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In one sentence, European student superiority (and individual competence amongst the adult population as well) compared to Americans, contrasted with US economic performance superiority compared to Europe, can be summarized in one sentence:

“The Dumb but Free outperform the Competent but Enslaved to the Collective”.

This is not to say that the US is freer compared to Europe in all aspects. But overall, Americans are still freer than Europeans. Their economic performance reflects that, and more than compensates for their inferior education (at least inferior according to the PISA tests which as Becker points out have some serious flaws when measuring performance, especially when it comes to ability to original thinking versus simple knowledge).

For how long, Americans will continue to be freer than Europeans I do not know - they seem to have stepped pretty hard on the banana peel of Hope and Change – Hope that the one way Europeanization of America will not cause America to precipitously fall from her top spot as most prosperous nation on earth - a flamboyantly asinine hope in my view. Good luck to Americans when they get into the pit of collectivist nations, a pit dominated by countries armed with much more competent citizenries. “What we had and what we lost” will be what Americans cry. The pit Americans are entering is dominated by countries that waste the superior competence of their citizenry in the performance dis-incetives created by the welfare state. So good luck to Americans entering that world with a dumb population. I suppose Americans can pursue the slim chance of not only improving their education levels, but create an educational environment that beats everyone else’s, or, they could just keep what has already been unique to America since its creation: A philosophy that protects the individual from the will of the collective. Which path is easier? Which one has the highest chances of success? Beat everyone else in education or maintain the unparalleled success recipe you already have?

In general, I have always said that the fact that Dumb Americans outperform the individually more competent Europeans is perhaps the strongest testament of the tremendous impact even moderate differences in individual freedom have on prosperity. That is the essence of my experiences from having lived and worked on both continents.

However, as communism seems to have disappeared, the Useful Idiots it has sewn through the West seem to be continuing on their pernicious one-way march to subdue the individual to the collective. So bye-bye West, you’re on your way to fade away into worldwide mediocrity. If you have any brains, make alternate plans, keep mobile and your bags packed.


We in the USA need to emphasize the joy of learning, reading, thinking, understanding and simple pleasures rather than having football, basketball, movies and careers in financial manipulation at the center of our cultural world. General education should supercede specialties. Until that happens, we will continue to be "uneducated"

Francis Middle

Personally, I think these universities are all rackets. They're the definition of a legal lawbreaker: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2010/12/10/legal-lawbreakers-when-should-a-person-be-considered-a-criminal/


Of course, "sewn" should read "sown" (or "sowed") and "supersede" is spelled with an 's' in the middle. These are exactly the spelling errors that doom many American students in standardized tests.


To a certain degree (so to speak) I agree with the above comment. Colleges and universities have gotten to be businesses, the customers being the students. They use public funds for research, then profit from it, pay no taxes by and large and pay their "executives" at rates which increase faster than the cost of living not to mention the price fixing and agenda setting that goes on at professional meetings. No wonder the "educational component has suffered.

Linda Morse

Very informative essays. Thank you.

If the public judges the quality of American education on a movie like "Waiting For Superman", we will all be sadly misinformed.


"Japan and other Asian countries typically place much greater emphasis on rote learning and memorization than does the United States and some European nations. South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong rank high on the PISA tests, much higher than the US. However, America is the world leader in game-changing creativity and innovations, far above these other countries. Perhaps America’s lead is related in part to the emphasis that the American education system places on creative thinking rather than memorizing what famous people have said."
The facts do not support the statement above: innovation and creativity leaders in US - many of them are from other country. The hungry for knowledge and willingness to put hard work into it, with the business environment in US, create the innovation. Education alone does not. Many of NASA's engineers are self educated. In history, many of the great innovators are self educated, e.g. Ada. Education is over-rated. Especially, at current North American university level. Majority of courses were given by TAs, not full profs like 30 years ago. Similar observation can be said in lower education level (even though it required teaching certificate in some level, the poor math and science skill of the teachers on average are poor, if not just in-adequate), With poor teaching combine with low willingness and drive to put hard work and self study capability, it is a problem. (I am sure many would prefer not to face it, argue US education system is the greatest in the world, etc. for those refuse to open their eyes, I am rest my case). Hopefully, change is coming soon. The facts is come to light.


Another central issue is not only the end result, but also the efficiency of the educational environment. In other words the compromise between effort and result is also important, and quite relevant to economics.

This is because the cost of education does not only involve the direct monetary cost that citizens are forced to contribute towards public education, but also the hours students themselves are forced to attend school and study to achieve a certain result, or even merely attain state mandated minimum standards. This is an indirect monetary cost and ultimately an opportunity cost to be weighed against other activities that could enhance the prosperity generating ability of an individual later in life. In that sense, one could argue that the enormous amount of time, energy, vitality and youth that students sacrifice studying is actually the dominant societal cost in the entire education process.

In this sense, Korean and other Asian students, for example, bear a tremendous cost for the benefit of scoring 10%-20% above average on the FISA tests. By Western standards, Korean students do not have much of a childhood. They typically study 10-14 hours a day. Not surprisingly, the same extreme effort levels are often seen amongst Korean immigrants to America.

So even if we take the FISA scores as an accurate measure of future capability to generate economic prosperity, countries such as Korea seem to have a very inefficient educational environment, since students seem to be largely sacrificing their youth. --- And, in a way, all that for what? So that they can eventually live in a 1600 sqf tower block apartment rather than the average 1000 sqf, while being herded in and out of public transportation in their densely packed and highly regulated cities. More and more blatant issues in which average Americans seem oblivious to how good they got it.

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Becker concludes: "However, I strongly believe that it is also evidence of the mediocre performance of many American schools. International test scores have been used for decades to push for improvements in the schools available to the lower third of American students through the spread of charter schools, school vouchers, and stronger incentive to teachers, students, and parents."

Posner states:
"The white and Asian kids in American schools are already doing fine, for the most part; the black and Hispanic kids may not do much better until their early childhood environment is improved to the point at which black and Hispanic IQs are raised significantly."

.......... By looking at the forest as "average" we miss a lot. For example while "on average" we spend more per student than many other nations. But! in most of our states and cities school funding is closely related to property taxes - thus we've the problem of inequitable and inadequate funding in the areas of low income and low property values. In San Antonio the difference from one of TX over 1,000 districts was well over 100%.

Nearly every state has had lawsuits over this issue with whoever speaks for "the state" fighting for years to maintain the "right" to prejudicially short fund the low income areas. None of this is new and is a major reason why the Feds got into the school funding biz, though the Fed component is only 8%.

Today, TX (representing nearly 10% or our population) MO, NY and others have, finally, lost all of their appeals and are operating under court mandates to improve the equity and adequacy of K-12 funding.

Posner peers into the woods and notes "white and Asians" are "already doing fine; for the most part". He could as well peer into the suburbs and find that "blacks" and Hispanics in those areas are doing pretty well too. He could then peer into the areas of substandard funding with worn out schools and aging textbooks and find "whites, blacks" and Hispanics not faring well in both urban and rural areas.

One "edge" and perhaps at times a drawback the UK has by comparison is that of having one school district which is funded equitably from throughout the nation. They have long done benchmark testing as well. But what they do with the results is send a SWAT team out to a lagging school to find out what is going wrong. In essence, and contrary to some of the racists posting here, they assume the incoming students will hew close to the average and if a class or school is lagging that something is wrong with the process.

Posner is right to note MOST "whites" and Asians are doing well, and IF we truly wanted to improve our average we'd have to commit to providing, at least, equal resources in the low income areas, if not more as the educational challenges there are often tougher.

How did it work out in Texas several years ago when the courts mandated more equitable funding? Instead of gracefully evening up the funding with state funds the bitter legislature made a great show of taking funding from areas where homes were over $300,000 and sending that to the low income areas --- leading to the divisive term of "Robin Hood" that created considerable backlash.

Below is a site where you can track how your state is doing at beating back the forces of equitable and adequate funding for ALL of our kids:


"The 2009 PISA test results indicate that some progress is being made in American schools, but considerable room for improvement still remains."

Before assuming that something "new" like vouchers and charter schools (which have their own problems) are the panacea, how about studying the progress that may have taken place in the states mandated by court decisions to improve the equity and adequacy of their schools? I believe the decisions in TX and MO are five years old, so long enough to study the progress made in the lower grades.


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I am worried about my financial future. Is anyone else nervous out there?


NOT ONE PERSON ever gets this right.

U.S. students actually do very well on these tests, superb even.

Surprised? Well it is true. If you look at the test scores of Asian American kids and white American kids ALONE, they stand up very well [better] than the kids of ANY OTHER MAJOR COUNTRY OTHER THAN KOREA! It is only when you mix in the scores of the colored [black] kids and Mexican kids that the OVERALL score is dragged down A LOT!

Our school system is sound, our educational system is sound, etc. Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong are NOT countries or nation or even representative of anything.

If any of you dare, see this link:


Our education system is NOT "broken" or any of that stuff. Don't try to fix something that is not broken. The problem is elsewhere, no one just wants to admit it.

Pass this along to everyone. The truth needs to be known. Please make it so. Even if this post offends you, consider that you may be wrong.


Albert: Assuming your not a racist, read, and absorb, my posts above. One might be whelped as a bigot or racist, but there is no reason to die that way. Ignorance is curable.


Not sure what race she is. But it explains why the performance is lacking in a way:

it plain stupid if not brain dead.


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This article may also throw some light in understanding student performance based on their culture and upbringing of kids http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html

I would love to see a Beckner-Posner post specifically on this WSJ article.


"I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties."

....Ahh, yes indeedy! Such is the problem of stereotypes! Mebbe some Jewish, blacks and perhaps "whites" who go back so far in the US as not to have a hyphenated heritage?

And piano or violin only? What of the instruments of Coltrane, Miles Davis or Yo Yo Ma? And why no drama dept or arts? Bit narrow, eh?

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International comparisons reveal large cross-country differentials in average student performance.

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Gaston Cantens

Scores on standardized tests have many well-discussed problems from the viewpoint of measuring how much students learn.Still, standardized tests are a much better way to compare achievements among students, and especially among students in different countries.


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