What of the costs of education? What have you lost out on?
Well, first about twenty thousand hours of your youth. That’s okay. You weren’t using that golden time of perfect health and halcyon memories when you had more true capacity for creativity and imagination and happiness than you ever will again anyway. If you hadn’t had your teachers to tell you that you needed to be making a collage showing your feelings about The Scarlet Letter, you probably would have wasted your childhood seeing a world in a grain of sand or Heaven in a wild flower or something dumb like that.
When the American left complains about domestic poverty, you might think the American right's standard response would be either:
1. "What poverty? By any sensible standard, the 'American poor' are rich."
2. "America doesn't have a poverty problem; it's the American poor who have a conscientiousness problem."
Unfortunately, few right-wingers embrace either of these strong responses. The modal reaction, rather, is:
3. "We need more and better education for the poor."
The "better" part isn't necessarily a call for bigger government; sometimes it's a plea to convert existing expenditures into vouchers to check the power of the public school monopoly. The "more" part, however, is clearly a call for bigger government - to pile even more government spending on top of the existing annual trillion dollar pan-boondoggle. While it's easy to understand why "big government conservatives" would favor such an answer, even avowed "limited government conservatives" and "free-market economists" often rebut calls for a new War on Poverty with calls for a redoubled War on Ignorance
It's hard to imagine a worse comparison. In a world of cheap, reliable contraception, any woman can easily avoid single motherhood with near-certainty. Simply use birth control until you find and marry a reliable man. Avoiding single motherhood, to be blunt, is a choice. Winning the lottery, on the other hand, is an extremely low-probability event based almost entirely on luck.
Education's contrarian detractors and mainstream defenders have one illusion in common: Both think they can kill two birds with one stone. The detractors find little effect of education on job skills, so they ignore the evidence about the strong effect of education on worldly success. The defenders find a large effect of education on worldly success, so they ignore the evidence about the weak effect of education on job skills. Both sides make strong cases as long as they stick to the evidence they know. Both sides falter, however, when they use one body of evidence to close two separate cases.
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