More from the Skills Survey

We really like the way the OECD writes about skills.  They refer to a nation’s “stock” of skills, because skills are an earning asset, like roads and factories.  Without strong skills, we cannot expect to succeed in the modern economy.  This applies to us, individually, and to America as a whole.

Smart PeopleThe survey looks at variations in skill levels across nations and within nations.  We have already mentioned the impact of skills on inequality.  Here are a few more insights from the report:

  • In America, skill levels are inherited.  Jeremiah has discussed this before.  If you were born into the bottom quintile, chances are you will stay there, because our schools are no good.
  • We have an abnormally large proportion of these unfortunates.  The OECD calls them “below level 1.”  That’s a strain on our social safety net.
  • Older Americans are better at math than younger Americans.  The OECD calls that a “declining stock of skills.”  When Jeremiah’s generation dies off, you kids will be dead last in the world.
  • Having an education is not the same as having skills.  We rank near the top in going to college, but Dutch high school graduates have more skills.  Jeremiah thinks college in America is a fraud, and so does Simon Black.
  • The survey makes some borderline capitalist observations about labor force participation.  Tax and benefit systems can make work unprofitable for low-skilled adults.  This bit of arithmetic, they’re good at.
  • Employers complain of a skills shortage, even though unemployment is high!  That’s why we beg the INS for more H-1B visas.
  • Unions may lock workers in to jobs for which they’re unsuited, while locking out younger workers, and generally distorting the allocation of skills.
  • Immigrants must learn the host language.  We figured they would pick it up eventually, but the OECD says this is a big problem and requires government intervention.

Again, the OECD – Sec. Gen. Angel Gurria – is to be commended for an objective look at the issue.  Some media outlets have been spinning the results to suit an agenda.  The Economist, for instance, thinks that “more egalitarian societies have better skills,” an obvious misreading of cause and effect.


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