16 May 2018

Ideas for Bryan Caplan’s Next Book

Bryan Caplan, Humor 9 Comments

It just occurred to me last night that two books ago, Bryan (among other things) told parents that they should quit worrying, because studies of twins show that parents don’t have any lasting influence on their children’s futures.

Now in his latest book, Bryan tells teachers and professors that education has no lasting influence on their students’ futures.

In this context, here are some suggestions for Bryan’s next book:

  1. When the Diapers Come Off, the Man Is Made
  2. Pacifier, My Only Coach
  3. Big Bird…Or Big Fraud?
  4. Phonics Is for Suckers
  5. I Would Kill the People Who Gave Me This DNA…If I Had Free Will
  6. Turns Out John Calvin Was Right

9 Responses to “Ideas for Bryan Caplan’s Next Book”

  1. Joshua Woods says:

    Hi Bob, having just finished the case against education I think the message is not that education has no influence. It has a large effect but for the signalling reasons not the the human capital that many want to believe. Also the parenting book could be read as saying you have a huge influence. It just comes when you decide who to have children with, not the post birth nurturing. This does still leave some big questions about why people turn out the way they do – Caplan has tentatively offered free will as an explanation but I’ve got to admit this is a complex topic I don’t really know much about.

  2. Tel says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s a pretty good episode worth a listen. It’s about teachers, how to go about valuation of teachers, why the current US system does not both identify good teachers and bad teachers, and the consequence of this.


    It also helps explain this problem of why a basketball player can make a lot more money than a teacher — although they don’t use that particular example. Thing is the basketball player gets immediate feedback in terms of winning or losing games, while the good teacher and the bad teacher can work side by side for years without any particular feedback on what either has achieved. We just don’t have the mechanism to allow “superstar” teachers, so as a consequence there aren’t any.

    Admittedly we do allow “superstar” Austrian economists, at least it’s possible in theory that someone might learn something from an Austrian economist, but perhaps that’s the extreme exception that proves the rule.

    • Matt M says:

      What about someone like say, Sal Khan as a superstar teacher? Or stretching the analogy further… Mister Rodgers? Jordan Peterson? Paul Krugman? Oprah? Bob Murphy?

      Furthermore, I’d be willing to suspect that elite private schools (at any level and age group) have managed to somehow locate better quality teachers than struggling inner-city public schools have. How is this possible if no real mechanism to judge teacher quality exists?

      • Tel says:

        Khan Academy and Jordan Peterson are new phenomena, made possible by modern communication and video technology which has only existed for perhaps the past 10 years (or at least has only been within reach of the average punter for 10 years). The MPEG-4 video standard came out in 2004 and it was perhaps a few years later when video decoders became standard in home computer and laptop video cards.

        So what I’m saying is, very soon after the technology became available, people started changing their behaviour to work with that. However, it’s early days in as much as errr dare I say it “dark forces” are at work attempting to censor people like Jordan Peterson and remove his message. We don’t know how this will turn out, but just taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, the education industry has really not significantly changed methodology for hundreds of years and contains enormous reluctance to accept changes.

        The somewhat political Prager University is attempting to provide alternative types of education (for free) but now find they need to go to court in order to defend their ability to get this message out. I would not be surprised if the same people turn against Khan Academy at some future point. Even though Kahn is somewhat towards the “left” from a political perspective and tries to avoid offending people, but inevitably he threatens the traditional education model.

        As for people like Krugman, he doesn’t even attempt to educate, he just expects his readers to nod along unquestioningly.

  3. Andrew says:

    I remember the true-life story of a boy who was raised by wolves and later discovered and returned to human society as an adolescent. No matter how hard the people who found him tried, they were never able to teach this child spoken or written language. The program made it seem as if the child had passed trough the stage in mental development where learning language would have been possible and was, at the time of his discovery, too old to ever pick it up as a new skill. But thanks to Bryan, I now understand that this child would have fared no better if he had been raised entirely by human parents.

    • Tel says:

      I’m pretty sure Caplan gets his empirical data from the American education system, and not from Romulus and Remus.

  4. Harold says:

    There have been popular self help gurus like Peterson since at least Dale Carnegie and “How to Win Friends…” Far from trying t shut him down, I keep seeing and hearing him on mainstream outlets like Radio 4 and Channel 4 over here.

    Prager U is a digital media organisation, not a university and does not offer certifications or diplomas. This is not a “teaching” model but a “media” model. They lost the court case because Youtube is a private organisation and did not contravene free speech rules.

    Sal Khan is really trying to educate using a different model. His academy responds to criticism by correcting mistakes and he views it a supplement to in-class teaching. This is not like Peterson or Prager U at all.

    • Matt M says:

      I feel like you (and Tel above) are using a very narrow and rigid definition of “education” and “teacher” that is heavily influenced by the state’s preferred method of offering/requiring such.

      I don’t really see a huge difference between “self-help gurus” as you call them and university professors, other than the fact that the latter typically have a much more narrow focus and are usually driving towards the outcome of a specific certification rather than general life-improvement (and I’d argue the question of whether or not that results in better outcomes in general is very much up for debate).

      What Bob does here, what Krugman does in the NYT, what Peterson does during a speech, none of these are that different from what the university professor is doing. They are all trying to convey information that they think will benefit us.

      Those who do that well seem to, in general, be rewarded for their performance. They get more money, wider audiences, more prestige, more opportunities to expand into other spaces (podcasts, books, speeches, etc.) Those who do it poorly are stuck with a blog that is visited exclusively by friends and family – and command no authority or monetary rewards whatsoever.

      The question of whether the government-run school system is well set up to reward individual performance is an entirely separate question from whether or not individual performance can be adequately measured at all. Because it sure seems to me that, outside the structure of the state, high performers are easily identified and rewarded for their efforts.

      When the state simply shrugs its shoulders and says “There’s just no way for us to tell which teachers are good and which ones are bad,” I remain unconvinced…

  5. skylien says:

    Didn’t come across Phonics to this day. Interesting.

    I am waiting for “Only impractical men are slaves to some defunct economist”

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