Tuesday 7 December 2010

Services, Value and the Human goods of Education

In my video yesterday I tried to apply my thinking about value to understanding what's happening with the servitised economy. My conclusions from this are:
  1. that 'intrinsic value' of a commodity is intransitive (i.e. is objective) and when the intrinsic value is distibuted amongst the people, there is a greater share of individual control and empowerment since this intrinsic value can be passed around individuals at their will.
  2. if a commodity with intrinsic value is servitised, its intrinsic value is taken away from the people and concentrated in the hands of a few. The value of a service is far more transitive than the intrinsic value of a commodity. The mechanisms of the value of a service are largely controlled by the controllers of the service, not by the people (although the people determine the demand for the service, but not by organised conscious action, but rather through collective unconscious behaviour). The controllers of the service will use the intrinsic value of the commodities they acquire to control the value of the services they provide. The people lose control and freedom.
But what about the value of knowledge? This I think is to do with human goods. The essence of personal liberty as a human good is the ability to make informed choices about how one acts in the world. The capacity to act well depends on flexibility in choosing appropriate action, and this is the result of knowledge. This too is a human good. What then is the value of this human good, and what is the value of the opportunity to develop it?

The human good of education is always a leap of faith: faith that the teaching you receive will meet your needs and transform your capabilities; faith that the degree you earn will improve your life chances; faith that people you meet will become friends and you'll have a good time; faith that the subject you study you will really enjoy in all its depth. There are, however, no guarantees about any of this. The link between the human good of education and faith is instructive: it may be that where the value of commodities and services, intrinsic or otherwise lies in reason, the value of human goods lies in faith.

This is important because it highlights the category error when we talk about the 'investment' and 'price' of education and the servitisation of knowledge. Servitisation of knowledge and education leads to an association with a financial transaction. Financial investments and price belong to the world of commodities and services (like banking) which can be rationalised, risks assessed, etc. Human goods, in being bound to faith, are a challenge for reason because the risks are so high and yet the desire, borne out of simply being human is nevertheless so great: it is a very irrational transaction.

To demand individuals make rational financial decisions about human goods is to trap them in a 'double-bind' of the kind which is more often found in religious cults.

The nature of the double-bind is this:
1. Education will set you free! (for a price...)
2. Financial impoverishment and submission to institutional assessment will enslave you (but education will set you free... and so on)
...and discussing your imprisonment by education is to admit failure

Institutions must address the learner's problem!


David K said...

Perfect. Thankyou :-)

Simon Grant said...

I'd say education is essentially polymorphic. Sure, the personal value of some education is bound to the values of the person undergoing it, but equally some education is indeed economically justifiable. Maybe the difficulty / tension in the present system is because these two aspects are inextricably intertwined. But it doesn't mean that one doesn't exist...