Most of the world’s countries are undereducated
The other day, Tyler Cowen challenged me to name any country that I consider under-educated. None came to mind. While there may be a country on earth where government doesn’t on net subsidize education, I don’t know of any.
…This analysis holds in the Third World as well as the First. The fact that Nigerians and Bolivians don’t spend more of their hard-earned money on education is a solid free-market reason to conclude that additional education would be a waste of their money.
I would say this underscores a pretty bizarre notion of what constitutes free markets. Tyler Cowen goes into great detail on why this is so confoundingly wrong-headed on Caplan’s part.
I would first note that many parts of many poor countries, today, receive de facto zero government subsidies for education. Or put aside the issue of government provision and ask if you were a missionary and could inculcate a few norms what would they be? Many regions — in particular Latin America — are undereducated for their levels of per capita income. I view this as a serious cultural failing, most of all in terms of its collective social impact. In contrast, Kerala, India is very intensely educated for its income level and that brings some well-known benefits in terms of social indicators and quality of life.
If I think of the Mexican village where I have done field work, the education sector "works" as follows. No one in the village is capable of teaching writing, reading, and arithmetic. A paid outsider is supposed to man the school, but very often that person never appears, even though he continues to be paid. Children do have enough leisure time to take in schooling, when it is available. I am told that most of the teachers are bad, when they do appear. You can get your children (somewhat) educated by leaving the village altogether, and of course some people do this. In the last ten years, satellite television suddenly has become the major educator in the village, helping the villagers learn Spanish (Nahuatl is the indigenous language), history, world affairs, some science from nature shows, and telenovela customs. The villagers seem eager to learn, now that it is possible.
That scenario is only one data point but it is very different than the "demonstrated preference" model which Bryan is suggesting. Bolivia and Nigeria are much poorer countries yet and they have dysfunctional educational sectors as well, especially in rural areas. Bad roads are a major problem for "school choice" in these regions, just as they are a major problem for the importation of teachers.
There’s more and, as they say in the blogosphere, you should read the whole thing.