Will education solve our problems?
Photo Viktor Hanacek. Source: Picjumbo
Economists of all stripes trumpet education as a key to improving economic outcomes. Whether it’s literacy, math skills, or the ability to write computer code, our society has become so technological, they state, that an extensive – and expensive – education is necessary to thrive in today’s world.
This is nothing new. Education has been considered crucial to society since Plato wrote The Republic 2400 years ago. In fact, he thought that a complete education would take about 40 years. Thank goodness we haven’t gone that far – at least, not yet. For Plato, the main goal of education was moral, not technical. But it’s striking that a well-rounded education was considered critical way back then.
Fast forward to the post-colonial developing world in the late 20th century. These countries invested in public education, calculating that well-trained workers would get jobs in the developed world and send money home, lifting their native economies. But the developed nations didn’t always go along with the plan. Folks in the US and Europe don’t like losing their jobs to foreign competition, even if the immigrants are highly skilled. So these highly educated engineers and business majors ended up selling fruit and flowers on the street. It should be no surprise that they found something else – revolutionary – to do with their minds, and time.
Two centuries ago, William Blake wrote that “the modest rose puts forth a thorn.” Education can lift the economic potential of any society. But if the economy fails to fully employ its newly minted human capital, serious unrest will be a thorny issue.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA