With Automation Looming, The US Needs To Make Education Affordable Or Fail

On April 16, 2017, Patrick Caughill writes on Futurism:

Crafting Well Rounded Minds

Education is the cornerstone of society. This is because knowledge is the only thing that lets one be an informed and productive member of society. Of course, education is not limited to just traditional schooling (i.e. a classroom), but includes knowledge gleaned from friends, family, mentors, personal experiences, and on and on.

That said, in our society, traditional schooling is a major part of how we educate the coming generations.

Today, we spend our most formative years in school, learning about the world and how to function in it. In the modern world, which is continually becoming more globalized, it is more important than ever to be able to think critically and analytically about all aspects of our world—from politics, to economics, to the arts, to (of course) science and technology.

A well-rounded liberal arts education can provide this to its students. According to Willard Dix, a college admissions expert and contributor to Forbes,“a liberal arts education provides a multi-faceted view of the world. It enables students to see beyond one perspective, encouraging them to understand others’ even if they don’t agree. It instructs us to base our opinions on reason, not emotion.”

And at a time of increasing polarization, dialogue and understanding are invaluable qualities.

Even disciplines that are thought to be exclusively “fact-based,” such as the STEM fields, can greatly benefit from a liberal arts focus, as critical thinking skills are what allow individuals to analyze and make meaning from new information and move fluidly through society and careers. Case in point, the current president of Miami University, Gregory Crawford, went to school to study physics and now, as an education administrator, he advocates for an educational system that is multifaceted:

“There are extraordinary skill sets to learn from the liberal arts, like communication, analytical skills, writing, global awareness. Can you tell a story in a world of data and analytics? When students are exposed to the liberal arts they become more self-aware, more self-disciplined and develop other virtues like empathy and courage.”

A liberal arts focus not only can prepare students for the job market, but also life after college in general.

Dwindling Market

Speaking of the job market, education, in general, is about to become even more of a requirement, thanks to the steady rise of automation. Experts predict that developed countries may lose a staggering 30 percent of jobs in the next 15 years. Much of this job loss, if not all of it, will impact blue collar workers—a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that each robot that makes its way into the workforce replaces six humans.

Thus, as the years progress, industries that used to be home to extremely well paying blue collar positions will increasingly become a thing of the past.

However, individuals that have an understanding of a broad spectrum of fields will largely be able to protect themselves from the impact of automation, as they will be able to seamlessly (or more seamlessly) move between industries. This adaptability is precisely what a liberal arts education, at its best, provides. But there is a problem for those pursuing such an education in the United States: Money.

Tackling Affordability

One of the most significant obstacles to an education for young adults today is debt, and a significant portion of that comes from education. Student debt in the United States has hit an unbelievable $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A trillion of those dollars belong to federal student loans. While other nations face affordability issues of their own, the situation in the United States is extreme.

The United States is the fourth most expensive country in which to get a college education, with the average cost being greater than $29,300 each year, according to a list compiled by FairFX. Increases in cost are not showing any signs of slowing, and with figures like that, higher education is no longer just out of reach to the poorest Americans. Now, many mid-level American families also can’t make the cut.

What can be done to ensure everyone will be equipped to thrive in the workforce of the very near future?

In Germany, they answered that question by eliminating tuition costs altogether. The country abolished tuition all the way back in 1971. They were briefly brought back from 2006 – 2014, but they were removed again due to widespread problems, even though the costs only averaged €500 ($630 USD).

In fact, more than 40 countries around the world offer free higher education. Obviously, when people use the word “free” what they really mean is that nations use tax dollars to pay for education in the same way that they use tax dollars to pay for subsidies for corn and fossil fuels and to pay for war efforts (do keep in mind, the United States has a defense budget larger than many developed nations combined).

But now, thanks to a recent development, it looks like the United States is going to start reallocating funds to test the free tuition waters.

Empire State of Mind

Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo made New York the first state in the country to offer a tuition-free four-year education for residents. Dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship program, it will provide four years of college tuition for families who make less than $100,000 per year. The program will begin this fall, with the income cap raising by $10,000 in 2018 and an additional $15,000 the following year.

The governor said, “Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.”

NBC News tells us that this plan will benefit a remarkable 80 percent of the state’s families with college-age kids. The plan also requires that students complete at least 30 credits per year and stay within their program’s minimum GPA requirements. There are also requirements regarding living and working in the state for a certain period after graduation, which will ensure that students give back to the state that is paying for their education. Governor Cuomo explained the importance of this move in his statement:

“The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, ‘I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because my parents can’t afford it.’ With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

While many families may be overjoyed with the opportunities this will provide their children, other entities were not so keen when the idea was proposed. Some private colleges, including the Governor’s own alma-mater, even went so far as to ask their students to oppose this historic move.

For example, the president of Keuka College, a small liberal arts school in central New York, Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, sent an email to his students urging them to oppose the program.

While it is understandable that private colleges may fear the future, efforts such as the ones outlined here come off as tone-deaf, at best, or selfish, at worst. Keuka is a school that is well out of the price range of most individuals, costing a staggering 40K a year. And while there are some programs that assist low-income students, the cost is beyond the affordability of most.

Ultimately, such call to action does not seem to fully weigh the (very justifiable) panic of students, which has become endemic in today’s higher education climate. And of course, the letter makes no mention of the “940,000 middle-class families” who will be able to send their children to school as a result of this legislation, many of which may not have had the luxury before its passing.

Since the passing earlier this month, Keuka has released another statement.

“It’s too early for any of us in New York’s private colleges and universities to know what this will mean for recruitment and retention at our institutions. But what we do know is that competition is the bedrock of our economic system. To stay competitive, Keuka College must continue to adapt and change.”

They may not be celebrating the news, but they have gotten to the heart of the matter: Just as the workforce is going to have to adapt and change with the proliferation of automation, our educational institutions are going to have to change to accommodate that workforce and lead them to be fully capable of thriving in the economy and society of tomorrow.

To remain a global leader, we will need to rethink how we educate and seriously consider the barriers that exist that limit who can benefit. Those conversations need to start now.

With Automation Looming, the US Needs To Make Education Affordable Or Fail

Back on July 11, 2013, I wrote an article which was published by Nation Of Change, which addresses this topic.

Education Is Critical To Our Future Societal Development

Gary Reber

ForEconomicJustice.org

A recent study from researchers at Georgetown University projects that there will be 55 million new jobs by 2020 for which there will be a growing call for more educated workers with the necessary education and training to meet the demand.

This is a report that is out-of-sync with the economics of reality (herewith updated).

Given the current invisible structure of the economy, except for a relative few, the majority of the population, no matter how well educated, will not be able to find a job that pays sufficient wages or salaries to support a family or prevent a lifestyle, which is gradually being crippled by near poverty or poverty earnings. Thus, education is not the panacea, though it is critical for our future societal development. And younger, as well as older people, no matter how well educated, will increasingly find it harder and harder to secure a well-paying job — for most, their ONLY source of income — and will find themselves dependent on taxpayer-supported government welfare, open and disguised or concealed.

For decades employment opportunity in the United States was such that the majority of people could obtain a job that could support their livelihood, though, in most cases related to a family, it eventually required the father and mother to both work, if they aspired to live a “middle-class” lifestyle. With “Free Trade” and globalization of economic productiveness those opportunities began to disintegrate as corporations sought to seek lower-cost production taking advantage of global cheap labor rates and non-regulation, as well as lower tax rates abroad. This resulted in a chain reaction forcing more and more companies to outsource in order to stay competitive (thus the rise of China, India, Mexico, and other third-world nation economies).

At the same time, tectonic shifts in the technologies of production were exponentially occurring (and continue to do so), which resulted (and continues to result) in less job opportunities as production was shifted from people making things to “machines” (the non-human factor of technology) making things. The combination of cheap global labor costs and lower, long-term-invested “machine” costs has forced the worth of labor downward, and this will continue to be the reality. See the study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which says that each robot that makes its way into the workforce replaces six humans.

Our only way to far greater prosperity, opportunity, and economic justice is to embrace technological innovation and invention and the resulting human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. as the primary economic engine of growth.

But significantly, unless we reform our system to empower EVERY American to acquire, via pure, interest-free insured capital credit loans, viable full-ownership holdings (and thus entitlement to full-dividend earnings) in the corporations growing the economy, with the future earnings of the investments paying for the initial loan debt to acquire ownership, the concentration of ownership of ALL future productive capital will continue to be amassed by a wealthy minority ownership class. Companies will continue to globalize in search of “customers with money” or simply fail, as exponentially there will be fewer and fewer customers to support their businesses worldwide. Why, because the majority will be disconnected from the dividend income derived from the non-human means of production that is replacing the need for labor workers who earn wages and salaries, which are then used to purchase products and services.

Soon, industrial monopoly capitalism will reach its twin goals: concentration of productive capital ownership among the elite ownership class and work performed with as few labor workers and the lowest possible wages and salaries. The question to be answered is “What then?”

The transition to the non-human factor of production has been occurring for decades but is now experiencing exponential development — the result of tectonic shifts in the technologies of production. As costs for computer-controlled machines and robots become less than the cost of human workers, and the skills and productivity of the machines exceed those of human workers, then robot worker numbers will rapidly increase and enable our society to build architectural wonders, revitalize and redevelop our cities and build new cities of wonder and amazement, along with support energy, transport, and communications systems. Super-automation and robotics is transforming the world of manufacturing as robots become lighter, more mobile, and more flexible with better artificial intelligent (AI) sensing, perception, decision-making, and planning and control capabilities due to advanced digital computerization. Super-automation and robotics operated by human-intelligent computerization will dramatically improve productivity and provide skills and abilities previously unique to human workers. This will effectively increase the size of the labor work force globally beyond that provided by human workers, no matter what the level of education attained — even if every singly human being achieved a university education. With advanced human-level artificial intelligence, computer-controlled machines will be able to learn new knowledge and skills by simply downloading software programs and apps. This means that the years of training that apply to personal human development will no longer apply to the further sophistication and operation of the machines. The result will be that productivity will soar while the need and demand for human labor will further decline, except for the most highly educated and those with the skills to maintain and repair the robotic work force.

Unfortunately, in the long term, unless the vast majority of people have a substantial and viable source of income other than wages and salaries, the impact of technological innovation and invention as embodied in human-level artificial intelligence, machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. will be devastating — no matter how well educated.

There are ONLY two options: either “Own or Be Owned.” The “Owned” model is what our society practices today and is expressed as monopoly capitalism (concentrated ownership) or socialism (taxpayer-supported redistributed social benefits controlled and dictated by an elite class under which all citizens are dependent for their economic well-being on the State and the coercive powers of government). The “Own” model, or what my colleagues and I term the Just Third Way (see http://foreconomicjustice.org/?p=5797, http://www.cesj.org/resources/articles-index/the-just-third-way-basic-principles-of-economic-and-social-justice-by-norman-g-kurland/, http://www.cesj.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/jtw-graphicoverview-2013.pdf and http://www.cesj.org/resources/articles-index/the-just-third-way-a-new-vision-for-providing-hope-justice-and-economic-empowerment/), has yet to be implemented on the scale necessary to empower every child, woman, and man to acquire private, individual ownership stakes in the future wealth-creating and income-producing productive capital assets of the “intelligent automated machine age”––facilitated by the future earnings of their investments in the corporations developing and employing this unprecedented non-human economic power.

Unfortunately, the disruptive nature of exponential growth in technology and its impact on productivity––tectonically shifting production of products and services from human workers to non-human means––is not understood, and is ignored by the economic establishment, academia, and our political leaders.

While the rate of technological progress is directly proportional to the number and quality of the people engaged in the fields of science and engineering, economic policy is the mechanism that fuels investment and development of technological innovation and invention. This is where education is critical to our future societal development.

Education should be encouraged and expanded. Everyone should have the opportunity to personally develop their own exceptional innate abilities and unlock their creativity.

But except for the personal development benefit to advancing one’s education, the reality is that far less “educated” people will be necessary in the long term to produce the products and services necessary and valued by society. This is due to the exponential development of human-level artificial intelligence, which is embodied in advanced automation and robotics.

Those college graduates who do succeed within the fields of science and engineering are hired workers to do what? Our scientists, engineers, and executive managers, who are not owners themselves of the companies they work for, except for those in the highest employed positions, are encouraged to work to destroy employment by making the capital owners’ assets more productive. How much employment can be destroyed by substituting machines for people is a measure of their success––always focused on producing at the lowest cost.

We need to realize that full employment is not a function of businesses. Companies strive to keep labor input and other costs at a minimum. Private sector job creation in numbers that match the pool of people willing and able to work is constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever-increasing role.

We need to reform and restructure our economy and set as the GOAL broadened private, individual ownership of future wealth-creating, income-generating productive capital assets among ALL Americans, with capital estates ever building as the economy grows. Without a policy shift to broaden productive capital ownership simultaneously with economic growth, further development of technology and globalization will undermine the American middle class and make it impossible for more than a minority of citizens to achieve middle-class status. By changing course, over time and within a few decades, our “machined-powered” growth economy would produce greater wealth, and widespread private, individual ownership would assure prosperity, opportunity, and general affluence for every citizen. Broadened productive capital ownership would strengthen our democracy and individuals and families would be less or non-dependent on government welfare, whether disguised or not.

This prosperous society is achievable because, fortunately, in the near term, we can begin to grow our way out of the swelling unemployment and underemployment by increasing our investment significantly as a ratio of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) resulting in double-digit growth, while simultaneously broadening private, individual ownership of future income-producing productive capital investments, thus initiating the process of empowering every child, woman, and man to build over time a viable capital estate and reap the income generated, and in the process become “customers with money.” The key operative is BROADEN OWNERSHIP. Such investment would, in the short term, generate millions of new “real” productive jobs in a massive project to build a future economy that can support general affluence for EVERY citizen. The result would not only be that the GDP would dramatically grow but tax revenues from the high rate of economic growth would enable us to balance the federal budget, fully fund Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, provide Universal Health Care, Universal University Education, lower tax rates, and maintain a strong military, all simultaneously, and without inflation.

We have the opportunity to free economic growth from the “enslavement” of human labor and from the financial mechanisms that are based on the slavery of past savings. Technological progress, though, is no longer dependent on the number and quality of human workers. This fact will become obvious eventually to anyone who can think and analyze as they realize the reality that human labor will cease to be the primary source of wealth production in the future. As a result we can expect over the long term that unemployment and underemployment will remain high indefinitely. But the difference will be that people will drop out of the labor force voluntarily because they will be able to live off their dividend earnings via their ownership portfolios. This will create swelling demand for human workers who want to continue working. And with both dividend and wage and salary incomes for everyone there will be more customers to purchase the products and services produced, which in turn will create further dividends and earnings, which will create more customers, etc.

While the future holds less promise for universal job employment due to the ever-progressing contribution of technological-driven production using human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics and digital computerized operations, the jobs that will be in demand will require some mastery of technology, math, and science. As long as working people are limited by earning income solely through their labor worker wages, they will be left behind by the continued gravitation of economic bounty toward the top 1 percent of the people that the system is rigged to benefit.

If we don’t re-chart our economic policies to broaden private, individual ownership of new productive capital formation, then more troubling is that the continued stagnation of the American economy will further dim the economic hopes of America’s youth, no matter what their education level. The result will have profound long-term consequences for the nation’s economic health and further limit equal opportunity to earn as an owner of productive capital and further spread income inequality. As the need for labor decreases and the power and leverage of productive capital increases, the gap between labor workers and productive capital asset owners will increase, and the conditions will become very frightening and very chaotic.

Sadly, our leaders are not prepared and are not preparing the American people for the coming economic collapse and the next Great Depression, due to their lack of wisdom and foresight to understand that full employment is not an objective of businesses and private sector job creation opportunities are constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever increasing role — as the use of human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. replaces labor workers to produce products and services at an exponential rate.

The question that requires an answer is now timely before us. It was first posed by binary economist Louis Kelso in the 1950s but has never been thoroughly discussed on the national stage. Nor has there been the proper education of our citizenry that addresses what economic justice is and what ownership is. Therefore, by ignoring such issues of economic justice and ownership, our leaders are ignoring the concentration of power through ownership of productive capital, with the result of denying the 99 percenters equal opportunity to become productive capital owners. The question, as posed by Kelso is: “how are all individuals to be adequately productive when a tiny minority (capital owners) produce a major share and the vast majority (labor workers), a minor share of total goods and service,” and thus, “how do we get from a world in which the most productive factor — physical capital — is owned by a handful of people, to a world where the same factor is owned by a majority — and ultimately 100 percent — of the consumers, while respecting all the constitutional rights of present capital owners?”

The path to prosperity, opportunity, and economic justice can be found in the writings about the Capital Homestead Act (aka Economic Democracy Act) at http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/, http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/capital-homestead-act-a-plan-for-getting-ownership-income-and-power-to-every-citizen/, http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/capital-homestead-act-summary/ and http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/ch-vehicles/.

For more overviews related to this topic see my article “The Absent Conversation: Who Should Own America?” published by The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/who-should-own-america_b_2040592.html and by OpEd News at http://www.opednews.com/articles/THE-Absent-Conversation–by-Gary-Reber-130429-498.html.

Also see “The Path To Eradicating Poverty In America” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/the-path-to-eradicating-p_b_3017072.html and “The Path To Sustainable Economic Growth” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/sustainable-economic-growth_b_3141721.html, and the article entitled “The Solution To America’s Economic Decline” at http://www.foreconomicjustice.org/9206/financing-future…economic-decline.

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