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22 April 2008

Educate Us, Oh Wise Times Columnists

New York Times columnists are just falling over each other pointing out how our dreadful education system is responsible for every bad thing in the world.

The other day Harvard economist Greg Mankiw blames it for rising inequality. He cites the numbers:
The cohort of workers born in 1950 had an average of 4.67 more years of schooling than the cohort born in 1900, representing an increase of 0.93 year in each decade. By contrast, the cohort born in 1975 had only 0.74 more years of schooling than that born in 1950, an increase of only 0.30 year a decade.
Ok, so the average educational level has stayed the same over the last 25 years - how's that supposed to cause more inequality? Well, he explains, we're a more technological society today. "Skilled workers are needed to apply and manage new technologies, while less skilled workers are more likely to become obsolete."

Now, granted, I don't live in Silicon Valley, but I do live in an area (Northern New Jersey) where a lot of people make some serious money. I'd say everyone I know who makes any kind of money is, if not completely retarded, at least seriously challenged when it comes to technology. They make money the way any go-getter of the Fifties would instantly recognize - with telephone calls, superior management skills, client meetings, and competent secretaries. Yes, there is Silicon Valley, but there has always been demand for engineers - particularly when we used to manufacture things. My guess is that the shift away from manufacturing and advances in information technology have enabled those who are good at making lots of money to rely on a lot less support. Even on Wall Street movers and shakers relied on large clerical staffs to process transactions and keep track of finances. The problem today is that there are less people required to do important work, not more - that's why there are less good jobs available, and why incomes continue to diverge.

Not to be outdone, Bob Herbert today spouts the tired line about how our failing schools are leaving us less competitive in the global marketplace, even going so far as to quote Bill Gates - how original, Bob! He basically debunks his own argument when he quotes some full-of-crap Gates-lackey:
“In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”
That effect sounds familiar it's the same pattern we see with Head Start - the underprivileged kids start off doing relatively well but the gains dissipate over time, and by high school they're back to their underperforming selves. This suggests that our educational system is actually pretty good - like we have the whole country on Head Start - our youngsters are getting a good education early and compare well with those from other countries. The falloff later suggests something more fundamental is at issue, as there's no logical explanation why education should get worse in later grades. Herbert notes that "Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education." Care to speculate on where all these dropouts might be coming from, Bob? Later he notes:
By 2030, the U.S. population is expected to reach 360 million...with immigrationhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.italic.gif
insert italic tags having a big impact on both the population as a whole and the work force.
The most fitting rejoinder to that is delivered by Herbert himself (though obviously out of context) a few lines later:
You have to be pretty dopey not to see the implications of that. But, then, some of us are pretty dopey.
Touche, Bob, toooo-shay.

Related: Chris Roach discusses this silly education mantra in reference to a Charles Murray op-ed from a few months ago. Had Mankiw or Herbert taken the time to read Murray's column, it would have saved them the 15 minutes it took them to pull together those piles of cliches for their columns (assuming their heads would not have exploded first).

Update: Greg Cochran had left a comment on this post which I accidentally deleted (sorry about that):
Looking at the demographics, the US has at least twice as high a fraction of the population with an IQ in the 80s as, say, Finland.

Bound to have an effect.
One demographic advantage the United States has had is a sizable Jewish population, but that advantage has been dissipating as the Jewish population has stagnated and their proportion has shrunk from by about a third over the last 50 years.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Immigraton of low-IQ'ed people is like allowing an invasion of Gauls into the Roman empire in the third century A.D.

What is pathetic, and I mean really pathetic is this: future advances in robotic technologies are going to make less and less of these people necessary to the economy at all. We already have robotic lawnmowers, self-check-out at grocery stores, automated cleaning equipment that only takes one or two hands to operate (instead of teams of five to ten people), automated bank tellers, etc. What in the hell are we going to do with 50 million adults with IQ's in the low eighties in thirty years when they really start to become uneccessary to the economy? They will form a permament underclass. You can forget about them breeding less as their identity politician-'leaders' will remind them constantly to have children, so "the poor we will have with us" always.


Immigration, when its not practiced in accordance with the democratic will of the people, is simply an invasion sponsored by the elite, period.

April 24, 2008 1:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Expect race war. Prepare now. We are going to get a taste of what is coming when Obama wins/loses the nomination/election. Good luck.

April 24, 2008 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Sid said...

Given a large proportion of the Jewish population favour policies which increase the proportion of the population with low IQs, their diminution is hardly to be lamented.

April 24, 2008 3:59 PM  

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