China: Rule by fake PhDs? (America: Rule by fake lawyers?)

A recent Marginal Revolution post adds some complexity to my earlier post comparing the educational backgrounds of the respective rulers of China, America, and other countries. I had remarked on the tendency of Chinese top leaders to have advanced degrees in engineering and sciences. But:

One of the most obvious signs of systemic cheating is that many Chinese officials use fake or dubiously acquired academic credentials to burnish their resumes.

The overwhelming majority of these officials end up receiving doctorates (a master’s degree won’t do anymore in this political arms race) granted through part-time programs or in the Communist Party’s training schools. Of the 250 members of provincial Communist Party standing committees, an elite group including party chiefs and governors, 60 claim to have earned PhDs.

Tellingly, only ten of them completed their doctoral studies before becoming government officials.


In fact, it sounds like these degrees are often empty status symbols, acquired by corrupt means and thereby not meaning much of anything. This should change the tenor of the comparisons from my previous post. (It may be that the very top tier leaders who I looked at previously do have genuine degrees, and it’s just the upper-mid bureaucracy where everything is bullshit; I don’t know enough.)

About the US, there was also this intriguing (but undocumented) comment on the MR post:

Ted Craig May 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm

“Tellingly, only ten of them completed their doctoral studies before becoming government officials.” Change that to law school and you have the same situation in the U.S. We’re not ruled by lawyers, as often bemoaned on this blog, but people with law degrees. Big difference.

Could it be that nominal lawyers in US gov’t are actually not real lawyers, and just got their degrees for signaling purposes? Does that bespeak a level of fakery similar to China’s?

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