Murray misunderstands me. Yes, I freely admit that the current system works great for me, but I nevertheless see it as a massive waste of time and resources. I am delighted to hear Murray’s charge that the BA is the work of the devil. If I were on the jury, I would vote to convict.
My key problems with Murray’s essay are his arguments, not his conclusion. I don’t see that Murray has a coherent story about how the BA persists despite its inefficiency. The signaling model does tell such a story, so Murray ought to at least take it seriously, and tell us how it relates to his thesis.
If he does embrace the signaling model, though, Murray’s distributional analysis will probably turn out to be wrong. The main losers are taxpayers who subsidize the wasteful signaling competition, and consumers who pay more for the labor that colleges divert away from the productive part of the economy. Murray is right, of course, that talented workers without BAs suffer, too; but we should not forget that below-average people without BAs actually benefit from employers’ imperfect information about their productivity.
If this isn’t clear, think about auto insurance premia. Teenage boys pay more than teenage girls. But in a world of perfect information, the average teenage boy would still pay a higher premium, because boys really are, on average, riskier drivers. So who suffers as a result of imperfect information? Above-average members of observable groups. And who benefits? Below-average members of observable groups. The same goes for education. Above-average high school graduates suffer a social punishment for their lack of a degree. But below-average high school graduates actually enjoy a social benefit relative to a perfect information meritocracy.
The punch line: Murray is selling his own argument short. The problem with the BA isn’t that it helps some people and hurts others. The problem is that it burns up valuable resources, and (at least at the margin) gives society next to nothing in return.