Law in the Internet Society

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SuperPeopleandUnderPeople 6 - 03 Oct 2011 - Main.BahradSokhansanj
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Food for thought from the NYT. It's a powerful point about equity. But, note the implicit assumption of a zero-sum game, that investment of "intellectual capital" at top schools means underinvestment at less prestigious schools. In a zero marginal cost world, however, at least with respect to knowledge, that proposition is false: if we write once, we can read everywhere.
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-- AustinKlar - 03 Oct 2011


I basically agree. As Austin points out, the issue here isn't knowledge distribution. Of course, someone like Hirsch who accepts the premise that there is in fact something elite about the education in "elite education" would be concerned about knowledge distribution, but he's wrong. And he isn't just wrong in an era of "virtual universities" or whatever.

Of course no one ever needed to learn AI from Thrun or go to Stanford to learn AI (nor did he) -- I taught myself AI using books I borrowed from a public library and pirated versions of programming environments (on a Mac!) and if I’d wanted to wait until I got to college, I could have learned from excellent teachers and researchers at a university people out here have never heard of -- but which has produced any number of successful computer scientists. Yet, that doesn’t overlap with what you can do with a Stanford CS degree.

I agree with Austin -- the real issue is with access to those certain kinds of jobs in the private and public sector that are identified with the political and economic elite. Those are the opportunities that are limited because of the increased scarcity of seats in elite universities. You can get the knowledge elsewhere -- over the web for free -- but not get what the university is really selling, which is membership in elite society. (The society of the op-ed’s author, James Atlas -- Rhodes Scholar, Harvard grad, alumnus of an elite public high school in Evanston, whose kids go to an expensive private school here in New York -- the entire article is really about him trying to get over a guilt complex, as far as I can tell.)

So, there’s a structure in which you need the branding of the elite university (or as you go lower down the totem pole, some kind of established university with elite prestige proportional to the job sought) to get any job (but with the occasional outlier so the system can still pretend to be a “meritocracy”). It generates artificial scarcity so that universities and other businesses profiting from the educational enterprise can continue to survive in a zero marginal cost of distribution world.

Part of this is branding, but part of the scarcity also comes from laws and regulations that limit accreditation and professional licensing, or which control subsidies, and increasingly through copyright laws. Even if MIT Courseware is an exception for now, the future probably belongs to the Disney-fication of education (the brand could be called Yale, or even Disney): the fusion of brands and copyright delivering educational products to consumers who are practically denied other alternatives, whether it's because those alternatives are explicitly illegal or implicitly excluded from mainstream and elite society / economy.

-- BahradSokhansanj - 03 Oct 2011

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Revision 6r6 - 03 Oct 2011 - 18:08:20 - BahradSokhansanj
Revision 5r5 - 03 Oct 2011 - 12:26:51 - AustinKlar
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