Why should the public put resources into educating all young people? Two answers are often proposed: (1) to be competitive internationally economically and (2) so they can function as citizens in the most advanced economy and leading democracy in the world.
I've posted before on The Power of Productivity by Willaim Lewis. Good book. In it, he establishes that America is THE standard for productivity in almost every industry and overall by a long shot. That's why our standard of living is higher. However, as a result, we're having to figure out what governmental, legal, societal and regulatory schemes will allow further improvements in productivity by trial and error. We have no place to look where a better structure to encourage productivity has been evolved. As a result, his comments on education and it's role in helping or hindering the development of poor nations do not apply here, but, overall, they are interesting:
"I have begun to suspect that economic development causes education to develop even if governments don't force it as Korea has done. After all, that's how education got started. When we were all hunters and gatherers 10,000 years ago, we did not have time for education. we did not even have time to wonder much about anything besides finding enough food. Only when our productivity for food production increased did we hve time for other things.
Jared Diamond gives us a good explanation of this transition. We wanted to do things that would make us richer and more powerful. We also wanted to know things about which we were simply curious. Who are we? What are we? Where are we? Why are we? Education arose naturally as successive generations wanted to learn what those going before them had learned and thought. We began to make the trade-off between simply working more now and learning more to work in more valuable ways later. We also wanted to learn more to satisfy our curiosity. The more productive we became, the more we had time for education. we demanded that education.
No doubt, as education increased, our productivity potential increased. If our policies pushed us to achieve that potential, then we could afford more education. As I will come back to in chapter 1`1, this increasingly high level of education probably is necessary, but not sufficent, for the complex political systems necessaryt for advanced economic performance. It's possible that poor countries today will not get out of their poverty traps without political changes. Those political changes may only be possible with broader education. The point is, however, that education is not a constraint on the ability of today's workforces to achieve substantial productivity improvement around the world. It's the other way around. Constraints on productivity improvement are the reason education is not developing faster around the world.