A friend of mine has been looking to hire smart people from across a range of disciplines. Here are his tales from the trenches:
In theory the economy is horrible and people want jobs. In practice it seems that no one I interview has any real knowledge. I just interviewed a woman getting a PhD in electrical engineering and bioinformatics from [top school, but not quite at the Stanford level] and she couldn’t tell me the probability of flipping heads three times in a row with a fair coin. I just interviewed a 4.0 physics major from [top state school] and he didn’t know how to convert miles to kilometers, and had no idea how to convert cubic kilometers in cubic meters.
For the record this is depressingly common. I’ve probably done ~700 interviews in the last five years of grads from top-notch technical programs. Perhaps ten percent were able to do basic mental math, reason about probability, etc.
Tyler Cowen says that we’ve run out of low-hanging fruit (free land, big technology improvements, uneducated young people). In “Universities and Economic Growth”, I speculated that the lack of improvement in our universities, essentially unchanged since the year 1088, was a drag on economic growth. My friend’s experience with interviewing folks fresh out of 16-22 years of our best schooling, proves, I think, Tyler Cowen wrong on the subject of at least one of his three kinds of fruit tree. It is true that we’ve taken young people and given them high school diplomas and college degrees of various kinds. But that does not mean that we’ve educated them. So there may be room yet for significant economic growth driven by improved education.