- Bill Harrison
- New York, NY
- United States
This conversation is closed.
Are capitalism and education fundamentally incompatible in the digital age?
"Catch a man a fish and you can sell it to him. Teach a man to fish and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity." - Marx
Capitalism depends critically upon information asymmetries - if I know something you don't or can do something you can't, then I can exchange my services for your money. Specialize and trade - this isn't a big problem in an analog society, in which knowledge and expertise are passed down through rigidly defined structures.
But we live in a society in which the cost of information is being driven to zero, and the major limitation on what we choose to learn is us.
Think about knowledge as a form of capital - I have a "factory" with which I can produce widgets, which you need. But if I give you a factory, you no longer need me for my widgets. In fact, you are now my competition on the market for widget-selling.
So as an individually rational capitalist, I should never teach anyone anything, because that makes me less valuable, and, let's face it, my survival depends upon me being able to sell you widgets.
But society isn't better off by my keeping you ignorant/factory-less! And in a digital society, in which information can be recreated for everyone for free, this is made even more absurd.
It is a false gain to society, my keeping you ignorant/helpless.
Yet, if I teach you, then I lose my livelihood, and I am individually worse off in an absolute sense, even though society as a whole might be much better off.
It is a false gain to society to charge a kid for a book when it can be recreated for him/her for free.
We need to drastically improve social safety nets, so that it is safe for people to teach each other without risking poverty.
We need to recognize that it is possible to become absurdly wealthy without necessarily being socially productive, and it is possible to be poor while being incredibly socially productive.
Marx has been much maligned by the right-wing propaganda machine, but was he right in many ways?