Thursday, August 05, 2004


A great cry that regularly emanates from politicians who want to sound "caring" is the need for more "investment" in education (which means of course more of that lovely government spending and hence more taxes). The cry is usually justfied as an investment in "human capital". The claim is that more education leds to more capable people (don't laugh!) and hence more productivity and a wealthier community generally. It has been known since the 1973 work of Ivar Berg (review here) that this is utter horse-sh*t. The educational system has long been so airy-fairy that most of it is already more a hindrance than a help to worker productivity and income generation. If we wanted to do something useful for people we would be cutting education-spending back to the low level that actually works (like such revolutionary policies as making sure nobody gets out of grade school until they can read and write) -- not increasing it. Berg's studies (recently updated and reissued) focused on microeconomic indices (differences between people within a given population), however, so it is a welcome update to read this recent article, focusing on macroeconomic comparisons (differences between countries). The different methodology, however, leads to the same conclusions. For an extended look at the dubious value of a humanities education in particular see here.

And here is the latest example of such a boneheaded cry -- a summary of the promises from the recent Democrat convention: "George Bush's increase in national education spending, the largest since the program's inception, wasn't enough. The Democrats want to raise elementary spending at least $27 billion but, of course, spend nothing on educational vouchers for those who need to escape the failed government monopoly school system. And Democrats want the same priority for college education spending, at least $25 billion more yearly."

Reality finally bites: "Chicago is closing 60 failing schools, opening 100 new schools and letting private managers run most of the new schools with no union contract. Chicago business leaders used the prospect of federal sanctions under No Child Left Behind "to pressure the city to put many schools into private hands, outside union jurisdiction," reports the New York Times. The local teachers' union is distracted by charges of fraud in the recent election for union president. With nobody in charge, the union hasn't done much to fight the plan."

Degrees for sale: "Cash-strapped British universities are awarding degrees to students who should be failed, in return for lucrative fees, The Observer can reveal. The 'degrees-for-sale' scandal stretches from the most prestigious institutions to the former polytechnics and includes undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, foreign and home students. In the most extreme case, The Observer has evidence of a professor ordering staff to mark up students at risk of failing in order to keep the money coming in. Lecturers at institutions across the country, including Oxford, London and Swansea, told The Observer the scandal is undermining academic standards, but they cannot speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs." This sort of thing has long been an ongoing scandal in Australian universities too. Why should government employees care about degrading their product?


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