I have been reading Ed Glaeser’s new book, Triumph of the City, and enjoying it tremendously. Ed Glaeser is a Harvard professor, and is arguably the leading American urban economist.
One issue on which most urban economists agree is the importance of skilled human capital to the future development of any city. This is an important theme of Triumph of the City. It is also a main theme of my book Investing in Kids. We attack the same theme, but from different angles.
This issue of education and the cities comes up in Ed Glaeser’s February 15 interview with David Leonhardt of the New York Times. Mr. Leonhardt asks Professor Glaeser the following question:
“You suggest that education is the single best strategy for making a city prosperous… But producing an educated population obviously takes a long time. So let’s stipulate that a struggling city today, like Detroit, begins immediately taking steps to improve its schools. What else should it do to improve its prospects of success — especially over the next few years rather than only the next few decades?”
Ed Glaeser responds by mentioning ways in which cities can attract entrepreneurs and skilled workers through in-migration. This includes making city amenities more attractive, for example by encouraging more vibrant downtowns and more livable neighborhoods. But Professor Glaeser than goes on to say the following:
“[F]inally, don’t forget that better schools can reward a city more quickly than they can graduate students, by attracting skilled parents. They are America’s most important investment in the 21st century, and the linchpin of urban success.”
The short-term benefit for local economies from attracting parents is one theme of Investing in Kids. One way to attract parents is through a better K-12 system. Another way is through a better early childhood learning system.
As pointed out in an earlier blog post, Iowa business leaders have argued publicly that the state’s universal pre-k system helps attract skilled employees from other states. And several other blog posts argue that better preschool programs, by attracting parents, will drive up property values in the short-run.
Migration and property values are two of the key ways in which the long-run benefits from state and local investment in education are translated into short-run gains. These short-run gains provide good reasons for even the most myopic local political leader to invest in high-quality early childhood programs, as well as in improving the K-12 educational system.