Why undermine the education system if it reduces our future competitiveness?

This piece was written in response to a question on a Facebook post.

In complex systems, such as a society, there are often ‘layers’ of logic. The logic in each layer often only makes sense within the context of that one layer.

In the widest context – the biggest picture – the exploitation of humans by humans makes no sense at all – we’d all have much better lives (including the currently-very-rich) in a fully cooperative society.

But we are living in an exploitative society. It doesn’t make sense, but it does have its own internal logic. This internal logic changes over time, as the situation evolves.

Until a few decades ago, capitalism hadn’t exploited every corner of the Earth and so was still growing. For capitalists, in this context, degrading the future workforce by reducing the quality and availability of education made no sense. In fact public education came to exist in the first place because factory owners needed workers who could understand enough to work the new technology.

During the Industrial Revolution in England, the ‘logic’ of competition was essentially forcing factory owners to maim and kill child workers by over working them. They were destroying their future workforce. The Factories Act had to be introduced to intervene in that logic by protecting child workers – not for the children’s sake, but to ensure future profitability.

Increasingly modern production methods required that workers in the richer countries were educated to a higher standard. But that education also meant that ordinary people came to expect a more democratic society – which meant they demanded, and got, better pay and conditions. However, this then reduced the profit made by business owners.

As a response to this, the owners moved production to poorer countries (‘globalisation’), so they no longer have an economic interest in the education of ordinary people here. Incidentally, some of these poorer countries were formerly socialist, and so had quite advanced education systems. The legacy, a poor but educated workforce, is now very useful to big business.

We are now also in an economic collapse. Profitable investments are very hard to come by and any business that doesn’t make a profit – right now – does not survive. In this narrow context it becomes ‘logical’ to try to make a profit even at the expense of destroying future profitability.

The question is, how do we begin to operate on the logic of the bigger picture? – that the exploitation of humans by humans makes no sense at all, and we’d all have much better lives (including the currently-very-rich) in a fully cooperative society.

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