by Tyler Cowen
on November 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm
in Uncategorized |
1. Legal issues with euro redenomination.
2. Bryan Caplan defends the signaling model.
3. What a central bank does, great post by Felix Salmon, and Karl Smith responds on Italy.
4. ZMP results.
WTF about Caplan?
1.- Went nuts before acknowledging Hanson’s ideas.
2.- Just tries to signal honesty and become more credible.
Agreed. Caplan’s initial position that he cannot teach what he does not know is both a negative and a positive, and depending on the degree is actually a boon. Businesses teach narrow skills (often poorly) and Caplan fails to acknowledge the diversity of skills learned at university, not least of which is interpersonal skills with higher performing peers (something that few high schools students can do without leaving their parents). Education needs to be refocused, but suggesting that college is _only_ about signaling truly proves how ignorant Caplan is regarding industry.
“Caplan fails to acknowledge the diversity of skills learned at university”
To address Caplan’s argument specifically what skill does an economics student learn from an economics professor that is of tangible benefit to a business?
I think the extreme signaling arguments made by Caplan and others over-valorize what type of learning occurs on the job. As an academic, B.C. doesn’t have a “real” job and therefore underestimates the drudgery and sheer mindlessness involved in most professional work. What skill, specifically, did the paralegal down the hall from me hone today? Nothing significant from what I can tell, and that’s no discredit to him, it is just a result of the tasks that actually make up a typical working day.
I understand and actually am inclined to agree with the argument that a college degree is not just a pure case of signalling that is not intrinsically worth more than a peacocks tail, however, when you try and nail down the actual value, it’s more problematic.
I assume that there is some worth (X) to a college degree and that there is some status gain (signaling; Y) and the total college degree could be represented by (assuming linearity) z = x+y. I know what Z is in the US today for almost all colleges. It would be nice to have a firmer grasp on X and Y or even just a rough idea.
The answer to this question would tell us, as a society, what we are getting out of a College degree, and of how much we are just driving up the relative cost.
Not domain-specific knowledge, but the overall college experience teaches:
1. How to make an argument
2. How to finish a paper on time
3. How to do a project with others on a deadline
4. How to bullshit your way through a meeting
5. How to kiss ass
“…employers reward educational success because of what it shows (“signals”) about the student. Good students tend to be smart, hard-working, and conformist – three crucial traits for almost any job.”
Sorry but I just don’t buy this..first or second argument. The proof is in the pudding. A degree suggests that you are capable of *learning* something (that’s a good skill for the workplace). Moreover, his economics courses hopefully teach students that there are a lot of things we don’t know about the world and still need creative (not conformist) thinkers to address them. That’s a skill that academics should be good at teaching. Maybe a sabbatical in the real world (or smaller step, a government agency) would help Bryan understand that his lectures have a deeper impact on his students than some signal stamp?
I’m thinking Caplan is smarter than that. I meant to suggest this, but I’d further axa’s #2 that Caplan is potentially posing ignorant as a signaling mechanism to suggest he’s anti-education to all those potential economics students who know they also need a degree, but only because it’s a signal.
What is it about an economics lecture that teaches people the world is complicated beyond what they would figure out in a real-world job? The only reason that may be the case is because the average student is young and inexperienced in the ways of the world as it is. Yes a good economics lecture might possibly accomplish this for a few hard-working students, but an internship at a good firm would certainly do the same, and probably for more individuals.
College isn’t necessarily a waste of time for everyone. But the vast majority of students simply don’t care about what they learn; they just want the grade and the diploma, and they’d be better served (as would the rest of society) if the signaling device didn’t exist.
So if the signaling device didn’t exist, how would employers figure out who is the smartest/hardest-working/etc?
They would have to do capability testing themselves, and also measure somehow work ethic, perhaps by looking at where the candidate has managed to sustain effort over a substantial period of time (4 years). Which is effectively what the Universities do. So, even if Universities didn’t exist, companies would re-create them to be able to efficiently recruit (Smart 18 year olds are just too risky, sorry). So it’s not just an arms race/signalling device, there is a real purpose to the four years you spend at college. It is broadly true that a lot of what you learn at a University will not be relevant to your work, but as an employer, I would like to know that my potential recruit has capability in the area concerned; I am not going to recruit and english major instead of a civil engineer, even if the academic work of the engineer has little direct relevance to his day to day job. IQ tests and SATs are not specific enough in terms of that capability.
This said, I think we can substantially reduce the amount of time spent in University substantially and still get the necessary information about a person’s capabilities. A three year course is all that is required. Graduate degrees are becoming a requirement for any serious job and people are spending too long at college.
As we discussed at MR two years ago at length, employers are not allowed to test for general capability, such as an IQ test, because of disparate impact. Only very narrow capability tests are allowed. This makes it easy for example for someone like Google, who can ask applicants for a capability test which is essentially an IQ test, not so much for a trucking company who prefers smarter drivers over dumber drivers (for a reason)
So that leaves college without competition.
If an employer receives 500 applications for one position, all of which have a college degree, how do they figure out who is the smartest/ hardest-working? Most desirable jobs today require a college degree…and therein lies the problem with signaling…once the signal exists, everyone must obtain it to become a player, and no new information is revealed. We’ve all just spent four years trying to separate ourselves from one another, and in doing so we all end up looking the same
Uh, grades and institution they come from as a first screening mechanism?
Nick, there’s a lot to deciding which applicant to hire for a particular job beyond their transcript. When hiring research assistants last year (many who do a lot of policy work not just help write wonky papers), I screened first on grades (adjusted for institution), coursework (gotta care a little about the economy…and/or be great at math/stats at my work), letters of recommendations (which put words behind the numbers…and give you anecdotes about the student). Then comes the interview…and both sides are really being evaluated at that point. I suppose you could call this whole dance a signal extraction problem…there’s a lot of information of varying quality about an applicant/employer. The matching problem is non-trivial, but we manage it every day. But I still think students learn a lot inside the classroom (abstract thinking) and outside the classroom (social skills) and in internships (one-the-job specific learning).
I agree with you Claudia about the ability of classroom instruction to develop abstract thinking, and my first sentence was meant to be rhetorical. I’m just not convinced that this learning wouldn’t occur outside the classroom anyway if folks started working straight out of high school. The vast majority of college classes are simply “memorize and regurgitate”. There are of course exceptions, particularly in science, math and classes involving the arts, but the majority of students only take these courses as electives. Hence the emphasis on the signal of college.
Nick in response to your comment: “There are of course exceptions…but the majority of students only take these courses as electives.” … That’s why I liked attending a liberal arts college…I was *required* all these of course types you mention (physics, calc 3, and art history) even though I was an econ/poli sci/German major(s). But at a big state school, it just shows how important electives are…they are not just fluff.
On Felix Salmon’s link, doesn’t his chart show what a rotten banking system we have, where we have to have such huge arbitrary manual intervention to maintain stability? And think of the moral hazard inherent in this system! This is a great example of government intervention keeping an nonviable business model going because of fear of short term consequences. Basically the banks/bankers are claiming public utility status but getting paid like entrepreneurs. Classic public choice. I would say that the most important question in political economics right now is how do we move from the current banking system to a more stable and fair one?
I’m no Bryan Caplan fan but the signalling model is largely correct – the actual useful stuff you learn in university could be condensed into a 1 year program – MAYBE 2 years, so much of it is jumping through hoops.
Thanks for telling us you aren’t a fan of BC — and why exactly do you preface your comment with that?
It’s less expected that he’ll agree with one of Caplan’s ideas, so it should have a bigger impact on your posteriors.
I want to emphasis that I don’t always disagree with these libertarians
That is arguably true for any level of schooling, not just college
Maybe, but primary and secondary schools have the added benefit of occupying the time of young kids who otherwise might be vandalizing the neighborhood.
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