economic plans in place, before assuming the old plans deserve a stick of dynamite.

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