Here’s some startling evidence both that lots of pundits don’t think seriously about their pundit-izing, and that lots of Mainstream Media publications and broadcast don’t seriously edit their pundits.
It comes from this morning’s New York Times column from Nicholas Kristof about America’s failings in education. No one who’s even halfway informed can reasonably doubt them, especially on the primary and secondary level. But what the author clearly intended as one of his stop-the-presses facts instead shows how complicated the situation really is, and particularly how diffficuilt it is to settle on policy solutions.
Way up in his fourth paragraph, Kristof breaks the news that, among industrialized countries, the United States has now fallen behind Russia in terms of the percentage of adults with a university education. Sounds awful, right? And all the more so given that America used to be Number One.
But think about this for more than two seconds. Russia? Is the author holding that country up as an economic success story? As a success story of any kind? Of course not. But it just goes to show: It clearly takes much more than producing lots of B.A.-and-beyond-holders to achieve the kinds of goals all people of good will want to achieve.
More reasons for doubting the paramountcy of college graduation rates come from looking at the actual data highlighted by Kristof – which come from a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international organization made up of the world’s high-income countries.
According to the study, for example, from 2000 to 2012, Spaniards went from being slightly less well educated than Germans to slightly more. But would anyone in his right mind want to live in Spain during that period rather than in Germany? France also out-performed Germany during this period – which raises the same question. And here’s a shocker – so did Greece!
Although the United States has slipped in the ranks of countries sampled, it has way out-performed Germany in turning out college graduates. Yet many liberals like Kristof have long lauded Germany as a country that’s done much better than the United States in generating not only prosperity but broadly based prosperity. Meanwhile, Japan has pulled ahead of the United States, too, in this gauge of higher education. Isn’t its economy supposed to be completely dead in the water, according to the conventional wisdom? (Whether that’s true is another matter.)
The OECD report also presents some figures for developing countries. Guess which one ranks dead last among all countries studied? China. It’s well behind even such economic laggards as Mexico, Hungary, and – yes – Greece.
The mediocrity of Germany’s university education level reveals one limitation to Kristof’s analysis even the most casual observer will recognize: There’s growing doubt in America regarding the economic value of a college education nowadays. And Germany has excelled in providing vocational education for its youth.
But the broader disparity between the prevalence of college degrees and national economic success reveals a more important limitation. It indicates that the truly decisive ingredient for enduring national prosperity and all the benefits it brings is a country’s ability to organize its people, institutions, and resources in genuinely productive ways. Expanding the availability of college and graduate-level education could be one measure that fosters this goal (as well as the worthy ends of producing better citizens, expanding individuals’ horizons, and the like). But it seems far from even the most important step.
Finally, although Kristof rightly criticizes America’s property tax-dominated method for funding public primary and secondary education, he seems completely unaware of all the sad examples showing that money is no panacea. Even adjusting for regional costs differences, for example, the District of Columbia leads the nation in spending per public school pupil by state. It sure doesn’t lead the nation in educational results.
But even in the highly unlikely event that Kristof didn’t know any of this, is it really imaginable that all of his editors were completely clueless? Ponder that question the next time you read a Mainstream Media figure bewailing his industry’s loss of public credibility – and audience.