Saturday, November 12, 2011

Free Market Incentives to Educational Monopoly

All professions are conspiracies against the laity. -- George Bernard Shaw, The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906)
Let's consider a metaphor, "Organizations strive for Immortality." Rome’s highly paid and indulged Praetorian Guard, formed in 27 BCE to protect a "market" of relatively few individuals, e.g. Augustus Caesar, his retinue and family, eventually came to the point of choosing and disposing of emperors. It lasted until the 4th century when it was dissolved by Constantine.

However, in our reality of rocks and humans and clouds, organizations are not the kinds of entitites that can be said, literally, to strive. They are, in law, merely fictional individuals. It is their their leaders, members and supporters who are the real, flesh and blood, coveting, striving, needful and prideful persons.

Because most organizations are rank-based rather than goal-based, they don’t plan for their own demise once their goal is accomplished or no longer viable. The Praetorians did not say on August 19, AD 14, “Too bad. Augustus has died. Let’s hike out to the boonies and go back to being regular, underpaid and overdisciplined soldiers.”

Leaders, particularly, want permanence, continuance of the substantial and psychological rewards of leadership. What the organization was set up to produce, becomes less and less important as leaders participate less and less, operationally, and serve mostly political purposes -- the most important being organizational continuity.

So it is we have corporate-form organizations that outlast their members in the form of churches, industries, armed forces, universities and unions. In the United States we also have systems of public education which mimic corporate form, even though there is no legal recognition of that status. Along with such corporate organizations we have, over a span of time, successions of so-called “leaders,” less expected to be producers than figureheads, whose often dispensible prerogatives of office are paid for at the cost of those who are compelled to support them.

Some people worry that charter schools will eventually do away with public education. This is like worrying that flea markets will wreck Microsoft. Public schools live on because they create markets and pay for its purchases with public funds. So called-reform-leaders who push charter schools are usually those who only want a place at the public funding trough.

Other educational Chickens Little worry that our university system, opening itself up more and more to all comers, is bound for shipwreck. Unlikely, so long as universities control professional credentials that are believed to secure high-earning jobs. The credentials market can persist for a long time whether or not anyone believes that a diploma is an indicator of knowledge so long as that diploma is hoped to be an admission ticket to a well-paying occupation.

For references and to examine these issues further, see LEADERSHIP AS USURPATION: 
the Grand Inquisitor Syndrome and Morality in Rank-Based Organizations

--- EGR