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Free Minds & Free Markets

Going to College Is Selfish: New at Reason

Let's stop pretending education is a public good.

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonIf you've always been a strong student, spending your time and money on education pays well. The evidence is overwhelming. Even after scrupulously correcting for ability bias—the brains, discipline, and other advantages you'd possess with or without school—formal education provides a big career boost. At an individual level, investing in your own education often compares favorably to not just corporate bonds, but long-run stock market returns.

Since individuals' investment in their own education is personally rewarding, you might infer that government investment in society's education would be socially rewarding. But this is a classic "fallacy of composition." If one person stands up at a concert, he sees better; it does not follow that if everyone stands up at a concert, everyone sees better. The same goes for education. Yes, schooling is selfishly lucrative—at least for strong students. On a societal level, however, it is shockingly wasteful for students weak and strong. Federal, state, and local government spends far too much money educating Americans, argues Bryan Caplan.

Photo Credit: Joanna Andreasson

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