We keep hearing from our higher education establishment that the great investment we have made in college education for a high percentage of the population is responsible for our prosperity. Supposedly, people with college degrees are necessarily more productive than they’d be without them.
But what if that “investment” does more harm than good by implanting bad ideas that induce people to support bad public policies? Even if there is some marginal increase in a person’s skills and knowledge due to college (a questionable notion in many instances), that might be far outweighed by the damage to the country (or state or locality) when college has so miseducated people that they vote to support policies that impede economic progress and efficiency.
That is just how the great economist Thomas Sowell sees it.
In this Spectator article Sowell begins by noting that in a number of cities in the San Francisco Bay area, there are ballot initiatives that would impose rent controls. The proponents, as always, are trying to sell these measures with rhetoric on how the laws will “prevent landlords from gouging tenants and making a ton of money off the housing crisis.”
Now, rent control is nothing new and economists have understood the bad long-run effects of it for a long, long time. Yet here these proposals are, and many supposedly well educated people in these cities will no doubt vote for rent control, believing that it is the solution to the area’s housing crisis.
Sowell places the blame on our increasingly weak higher education system, writing:
“Part of the problem is that even our most prestigious colleges seldom have any real curriculum requirements that would ensure that their graduates had at least a basic understanding of economics, history, mathematics, science or other fundamental subjects.”
He’s right about that. Only a very small number of colleges and universities have a core curriculum that gives their students a sound basic grasp of those fields. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has for years been studying schools on the basis of the strength of their curricula and very few earn “A” grades. Harvard earns a D; Brown an F.
And to make matters worse, when students do take economics, the introductory course, Sowell notes, is apt to be taught by a junior or adjunct faculty member.
Worse, however – and this is a point he doesn’t make but would certainly agree with – many economics professors these days are far more interested in trying to get students to believe that market failures are almost everywhere, requiring extensive government intervention. Few spend much time on how well markets usually work and the damage that intervention usually does – like rent controls.
The U.S. now spends a prodigious amount of money to “produce” college graduates, but we used to get more learning for a lot less money.