Follow the Money. It Doesn’t Lead to Teachers.

September 8, 2019 at 10:17 am (By Amba) ()

Medium pundit Umair Haque’s anticapitalist rants can be over-the-top, but they can also be right on. His point below is not news, but it bears repeating, because we’ve become so resigned and dulled to it that we’re in danger of accepting it as normal.

[G]uys that self-evidently don’t know anything…not a thing…make millions — while a teacher can barely scrape together a middle class living…and even so, takes care of the kids in his or her charge on his or her own dime. Do you see a little bit what I mean by “incentives for knowledge being corroded so badly they’ve been twisted upside down”? I’m not speaking metaphorically. I’m speaking quite literally. The Bret Stephenses and Morning Joes of our society are paid colossal amounts. The teachers and adjunct professors of our society can barely make ends meet. The “hedge fund managers” and “traders” of our society are paid massive fortunes. The teachers and adjunct professors can barely raise families. Real incentives. Real money. Real lives. Real social outcomes, too. […]

Now, American pundits will point out the obvious at this juncture. Educated Americans make more than uneducated ones! How can you say incentives for knowledge have been corroded!! . . . It’s true that educated Americans make more. Why is that, though? It’s largely because kids with Ivy League degrees head off to Wall St and Silicon Valley…where they rake it in. For…doing precisely nothing of any real value to society. Targeting ads more finely…finding cleverer ways to pump and dump stocks…these things have no benefit whatsoever, they just accrue profit. It’s not “education” per se that’s being employed here. It’s just that a specific kind of technical knowledge is worth more to capitalism than anything else.

Hence, if you have a PhD in physics, Wall St will pay you a fortune. But if you have a PhD in English…nobody will pay you much at all. But hold on: it’s the PhD in English that might have helped explain how the rhetoric of authoritarianism erodes the norms and values of a democracy, how today’s demagogues echo yesterday’s dictators, how to fight back against them using words and concepts. See my point? Nobody will reward you for having a PhD or even a Masters’ in our society outside a set of very, very narrow disciplines — mostly mathematical, mostly technical, all corporate. That’s because that kind of narrow skillset can be employed to maximize profit, to write more efficient algorithms, to optimize the code.

UPDATE: Bonus rant by Umair Haque—colonialism redux:

The deal that we — the rich world — offered the poor one doesn’t work anymore. It never did. It went like this. You’re poor. We’re rich. We’ll pay you to make the stuff that we need — but only as little as humanly possible, with the least respect for your rights, dignity, and development. We don’t care if your kids labour in sweatshops. We don’t care if your rivers and forests get chewed up. We don’t care if you never have a democracy. We only care about getting our stuff — as cheaply as possible.

That’s global predatory capitalism in a nutshell — the deal America came up with for the globe. Does it sound suspiciously like colonialism to you? It should. Colonialism’s logic was exactly the same, whether practiced by the British in India, the French in Indochina, or America in its very own south. If we can’t enslave you, we’ll pay you as little as possible, with as little respect for your human potential, to make our stuff. Take it — or leave it. (And, by the way, if you leave it? We’ll hit you with sanctions, maybe even bombs, probably CIA coups and plots. So you’d better…take it.)


1 Comment

  1. wjca said,

    It comes down to this. In the first half of the last century, the only significant number of jobs for educated women were in education, specifically primary and secondary education. (There were some in nursing, but far fewer.) The supply of potential teachers noticably exceeded demand. So wages stayed low. Actually not as low, comparatively, as they are now — raises to reflect inflation having lagged. But low.

    Further, most teachers were married; the rest were supporting nobody but themselves — single parents, save by death of the spouse, being not the done thing. That meant nobody was trying to support a family just on a teacher’s salary. So, again, wages could stay low.

    Now, we are in a whole different world. But expectations (and the reality) for teachers’ salaries haven’t budged. At least in the US. That has to change. But it’s hard to see the sort of dramatic event that could force a change. Especially with the kind of tax increases that would be required to pay a reasonable wage.

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