Paul Graham in After Credentials:
What cram schools are, in effect, is leaks in a seal. The use of credentials was an attempt to seal off the direct transmission of power between generations, and cram schools represent that power finding holes in the seal. Cram schools turn wealth in one generation into credentials in the next.
Think about where credentialism first appeared: in selecting candidates for large organizations. Individual performance is hard to measure in large organizations, and the harder performance is to measure, the more important it is to predict it. If an organization could immediately and cheaply measure the performance of recruits, they wouldn’t need to examine their credentials. They could take everyone and keep just the good ones.
Large organizations can’t do this. But a bunch of small organizations in a market can come close. A market takes every organization and keeps just the good ones. As organizations get smaller, this approaches taking every person and keeping just the good ones. So all other things being equal, a society consisting of more, smaller organizations will care less about credentials.
The era of credentials began to end when the power of large organizations peaked in the late twentieth century. Now we seem to be entering a new era based on measurement. The reason the new model has advanced so rapidly is that it works so much better.
Unlike innovation the notion of credentialism as the “currency of mediocrity” doesn’t get covered as much on the internets. It’s not new. James Fallows’ “The Case Against Credentialism” in the Atlantic, for example, was published 23 years ago. But recently, the availability of affordable educational loans and the marginal utility of college degrees with respect to their escalating price have come into question.
Do you think credentials are unavoidable and/or efficacious?