Thus Mr. Caplan’s case against education begins by acknowledging the case in favor of getting one. “It is individually very fruitful, and individually lucrative,” he says. Full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree, on average, “are making 73% more than high-school graduates.” Workers who finished high school but not college earn 30% more than high-school dropouts. Part of the difference is mere correlation: Mr. Caplan says if you adjust for pre-existing advantages like intelligence and family background, one-fifth to two-fifths of the education premium goes away. Even so, it really does pay to finish school.
. . .Which leads him to ask: “Why is it that employers would pay all of this extra money for you to go and study a bunch of subjects that they don’t actually need you to know?”
The answer is “signaling,” an economic concept Mr. Caplan explains with an analogy: “There’s two ways to raise the value of a diamond. One of them is, you get an expert gemsmith to cut the diamond perfectly, to make it a wonderful diamond.” That adds value by making the stone objectively better—like human capital in the education context. The other way: “You get a guy with an eyepiece to look at it and go, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, this is great—it’s wonderful, flawless.’ Then he puts a little sticker on it saying ‘triple-A diamond.’ ” That’s signaling. The jewel is the same, but it’s certified.View Article