Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Do not dismiss "Class Dismissed"

I should be working on something else, but I'm reading.  I'm reading a book relevant to my work, but still, I'm reading.  The book is Class Dismissed: Why we cannot teach or learn our way out of inequality.  I will simply quote something from the introduction, something that is rarely said but very true:
Some people may escape poverty and low incomes through education, but a problem arises when education becomes the only escape route from these conditions--because that road will very quickly become bottlenecked. As the political scientist Gordon Lafer has written "It is appropriate for every parent to hope that their child becomes a professional; but it is not appropriate for federal policy makers to hope that every American becomes one."  As another economist has put it, "Going to college is a lot like standing up at a concert to see better.  Selfishly speaking, it works, but from a social point of view, we shouldn't encourage it."

Unlike others who argue this point, however, my concern is not with the inefficiencies that come from everyone standing up to see better but, rather, the injustices that result.  That is, my concern is with those who cannot stand up, those who, either because of lack of abilities, lack of interest, or other barriers to entry do not or cannot earn a college degree.  Insisting that they really should is neither a wise nor a particularly human solution to the problem these workers will encounter in the labor market.
Nor is it a particularly feasible one.  As I explore later in this book, the U.S. economy, despite claims to the contrary, will continue to produce more jobs that do not require a college degree than jobs that do.  A college degree will not make those jobs pay any more than the pittance they currently do.  As some of my colleagues from graduate school could confirm, a Ph.D. working as a bartender earns bartender wages, not a professor's salary.  W hat will make those bartending and other unskilled jobs pay something closer to a living wage--if not a living wage itself--constitutes, to my mind, one of the major public policy challenges of the twenty-first century.  Education, however, is not the answer. (Pages 19-20)
I would add that an economy that treats the BA/BS as the default is an economy whose labor market becomes something of a monoculture.  It wouldn't be healthy for us, even if it were feasible.

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