It is intuitive that education expands career choice for the individual and, thus, "success" for the nation. So what?
The questions raised by the referenced statement go out like spokes of a wheel. Is our current penchant for excessive spending actually producing "net additional education"? Do costs exceed benefits? What is investment in education? Investment in buildings? Investments in sports programs? Investments in day care programs? Is home schooling more expensive and more effective than public schooling? What is working and what is not?
The statement may well be true in regard to the world of 1900, when illiteracy was common. However, during the past 40+ years, spending has soared while test scores have flat-lined. Even when the first half of the century is included, the statement may well be false with rising incomes being the cause of higher education, not the other way around.
Today's anecdotal evidence is that children are being separated into motivated groups and unmotivated groups. Each group is receiving an education that is much different than the other.
My belief is that the value of an education is far greater than the average increase of individual income, but objective measurement of such value is not within our grasp. Growth, as measured by GNP, is readily available. During the past 20 years, it must be the Chinese who are doing the best job of educating their people because China has been and is the "engine of growth".
"no variable from 1900 better explains success in 2000 than investment in education."
- Education and Growth, Arnold Kling | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty (view on Google Sidewiki)