Education is no Economic Driver

Jonah Goldberg

Obviously education is important and necessary for a host of reasons. But there’s little evidence it drives growth. In “Does Education Matter?” British scholar Alison Wolf wrote, “The simple one-way relationship … — education spending in, economic growth out — simply does not exist. Moreover, the larger and more complex the education sector, the less obvious any links to productivity.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder,” argues that education pays real benefits at a micro level because it allows families to lock in their economic status. An entrepreneurial father can ensure his kids will do OK by paying for them to become doctors and lawyers. But what’s true at the micro level may not be at the macro level.
Think about it this way: Growing economies spend a lot on education, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that spending makes them grow. During the so-called Gilded Age, the U.S. economy roared faster and longer than ever before or since, while the illiteracy rate went down. But the rising literacy didn’t cause the growth. Similarly, in the 20th century, in places such as China, South Korea and India, the economic boom came first while the investments in education came later.