14 February 2018

Free Exchange: Bryan Caplan makes the case against education


Bryan Caplan has been in school for 40 years. From preschool to an economics PhD at Princeton and his current job, as a professor of economics at George Mason University, his life has been spent learning and teaching.

The system, he says, has been good to him:

I have my dream job for life. I’m expected to teach five hours of class, thirty weeks per year. Unlike many professors, I love teaching; but even if I hated it, 150 hours a year is a light burden. The rest of the time, I think, read, and write about whatever interests me. That’s called “research”. My salary doesn’t make me wealthy, but I wouldn’t trade places with Bill Gates. His billions can’t buy me anything I crave I don’t already have. And I bet that even in retirement, Gates lacks my peace of mind.

And yet, Bryan has reached a surprising conclusion. The education system, he argues, “is a big waste of time and money.” He could hardly be making a more provocative claim. No politician would ever claim that education is anything other than absolutely essential. No parent would claim that “work hard at school” is anything other than unambiguously good advice. But Bryan claims that fairly uncontroversial data point to education just not being that important.

He makes this controversial argument in a new book, The Case Against Education. On this week’s episode of Free Exchange, I spoke to Bryan about how he reached his provocative conclusion, why we still go to university if it really is such a waste of time and what he would change about education policy.

You can listen to the full episode here, or subscribe via iTunes.

Oliver Wiseman is Editor of CapX.