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Resolved: The Government Should Cut Off All Funding to Colleges and Universities.

Economists Bryan Caplan and Edward Glaeser debate at the Soho Forum.

Should all government funding of higher education be abolished?

On May 14, 2018, that provocative resolution was debated by economists Edward Glaeser and Bryan Caplan, author of the new book, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money. Two main arguments dominated the discussion. First, was the humanistic question: Is government support needed to foster new ideas and cultural expression? Second, the economics of the matter: Does the hundreds of billions in annual government funding to American universities and colleges benefit the country by boosting the earnings and productivity of its citizens?

Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. His other books include The Myth of the Rational Voter and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University.

Edward Glaeser argued against the resolution. A professor of economics at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1992, Glaeser has served as director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, and director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. His academic work has focused on zoning, housing policy, and urbanism, and he's the author of the 2012 book Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.

The Soho Forum, which Reason sponsors, is a monthly Oxford-style debate, meaning that the audience votes before and after the proceedings, and the debater who has moved the most people prevails. In this case, Caplan won by convincing 12 percent of the audience to switch over to his side.

The opening act was comedian Dave Smith, host of the podcast Part of the Problem.

Visit the archive of past Soho Forum events.

Next month, watch law professors Randy Barnett and Michael Dorf debate the following resolution: "The U.S. Constitution should be interpreted and applied according to the original meaning communicated to the public by the words of the text." The debates are held at the SubCulture Theater in Manhattan's East Village. Tickets here.

To listen to an audio podcast version of the Soho Forum, subscribe to the Reason Podcast at iTunes.

"Massive" by Podington Bear is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License.

Produced by Todd Krainin.

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Well, I'm glad it's finally resolved. I'm sure things will start spinning now to finally get rid of all this federal money.

  • Flinch||

    In sharing your outlook, I expect universities are applying for grant monies now to study the concept.
    On the serious side, pulling the government money plug will cause a minor shift in curriculum offered as payment becomes more direct, and our oversupply gets auctioned off or shuttered. I'd like to see it, knowing that universities existed before government turned them into a lending racket and petri dish for a number of useless things. Maybe we can get the science back in...science. I've never agreed with the label of Political Science for example: it's more of an art that blends disciplines.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Whenever you use the scientific method to study a discipline, it's a "science". I actually hate the term "science" to describe disciplines, but I get that people do it. For example, some of the landmark studies in neurobiology 50 years ago were not scientific. They were biological for sure, but they were purely observational. Does this make them less important? Today, it's common to see observational papers in medicine, for example. They're not scientific, but they're valuable nonetheless.

    Point is - we have to be careful about what we call worthwhile and what we call useless. We also have to be mindful that kids enter college with different goals. Some are going there to be as employable as they can, while others go there to learn something they're interested in and engage with other people who are interested in it. Lots of people are somewhere in between. I see this in my computer scientist colleague's lab a lot... some of those kids are frickin' obsessed with computers, they form clubs, they build "useless" robotics and completely "useless" apps -- but no doubt learn something useful in the process.

  • thrill||

    Absolutely taxpayer money should be removed from the higher education game. That includes the "hidden" price everyone bears by their non-profit status. Make them all for-profit endeavors, remove any taxpayer support, and all the issues we discuss about effectiveness and on-sidedness will work itself out within a decade.

  • Longtobefree||

    Not to mention applying taxes to the endowment fund income - - - - - -

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    So you're a conservative who is advocating for higher taxation, is that right?

  • Brett Bellmore||

    So that the left's takeover of higher education will no longer be impeded by that pesky 1st amendment?

  • Rockabilly||

    Fuckin A.

    Let the fucking ivy tower freeloaders pay for their own course in male feminist yoga studies

  • An Innocent Man||

    Should all government funding of higher education should be abolished?

    You're grammer ain't helping make the case.

  • Chili Dogg||

    Doh! LOL!

  • XenoZooValentine||

    There's some "internet law" that any reply pointing out a spelling or grammar mistake will have a spelling or grammar mistake, probably including this one. I just can't remember the name of it.

  • BILKER||

    since i'm not in possession of an alphabet saying my credentials for speakin pro or con i can only "see what i seen". i believe that every time the gubbmint starts paying or subsidizing anything the cost skyrockets and the value plummets. No, gubbmint should not pay for the cost of an education other than paying the salaries through taxes and tuition which should be paid by the students. It might inconvenience some, however it would eventually bring the cost of higher education down to an affordable level and allow the student to get what he paid for. same for the cost of healthcare. I believe that having no insurance over view of health care contributes greatly to the exorbitant costs involved. Most insurance does not negotiate the cost of its' coverage it just rewards providers for holding the cost down.

  • Flinch||

    Yes indeed: colleges charge what the market will bear PLUS whatever federal monies they can get their hands on. So, the moment [God forbid] that Bernie serves up "free college", expect to be enslaved in perpetuity in a college "payment plan" thats with us cradle to grave: always paying, with no payoff amount that can be restructured or retired. And... you won't even have to go to school to get stuck with the bill! A payment obligation with no contract should have RICO stamped on the folder, but... which one of the AP clowns is going to serve that up on the wire services?

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    These are all effective ideas, but they're somewhat collectivist in the sense that you're aiming to improve conditions for the collective as a whole even though some individuals will be adversely affected. When you talk about reducing tuition prices for everybody as a whole, and doing so at the expense of disadvantaged kids who can't afford even those prices, you understand that there will be a lot of people who fall through the cracks.

    I'm not saying I disagree with you. I agree that the changes you're suggesting will lead to the effects you're predicting. But your opinion isn't going to gain any traction in the mainstream if you don't have a solution for disadvantaged kids with shitty parents.

    In my view, any of these changes in higher ed have to be accompanied by alternatives so that poor kids don't necessarily need to go to college to become successful. This means we need to open the economy, which means we need to eliminate licensure and government control over areas like healthcare, technology (including IP), and virtually everything else. As Reason often points out, barbers shouldn't be required by government to attend barber school in order to be "licensed" to cut someone's hair. This is just a microcosm of the problem as a whole.

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  • L_D_F||

    if you need education, pay for it. Obolish freeloaders.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    I can't tell if this is a spelling error or a clever quip that brings Obama into the conversation.

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