Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Does Education Drive Economic Growth?

Jonah Goldberg says "no":
Higher education in particular is almost universally championed as the key to "winning the future"

— a buzz phrase the president borrowed from Newt Gingrich awhile back. New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt calls education the "lifeblood of economic growth."

Often channeling such writers as Thomas Friedman, whose fondness for the Chinese economic model borders on the perverse, Obama routinely elevates education to a national security issue. "There's an educational arms race taking place around the world right now — from China to Germany, to India to South Korea," Obama said in 2010. "Cutting back on education would amount to unilateral disarmament. We can't afford to do that."

Now, obviously, education is important and necessary for a host of reasons (and nobody is calling for "disarmament," whatever that means). But there's little evidence it drives growth.
I have long asked to see some evidence that all our spending on higher education in this state is of value to the taxpayer and not just to the student who gets heavily subsidized college.  It's not that I'm against higher education or believe that California's 50-year-old master plan for higher education is a bad idea, but when faced with its cost, I wonder if we can afford it anymore.  Merely asking the question brings a barrage of commentary about the public benefit of our "investment" in higher education, but I've never seen evidence.

Goldberg suggests I shouldn't hold my breath anticipating such evidence.  Go read the whole thing.


allen (in Michigan) said...

I agree with Goldberg even though he misses the most obvious objection to the notion that education drives the economy - the time lag. How long does it take an improvement to the education system to have an impact on the economy?

If the education system became twice as effective tomorrow the only impact on the economy would be the kids who graduate and enter the labor force. As a percentage of the labor force that's a pretty small number. Too small to have any noticeable impact. The impact would increase, year over year, as kids graduated from school.

A much more immediate impact on the economy comes from reducing government meddling in the economy. Evidence China, Taiwan and South Korea. Economies in the toilet and then, responding to a reduction in interference in the economy by the government, their economies took off like rockets.

Ellen K said...

Have you read Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind?" Written in 2006, almost everything he's predicted has come to pass. Anything routine that can be done on a computer can be done anywhere. So engineering, accounting, and even law are now going to take a hit. But what the US has in abundance is innovation. Our crazy society allows for independent thought and new ideas in a way that entrenched regimes cannot duplicate. While math and science are great, the ability to innovate, to think outside the box, to design and to interface technological advances for human use is what we need. So what does the Education Dept push? More accounting, more engineering, less art, less design, less liberal arts. There's a great deal to recommend the real liberal arts education. I know some engineers who are great at their jobs but can't explain what they do verbally. Maybe it's time for us to stop trying the H. Ross Perot model of shaping children into "future employees" and start appreciating a full range of talents and abilities and allowing those kids who want to go to college to do so, and for those who what instead to develop a job skill to do that as well.

mmazenko said...

I completely agree, Ellen. I actually use Pink's WNM as one of the texts in my senior CE Intro to College Comp class. It has been quite revealing and inspiring for my students.

Ellen K said...

I make my AP art students read it as a way to combat their parents' deep seated fears that they will become artists.