President Obama has placed substantial rhetorical weight on the subject of education. The White House web site identifies his guiding principles:
“Our nation’s economic competitiveness and the path to the American Dream depend on providing every child with an education that will enable them to succeed in a global economy that is predicated on knowledge and innovation. President Obama is committed to providing every child access to a complete and competitive education, from cradle through career.”
I certainly support lifelong education and think it should be provided without cost to everyone. But it’s a huge act of faith to believe education is a real answer to the question of how to maintain living standards in our ‘21st century economy’.
The hard reality of the ‘knowledge’ economy is that work is being destroyed at an ever increasing pace. Technological displacement is rapidly occurring in all key sectors – agriculture, manufacturing, and service. The knowledge sector is growing but it’s a very small elite and it cannot possibly absorb the jobs lost in the other sectors.
What are the major occupations in the US today? Per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics , they are: “Retail salespersons, cashiers, general office clerks, combined food preparation and serving workers, and registered nurses.” It’s a paradox that the ‘knowledge’ economy actually reduces the need of most workers to have “knowledge” as the essential underlying logic is for continuous advancements in automation and job simplification.
We are moving toward a worker-less world and we need to face the implications. Such a world has great promise but not without a seismic shift in our socio-economic system. Education is the only answer today for the individual desperate to maintain a middle class life in a hostile world of competition and automation. But what’s possible for a bright individual is not possible for society as a whole.
Obama’s rhetoric on education is not helpful.