Law in the Internet Society
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.

Just as the concentration of wealth at the very top reduces wealth at the bottom, the aggressive hoarding of intellectual capital in the most sought-after colleges and universities has curtailed our investment in less prestigious institutions. There’s no curricular trickle-down effect. The educator E. D. Hirsch Jr. has pointed to a trend he labels the Matthew Effect, citing the Biblical injunction: “ ‘For unto every one that hath shall be given and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.’ We’ve lifted up rich kids beyond their competence,” he says, “while the verbal skills of the black underclass continue to decline.”

-- DevinMcDougall - 02 Oct 2011

Maybe food for thought, but some of it goes down a little putrid for me. Does Hirsch really expect us to believe in the declining verbal skills of the part of our society whose vernacular poetry is now the centerspine of our popular culture? He doesn't believe in rap, of course. It isn't language. What Hirsch doesn't know isn't knowledge.

"Just as" the hoarding of wealth deprives the many, so does the hoarding of knowledge? That's to deny the difference between zero and non-zero marginal cost. Teaching has non-zero marginal cost, but transmitting knowledge for those able to teach themselves does not. Hence all of what is done at MIT, where Hirsch knows the rich kids are, through MIT Open CourseWare benefits any learner in the world, which is where the poor are. With the addition of teachers to impart the curriculum, as when West Bengal adopts MIT Open CourseWare as the curriculum for the state's engineering colleges, what Hirsch would in his metaphor consider to be "redistribution" turns out to be just distribution after all.

But if the redistribution of knowledge capital is just the free distribution of knowledge, then what Hirsch thinks he wants is what the dotCommunist Manifesto and the free culture movement's critique of copyright demand.



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r2 - 02 Oct 2011 - 20:03:29 - EbenMoglen
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