I recently watched a video of a beauty pageant being asked the question
"Government tracking of phone records has been in the news lately. Is this an invasion of privacy or necessary to keep our country safe?"
Frankly, I cannot really imagine being asked this - as a beauty pageant, that is. Still, I felt a challenge and wanted to know if I could come up with a quick, fine answer. And this was the moment when my education kicked in, in full force:
What I came up within a few seconds was approx. this:
The bureaucrats who do this are following their bureaucracy's instinct to grow in budget, power and abilities as much as possible. The bureaucracy serves itself, not the people. Without external supervision and control they will continue on this path till the expenses and damages done are about as great as the benefits, and the bureaucracy needs to stop its expansion to avoid repercussions.Stern oversight would be necessary, which politicians are supposed to provide. Yet politicians don't serve the people either; they serve themselves. They, too, are subject to the principal-agent problem in which we the people -being the principal- have a servant or agent with its own will who doesn't serve us the way we want it. We should thus bypass this principal-agent problem and decide in a plebiscite whether we're fine with this government activity or not.The answer whether said activity is a good or bad thing is a personal one, rooted in our preferences which the bureaucrats and politicians know only approximately. Only the people as a group can give the conclusive answer; in a vote.
So under some self-inflicted time pressure I came up with a logical thread of argument from the original question to a conclusion which at the same time is a solution. This wouldn't have been possible without education; I would have expressed my personal preferences only if I hadn't said education.
I made use of
(a) The budget-optimising model of a bureaucracy / Niskanen's bureaucrat
(b) The principal-agent problem
(c) the economic concept of preferences and decision-making
(d) plenty mid-20th century econ and psychology research results lingering in the background
Sure, those are some of my favourite concepts (all of which I mentioned here before), but the question was at my core interests as well. Other learned concepts would be applicable to different questions.
I suppose once you have it (higher education) it's fairly easy to see what it's good for. It provides you with mental tools and training in their use.
I have no doubts that the link between studying on a university for a degree and an officer career in the Bundeswehr makes sense. Historical and foreign examples of officers without higher education revealed intellectual shortcomings which such higher education largely prevents.* Psychology and economics are likely more helpful than engineering or medical studies in this regard, though.
*: Just one reference; Van Creveld's "The Sword and the Olive", in which he writes about the IDF's history and change over time, including how they, too, felt that more education for officers was necessary. Their current generation of top politicians includes many relatively uneducated former war hero-generals such as Scharon.