More education in itself is not going to make a country richer (Ha-Joon Chang’s Thing 17)

23-things-they-don-t-tell-you-about-capitalismAnother golden nugget from development economist Ha-Joon Chang‘s book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, continuing this occasional series:

“There is remarkably little evidence showing that more education leads to greater national prosperity. Much of the knowledge gained in education is actually not relevant for productivity enhancement, even though it enables people to lead a more fulfilling and independent life. Also, the view that the rise of the knowledge economy has critically increased the importance of education is misleading. To begin with, the idea of the knowledge economy itself is problematic, as knowledge has always been the main source of wealth. Moreover, with increasing de-industrialization and mechanization, the knowledge requirements may even have fallen for most jobs in the rich countries. Even when it comes to higher education, which is supposed to matter more in the knowledge economy, there is no simple relationship between it and economic growth. What really matters in the determination of national prosperity is not the educational levels of individuals but the nation’s ability to organize individuals into enterprises with high productivity (p.178-9).

…take the case of the East Asian miracle economies, in whose development education is supposed to have played a critical role. In 1960, Taiwan had a literacy rate of only 54 per cent, while the Philippines’ was 72 per cent. Despite its lower education level, Taiwan has since then notched up one of the best economic growth performances in human history, while the Philippines has done rather poorly. In 1960, the Philippines had almost double the per capita income of Taiwan ($200 vs. $122), but today Taiwan’s per capita income is around ten times that of the Philippines ($18,000 vs. $1,800). In the same year, Korea had a 71 percent literacy rate – comparable to that of the Philippines but still well below Argentina’s 91 per cent. Despite the significantly lower literacy rate, Korea has since grown much faster than Argentina. Korea’s per capita income was just over one-fifth that of Argentina’s in 1960 ($82 vs. $378). Today it is three times higher (around $21,000 vs. around $7,000) (p.180-1)…

What really distinguishes the rich countries from the poorer ones is much less how well-educated their individual citizens are than how well their citizens are organized into collective entities with high productivity…[d]evelopment of such firms needs to be supported by a range of institutions that encourage investment and risk-taking – a trade regime that protects and nurtures firms in ‘infant industries’, a financial system that provides ‘patient capital’ necessary for long-term productivity-enhancing investments, institutions that provide second chances for both the capitalists (a good bankruptcy law) and for the workers (a good welfare state), public subsidies and regulation regarding R&D and training, and so on.

Education is valuable, but its main value is not in raising productivity. It lies in its ability to help us develop our potentials and live a more fulfilling and independent life…the link between education and national productivity is rather tenuous and complicated. Our overenthusiasm with education should be tamed, and, especially in developing countries, far greater attention needs to be paid to the issue of establishing and upgrading productive enterprises and institutions that support them” (p.189).

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