[Edu-sig] Microsoft's KPL

Laura Creighton lac at strakt.com
Fri Oct 7 15:26:16 CEST 2005

Part of our problem is that the development of 'education for all' has
historically happened in the economic climate where the great need was
to convert surplus farm-labour into industrial workers.  Thus the sort
of things that were considered essential to a 'good education' was the
sort of things that may you _employable_.  (Before then, a huge number
of people didn't have _jobs_, simply a huge amount of work they needed
to do.  Housewives are in a similar position today.)  For better and
for worse, this has produced an educational infrastructure which is
driven by the demands of the employers on soon-to-become workers.

This works fairly poorly when combined with advanced high-technology
consumerism.  What happens when what your potential employers want
most from the soon-to-be workers is 'to not have to employ them at
all'?  As long as consumers keep spending, that is their only real value.

This is decidedly at variance with historical precident, where one's
value was as a _producer_, and where consumption merely happened to
balance the books, so to speak. (_Lack_ of consumption mattered,
in that if you produced something that nobody wanted, you would end
up with surplus stock, and the indication that something was terribly
wrong with your business model.  Or maybe the harvest was extra good
this year ....)  Scarcity was the norm.  Forgetting the problems
of 'my factory won't scale' and 'my product is so expensive that
I have very few potential customers', you could build a working
business model based on the idea that you could sell all that you
could produce.  Thus converting all the farm workers into producers
made sense.

But with prosperity came an end to scarcity.  The first manufacturers
ran into it when they discovered that the cost in transportng their
good to new customers made their prices uncompetitive.  At this point
in time, improvements in transportation technology drove the ability
of large firms to increase their markets.  Current technology is so
advanced that you can pick up raw materials from Canada, ship them to
South East Asia, make cars out of them, and ship the cars back.  It is
one big global market now.  The attempts to sell in China is the
pushing back of the last -- admittedly huge -- frontier.

But the upshot of all of this is that scarcity is over.  The market in
goods and services are saturated with offerings.  It doesn't do you
any good to make any more, since all you will do is waste money and
add to the glut.  Indeed, you are better off spending your money in
advertising, trying to promote averice, and 'stimulate demand'.

And where human beings really shine is at unskilled labour.  If you
invest heavily in touch screens and bar code readers, you can lower
the skills needed for a checkout clerk.  But they are cheaper than
robots at picking up goods and passing them over the sensors.

And it makes sense to pay them, at rates which exceed the value of
the service they provide.  You just pass on their costs onto the
price of the goods.  Because what keeps this over-balanced system
running at all is amount of circulation that the money does.  
Impoverishing the check out clerks to the point where they can no
longer function as consumers does not serve the interests of the
market as a whole.

But this means that the whole 'what is the purpose of education'
question is in serious need of revision.  It used to be that preparing
people for productive lives was enough.  These days a productive life
may not be what is wanted.  Perhaps a meaningful one would be a better
goal to strive for.


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