September 27, 2021

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Education polarization is only growing: And it’s making everyone mad all the time.

I usually like to offer solutions, but my main thought about all this is that having society sharply polarized around occupational categories and educational attainment is going to make it very difficult for us to function effectively as a country.

Jay Varma has a good piece in the Atlantic titled, “Not Every Question Has a Scientific Answer: The toughest COVID-19 policy questions are matters for politicians—not health experts—to decide.” That’s completely correct. But it’s not unique to Covid-19. Most policy questions have a significant technical dimension but also feature ineradicable elements of political judgment about tradeoffs, priorities, and risk tolerances. That’s true whether you’re talking about a pandemic, macroeconomic policy, climate change, how to build a school system, or basically anything else under the sun. . . .

Conversely, if all the people with degrees are on the same side of certain big moral and political questions, it’s going to be very hard for them to draw the line between actual expert knowledge and beliefs they happen to hold. Perhaps the greatest recent example of this was tons and tons of public health academics joining a sign-on letter in favor of the George Floyd protests. Note they didn’t just say something like “outdoor activity is relatively safe and we encourage everyone to do things outdoors that are important to them (church services, social justice protests, gatherings with family).” Instead, they decided to endorse the agenda of the protests. . . .

This surely did approximately nothing to actually advance anti-racism causes (who cares what public health academics have to say about this?) but a great deal to burn the credibility of public health academics in the eyes of a huge swathe of the population.

There can be a healthy relationship between expertise and politics, but it’s extremely difficult for that relationship to exist when education is so strongly correlated with partisanship.

This is yet another negative externality foisted on the country by the higher education industry. As we know, from many articles written by leftist academics, negative externalities call for regulation of the industry practices that produce them.

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