Bryan Caplan: The Case against Education | Who Shaves the Barber? #34

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Case against Education

Why do students go to school? The usual answer is to learn. But if this is true, why do students rejoice at canceled class? Why do they prefer an easy “A” instructor over a difficult one who has more to offer? Why don’t they just sit in on classes for free, which you can do at many of the best schools? And why is the final year of school so much more lucrative than other years, given that we don’t usually learn more that year?

These problems and others fall into place when we consider that we go to school more for the degree than for the education. The main purpose of education is to send a signal to employers, says economist Bryan Caplan. Employers pay more for college-educated employees not because what they learned in school was itself useful, but because the fact that they got the degree demonstrates that they must be generally smart, disciplined, and conformist. This makes little difference to the individual – you should still go to school and send that signal. But for society, this makes education a bad deal; status, unlike learning, is zero-sum, making much of the education system a waste of resources. In this interview, Caplan explains the signaling model in more detail, addresses objections, and predicts what would happen if his prescriptions were followed.

Next week: Bryan Caplan: Non-State Legal Systems



Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.…

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Wage Slavery Is Real and Appropriately Named

“Wage slavery” is a controversial concept. As with “patriarchy”, plenty deny its existence. I will argue that it is quite real and that the “slavery” in the phrase is not misleading or inappropriate.

The two questions are distinct. I’ll tackle the existence question first, then argue that it is appropriately named.

Is it real?

A “wage slave” is a wage laborer who

a) depends on her wages to survive;

b) must work under subpar conditions to earn those wages; and

c) has no reasonably accessible alternatives that are significantly better.

(c) is crucial. Someone who depends on wages to survive but could switch to a different and cushier line of work if she wanted to would not be a wage slave. Someone who, on the other hand, could only switch to other jobs with similar conditions, would be a wage slave.

So defined, it should be obvious that wage slavery exists. Most people reading this depend on wages to survive. If you’ve ever been to a hotel or restaurant, chances are that you’ve been invisibly served by people who work under subpar conditions (to say nothing of sweatshops in China, etc.). Finally, given that these people are working in subpar conditions, they’d probably take a significantly better alternative if it were reasonably accessible to them. That they don’t is a strong indication that those alternatives aren’t, in fact, reasonably accessible.

There are two ways I can see of challenging the existence claim. The first is by asking: what standards are we using to judge “subpar conditions”?

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Michael Zigismund: Philosophy of Law | Who Shaves the Barber? #22

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Before the law, there is the philosophy of law

What is the law? Is it simply what’s to be found in legal statutes and government decrees? Or is it something broader, affected by and inseparable from both morality and custom?

This is one of the fundamental debates in philosophy of law. On one side stand the positivists, who propose a narrow view of the law as separate from ethics and other concerns outside of the direct commands of the state. On the other, we have natural rights theorists, who believe the law and morality are inseparable. Indeed, according to natural rights theorists, illegitimate laws aren’t laws at all.

On what grounds may this debate be settled? And what’s really at stake here? Is there more to this than a question of semantics? Legal expert Michael Zigismund guides us through this debate, and applies it to three areas: Nazi law, slavery, and gun ownership. He concludes with a summary of a “third way”, which he argues takes the best of both while avoiding their pitfalls: the Hayekian view of law as emergent practice.



Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.

Topics discussed

0:20 – Introduction to Michael Zigismund
2:02 – What is law?
8:53 – Common law v. customary law
11:36 – Positivism v. natural law
16:45 – Is Nazi law law?
19:23 – Separation thesis
22:54 – Application to federalism
26:14 – Where does morality of law come from?…

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