As he did in his previous book, The Age of Unreason, the independent author and educator Charles Handy explores in The Age of Paradox the impact that changes in the way work is organized will have on the way we live. Below, he looks specifically at education and the unintended consequences of change:
In a property-owning democracy which claims to be fair to all its citizens, it is only right that everyone should have a share in that property and the wealth it brings. When property meant land, social and politicalrevolutions redistributed that land, most recently in bits of ex-colonial Africa. When property meant stocks and shares and the ownership of enterprises, some governments went out of their way to encourage more of their citizens to take up the shareholding habit. Alternatively, some governments sought to persuade them that nationalization was one way to give all citizens a stake in the property of the nation.
Now that intelligence has replaced land as the source of wealth, we have to take seriously that opening sentence of A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report on American education: "All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost.'' If we don't make this new property more widely available, if we don't invest in the intelligence of all our citizens, we shall have a divided society.
You can already see that divide deepening. Robert Reich has divided the modern American workforce into three categories. First, there are the routine operators, who are still needed to pack the airline meals, operate the tills, and put the data onto the disks. They make up perhaps one-quarter of the labor force, a proportion which is declining as their jobs get automated or are exported to lands with cheaper labor. Second, there are the personal-service providers in restaurants, hospitals, and security firms, 30 percent and growing. Third, there are those people whom Mr. Reich calls the symbolic analysts, those who deal with numbers and ideas, problems, and words. They are the journalists, financial analysts, consultants, architects, lawyers, doctors, managers--those whose intelligence is their source of power and influence. They now make up perhaps 20 percent of all workers. Farmers, miners, and government employees make up the rest. It is the symbolic analysts, the knowledge workers, the professionals and the managers, who are the real beneficiaries of the information age because they own the new property.
Under present policies this "fortunate fifth'' is getting richer almost by the minute, while the others get poorer. Mr. Reich calculates that in 1989 this top fifth had a higher after-tax income than the other four-fifths combined. In times gone by the rich had a vested interest in supporting the poor--in the final analysis the poor were both their customers and their neighbors--but the new rich sell their stuff to each other or to other firms, internationally. They do not venture downtown, use public transport, or send their children to the public schools. Why then, they say, should they pay more to support more of such things? They do not benefit themselves, even indirectly.
The conventional wisdom has been, both in the United States and Europe, that the private sector pays for the public sector. Help the private sector to get rich and the other sector will benefit. Selfishness makes sense. That was true when property was the old-fashioned sort--land, bricks, and machinery. Wealth did trickle down. More of that sort of property needed more people to work it. Intelligence as property changes that beneficial sequence. The causal chain is reversed; a rich private sector no longer results in a richer public sector; it's the other way around. Without investment in the public sector in housing, in telecommunications and transport, and, most of all, in education, the number of symbolic analysts cannot increase significantly, the stock of useful intelligence will remain confined to one-fifth of the population. The other people will be progressively cut off from the world of property in the new sense, increasingly poor and effectively disenfranchised.
Reprinted with permission from the Harvard Business School Press.
Taken from The Age of Paradox by Charles Handy. Copyright 1994 by
Charles Handy; all rights reserved.
Vol. 13, Issue 29