Monday, October 15, 2012

Support vs replace.

I have this picture in my head, of economists of yesteryear, jealous or envious or lacking confidence in their craft or ... something. Eager to bring their craft to the fore they formulated their theories of markets and insisted that everything was market driven. It's wildly inaccurate yes, I know there have been plenty of economists who haven't invested their all in the supremacy of the market. It amuses me though. It's either that or be horribly depressed. And given the continuing move towards a commercial footing of our universities (CEO salaries for vice chancellors etc) it's definitely one or the other. The longer you think about it, the more it's the latter.

Just as the physicists who insist that everything is reducible to a physics problem*, you get economists who insist that everything is reducible to a market. They're both wrong of course.
Markets as we know them are not the creators and inventors of all we see around us. Sometimes they will create something new but for the most part they draw on the knowledge that science has uncovered, the structures that mathematics have discovered. New things are created by people who are interested in how things work, who are interested in tinkering and making things better. Markets are valuable yes, they are tools that can be used to bring the fruits of science to the general population. It a balance though. If you suborn education and research to markets then the markets will lose the pool of innovation that they currently draw on.

Take computers for instance. It wasn't the market that created computers. It was people who were trying to figure out how to compute gunnery tables or break codes. Even the personal computer wasn't created by market forces. It was created by a bunch of geeks in garages who wanted to be able to tell machines what to do. Markets enabled the personal computer to grow, yes, but the seed didn't come from the market. Markets aren't everything, they're a tool, something that should be used to boost and support education, not replace it.

*Some things might be reducible to a physics problem if you had a sufficiently big computer, but the computers big enough for the biggest problems are quite frankly, impossible to build.

No comments:

Post a Comment