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Luddites and academics

Luddites and academics

"The first two industrial revolutions made people richer and more urban". This statement of indisputable fact from the Economist underlines why the third industrial revolution is not only desirable but long overdue: what the world needs is more wealth and more urbanism, and it is hard to imagine a social ill that could not be solved by these two vehicles of progress. As an admirer of the Economist's progressive ideas, I took some time to investigate the matter further.

Karl Marx, the patron saint of authoritarian regimes, claimed that one of the most significant developments of the first industrial revolution was the appropriation of the control of work from workers by machines. From the point of view of production, this consolidated power in the hands of the capitalist; from a social standpoint it transformed the structure of daily life for most people.  Skilled tradesmen who had previously enjoyed a measure of control over their profession, through trade guilds, now found themselves at the mercy of a rationalised mode of production which sought to maximise efficiency and profit for the capitalist.

Being an aspiring Friedmanite, I am not particularly interested in the conditions of the working class, which is irrelevant to economics and therefore not worthy of study. More interesting is how we might adapt the principles of this glorious revolution to academia. It doesn't seem very productive to have individual professors teaching and designing courses at different universities. Where is the efficiency in that? Furthermore, it places too much power in the hands of academics and their unionist overlords, threatening the social mobility created by flex contracts and temporary positions, just as the guilds of the 18th century did. Thankfully, the wonder of technology promises to overcome these enemies of progress. Degree programmes can now be standardised and delivered to students via massive open online courses (MOOCs), taught by superstar professors such as Niall Ferguson and Greg Mankiw. Debate and discussion can now take place in groups of millions, rather than the limited 10-15 which PBL dictates. And patchy and irregular quality can be levelled by the miracle of homogenisation.

The Economist did not feel the need to qualify its statement, and why should it? It is obviously true, otherwise how could it have become the dominant paradigm that it is. Thus the argument for the rationalisation of the mode of knowledge production is incontrovertible, and anyone who disagrees is either a Luddite or an academic.

David Darler, bachelor student Arts&Culture

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